The employee is king: Listening to people to transform organisations

Silvia Forés

Many people have asked me: The Employee is king? Isn’t that a rather bold title for your new book? What does it mean? Do you expect us, as employers, to bow to all the wishes of our employees? Are you turning the world on its head?

The employee is king tells the story of the cultural transformation of a company like any other, in response to a reality that we are experiencing: changes in the work environment that were looming – let’s face it – well before the pandemic.

Traditionally, people management policies have materialised in the form of protocols and actions implemented by Human Resources Departments, to the best of their ability. These policies have been developed by paying close attention to the needs of the business and the company.

This has worked, with varying degrees of success, for many years. Human Resources implemented a series of policies in the hope of attracting people to their company, selecting the best talent, and getting the employees to grow so that they would do their utmost for as many years as possible. Up to now this was the ideal scenario.

Many companies had not seriously addressed the idea of contemplating the wishes and expectations of their employees until very recently, when things have begun to get more difficult

However, in this equation many companies had not seriously addressed the idea of contemplating the wishes and expectations of their employees until very recently, when things have begun to get more difficult, with all the changes that are taking place in the world in general and the world of employment in particular.

In the current context many things have changed in the world of work. We can easily identify some of the following factors, by way of example. Decision-making power has shifted into the hands of employees. The new workforce is not looking for a long career in one company, but rather multiple experiences. Companies compete for workers with new players who were not in the game before: start-ups. The employee is only a click away from being headhunted by some other company, even if he or she is a passive candidate who is not specifically seeking a job.

Companies’ behaviour is under constant scrutiny from their employees and candidates, who have greater access to all sorts of information. Add to all this the huge amount of changes that will come as automation and artificial intelligence advance.

Companies’ behaviour is under constant scrutiny from their employees and candidates, who have greater access to all sorts of information

The employee is king tells the story of a company that notices that something is changing, that sees that new generations are somehow moving away from it, and pursues a chimera: to get closer to them by thinking, from the employer’s perspective, of things they might like. However, only when it is capable of giving voice to the employee, putting the employee in the centre and changing that perspective from which it looks at the world, is it capable of reaching a truly people-centred transformation.

Getting to this point requires a process; it is not achieved overnight. And this book precisely provides the keys to advance successfully along this road using design thinking tools.

Changing the focus may, a priori, seem painful and risky for an employer or manager, as it might jeopardise many things that have worked up until now, even authority itself. This book also talks about these fears and feelings, especially in the world of people, where nothing is exact and there are no guarantees of success. Learning to experiment and move naturally amid trial and error, with genuine interest in understanding people’s needs, marrying them with the needs of the business, prove to be best way to undertake the right changes to make a difference.

Embarking on this voyage requires courage, innovation and vision for any company, because it means working your passage on a crossing that is anything but linear, and more than a little rough, but most definitely packed with great opportunities.


Original publication: Forés, S. El empleado es el rey. Plataforma Editorial (2021).

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.