Are the customers the greatest asset for a company?

Are the customers the greatest asset for a company?

Karsten Bundgaard | Partner | Motivation Factor Institute | Copenhagen | Denmark

…or is it just a tenacious saying that by the way isn’t true? I claim it’s not true. A happy, motivated employee provides a better service for the customers, higher productivity, less absence and more profit. Actually an American study*) shows that companies with happy and motivated employees are more than 50% better at meeting the needs of their customers. No! The employees are and will always be the biggest asset of the company.

For some years ago it was a trend to draw organizational charts upside down. The customers on top placed where the executive management would usually be. The client should be the boss, who would decide how the company would act.  Let the customer decide what, how and when we will deliver, then we’ll  be able to meet to the demands of the market and to make money.

And of course we are supposed to listen to our clients, in the same way that we have to observe and monitor trends and tendencies in our market and in the world around us. To do what is in our power to meet the demands of the market is one of the most important tasks of management.

Since 2007 Motivation Factor has conducted numerous seminars, lectures and workshops in management teams all around the world. In this context we always ask the participants about what’s keeping them awake at night, and what their biggest management challenges are. The answers are almost identical. The biggest challenge in management isn’t the customers, the market or the strategy. No! It is almost always about the challenges in getting others to do what it takes to put the company’s strategy into practice.

The management of the company spends large resources on strategic planning. Months spent in conference rooms behind closed doors, in a process often facilitated by consultants and specialists, results in a plan for the future progress of the company – a five or a ten years plan,  showing the way for new or continued success. And in general companies are handling this process very professional. We understand the importance of: “Knowing where we are, and where we are going, before the journey begins”. Otherwise it can be really difficult to know when we shall turn left or right, when we are on the right track and the opposite.

But when the plans are to be implemented the real challenges shows up. When the CEO steps up on a box in the canteen Friday morning, or on a podium in a conference center, to present the new strategy for the employees, it’s based on a long, profound process that the employees haven’t been part of. The strategy outlines and the purpose of the visions and objectives is often incomprehensible if you are in the middle or lower section of company’s organizational hierarchy.

The employees do hear what the management has to say. The might even be applauding after the presentation, but Monday morning when reality knocks on the door it dawns  that nothing has changed. The telephone is still ringing and the tasks are piling up the same way as they always did. After a while most have forgotten about the visions and objectives. They might be mentioned at monthly information meetings, but a real change in how things are done is rarely seen.

What went wrong?

Why is implementation and rooting of the strategy so difficult that 95% of the answers from all the managers we have asked can be classified in the “implementation category”? I believe that it is caused by three crucial issues:

  1. The strategy presented as visions and objectives, associated with
    1. Turnover/result
    2. Market position
    3. Revenue to owners/stockholders

No employees, who haven’t taken part in the process, are motivated by ensuring market shares and make the owners richer. If the employee can’t “find himself or herself” in the visions, his or her thoughts will immediately circle around the future, compensations, colleagues, bonus, etc. – and for sure not around “winning 7% in market share” or about “consolidating the shareholders’ investment”:

  1. The employee hasn’t taken part in the process and doesn’t know the intermediate analysis

When you don’t know the intermediate analysis, it’s difficult to understand the result. The visions and objectives are presented in meta language and one-liners, only making sense if you’ve been part of the process.

  1. The plans are presented in an overall level, announcing  that detailed plans for the specific departments will be announced in near future

When the employee can’t relate directly to the plan it creates insecurity and rumors. Daily life will soon be back again, and if nothing changes rapidly the employee will lose faith in the plans. “You can’t make changes – without making changes…”

What to do?

Purpose and anchoring is the answer.

  • Make sure the vision has a great perspective. “We will focus on – and involve – the employees, and together we will create the markets leading supplier” has far more power than ”We will ensure a growth of 10% before 2019”
  • Make sure the employee is able to see the purpose in the plan, so he or she can relate to it and feel proud of it.
  • Make sure that the needs and talents of the employee are anchored to the objective, that  the employee can identify his or her own part in the work of reaching the vision
  • Make sure telling the employees and everyone else: WHY? Rather than focusing on what, how much, when and how

When the projector is turned off and the presentation has ended, the work connecting every employee’s needs, talents and purpose to the objective begins. How can the talents and needs of Jane in customer service contribute to that we, five years from now, are a dominating supplier in the market? How can Team Manager Mike make use of his talents and involve his team, so they together can proceed towards the overall vision?  How can we celebrate the wins in relation to the vision, and make sure that both Jane and Mike feels they have contributed and feels proud of the result?

Implementation is time consuming. Communication, dialogue and leadership is hard work, but it’s a fun kind of work, and those who do it right will in exchange experience more  motivated, happy and productive employees, who feels part of a unity, where everyone’s effort makes a difference.


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