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Treat your employees like consumers, here’s why

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

Previously on Scaling Start-Ups...

We explored the organisational crisis points that you may face as you embark on the growth journey of scaling a start-up. In this episode, we'll explore an equally important facet of growth: the needs of our employees, who are fundamental to a start-up’s success.


HR has a 100% monopoly of their market share

All HR functions are the single provider of HR services and products in an organisation 😱.

What happens when a business (for example Royal Mail or telco companies in the years of old) has a market monopoly? There are advantages such as high profit - money that the business will invest in R&D, or so say the economics books. But what do we usually see in practice, especially for the consumer of a monopoly provider?

I can almost hear a resounding “poor products and services!” from you.

However, HR doesn’t make a profit - we’re dependent on the budget allocated. The advantage of investing in R&D or into achieving economies of scale to increase efficiency does not apply to us.

Even if you outsource your HR services, it’s still a monopoly provider because your HR function is managing that outsourced relationship 😬.

What is the monopoly impact on HR ‘consumers’?

Is it then a wonder why HR functions are notorious for their services and products?

A few years ago I met up with my cousin in London, whom I hadn’t met for almost 25 years. He’d just qualified as a pilot the last time I saw him and now he's a captain for a South East Asia national flag carrier airline. We were having a great time catching up until he asked, “So what do you do for a job?” and I said, “I am in HR.” The expression on his face looked like I’d just announced, “I have joined a cult and we cull and sacrifice puppies everyday.” 🐶

This isn’t the first time I’ve been met with this reaction when I say I work in HR. At one point in my career, whenever I said it I felt like a bartender apologetically offering you a Pepsi after you requested a Coke. Why? Because of the overwhelmingly poor experiences endured by my friends, families, acquaintances, neighbours: anyone who is an employee and therefore a ‘consumer’ of HR services and products.

At least HR doesn’t need to worry about an employee switching HR providers... or do they?

Think about the products and services we deliver as a function - we have the ability to make people’s dreams come true!

We can enable employees to grow their skills and experiences and deliver outstanding performance, which can result in having the means to support themselves and their family. We can build a culture that creates a sense of belonging and wellbeing. We can empower employees to achieve their full potential and gain a sense of accomplishment!

If that’s not exactly dreams coming true, it is at least meeting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. However, when the needs of employees are not met...

Employees leave the company.

Employees are more mobile today

Gone are the days when employees joined a company, moved up the corporate ladder and, at the age of 60ish, enjoyed a big retirement party culminating in the presentation of the famed golden watch as a token of appreciation for their loyalty and hard work over the years.

Employees are switching jobs more frequently. Changing jobs is now a norm, and not a stigma as in past generations.

I remember my mother finding this evolution particularly difficult to understand, not that she said it to me directly at first! Instead, I found out through the infamous Malaysian Chinese grapevine (families in my culture aren’t just big, they’re a close-knit network of information): my mother was concerned that there was something wrong with me because I had never stayed in a role for more than two years. She asked my aunties and cousins “What is she looking for? I do not understand.”

What my mother has come to realise is that both company and employee needs have moved on since her generation. Companies can no longer guarantee life long employment and employees take control of their own career and the marketability of their experience.

The whole ecosystem has changed! In business terms, the barrier to entry and exit in the job market is lower than it was before. The current workforce are increasingly more mobile and if their needs as employees are not met, they will seek to fulfil their needs better in another organisation.

So, start by viewing and treating your employees like your consumers, not hostages of a monopoly provider.


✍ JooBee’s note

Customers? Users? Consumers? Consumers are people who consume the products and services, i.e. the users of the product and services. On the other hand, customers are people who buy something and pay the price for it. I believe the term consumer is a better reflection of employees in an organisation who uses the services and products of a HR function. So, I will be using the term ‘consumer’ in all future articles.


In the next episode...

Employees are the consumers of HR products and services. To design and deliver a great employee experience, we need to understand their needs at each touchpoint point of their journey. Stay tuned for the next episode where we discover how we can walk a mile in our employees’ shoes.

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