Play by new rules to gain an advantage

Rebecca Weitzel
Rebecca Weitzel

If you run a thriving business, it’s likely due in large part to the ways you care for your customers.

You probably monitor such things as customer reviews, net promoter scores and social media posts to understand what your customers think and feel. Perhaps you’ve developed customized messaging for different market segments or customer personas to ensure you’re reaching the right people and meeting their needs. You know your existing customers can either bolster your business by championing your brand or strangle it with negative reviews. So you invest time and money building a network of true fans and focus on the customer experience.

That’s all important. But it’s no longer enough.

A new world of websites like empower millions of current and former employees to anonymously review your business and leadership. Moreover, there’s growing demand for talented workers who can quickly adapt to change. If you don’t also have an employee experience strategy, you’ll soon find yourself in a ghost town of businesses that insisted on sticking to the old rules while everyone else moved on.

What are the old rules? These might feel familiar. Let employees know in subtle and not-so-subtle ways they should just feel lucky they have jobs. Throw new people into their roles as quickly as possible to put out fires. Assume you always know what’s best. Micromanage. Dictate orders. Never admit a mistake. View recognition as pandering and gratitude as an indulgence. Confine your human resource department to the role of rule-enforcer. Offer the same worn-out benefits you always have, never questioning whether or not they’re meaningful. Avoid seemingly squishy ideas about the importance of culture, purpose in work, vulnerability and well-being. Emphasize the bottom line every chance you get.

Organizations that survive in this new world are those that quickly embrace the new rules of doing business; leverage them to build an attractive employee brand; and, as a result, carve out a competitive advantage for themselves.

What are the new rules? Consider these. View employment as a potentially rewarding journey for your employees — one that meets their basic human needs of learning, growing and contributing. Craft a cohesive experience for each employee from recruitment and onboarding to career development. Admit when you don’t know the answer. Hire people who’re smarter than you and trust them to do their jobs. Ask for and act on employee feedback frequently — not just once a year after an employee satisfaction survey. Inspire people by reminding them often of your mission and their unique roles in carrying it out. Regularly express appreciation for the contributions of team members. Treat employees as whole people with full lives, not just business resources. Elevate the status of human resources to people builders and business strategists. Provide benefits and rewards that truly improve people’s lives. Find ways to demonstrate genuine caring for employees’ physical, mental, financial and social well-being. Foster connections and meaningful work relationships.

Before you dismiss these new rules as just trends adopted by touchy feely do-gooders, understand that collectively, they represent sound business strategy.

According to the results of a recent Gallup survey, two-thirds of the members of the U.S. work force are disengaged at work and more than half would take another job if offered one. Not only do these conditions drain business resources, they also hurt individual health and well-being and in turn strain families, the health care system and community resources.

According to the results of the same survey, organizations with the highest levels of engagement report on average a 70 percent reduction in employee safety incidents, a 59 percent to 24 percent reduction in turnover and a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism. Moreover, those organizations report 22 percent higher productivity and 21 percent higher profitability than organizations with the lowest levels of engagement.

Rather than ignore new rules that account for the employee experience or become stymied by the realization it could take some time and effort to follow them, conduct an experiment. Make a plan with your leadership team to implement one small change this month and then another next month. Consider bringing in outside experts to help you assess where you are now, guide you through the steps to improve and measure your progress. Before you know it, people will line up outside your door to join your organization. Employees will eagerly bring their best selves to their jobs. And your team members will brag to their friends about where they work.

That’s a lot of value for simply shifting to a new set of rules that amount to doing the right thing anyway.