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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Creating Engaged and Inspired Employees - Top 5 Companies Doing It Right & Wrong and Why

by Rick Demaro, Managing Director, West Coast

An increasing number of organizations today understand that in order to deliver on their brand promise and business strategy, they need to find a way to engage and inspire their employees.  In surveys done with human resource professionals, marketing executives, and communication leaders, employee engagement rises as one of the top issues facing them today.  So how are we doing?  

The results from the most recent survey conducted by Gallup are alarming!  Fewer than 1 in 3 or 30% of American workers are committed to the success of their organization and are engaged in their work.  Just as alarming is the fact that 1 in 5 workers are actively disengaged, actually working against their organization, bosses, or both.  So why should we care?  Because that lack of engagement costs the U.S. economy about $370 billion in lost productivity annually!  And a lack of engagement and inspiration by employees has been directly linked to lower levels of customer engagement and satisfaction and a lower rate of growth in sales.  

Employee engagement means there is an emotional connection between the employee and the organization that influences his/her behavior and level of discretionary effort in work related activities.  So let’s take a quick look at 5 companies who do a great job of engaging and inspiring their employees.


  • Zappos - Zappos creates a culture in which people are energized and enthused and they pass that enthusiasm on their customers.  They have created a workplace environment that nurtures creativity and individualism.  Their culture and values not only reflect in their policies related their customers, but in their recruiting, onboarding, career development, and reward and recognition programs for employees. 

  • Southwest Airlines - Southwest Airlines continues to find the winning formula by creating an engaged and inspired workforce that still treats passengers like “something special in the air”.  Flight attendants welcome passengers with a smile and often a joke.  Pilots change mundane flight announcements into interesting conversations that capture the attention of the passengers.  And reservation and gate agents reflect a great attitude helping passengers deal with the inevitable flight delays and cancellations.   So how do they do this?  By creating an internal brand promise that is consistent with their external one based on “freedom”.  Freedom to fly for passengers translates to freedom for employees to deliver exceptional experiences to their customers. 

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car - When you rent a car from Enterprise, employees truly make you feel like your needs and time are important and go out of their way to make sure they move you through the rental process quickly and efficiently. Every employee in the process, from the reservation agent to the counter agent to the agent walking you to the car to the person checking you in, reflects enthusiasm and friendliness.  Training alone cannot create that type of experience.  It is the result of an engaged and inspired workforce emotionally connected to the vision and mission of Enterprise.  


  • NetApp - At NetApp, culture and values are more than just words on the wall or in a training manual.  Managers who are hired by NetApp participate in 8 interviews, 3 for technical competence and the other 5 for behavior and values assessment.  When an organization places this emphasis on culture and values in the interview process, it is clear that the goal is to build a workforce that is inspired and engaged around not only what is being done, but how it is done. Visit their corporate office and you’ll see banners all over the campus representing their pride in the company and the recognition they receive as a Best Place to Work. 

  • Ritz Carlton - The brand promise of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” really says it all.  Ritz does a great job of creating a workforce of employees who have an emotional connection to the brand and reflect that connection in the manner in which they treat the customers. 

 So what about companies that don’t fare so well.

  • Bank of America - Whether dealing with a checking or savings accounts, mortgages, or credit card loans, Bank of America employees show little understanding or empathy for the issues facing a customer.  Siloed structures often mean that a customer is passed from department to department to resolve an issue. 

  • Best Buy - Very few sales associates are trained in the products they sell so they can truly offer sound purchase advice to the customers.  When entering a Best Buy, one can easily get the impression that those working in the store are there simply for the paycheck and it is rare to have an employee seek out a customer with enthusiasm and excitement to see how they can help.

  • HP - HP has faced some tough times over the past 5 years or so with significant business challenges and frequent changes to its leadership. During these difficult times, workforce reductions have become quite common. And yet, little effort is exerted to treat remaining employees as anything other than “human capital”.   

  • Hertz - Unlike Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz continues to struggle to build a workforce that is engaged and inspired and truly treats customers as the reason for being there. Rarely does an employee greet you with a smile at the counter and the focus seems to be more on selling upgrades than on providing exceptional customer experiences.

  • United Airlines - There seems to be a lack of understanding that every single touch point with a United Airlines employee reflects on the brand, whether that is a customer service rep on the phone, a gate agent, a flight attendant, a pilot, or a maintenance employee.


Think about a recent experience with these brands?  Did you walk away as an engaged and inspired customer?  If not, there is a clear indication that the employees themselves were not engaged and inspired and the organization has much to do to address the increasing percentage of disengaged employees that are costing our economy significant dollars in lost productivity and lost sales.

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