Are Your Employees Significant Enough?

Cultivating an Employee-First Attitude

“This is the most significant investment we’ve made in our partners since the introduction of Bean Stock.” This statement was in a news piece, published some years back, about Starbucks, the Seattle-based company, known for offering benefits such as healthcare and stock options. In this case, it was making partial tuition available to its staff. Their “partners” as employees are referred to, would be eligible to receive partial tuition for the first two years and full tuition for the final two years of college.


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Embracing a new model

“We’ve always known that our partners work hard every day,” Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks’ Americas region, said in a phone interview. “This is the best way we can serve them.”

In 2015, it was reported that Starbucks was expanding its employee college tuition assistance programme to cover the entire cost of getting an online bachelor’s degree.

There are two words that stood out in the above announcement: partners and serve.

Here’s another example.

Joe Carcello has a great job at Costco. The 59-year-old has an annual salary of $52,700, gets five weeks of vacation a year, and is looking forward to retiring on the sizable nest egg in his 401(k), which his employer augments with matching funds. After 26 years at his company, he’s not worried about layoffs.

In 2009, as the recession deepened, his bosses handed out raises. “I’m just grateful to come here to work every day,” he says. This statement comes from a recent article in Businessweek about Costco.

Even though these so-called glamour companies are composed of a relatively young workforce, the one thing they do understand is that to engage employees, you have to treat them like partners.

The old way doesn’t work anymore

Both these companies understand that the old organisational support model for employees is outdated.

They want to chart new ground and support their “partners”. With a multi-generational workforce under their belts, these companies are preparing themselves for a new workforce with new expectations.

Clearly, this is not your parents’ organisation.

In the HR space, there is constant chatter over the inner workings of Zappos, Google, Facebook and the like. Even though these so-called glamour companies are composed of a relatively young workforce, the one thing they do understand is that to engage employees, you have to treat them like partners.

As Tony Hsieh, CEO and Founder of Zappos says, “A company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. What goes around the office comes around to the customer.” The old organisation/employee dynamic is over. The new dynamic is about partnering and serving.

More than just a job

The EVP (employee value proposition) rings hollow if leaders don’t follow through on what they say. Regardless of what a company says publicly, it is the company’s actions that bring it to life.

What does this mean?

It means you have to offer more than just a job. Your organisation can stop losing employees by aligning with better opportunities and reaching out beyond the paycheck. The reality is if that paycheck is all you are offering, you will not be able to compete for talent.

When Zappos was looking for high calibre employees to staff its call centre, they ended up relocating the entire company from San Francisco to Las Vegas in 2004. As a side note, Tony went into great detail about how Zappos prioritised their customers, in the Harvard Business Review article, How I Did It : Zappos’s CEO on Going to Extreme for Customers.

The dawn of a new day

A new employee/partner dynamic has emerged in the last few years. Let’s call it the Costco/Starbucks lesson in employee engagement.

Over the last few years, Nordstrom, the Container Store, Sephora and Whole Foods have gained a reputation for treating employees well.

Nordstrom’s pay and benefits have been called “unparalleled in the industry“; they don’t forget their part-time employees and there’s a strong work-life balance, all of which contributed to it landing on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, four years in a row.

Kip Tindell shared how he created an employee-first culture at The Container Store in a Forbes interview with Dan Schwabel. At the point the company was 10 years old, they opened another store in Houston, which made them look at the business a little harder.

From the time they opened their doors, that store did more business than they ever anticipated, which the employees found overwhelming.  Kip found it a challenge communicating the values and culture they believed in, to these employees, most of whom had never been exposed to their other stores. So, Kip referred back to a file he had started many years back which he called his “philosophy epistle file” where he saved various anecdotes, musings and philosophical phrases that he had collected through the years. He chose many examples from there to communicate his message and to his relief, it was incredibly well-received.

He pointed out and rightly so that ,”Business is not a zero-sum game. Someone doesn’t have to lose for others to win. Building synergies amongst your stakeholders is where it’s at – that’s when you can create the most value for all.”

By engaging beyond the paycheck, these companies have outpaced rivals. It takes happy employees to build a successful company.

If you do not make changes to the way your company recruits and retains employees, you will be losing mind share, market share and talent share.

While lots of today’s companies may not be where they want to be financially, in order to offer added incentives, they all must reconsider the marriage of the organisation and the employee. This critical relationship makes the difference between long-term success and failure. There is no way around it.

Failure is an option

While your company may not be able to offer college tuition or stock offerings, you have to move beyond just the offer of a paycheck. If you do not make changes to the way your company recruits and retains employees, you will be losing mind share, market share and talent share.

You will lose.

Organisations today are going to have to experiment with new organisational structures where leadership is held accountable to employees and their focus has to be on reigniting their partners. This is not HR’s responsibility. This responsibility belongs to the company’s executive team.

You can hold as many strategy meetings as you like, but if you’re not focused on your employees, you will be wasting your time. In this new era of accountability, it is the organisation that partners with its workforce that will have the competitive advantage. This pairing will allow your company to withstand the winds of competition. Your organisation has the ability to change how it does business with its own people.

Do you agree – what do you think? Love to hear what you think in the comments section below.


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A version of this article first appeared on CEO.com.
Joy of life image courtesy Vali BV of freeimages.com

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