Thinking Differently: What HR Can Learn from the Sales Team

This article continues the series on Thinking Differently.   For the first article in the series click here:  Thinking Differently:  What HR Can Learn from Not Focusing on HR

The next time you walk into a new restaurant, take a moment to stop and observe the environment – How is the ambiance? Is it clear where you need to go?  Are the staff smiling?  Are they working well as a team?  And finally, take a moment to observe your feelings – does the place ‘feel’ good to you?

This first exposure to a restaurant is a key ‘moment of truth’.  It sets a baseline for the restaurant to leverage … or overcome.   The moment of truth concept extends beyond the first impression -- moments of truth are the critical interaction points with a customer that impact key success measures.    Applying the moment of truth concept internally provides a simple approach for leaders, manager and HR to make people decisions from an ‘employee-centric’ perspective.  While ‘customer centricity’ has been an operating philosophy for many years and drives the design of products and services from a customer’s vantage point (see the explosion of design thinking), employees are often managed on a fragmented, function-based basis with scant attention to service design.  

For a restaurant, the seating arrangements, the menu design, the expected and unexpected interactions with the staff, and the process to pay the bill are all critical moments of truth.  The importance of each interaction varies to customers, but restaurants every day cater to customers with varied expectations and needs for quality, service and environment.  This leads them to create ‘customer journey maps’ to understand the value they can deliver during the key moments of truth.   And while each moment will not necessarily make or break the overall experience, these combined moments are where the customer experience happens.  It is not about a generic experience; the experience is made up of moments. 

Think about when someone speaks glowingly about a restaurant -- people often discuss specific ‘moments’.  The impact that a restauranteur makes during these moments helps determine how successful they are with their ultimate measures of success:  sales, return visits, and satisfaction scores.

Like restaurant customers, employees also have ‘moments of truth’ every day that impact key people goals of performance, productivity, engagement and retention.   The first moment of truth often occurs for employees during their search for employment.  It could occur as they search the website for information, attend a company recruitment drive or fill out an application for employment.  Many organisations recognize this moment and now position their pre-hire assessment tools to create a positive impact during an applicant’s first interaction with the organisation.  A slick looking online assessment, performed on a mobile with built in gamification, sends a message that the organisation is at the cutting edge of innovation.   In addition, since more candidates are rejected than accepted, organisations view these ‘non-accepted’ candidates as potential customers – and they are looking to create a positive overall brand impact.

Another critical moment of truth for employees is their first day.  Think about your first day at your current job: Did someone greet you when you first arrived?  Were your desk and computer prepared?  Were efforts made to include you in the team – did someone organise a welcome lunch?  Organisations have increasingly recognized this pivotal moment and have more structured on-boarding programs that often include pre-booked meetings for the first week and team ‘buddies’ assigned to help shepherd a new employee through the first months.   For example, a global financial services organisation walks all new hires, including interns, around to meet everyone on the floor during their first morning.  It is a simple step but it aligns with the value proposition that they care for all employees as individuals. 

While the employee’s first impressions during recruitment and day 1 can certainly change, they set a baseline for an employee’s engagement – so why not start by setting a high baseline on day 1.  After the initial buzz of the first day, another key moment for employees typically occurs at day 90 when the initial probation period ends.  This also leads to the first formal performance evaluation for an employee and sets the tone for future performance and development discussions.  For example, a telecommunication organization takes the time to collect employee feedback at this moment through a formal survey and uses those insights for the manager to construct a discussion with the employee to communicate whether an employee passes probation (the key outcome) and also outlines observed strengths and development areas.  This sets the expectation that development discussions are ‘always on’.   Without this development component, the moment becomes simply a pass-fail exam.   

‘Leading practices’, a very misused term, often are better sourced from replicating not how other HR functions on-board employees but from looking around your office – specifically, observing how your sales team on-boards a new customer.  For example, a logistics company sets up a call with customers prior to them receiving their first invoice – one of the first critical moments of truth.  They know the invoice can lead to anxiety and they take pre-emptive actions and open a communication channel in case there are any questions.

For tenured employees, moments of truth occur systematically throughout the year as well as on ad hoc basis.  For most organisations, employees typically have at least five regular interactions with managers every year:  (a) setting annual performance goals, (b) receiving performance feedback, (c) receiving a performance evaluation and pay adjustments, (d) discussing career plans, and (e) completing an engagement survey.  

There are direct parallels with the sales process for these moments of truth.  How your sales team manages these regular interactions with customers can highlight some practical and culturally aligned approaches to managing employees during critical moments.  For business-to-business sales organisations that thrive on long term customer relationships, it is critical that they set precise goals and expectations for service, regularly follow up on progress and formally evaluate the relationship at a specific point of time. 

Agreements on long term customer commitments only typically occurs for key clients – an unfortunate parallel with employees as most development discussions only occur for key employees.  Formal customer feedback, often represented in the form of a Net Promoter Score, parallels the annual Employee Engagement Score in measuring the health of the relationship with two critical stakeholders.  

Across the employee lifecycle there are regular moments of truth where your sales team may provide the best source of inspiration for people-related decisions.  

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As these interactions are always known, there are no excuses for not effectively executing in these moments.   

Of course, there are many unplanned events that occur during the year that serve as moments of truth for employees.    Some of the most notable moments are: 

  • A change in a manager
  • A change in a leader
  • A change in the organisation structure
  • A new strategic direction
  • A merger, acquisition or divestiture
  • A new employee is hired
  • An employee resigns
  • A change in an employee’s role
  • A new policy, program, process or system is implemented

While the impact of each of these events varies for employees, how an organisation manages these moments often has a direct and lasting impact on an employee’s performance, productivity, engagement and retention.   And, it is often in these unplanned moments when lasting impacts are made.  While debates may exist about the right amount of information to share, who shares the information and when to share the information during these unplanned moments, there is no debate that an organisation’s ability to positive or negatively influence key people metrics occurs during these moments.

Again, parallels to sales teams are relevant in managing these moments. For example, great efforts are made to explain to customers any changes to products and services, the value of the changes for their business, and how to answer any questions.  A change in a key client relationship manager often requires a ‘transition plan’ that is actively managed with customers.  What was the communication and transition plan that existed the last time an employee resigned?  How much follow up occurred with the team after a new manager was hired?   

In summary, there are three critical lessons for excelling during moments of truth for employees.

First, instead of just asking what programs we need to drive higher employee performance, productivity, engagement and retention, also ask: what are the critical moments of truth for employees when we can actually impact these goals

Second, your best inspiration for adopting ‘leading moments of truth practices’ may be to partner with your sales teams to adopt some of the successful practices they implement with customers. 

Third, take the employee’s perspective when understanding the potential impact of the key moments. A ‘key moment’ may look different when viewed from an employee’s perspective.

Achieving people goals does not result from a general focus on these outcomes.  Exceeding employee’s expectations on these goals occurs when leaders and managers  (with support from HR) handle the key moments of truth for employees.  It is in these specific interactions when employees make decisions on whether to work harder, perform better and commit to stay at the organisation.