Employees First. Customers Second.

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I know it might sound lame, but your people are your greatest asset. Paradoxically, they’re also your biggest headache — apart from anything else, nowadays they’re becoming harder and harder to manage, if only because of their unnatural expectations of success in the workplace.

I’m not suggesting that by dint only of putting them first you can let the rest look after itself, but…if you’re willing to expand your mind beyond the usual panoply of external motivators — pay, perks and promotion — then you may just find that everything changes. (When I say everything, I mean you may find that instead of them turning up as the faux, fifty-percent version, you get all of them — i.e. all of their passion, drive and brilliance.)

To put your employees more first than you customers, you have to empower them in such a way that you fully entrust to them the customer/company relationship. Also, you have to be prepared for them to criticize you and the company and for action to be taken, in exactly the same way you expect them to jump when you say so!

Of course, for many companies they have no wish to put their employees first. It’s not even a case of paying lip service to the notion that employees are valued. Instead, they’re still very happy to rely on the command and control methodology that seems to have served them well since time immemorial. But, of course, as anyone who has worked in an organisation will attest, rarely, if ever, do you go out of your way to expend discretionary effort either to WOW your customer or serve your colleagues. Instead, you default to the bare minimum or, more likely, you become a Yes Man/Woman, which in the end kills you from the inside out.

As you know, I’ve written on many subjects — and this is no more than a riff on all that Awaken the Genius material — but, to my mind, unless companies start to unpack their Old-School thinking, we’ll continue to see the same issues that are reported year in year out: zero employee engagement, poor retention, a failure to capitalise on the true value of the business and desultory service. You may say that’s the price we have to pay for living through a management model that’s ill-suited to a Web 2.0 world, i.e. it was developed to take people off the land and get them to work efficiently in factories, but I don’t agree. In fact, I think it’s plain dumb. Who in their right might mind would want to invest in something — particularly something as precious as the intellectual capital of their staff — and not get the best possible return? You sure as hell wouldn’t do it with anything else.

Lots and lots has been written about ReImagining a new employment world but none of that’s achieved lift off. Instead, rather than thinking about Blue Oceans and the like, we have to break asunder the 19th century management model of managing people and start again with the employee at the very heart of the business. At least that’s how I see things. If we don’t then what we’ll end up with not just a group of very disillusioned people but instead people who always live for the weekend or retirement and have nothing to add to their work. Not only would that be a tragedy of epic proportion but it would make us all, particularly leaders and managers, corrupt in our understanding of what it means to employ people.

Of course, and it goes without saying, employees have to accept their side of the bargain; namely, to believe that “…in work is the possibility of the full realization of human potential. Work does not have to destroy us. Work can be the way we achieve our fullest self” (Reboot vision).