If you’re keeping your finger on the pulse of the global business trends, then you can see a shift toward a customer-centric business model. This way of doing business started in the business-to-consumer sector as a simple promise to their customers and has grown to stretch across the entire company culture. An excellent example is Patagonia’s human-centric approach to doing business that prioritizes customer and employee satisfaction.

Why are we seeing more service-based industries adopt this method? It seems like a natural progression of a service-based company to put their client above all else, why not also their employees? If management consulting firms, for instance, adopted a human-centric model of business, it would revolutionize their entire business ecosystem.

What is Patagonia doing that is so great?

Patagonia is the prime example of a human-centric approach to building a successful, global business. They tackle this in two key ways:

  • Customer-centric approach to product guarantees: Known as the Ironclad Guarantee, Patagonia assures customers they can return products at any time if they are not satisfied or the product does not perform to satisfaction. This commitment enhances customer trust, increasing brand loyalty.
  • Prioritized employee well-being and engagement: Patagonia integrates its ethical retail philosophy into its HR practices, promoting a seamless blend of work and leisure. Hiring from within the company first, providing comprehensive benefits, giving paid environmental internships, reinforcing work-life balance, and encouraging environmental activism are all tangible ways Patagonia lives this philosophy.

Patagonia clearly places its employees at the same esteem as its customers. The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, outlines this more clearly in his book, Let My People Go Surfing, which references a still-active policy of flex time that allows employees to shape their hours around the surf. These practices and policies breed long-lasting relationships and shales a win-win-win way of doing business that drives the company forward year after year.

How can management consulting firms learn from Patagonia?

Management consulting firms need to be strategizing a fundamental shift in their business model to resemble Patagonia’s philosophy. With a human-centric generation on the rise in business, future leaders 5-10 years from now will evaluate firms against how they contribute to the community and greater global society. Firms can take steps now to begin the process of becoming more human-centric in their business practices:

Focus on long-term goals, not short-term rewards.

It may feel like the battle is uphill, but the management consulting industry should practice what they preach to the client and move past the immediate transitions to long-term relationships. Short-term rewards can be used as steppingstones to a long-term vision they have strategized, much like we do for our client’s projects, but this should not be the sole focus. When the focus is, instead, shifted to long-term relationships, firms will build trust that leads to an increase in long-term profits and an expanded network through referrals.

Promote employee professional development.

The firm is only as good as the weakest consultant, as challenging as that is to hear. By investing in your employee’s professional development, you’re investing in the firm’s future and creating a happier, loyal employee along the way. Firms can do this simply by providing funds for certifications, like for Agile Scrum, or going a step bigger and providing reimbursement for higher education goals, like an MBA or PhD.

Invest in employees outside of professional life.

Understanding your employees have a life outside the doors of the firm stretches past allowing PTO for doctor’s appointments. Firms can look into launching employee wellness programs and encouraging employee interest and hobby groups. If firms want healthy, happy, loyal employees who commit to the company, they should support employees in long-term personal goals and interests. Such policies are very impactful on employee morale and retention rates, not to mention overall productivity. In fact, research says that employees who trust their employers have 74% less stress and 40% less burnout. So, giving back to your employees does build longer-lasting relationships.

Challenges to change can always be expected.

We wouldn’t be management consultants if we didn’t plan for challenges to arise. With any transformation, there will be resistance to change. Slowing down top-line revenue goals to build stronger relationships with clients and employees will find resistance, but with flexibility for a learning curve and clear communication, you can overcome the obstacle. Firms must commit to the changes they are implementing and allow for mistakes along the way. Minimize these challenges and increase speed to success by allowing employees at every level to be part of the decision-making process. Improving company culture is easier said than done, but it must come both from top-down leadership and bottom-up through clear expectations.

Look to the future.

Human-centric approaches to business policies have been in the works for nearly 20 years, yet only 14% of marketers say their brands focus on customer-centric visions. Management consultants cannot expect it will be easy to adopt philosophies like Patagonia’s, but we have to know it will be rewarding once they are established. The next generation of leaders will think and act with community agency. Management consulting firms cannot be left behind. They must embed these practices into the DNA of their firms to develop strong, lasting relationships with clients and employees.