On June 27, 2007, at 1:47 p.m. PDT, Steve Jobs sent an email to all Apple employees asking them to attend a town hall meeting.

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(Source: Cult of Mac)

This was an unusual request. Jobs hadn’t held an all-hands meeting at Apple HQ since returning to the company 10 years earlier. 

When the time came, employees at the Cupertino campus gathered in the Town Hall meeting area while others huddled together around video screens, eager to hear what Jobs was going to say. The company was on the eve of the launch of the iPhone — a device that would forever change the way much of the world consumes information, creates content, and communicates with each other. 

Rumors were flying right up until the moment Jobs took the stage. Was this some sort of company-wide pep talk? Did Jobs secure some new partnerships or deals? 

After laying out his vision of the future for the iPhone, Jobs made a startling announcement: Every full-time employee would receive one for free.

Applause erupted across 1 Infinite Loop and its satellite offices. The excitement was palpable. As those units started shipping about a month later, Apple’s nearly 18,000 full-time employees were instantly transformed into one of the largest and most effective marketing street teams ever assembled. 

Even the handful of employees involved in the product that had prototype models couldn’t help but show them off. It was obvious to everyone that they had created something truly special, and they were thrilled to share their work with the world. Sure, the sexy ads and glowing reviews helped drive demand, but thousands of passionate evangelists with iPhones in hand may have been Apple’s smartest marketing maneuver.

Enthusiasm is contagious … and profitable

Apple is a company that excels at developing rabid fans from within. While most companies measure customer sentiment and engagement using a Net Promoter Score (NPS), Apple uses an eNPS score, or Employee Net Promoter Score. For Apple, improving employee engagement and enthusiasm is just as critical as improving their customers’. And while Apple employees no longer receive free iPhones (the last gift they got was a free iPhone poster), the company still devotes incredible amounts of time and resources to cultivating fandom within the company

But do engaged employees really affect a brand’s bottom line?

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(Source: NPS Benchmarks)

Customers today have a glut of choices. Most of what most brands think are differentiators have become table stakes. Today’s leading companies realize that investing in the customer experience is the best way to stand out from the competition. 

Even the best customer experiences crumble unless they are supported by authentic employee engagement. It’s a critical ingredient that many companies seem to overlook, and it’s costing them big time.  

According to a study of 130 retail outlets by the Medallia Institute, stores with more-engaged employees had customer loyalty ratings that were 12% higher than stores with less-engaged employees. They also were able to increase customer loyalty year over year while those with low-employee engagement saw drops. Improving customer experience through a more engaged workforce is an investment that pays dividends. Increasing employee engagement by just 5% can result in a 3% jump in overall revenue.

Employees can make or break the customer experience

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 68% of workers are disengaged. The effects of disengagement can be felt all across an organization, from poor customer satisfaction to increased difficulty attracting and retaining top talent. One study by ADP was even able to attach a dollar amount to the problem — $2,246 per disengaged employee. Gallup took it one step further and estimates the problem costs U.S. business between $450-$550 billion a year

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Ultimately, employees' client management skills have the power to make or break the customer experience. Those that interact directly with clients and customers become the face of your brand. But it’s not just front-line employees that can hurt the customer experience — it’s anyone involved in building your products or designing your brand experiences. What is good client management, if not having genuine enthusiasm for your own work? When employees are not engaged enough to get full clarity or feedback on their work, they produce off-brand creative and marketing experiences that further chip away at your brand. Even a single bad interaction can prove costly. Studies show it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for 1 negative one. Negative brand experiences are also shared twice as much as positive ones. 

Given all of that risk, it’s easy to see why today’s most successful companies are investing in the employee experience as much as they are the customer one. Engaged employees and internal fans are helping them delight customers and execute at a higher level and increase their bottom line. 

How to increase employee engagement and create internal fans:

1. Align individual, team, and organizational goals

Disney is another company whose employees are some of its biggest fans. Everyone in the company shares a common purpose — to delight their customers through incredible experiences. Disney’s mission statement reads:

“The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.”

Walt Disney himself once said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”

They don’t call the members of their workforce employees, they’re “cast members.” It’s crystal clear to everyone how their contributions add to the “show.” They even receive specialized training to be “show ready” and “assertively friendly.” Everyone’s roles align and contribute to that greater mission. Watching Disney employees go about their work is truly inspiring. Not only do they work together to deliver an incredible performance, but they all seem to be having a ton of fun in the process.

What is your company’s mission, and what are its goals?

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Cultivate engagement by creating nested goals. Align each individual’s tasks with your organization’s mission and objectives. Use collaborative work management (CWM) software to provide visibility into the collective work that is being accomplished. 

Sharing organizational goals helps people understand their roles better, fosters greater intrinsic motivation to do their jobs well, and helps employees understand how they have a direct part in achieving them.

When employees are confused about who owns what, it’s difficult to be truly engaged. Shared dashboards can help everyone understand exactly what each person is directly accountable for. They also encourage people to be more engaged to meet expectations. 

2. Put the spotlight on your people

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(Source: Miller Coors Blog)

When morale was low at Miller beer, one of the nation’s oldest breweries, company leadership decided to talk to their workforce directly. They conducted an in-depth study and found something surprising: Employees took great pride in the company’s long tradition of brewing. Company mythology was passed down from the old-timers — stories like how founder Frederick Miller smuggled a pocketful of yeast from Germany in 1855 — the same yeast strain they use to this day. 

So they focused on that human element and launched an internal branding campaign. Huge posters of employees were put up around their facilities. Employee-only memorabilia was designed and distributed, celebrating the craft of brewing. The internal buzz and momentum began to spill outward. Miller’s advertising campaigns began to focus on their long legacy of brewing. The commercials, once filled with images of ice and bottles, began to feature authentic employee stories. 

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(Source: bizjournals.com)

People connect with people. Highlight the impact your employees are making and showcase that to your customers and potential customers. Humans love rooting for the underdog. Share their authentic stories, reveal their challenges, and highlight their victories. By helping your employees connect and build empathy for each other’s struggles, you’ll build a united and engaged workforce that’s invested in each other’s success. 

3.  Cultivate amazing leaders and managers

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There’s a saying, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” Company leaders and managers play important yet slightly different roles in cultivating and maintaining employee engagement:

  • Executives: Company leadership can impact employee engagement in multiple ways. Executives are responsible for creating, defining, and communicating the company vision, which can help attract and retain engaged employees. Secondly, they select and cultivate managers and supervisors who embody company values and inspire their teams.
  • Managers: Managers coach people so that they can reach their full potential. They ensure that their teams’ efforts are aligned with organizational goals, prioritize work, and shield their team from negative influences and distractions. 

The common focus of both executives and managers should be communication. In order to fulfill their objectives and do their best work, employees need to understand what the organization’s goals are and the reasons behind company and team strategy. Not only does this add clarity to their work, but it engages people by making them feel included. 

Additionally, employees need to feel that communication is a two-way street. Many organizations have instituted 360° reviews so management can also receive necessary feedback. Great managers hold weekly 1-1’s with their team, ensuring their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed. They focus on the personal growth of each member of their team and cultivate an environment of psychological safety. When employees trust their managers, are free to voice their opinions and objections, and are confident enough to take risks without consequence, they’re able to do their best work. 

Working at Apple, especially during the Jobsian era, is/was notoriously difficult. The pressures and expectations placed upon Apple employees can be crushing. But the company never seems to have any problems attracting the world’s most brilliant minds.

Guy Kawasaki, one of the company’s early marketing executives, put it this way, “If you ask an employee of Apple why they put up with the challenges of working there, they will tell you: Because Apple enables you to do the best work of your career."

Create a culture of leadership and management that prioritizes communication, challenges employees, and gives them the flexibility to do their best work.

4. Invest in collaboration tools

So much of our success depends on others. Humans are pack animals, and it’s extremely difficult to perform well in isolation. As the saying goes, we’re defined by the relationships we form. Giving your team the tools they need to not just connect but work together better can help them feel more invested in each other.  And according to Metcalfe’s Law, the value of these tools increases as more users are added to the system.

When communication flows freely, people can share insights and alert each other to roadblocks and problems before they get out of hand.

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(Source: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

But not all collaboration tools are created equal. Between chat tools, notification systems, and plain old email, the level of noise and distraction for managers and teams has skyrocketed. Critical messages — and the context and evolution of thinking behind them — are getting lost in the mix. Technology should free people up to focus on more impactful work that carries a higher ROI. 

Collaborative work management tools do more than just improve communication — they increase visibility and accountability. They provide context and a record of communication that makes it easy to see how conversations have evolved and where breakdowns are happening. This prevents duplicate work and eliminates distrust when things go sour. 

CWM tools are also a single source of truth where work can be assigned, housed, and reviewed in one searchable and easily accessible place. Integrations can help capture the natural momentum that happens in chats and emails and transform that into actionable tasks. When everyone can not only communicate freely but also get the information they need when they need it without getting overloaded, they can complete their work more efficiently, which leads to higher levels of satisfaction and engagement.

Happy employees = happy customers

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The link between engaged employees and happy customers is undeniable. Happy, engaged employees can dramatically elevate the customer experience and your bottom line. It takes continued investment by the entire organization (not just HR) to keep employees engaged, but it’s an investment with guaranteed returns.