How can we link our talent management efforts to customer satisfaction during difficult times?

Most of us know the old saying, “Take care of the big things and the little things will take care of themselves.” But in more and more companies around the world, strategically-minded human resources leaders are turning this adage on its head. The new mantra is, “Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves.”

The Big Things  
The “big” systems are important—a company with strong leaders and a clear commitment to leadership development and talent management. High performers will be drawn to an excellent organization and talent review system that is deployed globally and operating effectively; the top organizations invest in development, advance top talent, move people into challenging roles and markets to test and prepare future executives, and reward good performers. But in speaking to our HR colleagues, they make an excellent point: as good as these “big” systems are, it’s the little things that make or break the ability to attract, develop and retain excellent performers.

Fine Tuning
It doesn’t take much budget to hold lunch and learn sessions. Or recognize good performance with a handwritten note from the boss. Or invite executives from client companies or vendors to talk about what they do to develop people. Or invite people at all levels to brainstorm focus groups on how to better serve customers. Do you have brown bag training sessions or lunch and share meetings to ensure people stay in touch with what’s going on?  Are your HR leaders in touch with external customers and know what their needs are?

Low Cost, High Reward
Here’s a test:
1. Mark off two columns on a sheet of paper.
2. In column one, make a list of the “big systems” that your organization has put in place to recruit, grow, reward and engage employees, with an eye towards customer satisfaction.
3. In column two, make a list of the little things that would help your team or organization make the most of these investments and are likely to cost little or nothing. For example, how might you improve the orientation of new employees without spending much or any money? How could you better reinforce managerial coaching without sending them to expensive workshops in exotic locations? The possibilities are limited only by your willingness to take time yourself, and involve employees, in identifying and acting on creative ideas.

Many years ago a senior executive of Bell Canada, the Canadian telecommunications company, told a wonderful story. She had been the sponsoring executive of a project team that worked tirelessly for three months to deliver a new, high tech, service. After the team presented its work, and was congratulated for its excellent achievement, the executive asked the team, “What can we do to thank you for your hard work and outstanding accomplishment?” The team talked among itself for a minute, until finally the project leader stepped up. “We were hoping that you would pay for a case of beer, a dozen steaks, and give us the rest of the day off for a BBQ at a local park,” he said.

It’s the little things that often matter most.