Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 28 February 2023

Issue publication date: 28 February 2023



Bajer, J. (2023), "Editorial", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 1-1. https://doi.org/10.1108/SHR-02-2023-198



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

People-centric cultures stink

It might be hard for some to recognise this, but the evidence is pretty clear. If we put people at the centre, where do we put our clients? Things only have one centre, last time I checked. Of course, you can join the popular narrative that an organisation can have a triangular focus (e.g. “People, Clients, Profit”) and that everything is equally important. Be my guest, but in the real world, one of the triad will end up ruling over the others, especially when push comes to shove and there is scarcity of resources.

You might want to become a great place to work but you must have a successful and sustainable business to run. Sooner or later the rubber will hit the road and things will go downhill. If you look around, you will see plenty of examples where expensive “people” initiatives, after consuming large amounts of time and attention, get subtly abandoned or, even worse, replaced by yet another attempt at engaging employees, insisting on them being at the centre of the equation.

Why are we so afraid of treating a business for what it is? Only a few organisations are actual clubs and those are the ones who are clear about their purpose. But most businesses are places where people should put their time and talents to good use and exactly that is what will give humans the sense of purpose and engagement we search for.

Most of the “people practices” used today are based on the unproven premise that happy employees make happy customers. There is no scientific evidence that making someone happy will get them to do the right things, except for the case of Pavlov’s dogs and their behavioural conditioning. Mind you, those dogs were not consciously willing to engage and were manipulated into action. Not something we would consider doing to humans, right?

It is true that happier employees will feel better than unhappier ones. Simply, making an environment cosy will make them want to come and stay. However, permanence is not a good measure of contribution, let alone of customer value.

I am convinced that Customer-Centric Cultures are THE ONLY WAY to drive people’s true engagement. I’ve seen enough evidence of this. Engagement goes up (and stays there) when you honestly connect people’s work with the creation of value at scale, for a client, a user, a patient or whomever will benefit from this value creation.

How about realising that we got the engagement equation entirely backwards? Happy customers make happy employees, not the other way around. While we think about it, those leading people practices in organisations need to abstain from distracting our workforces away from the actual customers. Primum non nocere.

Dr Javier Bajer, Cultural Architect

Editor-in-Chief, Strategic HR Review

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