Lyft’s move comes at a key time: the company has seen its fortunes rise as its chief competitor, Uber, dealt with bad headline after bad headline in 2017, denting its reputation with customers. But Lyft isn’t the only company that is seeking to capitalize by requiring its employees to work on the front lines of the business.
For example, Automattic, the company behind the popular WordPress open-source content management system, requires all of its new employees to start in customer support. Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s CEO, once explained:
All new employees work with the dedicated support team before starting their primary job. Making everyone work in support forces everyone to take customers seriously, which we should since they pay our salaries. Despite my distaste for it, the idea of making all employees participate in support, regardless of their distaste, was fantastic.
While requiring employees to serve time in the trenches has been most commonly seen at startups, companies of all shapes and sizes should consider the virtues of this approach. Here are potential benefits of it:
Employees gain empathy for customers, their colleagues and other key stakeholders.
More and more organizations are applying human-centered approaches to how they develop their products and services and operate their businesses. Design thinking, for instance, is increasingly popular.
Empathy, for obvious reasons, is a foundational component of virtually all human-centered methodologies and requiring that all employees serve on the front lines of the business can be a highly effective way to help them develop empathy for customers, their coworkers and other key stakeholders who are either served by the business or impacted by it. After all, this makes a reality of the idea that you can’t truly understand (and thus empathize with) another person until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes.
Employees gain insight into the business and its operations.
In many companies, especially those that have more than a handful of employees, it’s very easy for employees to become isolated from the rest of the business and its operations. They come to work each day, perform a handful of specific functions and rarely have exposure to the parts of the business they don’t touch.
This can be detrimental for a variety of reasons. For instance, when employees don’t have a good sense of how the functions they perform affect other employees – in other words, they can’t see the forest for the trees – it can result in inefficiencies such as redundancy.
Employees have the opportunity to help improve the business.
Great ideas often come from unexpected places and in the context of a business, every employee has the potential to be source of great ideas. Unfortunately, many companies don’t take full advantage of their employees’ brain power.
Putting all employees on the front lines can change that as it not only gives employees – many of whom will have fresh eyes – the opportunity to see the business from a different perspective but also invites them to think about their experience and contribute the ideas they generate through it.