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The Key to Value Creation: Your Frontline Employees With Rory Sutherland

Susanne Axelsson
May 3, 2021
Counting What Really Counts: Your Frontline Teams With Rory Sutherland

We’re living in the age of automation. Need groceries? Hop through the self check-out. Need help booking your flight online? Chat to an automated bot. Thirsty? Grab your favourite drink from a Bionic Bartender.

This makes commercial sense, right? Cut the cost of paying for a frontline team by replacing them with fully functioning, automated machines…then sit back and watch the profit margins grow…

Not so fast – have we really through this through?

Cue Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of the Ogilvy & Mather Group and official guest of the AskNicely Frontline Summit - here to debate for human connection! 

As one of the largest and most famed advertising agencies in the world, Ogilvy know a thing or two about reaching people and connecting on a human level to create value for products and services. So, if he thinks the Silicon Valley approach that views humans as a ‘bug in the system’ is both dangerous and fatal to business, then we should probably take a few moments to hear the other side of the story...

Squeezing human shape pegs into spreadsheet shaped cells

Let’s first take a look at why companies (particularly in Silicon Valley) are attempting to meet economic ends with minimum use of humanity. Two obvious reasons come to mind - efficiency and cost cutting. 

Economics (and most businesses) define value in a functional way, measuring success in numerical values - dollars, kilograms, seconds and miles per gallon. Business plans are implemented based on algorithms, data-driven predictions and formulas that fit neatly onto a spreadsheet.

But there's a fatal flaw to this approach - human metrics can’t fit on a spreadsheet.

This numerical based approach is particularly fatal, when looking at businesses with frontline teams. 

Rory uses the example of a doorman to explain…

If we look at a Doorman’s role in a purely functional way, his role is simply to, you guessed it, open the door. Wow, that’s an easy cost cutting initiative right there – install some automatic doors and stop paying the Doorman’s salary of $50,000 per year! And so, Jeff, the Doorman is replaced. The cost of the automatic door is soon paid off and the hotel saves $50K a year... at least that’s what the spreadsheet tells them.

What the spreadsheet doesn’t tell them is that Jeff’s role is not just about opening the door. More importantly, his role is about human connection; forming relationships with guests, helping them out by hailing taxis and offering security. Services that an automatic glass door, no matter how hard it tries, simply cannot provide.

Immediately, the hotel has lost a human experience – something that all service-based businesses compete on to succeed, and then soon finds itself slipping down the ranks, unable to fill rooms and charge the rates it once did.

Human connection equals value creation

A UK case study which looked at the metrics that most affected people’s perception for the brand of the Royal Mail service showed that the majority wished their postman was a robot. Just kidding! 

The single best predictor of someone’s attitude to the Royal Mail, by a long shot, was whether or not they liked their postman.

In this presentation, Rory talks about the value of human experience in service based industries and how devaluing or, worse, replacing frontline employees is a sure fire way to lose to competitors who treat their employees as VIPs. 

“The way in which we respond to an experience is fundamentally mediated by the person who delivers it. And that person is not a cost, they’re part of the whole value creation process”.

Automation may lead to short-term cost cutting, but often leads to long term value and reputation depletion. The ultimate key to value creation is in the hands of your frontline team.

Human connection matters, it just happens to be the least susceptible to numerical quantification.

Make sure you count… what counts

So let’s close this debate. 

In short

Rory shows us that frontline employees are the key to creating value in your business. This has never been so apparent as in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, where companies, and customers looking for a personal interaction, are waking up to the importance of the role that frontline workers play for each of us, every single day.

Rory rounds up his Frontline Summit presentation with a quote from Einstein…

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted...”

Our advice? Make sure your frontline employees are counted.


About the Author

Susanne Axelsson
Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the author and researcher for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.
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