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Undercover Worker Spills Corporate Secrets

Alex Frankel, author of 'Punching In,' reveals big business' best and worst management strategies.

So how do big-name companies like Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report win over employees?

Journalist Alex Frankel found out by getting hired at top employers such as

Gap

(GPS) - Get Gap, Inc. Report

,

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report

and

UPS

(UPS) - Get United Parcel Service, Inc. Class B Report

.

He tells

TheStreet.com

how any small business can learn from the management strategies he uncovered.

Undercover Worker Spills Secrets

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TheStreet.com: You've been to the other side and seen what tactics work for big companies. Which of these can small business benefit from imitating?

Alex Frankel

: I applied to 12 places and worked at five. The screening process varied greatly, but if the employees matched a company's corporate mission, the company eventually had an easier job retaining them.

The Container Store does this extremely well. They basically just hire their best customers. Similarly, Apple employees knew a lot about the product and got jazzed about helping customers.

Starbucks, on the other hand, only asked me one question about my interest in coffee. They didn't give me the time to express myself about how much

or little I drink and care about coffee.

Basically, if employees don't care about what they're doing, the customer won't be excited about shopping there.

Isn't this tactic a no-brainer for small biz?

Not all small businesses know what they should look for in employees.

Most companies tend to copy other companies in terms of creating a corporate culture. I was struck by how unique The Container Store's interview process was. They asked people to bring back products from the store and talk about them.

Group interviews tended to be very vague. The companies that did these obviously weren't taking the time to do something different.

Did any company make a model employee out of you?

Starbucks' strategy seemed very transparent at first. Basically, they were trying to teach us to work hard at everything. But within a week or two, I found myself working hard without questioning why.

Because of the way they connect each employee with a team, I couldn't do my own thing. If I slowed down the process, I felt like I was letting my teammates down.

I haven't seen so tight of a chain in any other environment. When each employee knows they are important to the overall presentation of a business, they're inspired to work harder.

Most Post Office employees I know loathe the repetitive, never ending stream of mail ... So why did you love working for UPS?

At UPS there was a distinct feeling that we were part of something important and this feeling transcended the notion that the job involved repetitive tasks.

UPS has a storied 100 year history and workers are very much made to feel a part of this corporate culture.

Also, UPS was a good match with my own character traits -- I like to be active and do something that I feel is worthwhile.

What can small business learn from UPS?

Many smaller companies don't focus on engendering a sense of purpose for their employees as they are too busy making the company succeed financially.

But small companies should recognize what makes their enterprise new and different and make employees aware of these differences. This way, employees feel a part of something unique.