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To be customer-centric, be employee-centric first
Employee Centricity

To be customer-centric, be employee-centric first

Upasana Singh
February 19, 2024

The value of an engaged and effective company culture can’t be overstated, especially in today’s competitive recruiting environment. Ninety-four percent of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is crucial to business success, according to recent findings from Deloitte. Yet only 19% of executives surveyed by Deloitte think their company has the “right culture.” When re-evaluating our own company culture at peopleHum, we placed the focus on implementing not only an employee-centric culture but an employee-centric management style as well. Here’s why this new approach to management and leadership works and how you can do the same with your business.

Linking people-centricity to business success

We already know great customer experiences drive business growth and success. What most companies fail to acknowledge is that the people behind the delivery of that customer experience must come first. Focusing on employees isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s good for business too.

This is nothing new: witness the Service-Profit Chain, a linkage established by James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser and Leonard A. Schlesinger more than 20 years ago. As you can see, when you put employees first, they’ll do right by your customers – and the business benefits in the end.

To be customer-centric, be employee-centric first | peopleHum

Changing culture, mindsets and behavior

So how do you design a people-centric culture? For most companies it involves a culture shift, a mindset shift and a behavior shift.

Let’s start with a definition of culture. What is it?

The most simple definition is this one (attributed to both Gerard Seijts and Herbert Kelleher): "Culture is what people do when no one is looking.” To add a little more detail, culture = values + behavior.

That’s it: core values and behaviors. When a business’s core values are clearly defined, the right behavior is easy, a no-brainer. That’s what we mean when we say, “what people do when no one is looking.” And these behaviors are part of what I’m referring to when I talk about a culture shift, a mindset shift and a behavior shift.

And once again, if you need further incentive, focusing on culture and a culture shift benefits your bottom line:

"Companies that are customer-centric are 60 percent more profitable." –Deloitte

"A stronger culture leads companies to perform higher in revenue growth, operating margin, and total shareholder return." –Aon Hewitt

Those stats are all rosy and lovely, but the current reality and the current culture story for most companies is much different. More like this…

"18 percent of companies with CX programs still aren’t engaged in any major programs to create a customer-centric culture." – Forrester 

I’ve used these stats because I’ve allowed for “customer-centric” to include a primary focus on employees, something that I’m sure these reputable consulting firms have taken into consideration.

So, the key to developing this culture, first and foremost, is well-defined core values and guiding principles, which provide a clearer outline of behaviors that align with the core values, behaviors that support a people-first mindset.

Painting the big picture

Next up are mission, vision, and purpose. When everyone knows the vision and the objectives of the company, they feel included and part of something bigger, working together to make sure the business is successful.

Once the company is grounded in well-defined and clearly-communicated mission, vision, values, and purpose, they’ve got a solid foundation for a people-first culture.

“You don’t build a business. You build people, and people build the business.” – Zig Ziglar

Company leadership plays a critical role

But there’s one more critical component to this culture: company leadership. There are three aspects with regards to leadership that I believe are important to a people-first culture.

  1. Executive alignment
  2. Servant leadership
  3. Truly human leadership

Executive alignment

No culture transformation can be successful without executive alignment. All executives must be committed to the vision and goals of the transformation. They must all be on the same page when it comes to your organization’s culture, the goals of the business, and how the business should be run. They must also all lead by example and model the behaviors they wish to see from their employees.

Servant leadership

Executives and leaders must come to work every day and put their people first and themselves second. They must trust, respect, listen, empathize, and recognize that their employees' needs come before their own. They must also develop people and ensure they become high performers. This is servant leadership. It’s a mindset shift and a behavior shift; you are a servant first, leader second. Servant leadership must be a basic tenet of any people-first culture.

Truly human leadership

While servant leadership is powerful, I believe Truly Human Leadership goes one step further to encourage leaders to not only adopt a servant leader mentality but to also treat their people like family. In addition to a workplace culture based on trust, respect and caring, leaders must choose to put their employees' well-being ahead of all other goals and outcomes. Truly human leadership is about measuring success by the way company leaders touch the lives of people. Instead of viewing employees as a cog in the wheel to company success, truly human leaders view employees as humans, as family, as family members.

Imagine the employee experience if that was the case, if leaders cared about employees, their families and their well-being. What if they measured success by how they touched their employees' lives? A little humanity and humanness would go a long way.

We don’t do traditional HR at peopleHum. Here, the HR teams have the power and, quite frankly, the endurance to change organizations from within thanks to our flexibility and adaptiveness. With this great power comes the great responsibility of customer centricity.

So how can we achieve this level of customer centricity in our internal strategy, in a way that facilitates operations and adds value to our management team?

Being employee-centric

We can start by hiring strongly, for cultural fit. By that I don’t mean hiring the same profile over and over again, but instead hiring people that will reflect our core values while also adding to the culture and diversity of the company.

We can onboard our employees by creating a customer centric induction plan, which focuses on the external customers and on building practices and sharing information with internal teams. We can train for excellence and for soft skills, like communication, active listening, team work and collaboration (among others), which are essential in a fast-paced, growing company and are particularly valuable for people in customer-facing roles.

We can measure how our employees feel through engagement and culture surveys, to able to address concerns and make improvements in due time. We can also create HR processes and structures that set our employees up for success, without dragging them down with unnecessary bureaucracy. When the company-wide focus is on the customer, then all our internal processes should reflect that and be set up with that goal in mind.

By the way, we are doing all of these things, with a strong focus on our own customers’ experience — the employee journey. By looking at the lifecycle of an employee at Unbabel, we can look at what we are doing right and wrong and improve processes and efficiency. This has been a main focus of the end of last year and we plan to launch it this quarter, with constant revision.

It seems to me that the traditional view of Human Resources prevents our professionals from realizing their full potential as contributors to the quality of an external service. Human Resources has always tended to be too distant to see what our internal customers are going through, what their struggles are, and what they are doing right. We need to add value — not only on an HR level, but also throughout Finance, Tech Ops, Office Management, etc. — and ultimately cultivate customer focus all across the organization.

We’re all in this together

Intuitively, we already know that unhappy customers are harder to work with, and happy customers are easier to serve. But besides this, we should be recognizing and rewarding people who show a collaborative mindset and approach, as our “build the tower” value sets out.

It’s become obvious that our external customer service will suffer if internal customer service is failing. We depend on other teams and other stakeholders every day to make things happen.

How can we eliminate language barriers and create understanding if we don’t remove the internal barriers that keep us from attaining our OKRs and goals?

Essential components of an organization

There are 7 essential components of an organization which are required to put the employee front and center. In this post, we’ll define each component, explore why it’s important, and provide examples of how you can make changes to your facilities to build a people-first space.

1. Positive culture

Culture is defined as the personality of the organization and embodies the beliefs and values of a company or organization. Workplace culture not only encourages employees to interact based upon embedded attitudes and traditions, it also considers the space where work is performed. A company’s culture is directly tied to the employee experience. A positive culture is directly tied to the other components of an employee-centric workplace, including working productivity, turnover, and general wellness or absenteeism.

2. Comfortable office design

It’s no surprise that employee wellness is one of the leading concerns for employers. Rising health care costs and loss of productivity due to employees missing work because of illness, sick children, or high stress levels are the norm for organizations today. The Harvard Business Review cites 80% of both workplace accidents and doctor visits are due to stress. These numbers are driving employers to evaluate the design of their current workspace. The actual workplace impacts wellness; studies have proven that access to natural light, environmental control technologies that adjust temperatures and lightning, and physical wellness spaces create a healthier environment that improves employee productivity and well-being.

3. Space availability

Productivity in the workplace is a measure of the efficiency of individual workers, groups of workers (cohorts), or of the overall organization as it relates to employees. Productivity is typically measured over a specific time period. In the employee-centric workplace, the workspace itself is designed to enhance efficiency and increase collaboration, thereby collectively improving productivity overall. Availability of space, such as meeting rooms or conference rooms can restrict collaboration, and increase stress levels, especially when it comes to project deadlines and plans. Remote or mobile workers coming to the office to participate in team-based exercises can also be limited by desk space availability. 

4. Agile for all scenarios

Business agility refers to qualities that allow organizations to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or compromising their defined business objectives and goals. This can mean organizational adjustments based on market trends, such as planning for growth, contraction, or a recession. It can also mean acting with urgency and capitalizing on an acquisition opportunity. Scenario planning software provides visual displays and dashboards, so you have the information you need to evaluate multiple options and then act confidently. In the agile organization, your business must possess the ability to act with urgency while maintaining flexibility and balance for employees and customers.

5. Future-proofed workspaces

Organizations who have innovation at their core tend to support free exchanges of ideas amongst employees. These companies are also on the cutting edge of trends and power technology users. One of the greatest trends impacting workplace design and space utilization is mobility. Highly effective, innovative companies are future-proofing their workspaces by adopting hot-desking and hotelling initiatives which are managed by IWMS and analytics software. In order to collect and share in the brilliant ideas of employees, the responsibility is on the employer to create an up-to-date space which functions practically for today’s worker.

6. Collaboration-friendly layouts

Collaboration in the workplace is the bedrock of the innovative organization and includes small and even larger groups of employees working closely with one another to exchange ideas and information. Workplace collaboration can be encouraged and enhanced when organizations provide an environment that makes it easy and organic for employees to move from one group of people (or one department) to the next – removing barriers that might typically keep an organization siloed. Just as we discussed with productivity, cross-functional collaboration is fostered via workspace design. Often this means renovating your existing space to create a more open environment or moving departments from one floor to another, from the right side of a building to the left side. 

7. Employee-centric mission

A mission historically defines what a company does and helps to communicate the values of the organization. The mission is often defined in a statement that typically describes the company’s function, markets, competitive advantages and its reason for being. In the employee-centric organization, the mission is less about “what a company does,” and more about “how we all achieve it together.” If your workspace design and processes support your mission, you have certainly moved far beyond the beanbag.

Transforming your personal leadership style, and that of your management team and company culture, to be fully employee-centric feels daunting at first. But following these simple strategies can have a profound impact on the way your business operates and help you redefine your brand as one that employees feel empowered and motivated to work for and one that customers want to buy from.

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