If we’re going to make a dent in this thing called “customer experience,” we really need to start with, and focus on, the employees and their experiences.

You know the saying, “People buy from people.” It’s not just a cliche; it’s true. Ginger Conlin with @1to1media spelled out that notion very succinctly in the compelling blog she wrote yesterday called, “Are Your Employees Your Biggest Fans?

We say that “companies” need to do this or “companies” need to do that, but, guess what? Those companies are led by, and made up of, people. So let’s fix the people situation first, and then the customer experience will follow. And let’s not just throw money at employees and think that’s what creates engagement and commitment; money pays the bills and that’s it. It does not make the world go around when it comes to the job that they’re doing, day in and day it. If that’s the case, then it’s “just a job.” Money does not create employee engagement; it gets the right people in the door, but it’s not necessarily what keeps them there.

Gallup defines engaged employees as “those employees working with passion and feeling a profound connection to their companies; they drive innovation and move the organization forward.Disengaged employees, on the other hand, are “checked out and just putting time, but not energy or passion, into their work.” They’re actually a drain on the engaged workforce, and they “undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

So let’s focus on the pride, the passion, the sense of ownership, the profound (emotional) connection to companies or to brands. How do we get there? We definitely need to make sure we hire the right people. Yea, I’ll say it: “Hire for attitude, train the skills.” Get the right people in the door – not just those folks who fit your culture or your values but also those who truly want to be there, for the right reasons. Or as Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “Get the right people on the bus.” By that he is referring to people who don’t want to get on the bus because of where it’s going but because of who else is on the bus.

Define what “right” means for your company. If you have the right people, they will attract other “right people.” Think about the example in Ginger’s story, referred to above. Wouldn’t Lady Footlocker be a fun place to work, if you heard that others there were so excited about the brand, excited about what a great place it is to work?

Because of that enthusiasm and passion for the brand, for the business, employees are eager to contribute to its success. And when we’re all working together for the success of the business, I believe that, ultimately, customers will win, too. As will your shareholders.

Different people may have different reasons for loving the brand, but that’s OK. As I always say, “Everybody I hire brings some unique experience and value to the table, and that’s what makes us learn and grow.” I think that holds true for the reason behind the brand passion, as well. It’s OK if it’s unique; that’s what makes it fun.

And, by the way, hiring the right people is not just about the frontline staff – it’s about the executives, the leadership team, too. If you have the wrong people at the top, your organization will be challenged from a variety of angles. That probably goes without saying.

You also need the right culture. That culture is going to support and facilitate the passion of your employees. Culture is defined as a set of values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Define the values and beliefs you want to live by, do business as. Culture helps get the right people on the bus, too. Think about the Zappos culture. Whenever I hear the word “culture,” honestly, Zappos is the first company that comes to mind. They even publish a book every year – by their employees, in the employees’ words – about their culture. I believe that culture is key to employee engagement. Again, it facilitates, drives, and encourages that passion, that sense of ownership, that the employees have about “their company.”

The culture needs to allow employees to be creative and entrepreneurial. Don’t stifle new ideas and innovation. I can speak from experience when I say that that stifling creativity, growth, and innovation is painful and kills engagement quicker than anything. Make sure that employees have the right tools to do what they were hired to do, and then let them do it. They know their roles, and they’ll work together to get it done. A little bit of empowerment goes a long way.

I’ll be writing more about the employee experience in upcoming blogs. If you’d like to read what I’ve previously written on this topic, please take a look at my post about engaging employees as part of your VOC initiative and another that outlines the employee experience cycle. There’s more to come! I’m going to start using the hashtag #empexp to talk about the employee experience on Twitter.

In the meantime, speaking of employee engagement and employee experience, as you probably know, Stan Phelps launched the What’s Your Purple Goldfish project a couple of years ago and recently published a book about the 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe he collected. Purple Goldfish is about the customer experience. This past Sunday, he launched his next venture, The Green Goldfish Project, for which he is seeking 1,001 examples of lagniappe as they relate to employee experience. If you’ve got any great examples, please reach out to him.

Great vision without great people is irrelevant. – Jim Collins