How Style Guides Affect Profits— An Apple, Inc. Case Study

by Lynn S. Schwebach

Illustration of Stylish Woman for Style Guide Article
Illustration by Lynn S. Schwebach

Business in the 21st century requires almost all employees at all levels to produce either in-house or external communications—or both. Time spent writing and editing dramatically affects workers’ productivity, and, what many companies fail to realize, the company’s profitability.

Nearly everyone writing an e-mail hesitates over capitalization, spelling and grammar questions. If there isn’t a written, stated policy on acronym usage, editing proposals heavy with acronyms can slow the pace of editing to a crawl. A poorly written technical manual written for agricultural scientists working in the field and delivered via an App could lead the scientists to make a serious error impacting the project’s timeline and scope.

If a style guide doesn’t exist, it’s obvious that productive time spent on making sales, directing projects, building products, and conducting experiments gets waisted on grammar and usage issues.

Stephanie Haynes, product manager at Vaisala, Inc., a global company headquartered in Finland, works at Vaisala’s North American headquarters in Louisville, Colo. She handles documentation written by employees working in 16 different countries.

“One of the most frustrating activities is to go through documents to delete the extra space after a period,” Haynes said. This is a step that could be eliminated before the document reaches her.

“It’s inevitable that employees who have very little experience in writing professional documents will occasionally have to do it. Having resources they could turn to for help would be a great benefit,” states Haynes.

To appreciate a style guide’s cost-savings potential, let’s consider a hypothetical example using reported efficiency numbers for a well-known company, Apple Inc.

Hypothetical Cost-Savings of Using a Style Guide

According to an online database published by The Wall Street Journal, as of March 2015, on average, an Apple employee generates $1,969,179 of revenue and $426,674 of net income per year.

These numbers appear staggering but they hint at the magnitude of gains that are possible if a company adopts a policy that leads to even minor improvements in time efficiency per employee.

Suppose a new policy, such as using a style guide, is implemented.

The style guide improves labor efficiency ratios by one 1/100th of one percent, equivalent to a labor savings of 12 minutes per year for each employee based on a 2,000-hour work year.

With 92,600 employees at Apple, that translates into an increase in total annual revenue of $18.23 million and an increase in net income of nearly $3.95 million.

These numbers are strictly hypothetical, but they highlight the potential impact of efficiency improvements that are systematically realized by large numbers of employees across different functional areas of the company.

With the adoption of a style guide, such gains can be realized for a relatively small up-front investment. So, establishing a style is no longer a question of if, but when.

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