INTERNAL CUSTOMER : THE BRAND AMBASSADOR FOR ORGANISATIONS TODAY

 

Perspective

 

The transformation of the role of managing people in organisations has been gigantic in the last few decades. From a purely passive and side function getting a step-motherly treatment in comparison to the supposedly more important and glamorous siblings like marketing, finance and operations, human resource management today occupies a pride of place in organisational management across the spectrum from private, public and non-profit sector to even hard core government functioning. The obvious question arises as to why has this happened ? This has happened because of the realisation that potentially, all employees are brand ambassadors (typically a person, male or female, attractive in physical appearance, hired to drive consumer demand for a product, service, brand or concept by directly interacting with potential consumers) for one’s business. If they say good things about the products and services rendered by the organisation to their network of friends and family, it can bring new customers with consummate ease; and that too without using the other much more expensive methods of attracting attention of prospective customers or even retaining existing customers. The key motivation of a brand ambassadorhas to be passion (notwithstanding the motivating factor of money of course, which truthfully is probably the only factor that a select group of celebrity brand ambassadors are likely to have as different from your own employees in whom this very or even more genuine passion can be ignited at much lesser cost) and if you are able to ignite that passion in your employees (your internal customers, usually described as a unit, division, or individual employee who is the recipient of materials, products, information or services from another unit in the same organisation), they are the best people to showcase your business passionately.

 

It is hardly surprising then that organisations are going out of their way to ensure that they are able to attract, inspire and retain the best people to ensure sustained business success.

 

Introduction

 

Having spent more than three decades in the human resource management profession after passing out from the hallowed portals of the Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi, considered even today as one of the best cradles that you can rely upon to convert an ordinary mortal like me into a decent management professional, I have been privileged to witness this transformation to my heart’s content. I fondly recall the confused look on the faces of people I met after choosing to take up human resource management as my specialisation and serious career calling as if to say to me, “Why are you spoiling the immaculate reputation of your alma matar ?” since they quite obviously and with certainty felt that no one can achieve anything worthwhile pursuing this field and literally and that too voluntarily choosing to be a “doormat” for all and sundry in any organisation of any kind, when I could have chosen any of the more “glamorous” management functions. I must also make a mention of the fact that human resource management in those days was known as personnel management and essentially meant industrial relations as its core with a microscopic place for the more “cosmetic” functions that we know today as human resource development. I distinctly recall the General Manager – Personnel at Escorts (where I worked for five years in the personnal management function), Late Sushil Khurana ( an excellent professional ) advising me during my final interview of the selection process that I shall never be able to become the numero uno of the function in the company unless I actively pursue industrial relations. I remember politely responding to him by saying that if selected, I shall still stick to the developmental areas as my primary interest though I had nothing against industrial relations and was fairly equipped for that role also as I was armed with a law degree as well as a specialised diploma in labour law plus experience in the field with my earlier employer, DCM. I can state with hundred percent confidence that I was right then and if I have to choose my career option all over again and again and again, I will unhesitatingly re-choose what I chose then, never mind the reservations even the so called “well informed” people harbour even today.

 

I look at the entire spectrum of human resource management essentially as AIR, which translated into Attracting, Inspiring and Retaining people. All that we do as part of our responsibilities in human resource management essentially is to achieve one of these, two of these or all of these objectives.

 

I would now try to discuss these three objectives, highlighting how these contribute to the fulfillment of not only the organisational and employee aspirations but of society in general. How society is a key stake holder has been painfully demonstrated by the Bhopal gas tragedy, where all of the dead and affected people had nothing at all to do with the organisation in question. Needless to say, if we do a good job of these three objectives, we will automatically convert all of an organisation’s internal customers (employees) into vibrant brand ambassadors for our external customers and consumers (the ultimate users of our products and services).

 

Attracting Human Resource

 

Every employee that an organisation hires should not only be a contributing employee in terms of her / his direct performance / responsibility areas but has to be a brand ambassador as has been discussed earlier. In this context, Jim Collins in his much celebrated book “Good to Great” has stated that if you come across raw talent, just hire. Then think about what work you shall assign to her / him. This talented person can open a whole new range of opportunities for your organisation. Of course, you do need other talented people who just seamlessly fit into the roles that already exist in any organisation. However, this is obviously just one side of the equation. We must ask ourselves the question, “Why should any person with talent want to work with us, especially given the inexhaustible need for the same and that too in a globalised talent market ?” There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the human resource department has to put its hand up to prove at least equal to if not better than the challenge. Therein lies the challenge of being able to attract human resource of the right quality and required quantity.

 

The truth, however, is that only some organisations and their human resource departments have proved to be somewhat capable of accepting and overcoming this huge challenge. Organisations have tried out a whole lot of things like “best in class” compensation and reward packages, astronomical joining bonuses, five-star work environment and a whole host of other perquisites. They have also stretched themselves to cater to a lot more, sometimes pro-actively and sometimes re-actively. This northward trend just seems to get bigger and bigger, never mind that some of these very “blue blood” employees were declared to be the prime culprits for the unprecedented “economic crisis” that we witnessed in the recent past the world over.

 

So the next time you are getting ready to hire someone, think about whether she / he would be a great brand ambassador for your products and services or she / he is simply a warm body that you can get on-board at a cheap reward package.

 

Inspiring Human Resource

 

Most organisations have, thankfully, realised that just attracting the best people will not make any organisation great. That human productivity is a combination of ability and willingness and that one is useless without the other seems to have entered the collective consciousness of the people at the helm of affairs, resulting in a paradigm shift in how the people resource is valued and managed in modern organisations.

 

Inspiring people is no easy task. Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi do not get born everyday and even they could not inspire everybody as is evident from the fact that both of them were eventually assassinated. Colossal amounts of paper and virtually rivers of ink have been expended to define and understand what leadership is all about and even now, in spite of exhaustive on-going research, we are nowhere close to answering the question, What is the real meaning of leadership and who is really a great leader ? We are still very much groping in the dark on the question, “What are the competencies of successful leaders ?”

 

In a world of intense competitiveness today, everyone knows that money supply is tight and sensible people also know that money cannot motivate or inspire beyond a point. Hence, if organisations really want to inspire their employees, they have to give the employees something other then money. A passionate place to work, providing the equipment, supervision and individual consideration they need and allowing them to make decisions and even pardoning mistakes, if the intent was right may help in this regard. Organisations also need to realise that they have no business to feel upset when employees do not care about the company because the management decides on a salary / benefits cut for them simultaneously announcing that upper management made tens of millions in bonuses for saving the company money. If the organisation does not treat them as important in their scheme of things, they surely cannot be expected to act like the company is important.

Some examples from the corporate world might help in a better understanding of this need. Maruti Suzuki India Limited has a practice of inviting the parents of their new employees on their joining day, treated with a lot of respect and invited for lunch in the company to develop a sense of belonging in the mind of not only the new employee but also people close to her / him. Godfrey Phillips India Limited has a scheme of giving prizes to champion employees which are actually suited for use by their children to create competitiveness. This works because many of them stay in the company township, where the children play with each other and they discuss their parents’ achievements and even question why their friend’s parent did not get the prize. There are many examples of organisations where they extend support to their employees on important assignments who cannot be spared for taking leaves. In some organizations, the human resource department ensures that a friend of the employee is sent on company hired transport to receive or see off the parents of that employee at railway or bus stations and airports so that the employee can work free of tension on the important assignment that she / he is on. Similarly, home maintenance responsibilities are taken over by some organisations to give mental and physical relief to the employees. Some of the prominent information technology giants commit the availability of a food stall within a hundred feet of any employees work station to keep them motivated.

 

Retaining Human Resource

 

Attrition in many organisations has occupied the mind space of top managements and human resource departments like no other function has ever had. With the advent of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies into India, attrition acquired a whole new meaning. The term “absconder” was probably brought into the vocabulary of human resource management by the BPO industry, at least in India, may be the world.

 

Human resource management professionals have for long used the concept of exit interview to find out what ails the organisation because of which people leave. Some have come up with the concept of stay interview, which attempts to find out employee problems and implement their suggestions before it is too late, thereby reducing the probability of their leaving the organisation. It is commonly said that if you implement some of their requests, you may not have to conduct an exit interview ever, at least for that employee.

 

Bharti Airtel Limited has experimented with a bonus pay out policy in which there is a certain amount (percentage of basic salary) over and above the employee’s total cost to company (TCTC) and Non-TCTC (expenses on employee not considered part of TCTC) which the employee gets according to the policy. Supposing that the policy comes out in 2010 and it says that rupees one lakh will be the bonus amount for a particular employee, then at the end of the financial year 2010-2011, the employee will get thirty five percent of the entitled bonus amount, at the end of the next financial year 2011-2012, she / he will get twenty percent out of the remaining entitlement and so on till the entire amount gets paid, may be over a period of upto five years. In essence, an employee has to stay on with the company for five years after the policy is launched to avail the full benefit. Many organisations have introduced very liberal loan schemes (for house purchase, car purchase, etc.) with very little interest rate and a long repayment period to lure employees to stay longer in the employment of the organisation.

 

Conclusion

 

Management is and will always be a profession in transition. From all available indications, organisations are doing more and more to ensure that their employees always “feel good” about the organisation and hence continuously continue to remain brand ambassadors for them. It is evident that with the passage of time, organisational management will be more and more human resource management led. People in the human resource management function have already been defined as change agents and internal consultants to any organisation’s top management. This makes perfect sense as all changes are led and implemented by human resources only. I have no doubt in my mind that this philosophy will spread at a rapid pace and in the next decade or so, all organisations in the world will adopt the maxim, “INTERNAL CUSTOMERS : THE BRAND AMBASSADORS FOR ORGANISATIONS TODAY”, which is the title of this paper and even that day is not far when “INTERNAL CUSTOMERS WILL BE THE BEST BRAND AMBASSADORS FOR ORGANISATIONS IN THE FUTURE”.

 

This was also presented at :

 

Ninth International Conference on “Human Resource Management And Development – 2010” , August 04 – 08, 2010 at Dhaka, Bangladesh

 

Theme : Branding From The Inside Out : Hr’s Role As Brand Builder

 

Paper Topic : Internal Customer : The Brand Ambassador For Organisations Today

 

By

 

Sumit Chaudhuri

Chairman and Managing Director

Third Millennium Business Resource Associates Private Limited, New Delhi

Website : www.tmbra2000.com,www. sumitchaudhuri.name

Email : tmbra2000@gmail.com,connect@sumitchaudhuri.name

 

 

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