People > Customers > Profit

In healthcare, we service so many different customers—HCPs and payers alike. But to really put these customers first, we need to put them second.

At first glance, this may sound like a riddle. But even more intriguing is the fact that this insight is firmly held by successful leaders in other industries, such as Starbucks and the global IT outsourcing firm, HCLT.

Creating Shared Value

Vineet Nayar, the author of Employees First, Customers Second and vice chairman of HCLT, believes that the core business of any corporation is to create shared value for customers. At most organizations, this value is created when employees interact with clients. But if value creation happens when employees and customers interact, shouldn’t the role of leaders be to cultivate a culture in which employees feel motivated to create the best possible experiences and value for customers?

Nayar believes he has an answer. “If you do not put the employee first—if the business of management and managers is not to put the employee first—there is no way you can get the customer first,” he said in a 2012 Forbes interview. His vision has helped transform HCLT into one of BusinessWeek’s 20 Most Influential Companies in the World and has given him a whole lot of employees to put first—more than 85,000 as of December 31, 2012. The company’s consolidated global revenue for 2012 was $4.4 billion, likewise providing 4.4 billion reasons to believe he’s right.

HCLT is not alone. Companies increasingly believe that business success lies in the quality of their people and recognize that hiring the best people and creating an environment that empowers them leads to a better client experience, which in turn leads to more sales and profits.

The critical interface between employees and clients to which Nayar refers is one of the most important touch points a business can have. So how do you start? The answer lies in data, or more specifically, decoding the trail of work data following your people and their projects to understand your people better than you understand your customers.

We recommend the collection of both self-reported data, which includes expense reports and time sheets, and ambient data, which includes everything from patterns of communication between employees and customers to activity in the office to use of your intranet and more. For example, our employees drank 61,392 cups of coffee across our company last year, as ambiently measured by our network of coffee machines.

The more you understand the dynamics of even the most granular data points across your company, the more you can predict outcomes and reduce surprises. By tracking everything from basic patterns of behavior to individual experience, your team can decode long-term patterns that separate signal from noise—and you can create predictive models that can automatically flag potential issues that can impact your customers and overall business success.

Using Ethical Data Practices

Collect as much data as possible from the corporate public record. Data storage is more affordable than ever and it’s surprising to learn how valuable seemingly disconnected data points can be. However, it is imperative that employee privacy is also respected and preserved through the use of ethical data practices. Be open and clear about the data you collect, use data that is available internally as part of the “corporate public record,” and get opt-ins from employees if you want to use any data that isn’t.

This data provides a solid foundation to equip your people with superpowers unimaginable a generation ago. As introduced in our past few Data View columns, we’ve distilled them into three Decoded Principles:

Technology as a Coach and Trainer: Instead of using enterprise technology as a referee, whose chief job is to reinforce business rules, transform your systems into coaches that use data to personalize the experience for each member of your teams to help achieve significantly higher performance.
Data as a Sixth Sense: Arm your people with organizational proprioception, equipping them with complete operational context and informing their intuition in order to make better decisions faster.
Engineered Ecosystems: Take the guesswork out of building culture by intentionally engineering your environment.

Establish a culture of experimentation that uses quantitative feedback to measure the behaviors, attitudes and beliefs inside of your company and their real impact.

HCLT and many other companies, ours included, aren’t the only ones taking this approach—not by a long shot. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz has credited his employees with much of his company’s success. “We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers, the opposite approach from that of the crackers-and-cereal companies,” he says in Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. “Because we believed that the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in employees who were zealous about good coffee.”

This talent-centric strategy has helped the company maintain a competitive advantage while selling a commoditized good. “Starbucks knows employees that are treated well will, in turn, treat customers well,” said John Moore, author of Tribal Knowledge: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks Corporate Culture.

Treating Your Employees Well

Moore, who spent more than eight years working in Starbucks’ marketing department, wrote about the commitment that the company has to its employees. “To treat its workforce well, Starbucks offers all full-time and part-time employees the opportunity to receive full healthcare benefits, stock options/discounted stock purchase plans and other benefits. The company’s reputation for being an employer of choice has been recognized countless times.”

Thanks to a carefully engineered Decoded ecosystem, Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world. With nearly 21,000 stores in 62 countries, the company has turned its brand into a globally recognized symbol—and a great place for people to work.

Nayar and Schultz had the same insight: To put the customer first, you need to put them second—regardless of whether you’re brewing coffee for consumers, configuring IT solutions for the enterprise or bringing new life-changing treatments to physicians and patients. Your people come first.

  • Leerom Segal

    Leerom Segal is a pioneer of the “Decoded” movement and CEO of Klick, a $100M company with an award-winning culture that puts employees first and uses technology and data to fuel its 30% annual growth. He is also co-author of "The Decoded Company" and a winner of the “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” award from Ernst and Young.

    • Jay Goldman

      Jay Goldman is a Managing Director at Klick Health and leads Kick’s Sensei Labs team in addition to heading the company’s Innovation group. He is a co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Decoded Company” and has been published in the “Harvard Business Review.”

      • Rahaf Harfoush is a co-author of "The Decoded Company." A digital strategist, she also wrote "Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How the Media Built the Obama Brand."

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