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Employees first: Customers second

Vineet Nayar has been on the radio a lot recently. He is the CEO of HCL Technologies and has, on the face of it, an odd philosophy for how he does business: Employees First: Customer Second.

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New Wisdom

This flies in the face of the conventional ‘customers first’ wisdom.  But it is not quite as counter-intuitive as it may seem.  You just need to follow the logic of the process.  Who looks after your customers?

Vineet Nayar’s Four Fundamental Questions

  1. Q: What is the core business we are in?
    A:  Creating value for our customers
  2. Q: Where is that value created?
    A:  At the interface between our employees and our customers
  3. Q: Who creates value?
    A:  Our employees
  4. Q: What is the business of managers and management?
    A:  Enthusing, encouraging and enabling employees to create value

When you invest the time and resources to ensure that your staff are committed and happy in their work, they will be naturally motivated to make your business succeed.  When you select the right people to put into the front-line and deal directly with your customers, then inevitably, they will take care of them.

The Secret of Customer Care

After all, there is no great secret to customer care: it simply requires that you care about your customer.  When you care about someone, you instinctively take care of them.

Corporate Kinetics

About twelve years ago, I participated in some research that ultimately led to what its authors hoped would be a ground breaking book: ‘The Power of Corporate Kinetics: Self-adapting, Self-renewing, Instant-action Enterprise’.  The thesis was simple; that the agility that companies would need to adapt and thrive in the third millennium could best be achieved when the people doing the work were given the authority to change how they do their work, to optimise efficiency, effectiveness and customer service.  It was illustrated with case studies drawn from the clients of my employer, Deloitte.

I don’t think it changed the world, nor even the way that many organisations go about improving themselves.  It should have, but I think two apparently contradictory things got in the way:

  1. first was a sense of ‘so what?’ The ideas did not seem surprising: they were perhaps, a little obvious.  Of course the people who do the work have the clearest view of what needs to change.
  2. second was a sense of ‘oh but…’ Giving real authority to the bottom of an organisational tree appears to rob everyone above of a big part of their role and, subconsciously, of their self esteem.

Empowerment is a hard discipline.  But it is certainly what Vineet Nayar is talking about.  And it also gives us another reason (see last week’s Pocketblog) why management is hard:  because, if you start to accept the logic of some of these ideas, you need to find a new model of management.

So here’s the Deal: A New Model of Management

In this new model, managers would act much more like facilitators than traditional instigators.  They would lend their commitment and authority to anyone coming forward with a good idea.  They would need to be able to encourage people to do so and to suppress a portion of their ‘I know best’ reflex so that they could balance a proper critical evaluation and a fair assessment of the opportunities.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

Post Script

Coincidentally, a few days before this blog was scheduled to be posted, Strategy & Business, the magazine published an interview with Vineet Nayar, here.

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