Employees First, Customers Second a book review

Vineet Nayar’s Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS) is a first person CEO’s account of the transformation of their enterprise.  The book is a refreshing and frank look at the challenges facing leaders looking to transform their company, culture and employees.  Nayar discusses his experience leading HCLT and its transformation from a $700 million dollar company that was losing market share to a $2 billion dollar company at the front of their market.

Nayar provides a clear, well-written and frank discussion of the issues he faced and his personal thought process and learning journey during the transformation.  It is rare that a sitting CEO provides such a frank and honest discussion of the company and personal journey.  At 185 pages in a small format, the book is an excellent size and length for executives to read, reflect on and consider how it fits into their strategies and plans.

Recommended reading for executives who are frustrated with the current structure and culture of the modern organization.

CEO and BU executives will gain an understanding of new views on leveraging the talent, knowledge and passion of their people both internally and more importantly with customers.

HR and Staff Executives will be exposed to a different view of their role.  This is not a direct focus of the book, but reading it will help you think differently about what you do and how it creates/connects to value.

Individuals will see an example of the actions and evolution involved in realizing a new way of working.  Just about everyone wants to work this way and this book provides an example that can help crystallize your thoughts and how you communicate with your peers and management.

It is particularly recommended to read now or at a minimum have read during the summer months so these ideas can influence their strategic planning and initiatives for 2011.

This book will provide fresh views and a new configuration of approaches to create a new style of organization.  A list of strengths and challenges are at the end of this review.

The book covers a number of ‘tools’ and ideas that are particularly helpful for understanding what you can do to change your enterprise.  Many of these ideas are based on existing thoughts, but Nayar presents them in a fresh view integrated around the idea of putting employees first.  Some of the tools included in the book include:

Value Zone – the place in the organization where the company creates value with the customer.  This zone is at the bottom of the enterprise not the top and that reality shapes much of the thinking in the book.  You may recognize this in other words as the ‘moment of value’

Mirror/Mirror – a process where the company and individuals confront the truth of their situation, strengths and weaknesses, and what they need to do about it.  This is a direct descendent of confronting reality in the TQM movement.

Transparent House – the role and change created by making traditional management information, plans, evaluations etc available to all.

Zero Tickets – the notion that enabling functions not only work to resolve issues but need to be dedicated to eliminating them.  This again builds on TQM principles.

True 360 evaluation and feedback, which can be easily thought of as old hat but which Nayar gives a fresh perspective and experience.

Overall this is a good book and one that will help every executive think about how their company works and what it does to create value.  It is important to note that while Nayar’s company is based in India, his business is global and these techniques are working in multiple geographies, cultures and workforces.  This means that his experience is readily transferable to other organizations and situations.


  • Clear and comprehensive in terms of describing the business situation and the actions they took to address the issues.  There is no consultant-ese or academic mumbo jumbo, just clear thinking clearly explained.
  • Solution specific in terms of defining specific initiatives, tools, things that the company did to create results and address issues.
  • Comprehensive discussing multiple aspects of the transformation from the way they worked with customers, to enabling functions, evaluations, transparency and the changing role of the CEO and their office.
  • Insightful as Nayar reflects on what has happened at the most basic and fundamental level.  For example his discussion of the evolved nature of 360-degree feedback (p. 116 – 126) gives this tool a new power and rational.
  • Focused and humble as Nayar accomplishes all of this in just 185 pages without aggrandizing himself, his company or its track record.  This gives the book a clear and honest tone that puts conviction behind the words.
  • Realistic as Nayar recognized and values the people who say ‘yes, but’ he then goes on to share the insights and changes in the solution generated by people who have legitimate and value issues with the stated direction.  This is a balanced and mature approach to change that is refreshingly different than branding people as the enemy.


  • Nayar’s discussion of the business issues and situations are often at a high level.  While I understand the business and publishing rational behind this, it does weaken the context and may lead some people to think that this does not apply to them – it does.
  • Nayar presents a fairly straightforward time progression; we did this, then that, then that.  This is a strength in making the book clear and focused, but it has caused Nayar to omit what I am sure are some of the
  • The book is somewhat impersonal, not from the CEO’s perspective, but from the perspective of the people a HCLIT who we hear little about and even less from.  It is paradoxical in that the book is about putting employees first, but we really never hear from the employees.  A brief first person story of the transformations that an individual manager or front line person when through would have made this a five star book.

Overall the challenges do not rob the value of the ideas, experience and insight presented in this book.  Read it and think about its applicability to your company, industry and situation.  There is much here to think about and even better a deep example of what one company did.


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