Don’t try to satisfy your employees

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Plenty of companies now understand that they need to turn more customers into promoters if they are to grow profitably. They also recognize that they can’t accomplish that goal unless front-line employees and supervisors are enthusiastic and love their work.

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The latter realization has given a boost to the mini-industry of experts in employee engagement. These experts help companies implement periodic surveys, usually once a year. The surveys gather confidential responses about how happy employees feel along a variety of dimensions. The experts aggregate the data, identify the key drivers of satisfaction, and recommend improvements.

The problem with this process is that it doesn’t work very well. “Satisfying” employees isn’t even the right goal. The right goal is to put everyone in your company in a position where they can delight customers. And, when they succeed in doing so, make sure they get full recognition and appreciation for their accomplishment.

Every day, for instance, Apple Retail employees review feedback in their preshift huddle—the “daily download”—from customers they served the prior day. Nothing does more to engage team members than hearing applause from customers in front of their peers.

Apple Retail also surveys employees every three to four months to determine how the company can make each store an even better place to work. Apple calls this program Net Promoter for People (NPP). Other companies that use similar systems just call them employee Net Promoter systems or eNPS.

Whatever you call the approach, it represents a radical break from the standard employee satisfaction survey process. It focuses on helping front line teams at each store find practical solutions to their problems rather than generating a statistical analysis supporting top-down “improvements” divined at headquarters. At Apple, employees review the store’s NPP results, discuss them to ensure accurate interpretation, and identify the issues most vital to that store’s success. Store leaders then recruit teams of employees to consider each high-priority issue and develop alternative solutions, which the teams then present to leaders over subsequent weeks. Each store adopts the best solutions, communicates back to the team (“you said-we did”), and evaluates the results through subsequent NPP surveys.

This process not only leads to productive dialogue and grass-roots solutions; it also is a great professional-development experience for all concerned. After all, the goal of a leader should be to help employees earn real, sustainable happiness by playing valued roles on teams that delight customers.

What could be more satisfying?