Customers do not come first, it is Employees who come first
I started my career in sales, almost doing door-to-door selling to institutional customers.
Eventually, I grew in the career and became a sales leader leading teams; however, I always stayed close to the field force.
So, I know the pulse of the front-line salespeople in the organization.
I think there is always a feeling of Us vs. Them (Senior Management) among large sections of the field force of any organization.
They also feel that if there is a choice between employee well-being and business priorities, the business will always win.
This feeling also comes from the fact that not too many senior leaders communicate enough to the frontline people directly and interact with them regularly.
I spoke to a few senior HR folks; they told me that they eventually have to support the Businesses in case of any difference of opinion in employee matters.
They ultimately have to support the Businesses because they are not entirely independent.
I also ran a survey and asked people whether they think HR should be completely independent as far as employee initiatives are concerned.
And it is not surprising; 59% of the respondents thought that way and voted for HR functioning independently.
20% of respondents thought that Business should have the final word.
One of the most interesting responses was that 18% of people thought it should not be either way.
Both business priorities and employee interests should get equal weightage.
There is an issue.
Employees think that HR folks are not entirely independent.
If there is a difference of opinion between employee’s interests and the Business and if HR is not allowed to take an independent decision, then employees will think they are at the mercy of businesses.
It is like you are entirely in the hands of executives, and there is no judiciary for redressal.
There is another issue, not too many Senior Leaders may be communicating enough to their people.
Even if HR may not be entirely independent, business leaders have to create a climate of trust and security.
They have to reinforce the message every time there is an opportunity to do so.
Employee interest does not mean protecting non-performing employees.
It means creating an environment of meritocracy and a level playing field, and an enabling culture for employees to perform at their best.
Particularly in the current COVID situation, continuous communication to the people has become a need of the hour.
I remember during my initial days of corporate life, I used to work for Wipro.
I was posted in a Branch Office.
Mr. Premji, then Chairman of Wipro, visited all regional offices in India and addressed the employees directly.
He would talk about the Company's strategic directions and answer employee’s questions.
We used to look forward to that occasion eagerly; it was so inspiring.
My personal view that employee interest should not be conflicting with long-term business objectives by any means.
If people are the prime mover and the biggest asset in creating any great business, how can people’s issues and interests not be an integral part of overall business objectives?
I think what creates confusion is a lack of communication and transparency.
During a hard time, if there are measures which are taken by leaders like maybe right-sizing or salary cut etc. have to be communicated with complete sincerity and transparency.
What is probably more damaging is creating confusion and uncertainty.
Lastly, I completely agree with the quote by Richard Branson
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
Particularly during hardship, if they are taken care of, then the loyalty goes up many folds.
At the same time, employees also need to show higher commitment when things are not going right with the company.
End of the day, this is a symbiotic relationship.
Take care of your employees; they will take care of your businesses.