The Most Important Employee in Your Business

Shep Hyken
Contributing Writer
Shepard Presentation

Is the CEO or owner the most important employee of a business? They are the people who make the big decisions and determine the vision and strategy of the company. But if not for the company’s employees, that vision and strategy would mean nothing.

Here is where I’m going with this idea. Let’s say the owner of a restaurant is also the chef. This chef prepares the most amazing meals using the highest quality ingredients, and customers are willing to pay a premium to enjoy this epicurean experience. Yet consider this … no matter how good the food is, if it comes out on a dirty plate, the meal goes back to the kitchen, and the guest’s experience is tainted.

So that begs the question, “Who is more important?” Is it the chef, who gets paid the most, or the dishwasher, who gets paid the least?

Arguably, both are important, so let’s not debate who is more important, but instead recognize that each member of the team, from the executive chef to the dishwasher, has a job to do. If one of them fails, everyone potentially fails. An amazing entrée on a dirty plate is going to be sent back. Conversely, a poorly prepared entrée on a clean plate goes back. Either one could be considered a customer experience failure, and the potential result is that the customer never comes back.

My dirty plate story

Many years ago, I had a client who almost didn’t hire me as a customer service keynote speaker. He had been reading my customer service articles for several years. He watched my speaker demo video. We even had a conversation about his meeting. It was an easy decision for him to say, “You’re booked!”

Then my client received our standard confirmation letter. However, my assistant accidentally sent a draft, which included several typos and grammatical mistakes. He called me and told me that he was now considering another speaker, and he explained why. “If my speaker is supposed to be a strong communicator but can’t send a letter without typos and grammatical errors, what am I supposed to do?”

I thanked him for bringing this to my attention. We sent the correct letter, and somehow my client gave me another chance. Several conferences and bookings later, we laughed about how he almost canceled me before the first booking.

The assistant’s grammatically incorrect letter was my version of a dirty plate in a restaurant. Everyone has their own version of the dirty plate story. And, metaphorically speaking, the people responsible for those plates become, at that moment, the most important employees of the business. It’s important to recognize that fact – and to recognize them. Let each employee know their value to the organization and how they play an essential role in the customer receiving the best experience possible, which ultimately brings them back again and again.

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