Andrew Muir: Employees First, Customers Second

When it comes to investing in staff, I’ve long been a fan of the anecdote where the CFO asks, “What if we invest in training staff and they leave?” And the CEO responds, “What if we don’t and they stay?” This story speaks volumes. It doesn’t matter whether a business has two employees or two thousand, they are a company’s greatest asset.

In retail, variations of the saying “customer first” are declared widely, and I know the catch cry to be common in many other industries too. While this approach is usually well-intentioned, it can send a negative message to employees. Employers who neglect the needs of their staff on the basis that they are less important than the customers, yet still expect their loyalty and commitment to delivering quality service, are kidding themselves. How you treat your team has a direct impact on how they will treat your customers.

You can’t be there to supervise every customer interaction, but you can rest assured that if you’ve taken the time to train, develop and support your employees, they will work hard to achieve the business’s goals in your absence. The desire to perform well and delight customers is inherent in employees that feel valued and supported in their role and who are recognised and rewarded for good work, regardless of whether they work on the shop floor or in senior management.

Before you can nurture quality staff though, how do you attract the people you want? You need to stop and ask yourself, “Why would someone want to work for me?” Besides the obvious answers of a wage and job security, why would someone choose you over an identical type of business offering the same salary?

The key to employee attraction and retention isn’t necessarily the promise of a bigger pay cheque, or job title, but rather fulfillment of personal dreams. And this is where professional development comes into play. While the term itself has become tired from overuse and misuse, real professional development is vital, not to mention mutually beneficial for both the employee and the business.

When some business owners think of professional development, the first things that come to mind are additional costs, time off the job, and the risk that the person will leave and take their newly developed skills to a different organisation. What these individuals overlook is that when employees learn new skills, the business can benefit immensely from their newfound knowledge. And if they leave? Well, most people do eventually, but I can guarantee that someone who’s had their knowledge and skills invested in along the way will be far more committed and loyal than someone who hasn’t. Not to mention, best performers’ habits rub off on others.

The opposite is also true. ‘Good people leave if bad people are allowed to stay’, has always been my experience. While attracting and nurturing great people is crucial, almost equally important is the prompt removal of employees who are bad eggs. The saying ‘one bad apple spoils the whole barrel’ rings true. Keeping people who aren’t right for the job or committed to the business, can compromise company culture and drive good people away. Ask yourself, ‘What kind of business do the best people want to work for, and what do we need to do to be that kind of business?’

Ultimately, staff want to feel connected to their work. They spend a significant portion of their time at their job and want to feel actively engaged. Meeting regularly as a team is important as it reminds people that they are a part of something bigger. When you don’t have regular access to other people in the business, particularly decision makers, It can be easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Another critical aspect of meeting regularly is recognising individuals and teams when they excel. While this sounds obvious, it can often be overlooked during busy times. Celebrating individuals’ good performance encourages them to continue what they’re doing and highlights desired behaviors to the broader team. Furthermore, business owners shouldn’t underestimate how discouraging and damaging it can be when great work is overlooked.

To succeed in business, you simply can’t overlook the importance of having good people in your corner, and how investing in them will encourage not only their best work, but better performance from others, and greater loyalty all round. After all, the reality is that people do not exist for the company, the company exists for its people.

Andrew Muir, ex CEO and Chairman of The Good Guys, CEO of Best Friends Pet Care Founder and Director of The Good Foundation


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