How to Staff Your Organization Like an Apple Store


HR Market Analyst,

Anyone who has stepped into one of Apple’s retail stores can attest to the smooth operation they're running. The store is a well-oiled machine of many parts, presented in a sleek and sexy package with a smile. What's Apple doing that makes this machine work so well? In this article, I present some talent management lessons all organizations can learn from Apple stores.

Translating Apple’s Brand to Retail

Apple’s retail stores are an extension of its brand. Every aspect of the store–from its physical design and layout to the way it’s staffed–can trace lineage back to the revered brand Apple has spent decades building. Adopting brand elements (efficient and navigable interfaces, chic look and feel, etc.) into the stores has resulted in a shopping experience that mirrors the consistent, high-quality consumer experience that Apple products deliver. What really makes the Apple stores work, however, are its people. It’s not coincidence that the way Apple stores are run is as user-friendly as its products. To maintain consistency with the Apple brand, employees are carefully screened to ensure they’re every bit as smart and efficient as the company’s latest operating system.

Five Components of Apple’s Well-Oiled Machine

Finding the right individuals to work in the stores is only the beginning. Beyond that, there are things that Apple’s retail arm does particularly well in organizational development–things any organization could learn from: 1. Define Your Roles. Those boldly-colored tees Apple Store employees wear aren’t just for looks–they designate the distinct role each employee plays.

  • Experts assess visitors’ needs, and direct them to the right place;
  • Specialists have an intimate knowledge of the full line of Apple products, and sell those products without seeming like salespeople;
  • Geniuses aren’t just tech support–they’re enthusiasts who speak your language when something’s wrong with your precious MacBook; and
  • Creatives are hardcore Apple evangelists, dedicated to helping you get the most out of your Mac.

Whatever their place in the machine, tightly-defined roles ensure that your employees know exactly what they are expected to do, what others do–and what other roles they could move into. 2. Free Up Your Leadership. Seamlessness is a key feature of all Apple products. To deliver a consistent user experience across Apple stores requires a lasting organizational structure.

Employees are busy delivering Apple-grade customer service, so it’s up to leadership to maintain the same level of awesome day after day.

They’re doing more than managing the operation–they’re coaching staff, leading training, and driving sales. When your workforce is deployed effectively–with minimal room in the process for bottle-necking–managers spend less time wondering who should be where and more time keeping the machine in ship shape. 3. Brand Your People Process. As a consumer brand, Apple is sexy. As an employer, they’re equally attractive. With a 3.8/5 rating on Glassdoor (with a 96% approval rating for CEO Tim Cook) and countless inclusions in “top places to work” lists, it’s apparent that people love working for Apple. They’ve got their people processes down pat at the corporate level–and this has trickled down to the retail stores. The result is obvious in the level of service and expertise people have come to expect in an Apple store. This alignment of brand and people process–something organizations often struggle with–is key to your ability to consistently deliver a solid product. 4. Make Work Meaningful. Apple–hailed for its stellar customer experience–would be hard-pressed to deliver their standard of service in retail unless their employees were satisfied with the level of employee engagement. In fact, according to a Gallup poll on the relationship between employee engagement and organizational outcomes:

“The relationship between engagement and performance at a business is substantial and highly generalizable across organizations.”

When your employees know that what they’re doing matters, it’s easier to inspire them to do their best. And no one appreciates this more than the employees staffing the stores, who are on the front lines of the customer relationship. 5. Retain With Growth Opportunities. Unsurprisingly, Apple is still growing (including a new $304 million campus in Austin, TX that will employ 3,600 workers). And despite having a great job portal on their site with multiple open positions, Apple prides itself on promoting from within. For the twenty-something Expert with a Master’s degree who’s manning the entrance to an Apple store today (I could name more than one), that’s pretty encouraging. Many organizations are struggling to retain top talent, but how many offer a great opportunity for college grads to make something of themselves?

A Lesson for Your Grinding Gears

These aren’t the only points Apple is delivering on–but these five factors alone go a long way in keeping the machine well-oiled on multiple levels. For the many organizations struggling to win the war for talent, there are definitely some lessons to learn. The biggest one: effective organizational development depends on the alignment of talent management with your business goals–and yes, with your brand, too.

Remember: Your people are as much a part of your brand as the products you’re offering.

Organizational development at this caliber doesn’t just happen–but it’s a necessary part of a thriving company culture like Apple’s. Getting to that level requires open dialogue between senior leadership and business partners–and human resources and recruiting. You’ve already got Experts, Specialists, Geniuses and Creatives in your organization. It’s up to you to find them, engage them, and let them know you want them to grow with you.

Thumbnail image created by matt buchanan.

  • Christopher Avery

    This is a useful nearly-inside peek Kyle. Thanks. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a couple of Apple Store managers very well. They told me stories of redesigning and reorganizing a store’s layout by all-hand-on-deck consensus. It starts with proposals of “wouldn’t it be cool if?” and proceeds to “let’s do it.” And it gets done in a few hours. The type of acceptance criteria are that it has to be as more more minimalistic than before. And it has to look like “that’s just the way it should be.” Unforced. Fun. 

    Another thing worth mentioning is that Apple’s sales per square foot of floor space is miles ahead of every other retailer. I don’t know the numbers but they are impressive. And, I guess that’s why its worth writing a post about their retail practices.

  • Whiting Consulting

    Great article!  It is
    absolutely true that people are as much a part of your brand as the products
    you’re offering. Talent management must certainly be aligned with your business
    goals and brand. The people are truly at the core of every business, which is
    why building a great team for your company is so essential! Thanks for sharing!

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