They came, they preached, they won and they faded into history. When the world was looking for innovative ways of leadership, one of the most popular concept that swept through IT world (and most of service industry) was 'Employee First'. It took some of the industry segments by surprise. Some customers were offended as they felt serving customer should be the motto and Employee First would mean that their needs will be ignored or will be second in line, at least. Contrary to what people thought and how they reacted, the concept worked wonders. It empowered the employees; the demotivated workforce suddenly started taking decisions and this in turn served their customers much better than they expected. The emphasis was suddenly 'value added services'. Not that this was something new but this was subtly different from past. Because employees 'felt' that they were empowered, they took decisions that used to take ages in large organisations. This worked as a catalyst and the 'value' to the customer came to the fore.
For couple of years everyone in thought leadership, customers, all employees in the hierarchy took pride in the concept and the value being delivered. Sales teams visited their numbers and found that numbers were still the same. They were baffled. The whole idea of motivated employees and decentralising the decision-making was to increase numbers. But they were wrong. In the dwindling economy, the cunning plan was not to increase numbers but to retain the existing customers. Most renegotiations were based on how much value you added instead of the usual rate card discounts. Most employees of this first generation of 'Employee First' were motivated enough to have successful negotiations. I was one such motivated employee in the IT industry. Today, 4 years down the line, I revisited the path to see how second generation of 'Employee First' are coping with the concept. I was stunned at the results when I saw the trends.
The first generation employees, full of pride moved to higher positions. Their roles changed from customer-facing hands-on delivery to relationships and numbers. The second generation received this concept as default in their organisation and never fully understood how best to utilise this to their or customer's advantage. As it happens in organisations, the freedom to do things across hierarchies started to come under regulations. The 'How-To' ways of working gradually started having rules and processes around it. The whole idea of an motivated employee and taking a decision killed the concept of 'Employee First'. The hierarchical ways of working came back to haunt decision making even though new processes were meant to help 'Employee First'. This didn't surprise me as most organisations tend to create processes around anything and everything, leaving little room for flexibility in decision making. Whether it's right or wrong, it's debatable but that's how the situation is.
What surprised more was behavioural aspect of employees. The first generation, that moved up the ladder using this concept, has suddenly started asking questions about viability of value added services. Because their KRAs are numbers, they want a $ value associated with each value being delivered. The whole idea of empowering the employee has come down to finding a $ value. The customer-facing employees, who were supposed to be empowered, have pressure from first generation to deliver on $ value instead of taking decisions independently. Because they have seen the revolution on the ground so in their mind, they are 'Employee First'. Because second generation has not seen the revolution on ground, they believe that this is how it works! Gradually, first generation employees coupled with processes have killed an exciting idea. It has gradually moved from 'Employee First, Customer Second' to 'Boss First; Employee Second; Customer Third'. It's sad to see that thought leaders preached what they thought was right at that time, moved to other important things. While the concept saw the daylight, it lived for a very short period.
After revisiting the old path, I am wondering if the next thought leaders will preach about 'Decisions First, Processes Second' to help win over customers with outstanding customer service.