Dec 1, 2022
Employees Come Before Customers in Revamp of HR’s Old Guard
(Bloomberg) -- “Customer-first,” that age-old business adage, may finally be superseded by another: “Employee-first.”
At least that’s one of the aims of a new manifesto published by more than 30 human resources leaders and employee experience design startup Excellent. While optimizing user and customer experience has traditionally been a top priority of most consumer-facing businesses, employee experience, know as “EX,” turns that same type of attention inward, designing a workplace that “elevates business performance through employee wellbeing,” according to the release.
It’s a framework that’s been adopted by companies like Patagonia, Airbnb and Shopify, with others following their lead as firms try to attract and retain talent in the wake of the Great Resignation. While fewer Americans are leaving their jobs now than they were a year ago, quits are still elevated, as are job openings. And with wage growth still solid, especially for those switching roles, employers have been incentivized to rethink corporate culture so workers will stay.
“A focus on employee experience has gained traction in the tightest labor market in a generation,” said Caitlin Duffy, research director at consulting firm Gartner. “If you don’t deliver great EX, you risk losing out.”
Any number of practices are up for an overhaul: from onboarding and training to flexible work options, tech interfaces and office design.
At its core, EX is about co-designing solutions with employees, said Samantha Gadd, founder and co-CEO of Excellent. One major reservation holding leaders back from taking the leap is the fear that people will demand unreasonable things that are clearly bad for business, she said. “But if you've got smart people, they see the needs of the organization. They don't want to suggest things that are going to make the organization not function,” Gadd said. “They give solutions that are probably really close to what the leaders want.”
For Mark Levy, who pioneered employee experience at Airbnb and signed the manifesto, the mindset shift impacted the entire organization, not just HR: “Any part of the company that was touching the employee, whether it was IT, or marketing or finance, including HR and managers, needed to understand that we were going to be treating our employees like customers, in service to our employees,” he said. One major change Levy implemented: modeling Airbnb’s IT department after Apple’s Genius Bar.
Still, “employee-first” is a provocative mantra, particularly in industries like retail. The declaration stirred fierce debate amongst the group writing the manifesto, Gadd said.
The sentiment was ultimately preserved. As the research says, if employees are happier and better supported, customer experience will inevitably improve as well. And as Gadd pointed out, turnover is expensive: the cost of losing one rude customer is often less than that of replacing an employee that quits as a result.
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