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Personalization for Me, Not Just for Thee

There is a time-worn trope in business, that they best way to know the customer is to talk to the customer or at least the person closest to the customer. It is why you will see retail executives spending so much time in stores. It is why Tom Peters made MBWA (Managing By Walking Around) so popular. You can’t know what is happening on the ground from the corner office.

NOTE: It might be a fun game to see how many clichés I add to this post.


The really smart executives will have their marketing teams do lots of customer research, make avatars and test their findings – then go to the sales people and confirm what they say. If the salesperson who works with the customer all day, every day can’t recognize the avatar, it isn’t any good.


Most companies also have multiple avatars for their customers, knowing that different segments have different needs. Many successful companies work to break it down to the individual level – they don’t put a customer in a segment, they make the customer the segment and customize it to them.


Why don’t these companies do this with employees?


There are two issues I see caused by avoiding understanding your employees at the same level as your customers.


First, it wastes a resource that you are already paying for – the manager. A Great Manager knows her employees well – their likes, their needs, their concerns. They are the salesperson in the retail store talking to the customers daily. You need to talk to the managers because they confirm, clarify, or correct any information you get from things like employee surveys. An example for you: a company I recently worked with did their employee engagement survey and got a fairly high score on the employee development question. Executives believed that this meant that the company was doing a great job developing people. If they would have taken the time to talk to managers and the talent group, they would have seen this wasn’t the case. The high score came from the way the question was written. The question asked if the employee thought the company cared about their development. Employees were saying yes because they would get notices for all these resources that were available. Yet few people actually used these resources because they didn’t have the time to develop and managers were not putting an emphasis on it.


Second, it leads the organization to create large scale programs that don’t meet real needs. The reason that they segment customers is because they realize one-size-fits-all means one-size-fits-none. The same goes with programs and policies. So when they roll out the new parental leave policy, it almost always has gaps because they create it universally. Same goes for time off, remote work, etc. An example of this is bereavement leave. At one point, it made sense to say that you got 3 days for a close family member. (Sidebar: 3 days to deal with all the details, attend the events, and grieve is just plain stupid – you can’t put a number of days on that.) But then non-traditional families started to appear more and an aunt that raised you like a mother didn’t get you 3 days. The same company I mentioned in the first example has a lot of foreign workers. Is it reasonable to think that someone could fly to India or China, attend all the events, and get back in 3 days? No way. This doesn’t even take into account different traditions for different cultures.


How do organizations solve this problem:

· Put as much effort into understanding the different needs of the employee base that you do with your customer base.

· Do surveys, but also talk more to managers to get deeper information on answers and things that the survey may not have addressed.

· Give more autonomy to the managers to customize things to their group. Create guidelines and suggestions and let the manager make the final decision.


If personalization is effective, why not use it for employees?

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