Several times over the years I have been asked a question about importance. The question has not changed in terms of wording but it is interesting how, to me and others, the answer has changed as time has progressed.

The question is: "which is more important to a business – its customers or its people?"

Back when I started my career, I recall that the "work hard, play hard" internal branding which derived most benefit for clients and owners was dispensed with (as a result of more than one employee suffering burn out I suspect).

Shortly after that "our people are our greatest asset" became the norm. That is an example of a pendulum swing if ever I saw one, however in the majority of cases it represented an actual and tangible change in culture.

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The thing which I was always curious about was that the customer / staff axis was represented in absolutes, that it was a choice of two options rather than there being a happy medium combination which existed between the two.

Of course the reality is that it is all about balance because businesses cannot exist without each of these components operating in harmony.

In fact, customers will soon see a decline in levels of service if the management and staff doing the work are not well looked after. However, the same can be true if a business loses touch with the fact that it is a business and staff are so well looked after that the attention is drawn away from creating value for clients and customers.

We see the negative aspects arise when the balance isn't there and a number of businesses which we all deal with on a daily basis from time to time demonstrate that they haven't got this right.

How many times have you reached out to a business and been greeted with service lacking, well, service? Contrast that where you encounter a business full of enthusiastic people who go out of their way to assist and add value to the experience.

Much has been made recently of the workplace needs and wants of Millennials and even more written about how the way we do business (aided by technology) is changing. We need to be cognoscente of this.

However, we also need to recognise that any internal model, while modelling an improved work environment 'experience' for staff, more importantly needs to also model an improved experience for customers and clients.

But while all of the above is important, my own experience shows – particularly where I am working with clients in developing strategic plans – that the customer vs staff importance question is also answered by the business as a whole understanding its 'why'.

That is, understanding why it is in business and the purpose of what it and its people are there to do. Most of the time the answer to the 'why' question is, simply put, a balance of return, serving customers / stakeholders and being a great place to work.

So, the answer to the question of "which is more important to a business – its customers or its people?" The answer most definitely is both.

*Balance Consulting is a Whanganui consultancy specialising in business strategy, process excellence and leadership mentoring — contact Russell Bell on 021 2442421 or John Taylor on 027 4995872