Customers Have Life Cycles. Guess What? So Do Employees! Here’s Why That’s So Important


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For some time, it has been understood that, when purchasing a product or service, consumers are essentially ‘hiring’ a supplier to get a job done. The same can be said of employees. They can hire desired employers, and if things don’t turn out as expected, employees can ‘fire’ their employer, sometimes quietly, sometimes noisily, departing..

Clayton Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, has identified this trend in his book, Competing Against Luck. As he notes, the new employee has accepted the job, but he or she has also accepted, or hired, the company. The goal is to make career and life, i.e. experiential, progress, so making the right decision at the outset is extremely important. As explained by Christensen, this is considerably more than title and salary, which are just the very basic functional components of the job. It must include both emotional and social components of value, more nuanced elements of the job experience which are of at least equal importance to the employee.

According to TechTarget, employee life cycle can be defined as follows: “The employee life cycle (ELC, also sometimes spelled as employee lifecycle) is a HR-based model that identifies stages in employees’ careers to help guide their management and optimize associated processes.” In many respects, then, the employee life cycle is similar to the customer life cycle.

Specific employee life cycle models vary, but consistent ELC stages often include:

Recruitment: This stage includes all the processes leading up to and including the hiring of a new employee. E-recruitment software may be used to automate some of the selection process, for example filtering applications and resumes for requirements. This is rather analogous to Suspect and Prospect stages of the customer life cycle

Onboarding : In this relatively brief stage, the employee is added to the organization’s identity and access management system. The stage includes ensuring that the employee has access to any applications and systems that are required for his job.

Orientation : In this stage, the employee settles into the job, integrates with the corporate culture, familiarizes himself/herself with coworkers and management, and generally establishes his/her role within the organization.

Career Planning : During the planning stage, the employee and management collaboratively develop objectives and goals. Personality profile assessments are sometimes used in conjunction with an evaluation of the employee’s performance to date. This may be periodically re-assessed, somewhat dependent on employee performance and desires, and available paths within the enterprise.

Career Development : In this stage, the employee matures in his/her role in the organization. Professional development frequently involves additional training and/or exposure. The challenges in this stage are employee engagement and retention.

Termination : In this final stage, sometimes referred to as “transition,” the employee leaves the organization. The specific processes are somewhat dependent upon whether the departure is the result of voluntary resignation, firing or retirement. However, in any case, offboarding is a feature – the employee is removed from the company’s system. Many organizations schedule exit interviews in an attempt to get useful input from the departing employee.

What should be emphasized in the HR-based models of employee life cycle, especially in Career Development, is how the job experience is, or can be, enhanced with a focus on commitment to the customer, product and service value proposition, and to the organization itself. This transcends the traditional emphasis on concepts of employee engagement and retention initiatives practiced by most companies.

Anything that preventds an employee – any employee in the organization – or detracts from delivering an optimum customer experience, must be proactively identified and rectified. So, It should also be noted that, somewhere between Career Planning, Career Development, and Termination, and just as with customers in their supplier relationship, Employment Risk can set in. And, again like customers, organizations need methods of mitigating or eliminating risk. It’s part of creating and sustaining ambassadorial behavior, a state of higher purpose, fulfillment and action among employees,

So, the key question: How does the enterprise not just reduce Employment Risk, but build purpose and fulfillment, especially where staff experience, focus, and motivation are concerned? About fifteen years ago, my colleague Jill Griffin and I identified nine best ‘people first’ employee experience practices for our co-authored book, Customer Winback. Of these, having a culture of trust and empowerment, active training and cross-training (an element of recognition and reward), open vertical and horizontal communication, and proactive career pathing are perhaps the most important. There’s not a particular order in which these should be addressed – all are consequential.

How these practices mesh and produce desired employee and customer value was nicely summarized by Claudia Saran, a KPMG Principal. In Episode 4, ‘ Building a Business With Purpose’, from a recent (October, 2016) series of business strategy videos her company produced, entitled “The Entrée”, she said:

“It’s really trying to tap into something deeper and capture the hearts and minds of your people It’s pride, and you want that as a leader. That’s going to breed productivity, morale, retention; and those people are going to be ambassadors for your brand.”

Ideally, every organization can benefit from an authentic culture, along with a committed corps of employee ambassadors, individuals who will advocate for the brand/corporate entity, inside and outside of the company. We’ve witnessed high levels of cultural cohesion and consistent ambassadorial behavior in companies that are fiercely, and successfully, stakeholder-centric (like TD Bank:: . And, we have also seen employee ambivalence and negativism in organizations that are more top-down autocratic, are operations-, sales-, or product-obsessed, and are less focused on stakeholder experience and value delivery (like Bank of America: .

Within the enterprise, ambassadorship is largely about being relentlessly focused on optimizing the employee experience throughout the life cycle But, that can be a challenge. In our employee experience research and consulting work with clients, we’ve encountered situations where Career Planning and Career Development among long-tenured staff – both life stages that would support more ambassadorial behavior – was sacrificed in favor of a much greater emphasis on front-end Recruitment, Onboarding and Orientation. For customers, this would be analogous to Prospecting, Acquisition, and New Customer development.


To help make certain that the organization doesn’t get bogged-down in early stage employee modes, which would potentially undermine longer-tenured staff, two key life cycle elements must be a stronger focus. Career Planning and Career Development – through stakeholder-centric teamwork, cross-functional training and exposure, active and customer-focused reward and recognition, and stronger, more frequent and real-time communication to, and feedback with, all employees.

The Suggested Prescriptive: Simple, get all employees as close to customers as possible, every day.. Make certain that customer value delivery is an achievable accountability in every job description. Build this into every employee’s career path, and the employee, customer, and enterprise will be richer for it.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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