Federal Express, from its inception, has put its people first both because it is right to do so and because it is good business as well. Our Corporate philosophy is succinctly stated: People – Service – Profit (P-S-P).
– Frederick W. Smith, Founder, FedEx, Chairman, President, and CEO, FedEx Corporation; citation from Manager’s Guide USA: The FedEx Express Guide to Leadership, 2002.
Right… (said sarcastically).
Anybody buying that?
In fact, I still am! Despite having left FedEx over a decade ago.
I “bought in” once I appreciated the shifting perspective that gives this corporate philosophy life and power.
Here’s what I mean:
People first is clearly setting the priority for leaders and managers. Taking care of your people is the first priority.
Then comes the sneaky-stealth shift in perspective.
If leaders/managers put their people first, their people will put customers first.
Exceptional service to customers generates profits.
People, service, profit.
Not exactly the order of priorities of the average company, is it! At least, not in evidence from their actions. Sure, they all spout the right sentiment people are our most important asset but good gosh can you find any part of that belief in their decision making?
* * * * *
FedEx provided its managers specifics regarding their people-service-profit approach to make the philosophy actionable and take it from theory into practice —
- Give employee considerations a high priority when developing corporate programs and policies; when acquiring and designing facilities, equipment, and systems; and when scheduling and arranging work.
- Involve employees as valuable team members.
- Promote from within when possible.
- Spend the time and effort necessary to manage the personnel issues; especially training and coaching.
- Maintain outstanding communications, and make available any information requested that is not personal, privileged, or controlled by government regulations.
- Enact progressive programs to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly.
- Attempt to avoid furloughing employees, and retrain any whose jobs are affected or eliminated by business conditions or technological change.
- Provide competitive wages, benefits, and profit-sharing opportunities that are consistent with corporate earnings.
- Treat every single employee with respect and dignity.
- Encourage the heart by saying “thank you” and “well done” often.
Here’s a quick activity for you! Use the above as a checklist for where you work now. I’m betting this exercise might be rather disconcerting.
And lest you think I am seeing FedEx through rose-colored glasses, I’ve no concerns sharing that, in my experience, FedEx wasn’t perfect; those management practices above were at times inconsistently executed.
I don’t know what the organization is like now. There are blog readers out there that might be able to inform on that point, if they so choose. I, for one, would love to know to what extent the philosophy is recognizable in current practices given current challenges.
What I do know is that while I was there, I had a palpable feeling that I was working for a company that was a class above the field.
Given the benefit of my subsequent OD experiences, I am now able to view those FedEx precepts and their inconsistent application with a more mature, seasoned discernment.
What I know now is that perfection is not required to separate from the pack.
Perfect execution is not required to accomplish exceptional results.
But a differentiating mindset is.
Leaders and managers put people first … people will put customers first, providing exceptional, differentiating service.
Dan Murray said:
Hi John. I hope that all is well with you and your family. Dan Murray
John M. Greco said:
Hi Dan. Thanks and same back to you!
Nick Foote said:
No company is perfect and the best philosphy can be ruined by a few bad seeds. That being said, moving from a company where I felt like a number, to a organization that values it’s employees it is eye opening and a much needed change. I feel more energized to help the customer/business partner. It’s amazing how strange the words “thank you” sound when you hadn’t heard them for years.
John M. Greco said:
Indeed, Nick. There is a difference, isn’t there…
Nice to see you here; didn’t know you were following/reading. Thank you for that, and for commenting.
It’s been a while; where did you land? And what are you doing now?
Great post, John. I find it quite interesting the development and evolution of corporate priorities. I wonder if the order of People and Service is as important as simply placing Profits last. Profits are the lifeblood of a company; without profits, employees can’t be given raises and customers can’t be rewarded for their loyalty. Thus, my inexpert thinking concludes that putting Profits last is a sacrificial approach to managing a business. It places faith in the idea that employees and customers will produce profits when they perceive themselves as higher priorities than those profits.
But is there a case for why People would PREFER to be second to Service.
In my experience, employees WANT to be part of something great, to make a difference, and to do something highly valuable. They thirst for meaning and significance in their roles. In other words, they actually want to focus on something other than just themselves. It is the same with all of life; self-interested pursuits offer short-term and fleeting rewards. Self-sacrifice and service to others produce greater and longer-lasting rewards. This is not rocket science. Anyone’s experience can attest to its truth.
If the company places People at the top of the chain, though, it doesn’t ask those People to take the same approach that management is taking. It doesn’t ask employees to also sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake of servicing the customer. In some ways, it’s inconsistent.
What if, instead, the executives and shareholders demonstrated their commitment to service and customer by also asking employees to do the same? The message would be, “We believe when the customer is the priority, closely followed by our people, we will flourish so long as our product or service meets a real need.”
It takes a theme and makes it consistent from top to bottom. It asks everyone to work outward and be part of the same challenge. It communicates that other-interest is always the best approach.
I can see the argument that if management is sacrificial to those in their care (the employees), then employees will be sacrificial to those in their care (the customer). Still, my impression is that people respond to a great calling, and a great calling is when leaders sacrifice for the cause to which they call their supporters. Do soldiers most eagerly charge into battle when they are convinced their commanding officers are backing them up and looking out for their best interest, or when their commanding officers are leading the charge?
What do you think?
John M. Greco said:
Loving your commentaries. They make me think!
When management puts people first, aren’t they modeling the behavior that they want their people to adopt and sustain visavis customers? So, when management puts people first, doesn’t that enable people putting their customers first?
So not just externally directed, but internally directed as well, we have a culture of service that marries with and fully supports each party’s self-interest.
I don’t quite see this philosophy as sacrificial as much as I see it as giving up control, or, more accurately, recognizing that management control is largely an illusion.
Most certainly, companies that are truly customer focused have a leg up. On that I’m sure we agree!
But what this blog post attempts to introduce and explore, drawing from the FedEx philosophy that I have first hand experience with, is that customer service needs to be enabled. It doesn’t just happen; it even doesn’t just come from inspired and impassioned people.
It is enabled by investing in building the capability to serve. Those who are serving know better than anyone what is needed to serve.
So when management puts its people first, it commits to making the required investments. With those investments, people commit to delivering customer experiences that delight, well, everyone!
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