Monday, September 30, 2013

What Employees Do When No One is Looking

Photo by Chris Nguyen on Unsplash
Do you know what your employees are doing when no one is looking?

I love Herb Kelleher's definition of culture: "Culture is what people do when no one is looking."

The problem is, it (culture) doesn't happen on its own; I think that might be called "anarchy!" Culture needs a little push, a little guidance, and once it has that, it takes on a life of its own.

So what does that mean, a little push or a little guidance?

I've updated my framework for a customer-centric culture from a three-legged stool to now include five building blocks, with purpose still being the first block:
  1. Purpose
  2. Core Values
  3. Employees
  4. Leadership
  5. Customers
In that order.

Bear with me.

Your purpose is your why; it's the reason for being, the reason for doing what you're doing.

Employees want to work for companies with which they are aligned. When employees are connected with your purpose and are passionate about what they are doing and who they do it for, there is a real benefit: they are more focused (on what they do and on the success of the business), want the business to succeed, and will do anything to ensure it does.

I added core values because I think they are necessary to help employees make the right decisions, in general. When in doubt, fall back on your core values. More importantly, your core values are going to drive hiring decisions, to ensure that you hire the right people, which is the next building block.

When you hire the right people, they will be aligned not only with your purpose but also with your core values; they'll embrace the same values in their own lives. Jim Collins says it best in Built to Last:

"Core values and purpose are not something people 'buy in' to. People must already have a predisposition to holding them. ... the task is to find people who already have a predisposition to share your core values and purpose, attract and retain these people, and let those who aren't predisposed to share your core values go elsewhere."

Be employee-centric before you are customer-centric. Why? because, as Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store, says: "Take care of employees better than anyone else, and they will take care of customers better than anyone else."

Simple enough.

Perhaps I could have put leadership before employees, but we all know that leadership is there to support employees and, basically, stand back and get out of their way. Leadership has a key role in ensuring the culture stays on the right track. Leadership must model, support, and reinforce the desired behaviors; be transparent and trustworthy; communicate; and quite simply, respect and care about the employees. Set the course, and set them free.

And finally, as odd as it sounds, customers are the last (not really, but last on this list) building block of the customer-centric culture. As Hal Rosenbluth said: "... if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.” That's why customers end up last in this list. So, last but not least, take the time to get to know your customers and their needs. Listen to them. Walk in their shoes. Understand what jobs they are trying to do, what needs they are trying to fulfill. Make every decision as if the customer was in the room.

You can’t sell it outside if you can’t sell it inside. -Stan Slap

Happy CX Day!

This post is part of the Customer Experience Professionals Association's Blog Carnival "Celebrating Customer Experience." It is part of a broader celebration of Customer Experience Day. Check out posts from other bloggers here.


  1. Hi Annette,
    I love Herb's definition. It reminds me of a definition of a brand that has been attributed to Jeff Bezos and it is 'your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room'.

    Similar. Does that mean that culture is the same as your internal brand?


    1. Adrian,

      Interesting. I've heard several variations of this quote.

      Who said it first?

      And to your point, it seems that would be a good way to look at it.

      Annette :-)

  2. A very helpful post, I think the expanded version is better.

    I wonder whether the list should also include shareholders (or 'stakeholders', or 'investors')?

    Perhaps Leadership could incorporate them in its broadest sense, but often (especially in larger companies) the owners of the business are not its leaders, yet they can have a mighty big influence on the culture by the goals they set.

    The impact is even more pronounced in the public sector where the government is the owner (one ought to say the people own it, but in practice it's the politicians and they're not necessarily an accurate proxy of the people).


    1. Thanks, Guy. I agree... I prefer this expanded version, too.

      I think shareholders reap the benefits of a customer-centric culture, but I don't necessarily think they are a building block of it.

      Open to others' thoughts on this...

      Annette :-)

  3. I love the Stan Slap quote

    Going to use that


    1. Thanks, James... I agree. Totally makes sense, no?

      Annette :-)