Re-imagining the workplace: Employees are the internal customer indeed

There are organisations that have fallen in love with change, where change has become a buzz word but without the understanding of the systemic nature of life in general and work. Organisations cannot be putting patches to their entities and calling that change.


The workplace is a man-made institution that should never stop thinking outside the box and act like it dropped from some place above fully constructed and needing no further thinking and reconstruction. It is important for any organisation that entertains hope about growth and thriving to remain open to re-imagining the workplace. Interest must be taken, therefore, in things that promote growth and thriving and this will require a deep dive into the minefield that knowledge regarding these things has become.

There are organisations that have fallen in love with change, where change has become a buzz word but without the understanding of the systemic nature of life in general and work. Organisations cannot be putting patches to their entities and calling that change. Senior executives cannot afford the luxury of looking at organisations as consisting of disjointed pieces or dots. Change is a beautiful word yes and change for change’s sake is change also but we need to ask ourselves, to what avail? Do we change because we just want to sound good about the fact that we held a two-day workshop and came back with a new organogram from our organisation?

Most organisations love changing structures and a closer look at their business plans and the new structures sometimes display a disconnection. You have employees, every year waiting at the end of a financial year to learn about the changes, and it is not always the case that they take their time as organisations to fully prepare their employees for these changes. Most employees who stay in jobs for survival must go through these changes with very little readiness, being hurt by anxiety and fear as they wait on a yearly basis to learn in which direction they are being taken. They work for organisations that make it clear that they are not priority when it comes to decision making and change. So as the organisation is shaken by change, and sometimes disorganised change, they are tossed about from one end to the other with all the anxiety that comes with disorganised change, falling sick in the process, with psychosomatic diseases they will never know were caused by these tossing and turnings brought about by change and their fear of it.

When serious organisations change structures, they do so based on the reading of the business plan and the changes the business plan imposes on the structure. If this is well-communicated to employees because there is a culture of communication and education, then employees will know that we are changing in this direction and as an employee I fully understand why I am being moved to a different position.

Certain specifics need to be taken into consideration when change happens and these are change itself, the results in terms of the organisation’s deliverables and the welfare of the employees and the net that holds that part, the employees’ part, is transformation. No organisation is solely about taking care of human resources because businesses are about business, and even non-profits have business plans and a product to deliver, and it is the employees who are made into teams, departments and individuals to meet those demands. It is the formation of these variables; the business plan, the people and actual work that win or lose the game, creating cultures that steal the joy and proficiency of being in the workplace.

You will then have organisations that make big announcements about what their priority is and in most cases their priority is the customer. Are we saying that whole structure, from the CEO to the sweeper, their priority is the customer? Which customer? His or her highness the last recipient of our product? The king customer? That is a whole value chain and where do your employees stand? It doesn’t make business and performance sense that when we are asked as an organisation, what our priority is we all put up our hands to say it’s the customer. The customer phenomenon needs to be re-imagined, and organisations need to rethink this important principle of the internal customer that has been reduced to a buzz word. In a chain there must be clear responsibilities and if an employee is part of front line and is responsible for the customer directly, who is responsible for that front line employee? What happens when they falter and fall? Who picks them up? They need to be picked up because if they are not picked up the customer suffers. Simon Sinek, a business coach whose focus is on the human resource argues that no CEO should claim to be responsible for the customer if we are talking about the conventional customer, because his job is to achieve results through people, and it is those people who need to be taken care of by him or her. A soccer coach cannot claim to be responsible for scoring goals under normal circumstances although the goal of the whole team is to score goals. If he leaves his responsibility of coaching and directing and wants to score goals there will be chaos, and catastrophic chaos.

So, what do we mean about change being an important variable in the process of change? We are talking about it addressing specific needs that must be addressed going forward, by a business. A child loses his or her first teeth in order to gain stronger ones to start chewing harder stuff. This is not change for change’s sake but a well-orchestrated natural process that happens for a need. When one observes nature, they learn without a doubt that nothing happens randomly to the extent that even pandemics such as covid19 have been viewed by some positive intelligence pundits and scholars as happening for a reason as part of an organized system. When any form of change happens in an organization then, we need to read reason into it and the organisation owes it to its employees to keep them educated about the changes. Imagine the child’s system just changing from the soft teeth to the harder ones and the other parts of the system not reading that signal and having the baby continuously put its soft fingers between their hard teeth and biting them off. That is the equivalent of the disaster of changes orchestrated by managers without educating the rest of the employees. The resistance and sometimes even sabotage comes about as a result of not understanding why we change.

When change happens, it helps a great deal when the transformation of the employee is knit into the fibre of change. Employees should grow with change. They should get better, not only materially but in terms of the denser aspects of change, the quality of their wellbeing and gratification and an organization should do its best to create and craft change in such a manner that it is not focused only outside but inside too. It should indeed be an inside, out thing. It is retrogressive to grow an organisation, delight the conventional customer and leave employees who are internal customers stuck in lack of transformation and gratification. An organisation should be determined to succeed and do so by creating employee gratification because that is a sure way of increasing productivity and in the workplace, we are about productivity. When this happens, trust levels rise and this comes with a lot of other good cultural elements such as commitment, loyalty, dedication and even integrity. An organisation that takes all levels of customer seriously is going places.

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a South African organization as a Learning & Development Specialist, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for a number of blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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