Employees are the New Customer

Sep 15
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When you visit your favourite ice cream or gelato shop, do you go for vanilla over all of the other exciting and varied flavours? My favourite is usually salted caramel if I am really feeling like a treat…(although I am not sure any sugar is a good idea while I am trying to get my steps up for Steptember!).

Likewise, employees in this new world order of ‘work’ are looking for that exciting new flavour, that wholesome texture, enduring taste and commitment to excellence…in their employer of choice. It is only when the other choices are not very appealing do they tend to fall back to what they know – the trusty vanilla. Generally speaking, they are not interested in ‘beige.’ Our employees it seems, are our new customers.

This is a lot of pressure for employers…how do they attract the best talent in this competitive environment? How do they appear less ‘vanilla’ and more ‘salted caramel’? We are in a realm of viewing our employees and our strategies for hiring, rewarding and retaining them in the same manner we do our customers.

Let’s take a look at agile (game-changing) HR practices vs traditional HR practices in the same way we view traditional customer strategies with innovative ones. In the old world model the “system came before the people.” Now, we should be viewing the system as the people. Linking reward and recognition cultures into this we know that:

Traditional recognition is:

  • Designed by a consultant / HR team
  • Top down – relies on managers to recognise or regulate
  • Monthly / annual – low frequency

Common outcomes

  • Low participation rates (or high to start with and fades quickly)
  • Minimal impact on behavioural or cultural change
  • Same people get recognised all the time OR not enough people get recognised for the same thing

Recently, a colleague of mine, Joy Adan, presented at a conference on Redii’s Engagement Capability study of more than 4,000 organisations, where we uncovered the qualities of effective ‘game changing’ leaders. Leaders who lead by example, not directive, and take the time to develop meaningful connections are game changing. Successful leaders connect their people’s day-to-day work with the purpose, values and brand of the company they work in. These are the leaders of the ‘salted caramel’ variety, and the ones that employees are attracted to working for.

We work in an ever-changing workplace. Employers simply cannot afford to hang onto ‘vanilla’ HR practices of the past…

These are the agile practices ‘salted caramel’ employers need to be aiming for to keep their new ‘customers’ engaged, recognised and rewarded:

Purpose-driven recognition programs

  • Strategic employee recognition puts the purpose and values of the organisation at the forefront and highlights the things people are doing to move the game forward for your business and your brand.

High frequency, low-value

  • Our studies show people should be recognised at least 8 times a year in order to show clear change to personal performance and workplace culture. Our best performing programs show ~17 x recognition per person

Designed by the people, for the people

  • Bottom-up instead of top-down

Self-regulated and peer-to-peer

  • Puts the responsibility of highlighting achievements, reinforcing the right behaviours and helping build a solid community in the hands of every employee, not just the managers

As a result – game-changing recognition that cultivates a culture of leadership across the whole organisation….


I take you back to that ice cream shop. When you are choosing your place of work and when employers are addressing their own HR practices, let’s talk about being agile, and being a game changer. This new world order of work involves recognition and reward. Within this metric lies more stories of success within your organisation; ongoing engagement throughout the year, across all teams; constant feedback / reinforcement of positive behaviours across MORE people in your business and ultimately the responsibility is also in the hands of the people, so behavioural and cultural change is achieved from grassroots up instead of top-down.

Let’s view our employees and HR strategies in the same way we view our innovative customer strategies:

More ‘salted caramel’. Less ‘vanilla.’


Submitted by Naomi Simson

Naomi Simson

Naomi Simson is the founding director of Australian online tech success story RedBalloon and Redii. She has written more than 900 blog posts at NaomiSimson.com, is a professional speaker, author of Live What You Love and is one of five “Sharks” on TEN’s business reality show Shark Tank to return in 2016.

2 thoughts on “Employees are the New Customer

  1. Thanks for the article Naomi – thought you might like to know at our recent awards night recipients were given a choice of Tiffany and Co voucher and red balloon voucher. My team members chose red balloon over Tiffany and Co!
    Definitely not Vanilla…

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