Thou Shalt Put Employees First

Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.

–Anne Mulcahy

We have all heard the “Employee first, customer second” philosophy of growing and maintaining a flourishing business. I thought I would provide some concrete reasons why business leaders would want to live and breath this mindset into their organizations.

I do have one side note: Smart business leaders are really working with both stakeholders simultaneously, focusing on building trust, rapport, and alliances with both. So, the true meaning of this approach is not to stop answering your customers’ phone calls or meeting their needs until you get your relationship with your employees “just right.”  It is meant to signal to internal and external customers alike that you understand that you cannot give what you do not have.

Here are four concrete reasons organizations should adopt this philosophy as one of their greatest commandments:

1. They will go the extra mile.

I have found that employees who feel cared for and those who feel empowered to make decisions that benefit customers and the organization are much more likely to go the extra mile for customers and for the business.

I once worked with a team member who had been at the organization for 20 years. This particular person came in at 6:30 am every morning and would often be found leaving around the same time at night. She just would not leave until customers were satisfied and her job had been done. One clear example of going the extra mile was a time when a large customer’s order was about to ship and she realized that it was inaccurate. She did not spend a lot of time figuring out who did it or placing blame elsewhere. (We did this after solving the immediate issue) She took ownership of the result and decided to come in on a weekend to work with the shipping department to make sure the correct order was shipped to the customer.

She did not walk away until she had a satisfied, loyal customer.

An organization cannot buy this type of commitment to excellence. It has to be earned.

2. They are a more affordable source of promotion.

One thing I know for sure. I would be a lot less likely to “talk up” a current employer if I did not feel like the leaders cared about me, by investing resources in my development, by ensuring I had a voice and a way to be a part of organizational change. Many would have a hard time being the cheerleader for a company that shuts down input, treats them like a number and fails to recognize their efforts.

The flip side of this is that putting the employee first ensures any organization a more affordable source of promotion to anyone who wants to listen. Employees who are deeply engaged in the work they do usually spread the news to customers, friends, family and anyone else who will listen. Harness this continuous energy!

3. They reproduce other great employees.

Do you think that a 5-star employee is going to refer a 2-star employee to your organization?

Not very likely.

Employees who have worked for a significant period of time for an organization, and who take ownership in the success of the organization usually refer like-minded people to open positions. If the organization takes care of its people, those same people will reach down deep to refer their most experienced and respected friends and former colleagues to fill key positions in the organization. These referrals are a reflection of the employee’s deeper commitment to the company, its brand, and its culture. Never underestimate the value of the “Employee First” philosophy in strengthening your talent acquisition strategy.

4. They sell more stuff.

Much has been written about how engaged and loyal employees will drive increased revenues for an organization. This is certainly not a new concept, but I think the real question should be why?

We can all venture to guess the reasons why this is, but I would propose that the reason is very basic. I think it really stems from the notion of reciprocity.

Reciprocity is the quality or state of being reciprocal: mutual dependence, action, or influence –Merriam Webster Dictionary

You see, an employee who feels as though his/her employer has provided all of the tangible and intangible benefits that makes the relationship one of trust and co-creation tends to want to reciprocate. That employee may then act in a way, like selling more goods and services (even if this is not his/her role) to “return the favor.” This is what leads to mutual dependence or influence.

Organizations should want to create this type of feeling in their employees. Once you have, the sky is the limit!

There are many more reasons why organizations should adopt the Employee First, Customer Second philosophy. These were top of mind for me. In the end, considering the very unique relationship that exists between an organization and its employees means that putting employees first is just the right thing to do in every situation. Customers will sense this mutual commitment and this affects their loyalty to the organization as well.

Thank you for reading this post. I get really excited talking and writing about this topic. If you found it of interest, please do Share it with others who might benefit. I am always open to feedback as well.


Heather Younger
Heather Younger
Heather Younger gets it. As a best-selling author, international TEDx speaker, podcast host, facilitator, and Forbes Coaches Council coach, she has earned her reputation as “The Employee Whisperer”. Her experiences as a CEO, entrepreneur, manager, attorney, writer, coach, listener, speaker, collaborator and mother all lend themselves to a laser-focused clarity into what makes employees of organizations and companies – large and small - tick. Heather has facilitated more than 150 workshops, reaching +100 employers and their employees. Her motivation and philosophy have reached more than 20,000 attendees at her speaking engagements on large and small stages. Companies have charted their future course based on her leading more than 100 focus groups. In addition, she has helped companies see double-digit employee engagement score increases through the implementation of her laws and philosophies. She has driven results in a multitude of industries, including banking, oil & gas, construction, energy, and federal and local government. Heather brings a tenacious and inspirational outlook to issues plaguing the workforces of today. Her book “The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty” hit the Forbes Must-Read list and is a go-to source for HR professionals seeking insight into their organization's dynamics. Heather’s writing can also be found on her blog at EmployeFanatix, as well as articles in Forbes, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, American Express Open Forum, and more. Coupled with her Leadership with Heart podcast, weekly videos, and employer newsletters, Heather stays connected to organizations long after she leaves the stage or conference roomWhen all the emails are returned and the mic is turned off, and Heather acts as co-manager of her busy household in Aurora, Colorado with her husband, where they oversee their four children.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. We live in an era where, especially in some sectors, we can know everything (or almost) about our client: where he is, what he likes, what are the tools and channels through which he prefers to relate to our company, how many times consult our website online before going to the store and buying, etc.
    The ultimate goal of all these data is to simplify the life of the potential customer, ensuring a so-called seamless experience. In short, an almost spasmodic attention towards those interested in purchasing our product, much less attention towards those who must guarantee the customer a memorable experience.
    Yet if a company really wants to put the customer at the center, it must first of all take care of its employees. If he wants to reduce the insecurities related to the customer experience (or to the more generic stakeholder experience), he must begin to get used to the idea that it is necessary to take care of the so-called employee experience first, that is, the experience that collaborators live within the organization.
    It is necessary to try to understand the implicit and profound reasons that explain why an employee chooses to stay in the company, beyond the remuneration; understand what makes him feel good and what are his points of pain; what are the unexpressed needs that guide its behavior within the organization; what are its “why”. Once the most important insights have been identified, it is necessary to work on the motivation and engagement of the collaborators, so that their satisfaction is transferred to the customers.
    There are various ways to do it, there is no universal solution; the best thing is that each company finds the most effective way also with reference to its own history and corporate culture.
    As technology becomes a widespread and increasingly accessible commodity, people make the difference.

  2. Heather: Can’t argue with your four points. However, personally I would stop short of saying that putting employees first is the right thing to do in “every” situation. That is like saying always and never. I also wonder if putting employees first really requires putting customers second. Can’t they all be first? In my experience, it is very rare that one must be picked over the other.

    • I have been in situations where the customer was placed before the emotional well-being of employees. It happens more than you think. Of course, I think we need to care for both. The purpose of this article and another I wrote on my blog, titled “Which came first? the Employee or the customer?” is really just to ensure that employees become more of a priority for organizational leaders. My background is mostly in the customer experience space, and place equal value there. It’s a matter of perspective. Thanks for responding.