Hey HR – Who do you want your employees to become?

My company president forwarded me an article from Harvard Business that contained the transcript of an interview that Harvard IdeaCast had with MIT’s Michael Schrage, a frequent HBR blogger.  The focus of the interview was about Mr. Schrage’s newest idea outlined in a short book called: “Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?”  The interview is pretty short, but it brings out a hugely interesting point about how a company views their customers.

His point of view is that a company shouldn’t focus on creating a product or service that meets a customer’s needs – or exceeds those needs for that matter – but should focus on creating services and products that will make them better customers.  The article suggests that new products/services should be investments in clients and their future success, not just a transaction with them.  Success for companies in the future is only going to happen if they can think of their customer’s future state, and then be the means to that future success.  Helping customers be better in the future – not just better today – will be how companies will be able to transform their own business.

His point is that in many cases, customers are merely a means to an end. The end is the growth and profitability of their business.  But when you think of customers in that vein, do they simply become – as the article suggests – an inconvenient, market friction that needs to be overcome in order for the company to be a profitable?

So, I ask you to ask yourself – do you see your own employees in that light?  Are they simply a means to a profitable end (current engagement discussions seem to indicate that employee engagement is simply a way to get more profit… think about that for just a minute).

Does your HR group – or your executive staff– look at employees as friction to be overcome in the pursuit of success?  Should HR look through this new lens Mr. Schrage is looking though?

Can HR Do The Same?

I love the idea that HR should view the relationship they have with employees as an investment account – not a cost account.  It seems that many HR services are designed to meet the needs (current and somewhat future) of their employees to make their lives easier at the company – navigating healthcare decisions, or 401K decisions.  Some forward thinking HR groups are including health-and-wellness options and financial services.  They are doing a great job of helping employees manage the job of being employees.

But what if the role of HR was to invest in the activities and services that contribute to an employee’s future success?  How much does what you – the HR pro – do everyday truly help employees succeed in the future?  I’m guessing that it is less than 20%.  But should it be more like 80% about future success and 20% about current needs?

I’ve said that HR plays too much defense in the past – and I think they still do.  I suggested two years ago that HR should play more offense.  I think this idea of investing in the future success of an employee is just the offensive play HR needs to consider.

Read the article – think through how HR can create investments – not just simplified transactions – with the employee base.

Is that a better way for HR to design their future role?  I think there is a lot to this idea.

What say you – the real HR pro?


FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. KD says:

    Hey Paul –

    I did a couple of Ted style talks in October about the need for the modern manager – and I think HR as well – to really think of their role as one of a career agent – here’s a link to that preso – I think your approach is good framing of a non-defense playing approach, and I think that’s probably what separates the good and great managers and HR pros from the average ones – they play offense instead of defense. Great way to frame it…



    • Paul Hebert says:

      So in your scenario – HR should be teaching managers how to be agents – works for me. I always approached managing as I do parenting – my goal is to make sure my staff does what they love and end up better than I did… that is true management IMO. Thanks KD for weighing in.

  2. Mary says:

    Retail companies like Lululemon, MEC and Starbucks already do exactly this type of thing for their employees. Partially, I believe, in recognition of the impermanent nature of retail careers for many people but also because happy employees who feel like they are more than just a figure in the company’s bottom line are better employees. Additionally, caring about their people as people is part of the culture of all of these companies. There are a few local tech companies in Ottawa who also do this sort of thing, RealDecoy and Shopify are just two examples.

    The idea that HR exists solely in the interest of the company is outdated and this is just one more way HR is progressing.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Here! Here! Thanks for connecting some real life companies to this idea. People figure this whole engagement thing out as a scam the minute it becomes an issue of company profit not employee engagement. That is one of the reasons I believe engagement continues to drop even with all the money and time poured into it over the past few years.

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