Employees, Customers, Company…Who’s #1?

You’ll always see these quotes about how great leaders always put their employees first, even before the customers or the company.


And experts also say that marriage is a 50/50 proposition.


And before you starting hurling rocks at me…


…you should at least allow me to explain.

Let’s take the marriage thingie.

It’s not 50/50, nor 75/25, certainly not 100/0.

In actuality, you give 100% of yourself to your spouse and, in return, he/she gives you 100% of themselves.

Please, no mathematical arguments!

And when it comes to being a great leader, you hafta put your employees first.

But you also hafta put your customers first.

And, of course, you must put your company first.

They ALL must come first.

“But, Mike, if you simply put your people first, then they’ll automatically ale care of your customers!”

Probably, but not necessarily! Maybe they don’t know how as they weren’t trained well enough. Or they don’t have the necessary tools, processes or empowerment. Or maybe it’s been the end of a very long day & they’re just beat.

I’ll tell you this FOR A FACT…

They’ll only treat your customers properly if you put them (your employees) first…and your employees know damned well that you always put the customer first.

And then there were many times when I told my staff that I really didn’t give a crap about them nor the customers.

My first & ONLY loyalty was to the stockholders. I hadda do whatever it took to maximize the value of the company for both the short-term as well as the long-term!

(That last one became a bit skewed when I joined Nationwide as they were a mutual company, with no stockholders, just like USAA & most other insurance companies.)

You MUST demonstrate, in everything you do, say & write, that you place each of them…your people, your customers, your stockholders…as your primary focus.

No, they’re not all tied for first!

They each hold the crown by themselves.

When you’re working with your employees, you must place your customers & stockholders each in the top position.

When you’re working on a customer issue or whatever, the company & your people come first.

And, of course, you know what happens when you’re trying to be a good corporate citizen.

It is ONLY when you put each of these three in the most important priority position…BY ITSELF…that you’ll truly be successful as a leader.

Yet, too much emphasis on any one of the three will prove detrimental to the other two.

And, yes, anything less than overemphasizing each one is simply not acceptable!

“Sounds like a pretty screwed up agenda & mind-boggling value system you got there, Mike!”

Yes, exactly!

None of them will be happy if they’re not the SOLE occupier of your top priority position.

Employees MUST come first.

But customers MUST be #1.

And, the stockholders MUST be your top priority.

“Besides being a mathematical impossibility as there MUST be no ties for 1st place, just how the hell am I supposed to figure this nonsense out?”

I was always regarded as the ultimate customer advocate. I’m not bragging, but it’s true. You can ask anyone that knows me, worked for me, worked with me, was my boss.

I was honored with the Citi Service Excellence Award of the Year 3x. I only know of one other employee (Tony Knox) who even won it twice, although I’m sure there are a number of employees who won it 2 times.

I always considered my self as a pretty decent people manager. Always enjoyed very low turnover, high employer satisfaction numbers & spent so much time thinking about & working directly with my people.

And I believe I always exceeded expectations when it came to pleasing my bosses…with two notable exceptions. I firmly believe that both of them arose from professional jealously & “passing the pain down the line” down the line as they got less-than-stellar reviews from their bosses.

In reality, they were extremely satisfied with my contributions to the business…but one guy got a “3” rating the previous year while I got a “1” so he made sure that would never happen again so he lowered me the following year to a “2” for “not having anyone on formal disciplinary action”.

“You’re doing so well that I don’t believe you!” was basically his message to me.

We had just enjoyed one of the greatest years in business history, since the invention of the freakin’ wheel, and he lowered my rating as he believed that it was (in his exact words) “STATISTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE for a unit of my size not to have someone on formal documentation”!

I didn’t lose one employee the whole year (except for 2 retirements). Absenteeism below 3%. Best customer & employee satisfaction ever for the Unit, better than every one of my peers & better than every business entity in our Region! And the best productivity rate & we trained every Branch on Citismart & I co-created a special training course for first-line Customer Service supervisors (100+), coordinated a conference for high-level Citi leaders & saved the bank hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

And this Einstein lowered my rating.

(Do I sound bitter? Ripken’s Believe It Or Not even turned down my story as being “too preposterous”!!!)

30 seconds later, I told him, “I can’t work for you anymore, Bob!”

The other boss refused to give me my rating until after he got his rating from his boss.

The unit reached levels never seen before. Not one missed service indicator. Highest customer satisfaction ever (“top box” went from 62% to 74% in 1 year & we received a special award from the third party vendor for this achievement) & highest employee satisfaction this unit ever had. Saved them millions & millions with the creation of an Employee Variable Compensation program, IVR enhancements, screen-pop improvements, specialized skill-routing & true One-Stop service from our vendor on all property tax-related investigations.

He got fired a month later.

I’ve always served my 3 masters very well.

They’re all demanding.

They all wanna be #1 in your heart & thoughts.

None of them are willing to share the top spits with either of the other two.

Employee, customer, company.

Employee, company, customer.

Customer, employee, company.

Customer, company, employee.

Company, employee, customer.

Company, customer, employee.

Fail any of these 3 & you just can’t be considered a good leader, let alone a great one.

You must excel in every area, while simultaneously putting each one in SOLE possession of 100% of the your time, energy, thoughts & actions!

Forget the damned math…you understand exactly what I’m trying to communicate here.

A great captain not only steers the ship & makes sure he surpasses all goals established by his employee, but he makes his crew fully-empowered, prepared, able & satisfied while having the happiest passengers ever on his ship.

And each one of them…the company, the employees & the customers…must feel as if they’re #1…and only they’re #1 in your eyes.

No, and while it’s not impossible, I does require that we’re obsessed with succeeding.,..in everyone’s eyes!

Good luck!

And thank you so much for listening!

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