Monthly Archives: May 2015

Recently, I proposed a new bill called The Employee Equality Act. Though the legislation is fictional, I have a dream that one day all businesses will treat employees with the same reverence as customers.

Only when you communicate with employees in the same high-quality manner companies traditionally reserve for customers will you achieve true employee engagement.

Here are five ways to start treating employees as well as customers:

1. Secure marketing resources.

Customer communications typically involve marketing, sales, and leadership resources. Marketing standards are high since the people executing those communications are uniquely qualified to develop compelling communications (e.g. design, messaging, delivery).

Employee communications, on the other hand, are typically planned, created, and delivered by HR team members who, though qualified in many areas, are not trained in communications or marketing.

Give your employee communications and marketing campaigns professional polish by either a) Requesting design and creative assistance from the marketing department, b) Allocating budget to hire external marketing agencies or freelance creatives (e.g. www.CreativeQuarterback.com), or c) Hiring marketing/communications professionals on your HR team.

2. Create an employee advisory board.

Companies use customer advisory boards to understand needs and gather feedback about products and services. These groups provide customers with a unique sense of value, influence, and camaraderie.

Unlike customers, employees rarely have a robust and regular forum to share suggestions, feedback, and ideas. Why should companies give customers more control over product, service, and overall direction than their own employees?

Form an employee advisory board comprised of key influencers across the organization. Give the group direct access to company leadership and solicit their opinions on business and employee matters. Not only will this help increase employee engagement, it will also give you invaluable insights into the hearts and minds of your employees and show that employee feedback is a critical part of the company’s direction and evolution.

3. Regularly solicit and act upon employee feedback.

Most companies monitor and measure customer feedback on a constant basis. From post-purchase surveys to product reviews and focus groups, companies treat customer feedback data like gold.

Employee surveys, on the other hand, are typically annual (if that). When results are gathered, the feedback is rarely acted upon.

Partner with a third-party employee survey partner like Kenexa and/or create an internal employee survey cadence. Then, share high-level results back with employees, tell them what actions you’re going to take based on their feedback, and hold yourself accountable for following through on those promises.

4. Implement employee-related change management strategies.

Companies agonize over how to communicate important (and minute) business changes to their customers. Painstaking care is taken to ensure key information is communicated clearly, concisely, and consistently. It’s not uncommon for companies to deliver the message across multiple channels and measure engagement and reception.

Employee-related changes should be planned, drafted, and delivered with the same (if not more) care as customer communications. Last-minute, half-baked, one-time, email-only employee communications don’t cut it anymore.

From leadership changes to process changes, use a thoughtful, cross-channel, measurable communication plan that provides employees with the information they need in a format they can digest. Consider videos, live meetings, desk drops, FAQs, etc. Make sure every communication includes a clear path for employees to ask questions or voice concerns.

5. Educate and enlighten HR staff.

Whether you partner with your corporate marketing team, use external firms, or have the benefit of hiring dedicated communications staff within HR, make education a priority. Every member of your HR organization needs to understand the value of professional, polished employee communications and internal marketing.

Spend time educating them about how and when to engage with marketing/creative team members. Explain how HR benefits from putting more time and resources into internal communications. Celebrate successes as a team to build momentum around effective campaigns.

Only once every member of your HR organization understands and values marketing and communications will your team truly begin firing on all cylinders.

Treating employees with equal care and attention as customers is a gradual process. But, the incremental impact on employee engagement – and the increased respect your team will gain across the organization – makes this paradigm shift a necessity.

A labor/employment and business attorney by trade, I often find parallels between my legal training and my experience as an HR leader. Lately, I’ve been considering championing a new law – The Employee Equality Act. My bill would require businesses to treat employees with the same reverence as customers. Though my proposed legislation is entirely fictional, the sentiment behind it couldn’t be more real.

Head to your local bookstore’s business section, and you’ll find dozens of titles about how to build, grow, and evolve your approach to customer service. It’s widely understood that customer success begets business success. No wonder organizations spend so much time and money on customer marketing, communications, and service. As Sam Walton of Walmart writes in his memoir, Made in America, “The goal of a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.”

Next, browse for books about corporate culture. You’ll find dozens of additional titles that promise to help you build, grow, and evolve powerful cultures like those at Zappos and Patagonia. Now, peruse the section related to corporate marketing. You’ll come face-to-spine with a plethora of books addressing every facet of marketing.

Finally, look for books about how to implement world-class employee marketing and communications. I guarantee you won’t find many – if any – titles on the topic.

As a business leader and HR executive, I’m beyond baffled by this gap. We all seem to accept the reality of employees serving customers. We spend countless hours reading, meeting, and speaking about how to deliver world-class customer service.

But, that’s only half of the equation. What about the importance of leaders serving employees? How much time to do we spend perfecting the craft of employee marketing?

Think about The Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. In business, this has historically translated to treating our customers like our most valuable assets. It’s not uncommon for companies to invest upwards of 25% of their budget on customer service and customer communications and dedicate less than 1% of their budgets to employee marketing.

To be clear, I agree that customer service and marketing are incredibly important to business success. If you don’t execute well in these areas, it won’t matter how superior your product is or how much people need the goods and services you’re selling. If customers don’t feel valued, understand what makes your company unique, and fully commit to your product over competitors, business will eventually flatline.

The Golden Rule extends beyond customer service, however. As business leaders, we need to approach employee marketing, measurement, and investment with the same tenacity as their customer equivalents. In short, treat employees as well as you treat customers.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, says it best: “You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management.”

Affordable and comprehensive benefits are a good start. Meaningful volunteer opportunities and gracious paid time off help, too. But, that’s only the beginning. To “Deliver WOW through service” (a core value at Zappos) for employees with the same fervor as customers, you must rethink every employee touch-point.

For example, consider the differences between your current customer and employee communications. Chances are, customer communications are scrutinized at length, involve engaging and professional messaging and design, and are professionally printed or delivered through user-friendly digital channels.

Now, think about typical employee communications. It’s not uncommon to see plain text emails, newsletters thrown together in Microsoft Word and printed on the office copier, and company meeting PowerPoints bursting at the seams with bullet points and cheesy ClipArt.

Arguably, employee and customer communications are of equal importance to their constituencies. Why, then, is the design, messaging, and delivery far superior for the customer audience? The time for such inequality is over.

The good news? Your organization already has a playbook for how to treat employees – it’s the same way you treat your customers.

To be continued in the Employee Equality Act: Part 2.