Making an omelette without treading on eggshells. A recipe for engaged employees.
Andy Hayes, 8 March 2022
Reinforcing the adage ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, and its nod to the importance of employees in building a successful business, we’re now seeing the peril of breaking too many eggs while making the corporate omelette. Businesses around the world are belatedly grappling with the Great Resignation as their employees continue to head to the door.
For years businesses and marketers have put customers first. And with the rapid evolution over the last 2 years of customer behaviour, habits, and motivations, surely they are right to keep customers front and centre. However, this period has also seen employers take their eye off their employees, who are arguably their most important audience.
Netflix’s Reed Hastings didn’t write a book about his customers, but about his employees, and the internal culture at Netflix. He realised early on that if you manage your employees right, then customers will come, and the business will grow. Sir Richard Branson built Virgin on the same philosophy.
“Try asking your colleagues: what is our EVP, our purpose or values, or even our business strategy? You may be dismayed at how many have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Of course, both customers and employees are important, but the evidence of the last two years, highlighted by narratives like the Great Resignation, has shown change is needed. While leaders have made themselves busy communicating the importance of their employees, many don’t walk that talk, and continue to lose good people.
It’s not enough to define the value of your business from an employee perspective – although defining your Employee Value Proposition is an important start. It’s also not enough to communicate it to employees, along with the purpose and strategy of the business – although effective internal communication strategy is vital.
Try asking your colleagues: what is our EVP, our purpose or values, or even our business strategy? You may be dismayed at how many have no idea what you’re talking about. Or at best they’re confused by different or conflicting internal and external brand messaging (hint – keep it simple).
Success lies in action. Just as employees are taking action to resign, employers need to take action to retain them.
Back to Netflix, their culture is driven by action – day-to-day behaviours and ways of working. Hastings’ culture strategy is as uncompromising as it is simple:
“Your values and behaviours may or may not even be written down – what’s more important is that they are practised by everyone”
1. Talent density: hire well, ensuring only high performing people are allowed to stay.
2. Collaboration: encourage flow of information, communication, teamwork, and feedback.
3. Freedom: with 1. and 2. in place, you can replace rules and policies with empowerment (after all, high performing people exercise great judgement).
Your values and behaviours may or may not even be written down – what’s more important is that they are practised by everyone, from the CEO down. As such they are learned by example, not just by reading a brand book, employee handbook or the ‘About Us’ section on the website.
Here are two examples from Netflix. First, their ‘feedback’ behaviour: Hastings sets the example by welcoming criticism in open forums (counter-intuitive or taboo in most cultures), and they provide ‘feedback coaching’ for the thinner-skinned. Second, like a lot of creative businesses, at Netflix they also ‘farm for dissent’ – because encouraging that dissenting voice in the corner to speak up, often unlocks a better idea. Which brings Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into the equation – showing DE&I is never just a policy, but a way of behaving throughout the day.
So, if you’re setting out to engage your employees – and thereby optimize your customer experience – here are some pointers to set you up for success:
1. Take time to align. Start with cross-functional alignment, sponsored by the CEO and including both Talent/HR and Marketing/Brand.
2. Keep it simple. This means having a single, powerful, brand idea that can resonate with the internal audience as well as the external, that can inform and inspire everything from talent management strategy to business strategy, from product and service offers to communications – ultimately driving revenue growth. (At Heavenly, we call these ‘Generous Ideas’).
3. Capture imaginations. Express your brand idea to employees in an imagination-capturing and memorable way (we call these ‘pennydrop’ moments). As obvious as this might sound, it rarely happens – try testing your colleagues now if they can tell you your company purpose.
4. Learn by example. Carry your brand through into behaviours and ways of working that employees learn from each other, and practise every day. This puts your brand right into the fabric of the business, rather than it being something you have to layer on top and explain.
5. Serve up to the customer. When your employees are living and breathing your brand – particularly those working in sales, retail and other customer-facing roles – you will much more likely be optimizing your products, services and ultimately the customer experience.
Crack these principles and you have a recipe for the perfect corporate omelette. One in which employees matter as much as customers. Bon appetit!