3 Principles of Fostering a People-Centric Culture

As more companies mature in their adoption of customer experience from an initiative into a practice, customer-centricity must become part of the corporate culture. Many companies are at a crossroads: Balancing the momentum of their obsession with their customers while still keeping employees engaged so that customer experience becomes second nature to their day-to-day job function.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with fellow practitioner and customer experience leader, Annette Franz, on the importance of developing an end-to-end holistic approach to a customer experience that begins with building the right employee experience practice.  

Leadership plays a fundamental role in how a company views itself and in fostering an overall environment. While serving revenue goals and meeting the bottom line is important, how and who gets a company to those goals makes a huge difference. How can leaders foster a more people-centric environment?  

Annette Franz: These are the three principles that leaders must practice and live by to ensure the culture and work environment in their organizations is people-centric.

  1. First and foremost is executive alignment. They’ve all got to be on the same page when it comes to developing this people-centric environment. If they’re not, it’s going to fall apart. There are no exceptions here. Leaders model the changes and the behaviors that they want to see in the organization. If some are not in lock-step with others on this, it sends the wrong message to employees.
  2. Now that everyone’s committed and supportive, the next principle is servant leadership, which is all about putting your peoples’ needs before your own. That means leaders must get out there, talk to their employees, and learn more about them and their needs.
  3. The third principle is truly human leadership. This one goes beyond servant leadership by practicing that principle, and then layering on top of it the practice of treating your employees like family. It means truly caring for your people — not just viewing them as cogs in the wheel to your, or the company’s, success.

I think the key thing to reiterate is that leaders model the changes and behaviors they want to see in the organization. Employing these three principles will certainly set them down that path.

Creating culture is more than hiring the right people and having “Friday happy hours.” How do you define culture?

Franz: I like to define culture as core values plus behavior. Core values are at the root of your culture. Once you’ve identified those, you must take the next step and define the behaviors that exemplify each value, providing a clear guide for your employees to know what’s right and what’s wrong. If you established your core values years ago, but never took the time to define those behaviors, it’s not too late to do that. And, if you established your core values years ago, but there’s no mention of the customer or no clear translation from value to customer-centricity, then it might be time to update your core values.

What are the behaviors that companies should look for to reinforce the values in their employees?

Franz: It’s really important to reinforce behaviors. Communicating and modeling behaviors are critical, but reinforcement makes them a reality. The easiest ways to do that are to hire, fire and promote based on the values. Beyond that, performance metrics, rewards and recognition should also be aligned with core values.

Employees often see an issue but go into the “it’s not my job” syndrome, and either don’t act or hope that someone else picks up the ball. What can companies do to engage their employees so that they are proactive in helping with — or solving — problems?

Franz: The first thing you need to do to engage employees to solve a problem is to make it clear what the problem is. Then you’ve got to address why it’s a problem, how it impacts the business, what other dependencies exist and why they should be involved. In other words, clarity and understanding are key.

Not to belabor the point about the leadership team leading by example, but when you see your leaders working with others to solve problems — even in different departments or different business units — it showcases the importance and the beauty of working together and helping others. Involve employees on a regular basis in brainstorming and problem-solving settings and meetings. This teaches them how to ideate, question everything, collaborate and work together with others to solve problems. And then always reinforce this type of behavior. Recognize employees for helping others, for working together to solve problems — problems that may or may not be related to their “day jobs.”

Tying this question back to the culture and the core values, I do believe that if the core values are defined and communicated, it makes it more difficult for employees to not help.

Is this a case of employees not feeling empowered and enabled? How can organizations overcome this?

Franz: If employees aren’t feeling empowered, then they clearly are not empowered; employees know when they are. So, leaders must ensure employees have the tools, skills, resources, and know-how to go forth and do what is expected of them. And then it must be clear and explicit. In other words, employees must hear/know that they are empowered to do what’s right. Again, core values will guide their actions here.

Leaders should teach, coach, train and provide feedback to their employees on the subject matter, e.g., solving a problem, lavish them with trust, and then let them go and do the job.

One last thought on empowerment: Managers can’t micromanage. If managers are micromanaging, employees are not empowered. Empowerment is about providing the tools, the guide rails, and the support — and letting the employee act. Micromanaging is the opposite of all of that.

Look Beyond the Numbers 

In my conversation with Annette, one thing is clear: It’s about the people and the human factor. And it starts at the executive leadership level. Whether it’s to empower and enable customers to fully use a brand’s services or to empower and enable employees to do the right thing for customers, leadership must be committed to looking beyond the numbers and focusing on providing the right elements of coaching, training, and encouragement. In building a corporate culture that’s wildly obsessed with customers, businesses must first be wildly obsessed with empowering and enabling their employees.

Determine how you’ll design your employee experience to maximize your customer experience practice — and involve your leaders in the design.