Most companies know that winning customers is key but many don’t realize that loyalty starts from the inside with their employees. In order to build a brand that truly motivates, you must take your employees from liking their jobs to loving them.
As the CEO of CPG Agency, Keith Alper, author of From Like to Love, has seen the competitive edge gained by creating a culture that turns employees into brand advocates. In this episode, Keith draws on real life examples to present his proven process for turning your organization from appreciated to adored.
Keith has learned this in his 30 year career after cofounding CPG agency and then expanding it into the Nitrous Effect which is a seven agency collective that specializes in branding, marketing, events and more. They serve fast growing startups and Fortune 500 clients like Southwest Airlines, Carnival Cruise Line, Bridgestone and Virgin Hotels.
By the end of this episode, you’ll know how to make your team happier, more able to create value and you’ll know how to retain them longer just by getting them from like to love.
Keith Alper: We had an old policy that wasn’t a great policy, and we had two women come to us and say hey, we love working here, we love working for you and your partner, but we don’t love your policy. We don’t love it enough that actually we might not stay.
It was a maternity leave policy that we had started years ago.
They came to us, and we looked at it and said, well why don’t you tell us what you think it should be?
“And in 24 hours, that was our new policy.”
We didn’t need to go to the board, everything was just that. They loved that we responded 100%, and I loved that we can respond to something that would continue to create employee love. They loved working here, they love their work, they love their coworkers but they also loved that they could be heard. That we would be reasonable and say, you know it’s a really good idea, thank you for bringing that to us.
My goals as a company CEO is, how do we create employee love of people that love their job, love their coworkers but love working for our company?
Charlie Hoehn: Was that one of the more defining moments that particular case with those women or was there something before that that really set you on that path?
Keith Alper: That was one of those things that’s kind of seared in your brain. Every company says, we got great culture, we got great people, but not everybody can really respond to say, how do you have employees love working for you and you love your employees?
So sometimes it gets very personal. How can we help somebody personally, how can we help somebody on their journey of work? Even if they don’t work for us one day, how can we help them on that journey?
Along the way, actually, we look at this every day. Every day, what’s our journey, what’s our work space, what’s our work environment?
There’s a lot of those things along the way that happen, but you know, one of my favorite things is, we had an intern, and we treat our interns like a work force. They’re not getting anybody coffee, they’re not running errands.
They’re working. And we want them to leave saying, we had a great internship.
But we had an intern that we coached along the way who was not the greatest intern and then she turned out to be a great intern and then when her time was up, we offered her a job because we loved her, she loved us, and that was like creating that coaching and stuff like that.
Over time, along the way, how do you go from getting people who like working to love it. That’s where the title comes out. We do it every day, and there’s probably hundreds of moments I could tell you that we’ve been through.
Engagement’s Not Enough
Charlie Hoehn: You don’t say you need to get your employees engaged. You say, go for the love. What do you mean by that?
Keith Alper: Well, engagement’s really over used, and our agency, CPG, we are an engagement agency. We’re engaging customers. People at Southwest Airlines and Altered Beauty and a lot of great Fortune 500 clients.
I don’t have the stat in front of me, but it’s a very high percentage that your employees that are not engaged.
By the way, generations have something to do with it. There’s all kinds of environmental stuff that has to do with it. But what we talk about is love.
You have a favorite restaurant you love, you have a favorite brand you love. In fact, the other side of how we came over this title actually, I had several CEOs call me within a week’s span and say, “We love your company.”
Wow, not a lot of people say we love your company, why do you love us so much?
Love is a mushy word, but you can go to any company and find out the people that don’t like working there. By the way, they won’t work there.
“The people that love working there are worth a million dollars to you.”
They’ll work late, they’ll have emotional engagement, they’re committed to the team, all those great things. Why do they love working there?
My favorite story, I live in Saint Louis, and down the street is a Walgreens. There is a woman who has worked there for years, and I would tell you, she’s probably the greatest retail employee I’ve ever met.
She sings on the PA system.
Absolutely loves where she works, absolutely. Guess what? That is infectious to her coworkers and to customers. I will go to that Walgreens because of her versus anywhere else.
Going on Southwest Airlines. It’s infectious, okay? I guarantee you, I mean, they happen to be a client, but all those workers at Southwest Airlines, they are union employees. They don’t even actually work directly for the airlines, they’re part of the union.
But they love working for the airline, and guess what?
When the airline stops, they have to clean up the trash, unlike other airlines. They clean it up, they get people through. But they love it because the company enables them to love their job and do different things.
That word love, when you’re going back to your original question about engagement, this is like fine-tuning and adjusting every single day. It’s not easy.
“By the way, nobody falls in like. You fall in love.”
We have in the book, the Five Basic Needs. Like to love is first. You generally care about me. The second is I trust you and you trust me. The third is you listen to me. Number four is you appreciate me for who I am and you tell me so. Number five, we share a meaningful purpose.
Those are all pretty tough things to do. Number one, you genuinely care about me but how do you care about me, how do you show that you care about me? These are things that we’re using as the core tenets of what we call our love push. How to go from like to love.
There’s no marriage that’s 100% and there’s no company employee relationship that’s 100%. People say, “Keith, well how do I get to pure love?” I say you’re never going to get there with everybody. It’s aspirational.
But if you get a lot—two or three or four points—you’re going to have a significant change in your organization. If your employee and team members love you, that means your clients are going to love you.
Those are those things of those kind of key tenets, our love potions from like to love.
The Data Represents People
Charlie Hoehn: Could you break down some of the numbers of what 2 to 4% increase in this sort of thing or one to two rungs higher actually does for the bottom line of the business?
Keith Alper: Yup. I’ll give you a very generic example of a client we’re working with right now, they’re a very large organization, they have thousands and thousands of employees. When they have turnover, costing about $65,000, their funnel is running at about 37%. If you added that up on an annual basis, that would cost them hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now, there’s employee communications, that’s how somebody’s boss treats them, it’s how they’re in the organization.
But that’s real money. It’s real customers and its real money.
If you’re running a two person organization, a 500 person organization, or 60,000 person organization, it has all kinds of impact.
I try not to mention brands but go to your worst airline and your best airline. Go to your worst retailer, go to your best retailer. By the way, people love working at Apple. Go to the Apple store. They let people be who they are, they wear t-shirt and jeans, they can have earrings, nose rings, all kinds of haircuts, all kinds of tats. It’s the highest per square footage retailer in the world. It’s the most valuable company to be in the world.
If you’ve been to Sears lately? Are employees engaged, what’s their product like? I mean, this is not rocket science. You can go down and say the best companies in the world and you could see it all starts with employee engagement and employee love.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to give free beer and have foosball tables either. There’s all kinds of things.
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s get into the second part of your book which is actually putting some of this principles into action of bringing a company form like to love.
Keith Alper: When we talk about a love potion, our attendance, our number two is, I trust you and you trust me. When we talk about trust, it’s building, it’s no longer optional.
By the way, it’s no longer optional because employees can talk about you and around you and hear everything that’s going 24/7 online, on Glassdoor, on LinkedIn with other people, there’s nowhere to hide.
If someone does a trusty organization, you lose them immediately. By the way, how many companies you know say “Here’s what we stand for” and then do something completely opposite? I trust you and you trust me. Well what does that mean? When does trust come into play? For example, especially for entrepreneurs, we sometimes have founder’s grip.
“We want to make sure it’s always perfect.”
Well what that means to your employees is “I don’t trust you.” If you don’t trust me, I’ll just do my job. Not very happy, I’ll just do my job.
At my company, for example, we have what we call our big rocks, and these are goals and objectives and our rules. We communicate these and we readily go back so our team members know what’s their job, what’s our core tenets.
We have them up on the wall, but they’re not like typical companies that put them on the wall, because we actually give awards around them.
We talk about them, and anybody can raise their hand or come in anybody’s office to say, hey, you know what? That thing about doing it with passion or being trustworthy or doing this the right way? We’re not doing that.
By the way, that’s a real deal. We said, we’re not going to do work with this certain type of company. One of our executives brings it in and somebody says, “Hey, guess what? You said this but we’re doing something differently and you guys run the company, that’s okay. But I want to raise my hand because that was a core tenet—well, that’s actually a trust factor.”
“Trust works behind the water cooler and front of the water cooler.”
It works with your team members and with your clients.
Once you lose trust, you lose it forever. Just look at what’s happening in society right now. Once you lose trust, you lose it forever. If I’m going to invest my career with you, it’s a company that I’m going to trust.
I was recently at a meeting and had a chance to talk to the CEO of Wells Fargo. Now, Wells Fargo, one of the oldest and biggest financial institution has lost a lot of trust.
There’s been like four or five major violations of charging people’s bank accounts, doing all these things, they keep on finding it. I really like the new CEO a lot, he was very frank. He’s worked there 20 years, he’s the new guy. He said, “We’ve got to earn the trust back of our employees and our customers.”
Now, just when you think they earned the trust, they’ve uncovered something else.
That’s really hard, because you know what? People are leaving that bank in droves, because they don’t like that you charge me, you trust me, whatever—and how you also tell your employees, hundreds of thousands of employees were in the right place to work.
You’ve got to be very transparent, and you have to show what you’re doing.
Sometimes this is not fun. But when you are transparent and you can show trust and earn trust, it goes both ways. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the emotional bank account. You trust me, I give you some, then I have a little stumble, you’re going to trust me and you’re going to win some of those accounts. Because work is not perfect on any day for the employer or the employee.
Charlie Hoehn: Right, yeah. I mean, Wells Fargo’s just having such a rough go right now and I do not envy that CEO’s position, he’s got an uphill battle.
Keith Alper: He’s heading it face on, he’s walking right in the fire. It’s like look, I’ve worked here 25 years, I’ve always been a great employee, I love this company, I love our team. Some bad people did bad things, we’re going to fix it.
He also said, guess what, our stock’s at an all-time high, our customers are at an all-time high, they believe us, we just have to do it. If we find something else that somebody did, we’re going to get it fixed.
“We are going to get this fixed.”
I love that he was able to walk into the fire and tell every employee, if you see something, you call my office, anybody. That takes a lot of courage, but I’m sure they picked him to be the new CEO because he had it. He wasn’t somebody from the outside. He believed in the company.
For me, an entrepreneur, I want to devour the book in a day or two, and I wanted to put it in action tomorrow. Because sometimes I don’t like books that either people never read or go to. We made ours very quick reading.
What I do is hold my phone and my index finger and make a gap. That’s the gap. That is the business plan From Like to Love.
Here are three questions for you and your listeners: Are you building trust through day to day interactions across the company? That is the first question. Do you promote a company culture of shared understanding and valued? And last is, do you demonstrate through words and actions that you trust your employees?
Do you strive to build a culture of trust to my individual departments and divisions, and how?
If you have three people or you’re 300,000. there are departments that a department manager might want to torpedo another department manager, okay? So there is sometimes trust. There are people working against each other all day in organizations.
People don’t want to see it. They don’t want to be a part of it. But it’s real.
We’re human beings, but this trust thing is really important. If you don’t have trust, you can’t get to love.
More Than Just a Number
Charlie Hoehn: How do you recognize employees and empower them when you have companies where it is as easy as an employee to feel like you’re just another number.
Keith Alper: That’s a really good question. Again, I don’t care if you’re a company of five or a company of 50,000. Human beings need to be loved. They need to be appreciated. They need to feel like they are a part of a bigger thing. So the companies that we have seen do great work from Virgin Hotels—I’ve got a buddy, Russ Kealy, who is running one of the fastest growing construction and technology companies, with a thousand people.
He probably knows every employee’s name. You do this for your leadership team and your task gate. So how do you at a big hospital system that might have 30,000 employees feel special because you’re on a floor with 20 employees? How are we sharing information? How are we recognizing you? It could be an award. It could just be among your peers, it could be a grateful patient.
Technology can help this, okay? You need to have a great communications system, and I think social media has helped. I know a lot of people are overwhelmed with social media, there are all kinds of great apps from things like Slack. We love Workplace by Facebook.
We developed a really cool app for Virgin Hotels. It gives high fives, gives tokens.
How do you make someone feel special? I don’t want to feel like I work for a company of a 100,000. You know I am a big fan of Jeff Bezos. I love Amazon so I know some people think they’ve taken over the world.
But here’s his model, and some people say it’s tough to work there. We know a lot of people there and they love their jobs, but you know, Jeff Bezos says no team should be more than what one or two pizzas could feed.
So by the way, when you get a room with five to 10 people, that’s it. You don’t feel like you work with 100,000 employees. So I think going back to it is who’s the leader, do I know my job, how am I going to get recognized.
In our companies, we do all kinds of recognition programs, and we don’t do it just to pat somebody on the back. Actually, if someone gets an unsolicited something from the client, they will get all kinds of accolades.
Going back to your original question. It doesn’t matter if it is five people or 50,000. It is treating them with dignity, respect and all kinds of even recognition. It doesn’t have to be a monetization. Sometimes it will just be share something with me, share something that is going on in the organization. I can’t tell you how many organizations, the employees have no idea what is going on.
One of my favorite stories, and they’re a great company. I am based in St. Louis, it is a company called Caleres and Diane Sullivan is the CEO and it used to be called Brown Shoe. They own Naturalizer, I think Supermarket Shoes. They own a lot of companies, but they’re in fashion and inherited an old man company running it.
I remember she inherited a company called Brown Shoe. She changed that but she also wanted a culture of fun and a culture to reward people, to thank people and so her thousand plus employees in the headquarters in St. Louis, we created an app for them and one of the first things she did is run the shoe business, take a picture of your shoes and post it up and again, this was an internal app. I think we had 97%. You know what? Have fun, the CEO just said take a picture of your shoes. That’s the business that they’re in.
“Sometimes just having the CEO be a human being is that great recognition.”
We also did a thing that just said, “Hey at 3:00 we’ll open the cafeteria. Diane is making ice cream sundaes.”
So how do you get personal and how do you get real? And if you can have technology to help it, it really does help you.
But all kinds of recognition, there’s all kind of software, cloud based software with recognition, but we’re human beings. We want to be liked, we want to be loved but more importantly, we want to feel like we are part of the team.
If I feel disconnected, I am not going to be able to perform.
And actually, the world is based on stories. You are in room with me today for a story, you’re watching a movie or a TV show. We say something that happened or not. Everything is based on story.
What is the story of that one person? I was with a CEO of a big investment bank in financial services. They said, “We just posted a video of a 25 year old guy that works on our IT department. And we were so happy to share it. He loves working for us, he loves what we do for our client. You know he has been in the background and we wanted to show people that this is the person that’s helping you with your investment and your technology.”
And so it’s those little special stories. It is not always the CEO, it doesn’t have to be the senior VP. It doesn’t have to be the founder. How do you recognize and celebrate a lot of unsung heroes that pull this together to run the hospital system or will run the construction company or give back to the community.
People love that, especially with the transparency of social media. They love to be recognized. We love to recognize people that are day to day unsung heroes.
Charlie Hoehn: You have several tenets listed that are all really powerful, but I will tell you the one that surprised me is love potions for engagement excellence. What do you mean by that?
Keith Alper: Yeah, so in the book we have what we call love potions for engagement excellence. What I wanted to do here was actually have some guest authors.
We included, for example, one of my favorite people, Maxine Clark who started Build-A-Bear. It was her passion. I’ve never met an entrepreneur like Maxine. One of the greatest people in the world, one of the greatest people to give back, definitely a servant leader and I mean they still run the company.
She’s not the CEO, but she is still on the board. She founded it. But we hear from people like Holly who wanted to create that culture, so throughout the book we’re talking about the culture of fun. They are a teddy bear company—that had to be the culture of fun and also the culture of how you can make somebody’s day.
“Imagine how you make a four year old child’s day.”
It was in everything that they did. So even though they are a big public company, imagine if that is the tenet.
We talk to Mark Moses. Mark Moses is a serial entrepreneur, a very good friend, and now running a great company that does CEO coaching and how he’s run his company but my favorite story is Mark owned a very large mortgage company. He sold it before the meltdown but Mark had hundreds and hundreds of employees and it was a tough industry and prices are changing. You’ve got to get back with people. You are building people’s money.
He instilled this great culture where employees loved working for him, and every week he would do something like give away a convertible.
He would come in on an elephant.
He was bigger than life, and the company was bigger than life. But the tenets there that they would talk about like they have a party every Friday afternoon and they had a theme day and so you’d think, “Wow that might be hokey,” or whatever, but people loved to go to work because they work really hard. But they let them play hard and celebrate because they couldn’t do that if they’re the insurance company or they couldn’t do that at the accounting firm.
So we do events all the time and on several back companies but in our company’s CPG, we have beer cart Friday. Somebody puts on a vest, we go around and give drinks and it is just a stressful business at times and we let our hair down.
“We let everybody play, and we’d appreciate that.”
There are a lot of great things in the book from our client in Southwest Airlines, Altered Beauty. One of my favorite guest authors in the book is named David Stillman, and David has a bestselling book out right now called Gen Z at Work. David is 48 and his son is 18 and all they talk about is culture and engagement, but it’s the Gen Z and how the Gen Z works and what they expect from work.
So by the way, not everybody has the same love, right?
What’s a 19 or 20 year old expect when they go to work on their first job, versus a 50 year old who has been in the field?
So we cover a lot of those things because there is not one love here. I mean we cover some of the tenets, but we continue to see and learn is like you know David is one of my favorite authors, one of my favorite speakers, and now his son Jonah who’s 19, decided not to go to college right now.
He is on the speaking circuit. They have a great bestselling book, but he can help leaders translate, right? This person speaks Spanish and this other person speaks English.
Well now think about a whole new generation—we’re beyond the millennials, how do you work and talk with Gen Z-ers? And by the way, those Gen Z-ers saw their parents go bankrupt, lose their jobs. They lost trust in companies like Enron. So those people coming into work are very different than millennials.
Everybody thinks, “Oh they are young and they are the same thing.”
Actually the Gen Z-ers don’t expect anything. They don’t expect the trophy and they don’t expect anything from their parents. So we go through these things because there’s all shapes of what love is, and guess what? If you have a company of a thousand, love looks different to all thousand people.
Connect with Keith Alper
Charlie Hoehn: Absolutely. So I know we have to wrap up here in a couple of minutes. So I have two final questions for you Keith. The first one is how can our listeners connect with you and follow you if you want them to?
Keith Alper: Well first of all, I am kind of an ADD entrepreneur. So I am up 24/7. I have my own personal website, keithalper.com. Our company’s websites, where all the companies are, it’s nitroseffect.com Then we have our own book website and we are going to continue to put up people in the book and videos that we are putting up, and that’s fromliketo.love and that will have content of the books.
We are going to interview and video a lot of people in the book and have them give more insights so we keep this book living and then we are also going to ask people to put up their own anecdotes and things that they’re doing. We are very passionate about what is special about companies and companies that are making it and by the way, this doesn’t have to be a company. It could be your church. It could be a non-profit, it could be your school.
“My motto right now is create love.”
Create love with your employees. Create love with your customers and actually create love with your shareholders and your stakeholders and if everybody just put down create love. Like people say what business you’re in, somebody will say, “I am in the tire business, I am in the software business, I am in the restaurant business, I am in the digital business.” No I think people are in the business to create love and if you think of people that are killing it. The great restaurant, the great tire manufacturer or Apple, Apple created love.
They created great products that I am in love with. They have great toys that I’m in love with and go to your favorite restaurant or the person that cuts your hair. The people that are winning have created love.
They are not in the business to cut hair. They’re there to create love.
Charlie Hoehn: I’ll second that. I think you are right on the nose. It’s these feelings that are rooted in love, right? Apple delights, I heard an interview with Elon Musk recently where he said, “You know a Tesla is not actually a car. It’s a thing to maximize fun.” And I thought wow, it is exactly what you are saying. They are creating love.
Keith Alper: Well let me just add onto that. I mean, I happen to drive a Tesla. I am a gadget geek guy, I had to have one. A little expensive, but I got one and I love it because I love technology.
I love being ahead of the game, but I also love the experience. By the way, all kinds of people might say different things about Elon Musk. The customer service is something that I’ve never seen, it is unbelievable. In fact if you even go to the website, you get a call back.
“And those are experiences that I love.”
I don’t want to get Richard Branson and Virgin Hotels as a client. They don’t want you to feel like you’re in a Tribeca hotel chain. They typically won’t hire somebody to work at a hotel. Nothing against Marriott, nothing against Hilton. So those love tenets that you talk about, how do you make is special? That is the secret sauce. That is the billion dollar difference.
By the way, I love Amazon. I’ve been a customer since 1999. I buy something every single day. I love it. I love the convenience, I love that I can buy things but he has created love.
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, absolutely. So the final question is please give our listeners a challenge. What is one thing from your book that they can do this week to make a positive impact?
Keith Alper: I would say you can just listen to this or go buy a book or whatever, but what is something in your company that you can change in a day? It could be the dress code, it could be employee payroll. It could be that maternity leave that you believe you can help change and get your employees to go from like to love.
Or if you actually work for somebody, you can raise your hand to your supervisor or to your boss or a co-worker and say, “Hey we can be a much better company if we do X.”
The good thing is this could be done in 24 hours.
There doesn’t have to be a board meeting, there doesn’t have to be a study by Baker McKenzie. These are things that you can put into action immediately.
By the way, we used to have a dress code in our office. Now we don’t care which, we just care that you have clothes on but otherwise, we went through a move and it was great. It was something we didn’t plan. We don’t care what people wear.
Be yourself. People love that.