July Lessons 5: Duh… What ‘People First’ Really Means

Abundance Accountability Respect


Over the month of July, I will share lessons learned from my ATB journey, post my retirement announcement effective Aug. 1. The accomplishments and extraordinary results at ATB over six plus years belong to many. However, the learnings I will share are exclusively mine. I hope you will find them thought provoking, and perhaps even instructive.

Story: I recently listened to young professional working at a car dealership tell me he was going to quit because, behind the scenes, the only thing his supervisors cared about was the “upsell.” They wanted customers to rate 10 out of 10, but frankly, their single concern was margin dollars. That’s why buying a car still sucks. Reading about the ugly Wells Fargo “fee pressure and sales upsell” scandal a few years ago made us cringe. Or Volkswagen lying about emissions results, etc. Business, free markets and even non-profits, at their best are marvels of value creation. At their worst, they make people last, both employees and customers.

This is a blinding flash of “duh.” I watched our engagement scores go up every year for six years. Yet, one area that proved to be stubborn and remained relatively flat was the feedback we were getting on “best tools to get the job done.” Regardless of the amount of investment we made in giving people productivity tools, we couldn’t move the needle much. On the principle of personal equity however, we were better every year. So what does this have to with putting people first?

Key Point: Putting people first has always been our strategy. People, customers and the shareholder, in that order. However, my learning after 40 years, believing in people first is NOT exclusive to the business’ human resource department. Of course, deeply caring for the well-being of people is vital, and I prefer to wrap that up under investing in the personal equity of each team member. I believe putting people first before the customer, in it’s best sense, is intentionally looking how every product and service the company provides starts with the questions: “What is the team member experience like to deliver the process, product or service to each other and the customer?” And “how does that team member feel presenting that policy, process, program, etc.?” If we make employees feel great, and in an ideal situation, even make them feel like they have super powers, that really IS people first. Then we become people first AND customer obsessed.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Become almost insanely obsessed looking at the customer experience through the eyes of team members first. Even digital properties need that consideration. Imagine what it will feel like delivering that product, device, policy or the customer service contact after the service/product experience.
  2. Think how to make the process, service, and product the HERO, instead of expecting people to be great because we’ve handed them a “turd sandwich” with parsley on top, to then give the customer. We keep grading people on their ability to compensate on poorly designed, over complex, and crumby offerings. In fact, too often we reward for customer recovery instead of a WOW experience for team members and customers. Become REALLY PEOPLE FIRST.

People First in Personal Leadership,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: As many of you might know, July 16 and 17th is Amazon Prime Day (at least in the U.S.), where all Amazon Prime members are encouraged to take advantage of cyber deals. It’s a huge reminder that human interaction for most goods and services is hardly even necessary anymore. If I want something, I likely can have it shipped to my front door. This suggests that People First is actually more valuable now than in the past, because if the quality of product and customer experience makes things more difficult than clicking a button from the comfort of my own home, then who needs it? People First is a good way to help ensure that you’ll keep seeing people come in at all.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis