CLO - October 2011 - (Page 48)
The Upside-Down Pyramid
When employees know leaders expect the best from them and will back them up, they feel more prepared and comfortable making decisions.
eaders in today’s organizations continuously need to balance expectations from shareholders, customers and employees. How these three groups are ranked largely will determine an organization’s culture. For instance, a shareholder-ﬁrst organization focused on short-term proﬁts will have a different culture than one that puts its employees ﬁrst or that focuses on long-term business results and customer satisfaction. Chief learning ofﬁcers should determine who is their No. 1 customer or target audience, and then identify how that person or group impacts the organization’s return on learning and development investments, service levels and employee engagement levels within the company. Several companies are adopting an employee-ﬁrst approach that delivers results in all three areas. At Southwest Airlines, putting employees ﬁrst has been a rule since the airline’s beginnings 40 years ago. The results have been impressive. In an industry notorious for losing money, Southwest has generated a proﬁt for 38 consecutive years. “It sounded like heresy when we ﬁrst said it, but we don’t make any bones about it,” said Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest. “Our pyramid is upside down from most companies. We clearly and proudly proclaim that our employees are our ﬁrst customer in terms of priority, our passengers are our second customer and our shareholders are our third customer.” The same is true at Fortune 500 IT services company HCL Technologies, where CEO Vineet Nayar said, “Today’s hierarchical pyramid isn’t equipped to tackle tomorrow’s challenges. Instead, we need organizations where trust, based on transparency, creates a culture of constant innovation; where managers are as accountable to their employees as employees are to their bosses.”
48 Chief Learning Ofﬁcer • October 2011 • www.CLOmedia.com
In both of these organizations and in dozens more like them in different industries — such as Chick-ﬁlA in quick service restaurants, Wegman’s in grocery, Synovus in ﬁnancial services, WD-40 in manufacturing, Nordstrom’s in retail and Ritz-Carlton in hospitality and lodging — leaders put their employees ﬁrst to drive innovation at the bottom of the pyramid. Leaders in these organizations are expected to turn the traditional pyramid upside down so the customercontact people are at the top of the organization’s concerns. In this scenario, leaders need to understand that part of their job is to take care of the people who take care of their customers. In other words, leaders work for the people who report to them. A lot of leaders don’t see it this way, but this mindset is vital to empower people to serve customers at a high level. Elements of this mindset create a high-investment, highexpectation environment that supports an engaging environment for employees who in turn deliver superior experiences for customers: Start with leaders. These organizations know they have to set the example. Leaders have to walk the talk because employees model the behavior they see. “You have to have a 100 percent commitment from everyone that you are going to do this together and you are going to hold each other accountable,” Barrett said. Garry Ridge, CEO of household-products manufacturer WD-40, goes so far as to remind managers of their mutual accountability to employees at performance review meetings. If a manager recommends that a person be let go — or “shared with the competition,” as WD-40 calls it — the ﬁrst question asked of the manager is: “What have you done to help your direct report succeed?” If the manager can’t show he or she has coached and supported the direct report, the manager — not the direct report — might be shared with the competition.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CLO - October 2011
CLO - October 2011
Special Report: Learning Technology
Strengths: The Double- Edged Sword
The Gen Y Workplace
How to Promote Behavioral Change
The Upside-Down Pyramid
CLO - October 2011