I just attended a Disney Institute event, thanks to the local chapter of the Association for Talent Development, where I was reminded of Walt Disney’s business philosophy. I am paraphrasing here, but basically Walt said, “If you take good care of your employees, they’ll take good care of your customers. And that takes good care of your bank account.”  In other words – employees first. Business owners and leaders are so busy chasing after new business and putting out fires that it’s easy to take the employees for granted. (Unless they’re the ones on fire – then they occupy all of your attention!)

The speed of our work life often gets in the way of leaders really focusing on if they’re really setting up their employees to be successful.

Now when I say employees first, I’m not suggesting they only work 35 hours, get foot massages at their desks and that you keep the fridge stocked with caviar. What I am talking about is creating an environment where your employees know that you have their back and you want them to be successful.

The upside of that for you and your business is: If you can do that, the employees will be motivated to help you serve customers .  Which all trickles down to the bottom line.

What does it look like in practice? The folks from Disney told story after story about how when the company was faced with a challenge and front-line, lowest-paid employees came up with the most useful solutions. Wonder who created the FastPass that allows Disney guests to scoot through some of the longest lines in the parks? Or who found a way to offer a healthy protein staple on a stick with huge profit margins? You guessed it – the part-time, hourly Disney employees.

Your team could be doing that for you as well. Why? Because they’re the ones who are actually interacting with your customers every day. They know what frustrates them and why. 

The other upside of investing in your employees? They stick around. We all know the cost (in both time and money) of having to replace and train a new team member. You’re often most vulnerable with clients when you replace a veteran with a rookie employee.

But if you want your employees to care about meeting your customers’ needs, you need to demonstrate that you care about the employees’ needs. What might that look like?

It’s probably as simple as asking them. Most employers rarely give their employees the opportunity to really think about and communicate what would make their jobs even better.  And don’t just ask once and be done. This should be something you do on a regular basis.

After you’ve asked, tell them what you heard. Share the findings and, most important, what your intentions are in relation to what you learned. If you don’t close the loop, it will feel like their responses went into the atmosphere, never to be heard of again. The more you demonstrate that you’re genuinely listening, the more they will tell you.

Begin to explore implementing changes, based on what you heard. Be candid about what you can and can’t change. Most important, keep asking. This is an ongoing dialogue, not a once-in-a-lifetime conversation.

Make it clear that you want to be an employer of choice and that their opinions and suggestions matter. As you begin to make small changes to honor some of their ideas, you’ll be amazed at what happens next.

Next week, we’ll dig into how to inspire your happy employees to help you make your customers even happier.