Eighty percent of companies seem to emphasize the classic, “Customers are #1,” mantra. Far fewer emphasize an employee-centric one, “Employees are #1.” With the latter, the rationale is usually “Treating employees well encourages them to treat customers well.” It’s much deeper than that though.
Centier Bank in Indiana is an example. In Indiana Bankers Association’s publication, Hoosier Banker (Hoosier is Indiana’s demonym), Mike Schrage, the bank’s chairman, chief executive officer and president, explains the rationale:
We also put our associates first, before our customers and our shareholders. The reason is that if we are treating our employees really well, they are going to treat our customers really well (see “Mike Schrage: Leading Centier Into the Next Generation” pg. 9 [pdf])
Intriguingly, reinforcing this as Centier is “Indiana’s largest, private, family-owned bank,” employees sign a “Declaration of Independence,” acknowledging to do what they can to preserve that independence. Additionally, Centier offers an in-house clinic, with free health screenings, treatments and generic prescriptions, and conducts annual fund-raisers for employees experiencing difficulties.
Below this pragmatism though, “Employees are #1” triggers emotions of long-term security and emotional recognition. Employees know Centier won’t sacrifice their jobs, integrity and efforts for customers. Under “Customers are #1,” all are potential fodder for that cause, expendable. They also know Centier values their unique skills, talents and “servant-oriented” personalities for which they actively recruit.
A colleague once countered, “Mike, employees don’t think that.” He’s wrong. They do on an intuitive and subconscious level. The first generates undefinable uneasy emotions, the second unattributable or misattributed ones. Feeling anxious about their jobs or about protecting themselves from blame are typical symptoms.
What we say and how influence motivation and thus outcomes. If the emotional aspects of messages are important in marketing, why aren’t they too with our internal markets?