Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Do Your Decisions Align with Customers or Employees?

With myriad communication tools our disposal now, company actions and culture are very public. Employees and customers will judge you on the values you demonstrate.

They Want to See Their Values Reflected

Both employees and customers want to be associated with organizations that share their values – and show it through their actions. That may encompass decisions and policies that affect the environment, employees, customers, and the communities where you do business.

One example in Nova Scotia is the way Michelin Tire approached the closure of one of its plants. To mitigate the impact of this business decision, the company provided months of notice, offered severance buyouts for older workers, and created a fund to support local small businesses and start-ups.

The Nike “Just do it” ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL star who took a knee during the anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, is a riskier demonstration of values. The ad ends with him saying: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Living your values attracts the right clients for you – those who share your values. While the Nike ad led to a quick 3.2% drop in the company’s stock price and some online protests, it also led to a 31% increase in sales for the following three days. It’s worthy of note that Nike still has work to do internally to address allegations of sexual harassment and lower pay for female employees.

They Want to Have Influence

Most employees want the opportunity to provide input into how things are done.

  • Decisions affecting employees’ work lives: Employees don’t want the C-suite making these decisions in isolation. One example was United Airline’s attempt at changing its employee rewards package. This also demonstrates how engaging with employees can help executives avoid major missteps.
  • Decisions affecting customers: Employees – who are the face of the organization with customers – also want to be involved in key decisions affecting customers. If you have frontline employees, there is a wealth of knowledge available to you.

Customers may be a bit more reactive when it comes to their input. However, they want their concerns to affect your choices. You could say that the older expression “let the market decide” is evolving to the less generic “let your customers decide.”

  • Suppliers: Think about the changes that have taken place in the garment industry as consumers became more aware of the work conditions in textile factories in developing countries. Another example is MEC removing items created by a gun manufacturer after a school shooting in Florida in 2018.
  • Ingredients: Look at the move to more clear and specific labeling in the food industry, including whether fish was caught sustainably, whether the ingredients are non-GMO or organic, and where they originate.
  • Diversity: This could have been noted under employees or customers. MEC again shows they listen, as they reacted to a lack of diversity in their advertising. Of course, as a member-driven co-op, MEC prides itself on its values.

Customers want the ability to know not just what they are choosing, but who they are supporting. In addition their collective efforts, every purchase is a vote.

“The question of who comes first – customers or employees – misses the point. You need to focus on both for a sustainably successful business.” ~ Katherine Roberts

What Does it All Mean?

It’s in your best interest to involve employees meaningfully in planning and decisions. They know their situation and a great deal about your customers! You might even get the jump on what customers want.

Make sure you know what your employees and your customers value.  Research will help you get ahead of some of the changes in customer preferences. According to AdAge, research following the Nike ad showed that support by American consumers collectively dropped somewhat, but younger age groups showed a higher level of support.

Be genuine. As controversial as the Nike ad was, it aligned with the company’s approach in the past. If it had been a complete change, consumers would have reacted very differently. The same goes for Michelin. Their approach to mitigating the plant closure was consistent with what they had done in other locations.