16 - In Search of Cultural Shangri-La

Alexa is riding solo on this one joined **LIVE** at PERKSCon San Francisco by Craig Forman, Lead People Scientist at CultureAmp. We hear Craig's journey from the military to people science as they discuss fear, shapes, equity, data, and how to re-think the way that an organization can decentralize without losing ‘control’. Don’t fight the inertia, yo… go with it.

Release Date: October 6, 2021

[00:00:00] Speaker 1: Warning. This podcast is about the realities of working in people operations. This is not a stuck-up PC compliance-based or employment law podcast about stuffy outdated HR practices. Shit will get real here and we assume no responsibility.

[00:00:16] Tyson Mackenzie: We had a strict no-alcohol policy and everybody was like, "Oh, don't drink. HR is here." Meanwhile, I'm like, "Mid crack the beer."

[00:00:23] Alexa Baggio: If they're that disengaged before, they're going to be that disengaged in the office. Just be sitting at their desk looking at Facebook. Never going [unintelligible 00:00:29].

[00:00:31] Speaker 1: This is the People Problems Podcast with Alexa Baggio and Tyson Mackenzie.

[00:00:40] Alexa: All right, what's up, Tyson? How are you doing?

[00:00:43] Tyson: I actually have an excellent answer for this today.

[00:00:45] Alexa: Are you prepared? Are you finally prepared for my question?

[00:00:46] Tyson: I am so prepared. Today is technically the first day of my mat leave.

[00:00:52] Alexa: Oh, congratulation.

[00:00:52] Tyson: I did all the quintessential mat leave things, including going to a foot spa and getting a foot rub. I had a doctor's appointment, which is boring.

[00:00:58] Alexa: Nice. Reflexology.

[00:01:01] Tyson: Yes. Then I went and I did midday groceries, and I picked up chocolate milk, and it was luxurious.

[00:01:08] Alexa: A chocolate malt. Wow.

[00:01:08] Tyson: I drank it in the car. I haven't had chocolate milk in probably 100 years.

[00:01:11] Alexa: Oh, milk.

[00:01:12] Tyson: Chocolate milk.

[00:01:12] Alexa: I thought you said you said chocolate malt, I was like, "Wow, and you went back in time 50 years."

[00:01:16] Tyson: [chuckles] Come on, you know what malt is.

[00:01:19] Alexa: Isn't that like an old-school milkshake?

[00:01:21] Tyson: Maybe, now I want a malt. You can't say those types of things to someone who's 38 weeks pregnant, okay?

[00:01:27] Alexa: I'm sorry.

[00:01:28] Tyson: Yes, no, it's so far so good.

[00:01:30] Alexa: What have been your biggest cravings other than chocolate milk, obviously?

[00:01:33] Tyson: I haven't had any good cravings, which is the worst. I was so excited. I have food aversions but no cravings. Other than in the first trimester when you just want sick people foods, I've had no cravings until this past week. I had cherry blasters and then today, I had chocolate milk.

[00:01:51] Alexa: What is this cherry blaster, like licorice?

[00:01:53] Tyson: No, cherry blasters, they're like Sour Patch Kids. Am I speaking Canadian? [chuckles]

[00:01:56] Alexa: Oh, I don't think I've ever had those. You might be. I don't know if we have those here in the States. We have Sour Patch Kids, though, and I frequent those regularly. It's a bad habit. Amazing. Well, congratulations on starting your mat leave, big year ahead.

[00:02:10] Tyson: Yes, it's fun now without the baby. [chuckles]

[00:02:10] Alexa: Everyone is stoked for you. We'll see how it goes. We're looking forward to a long year of you updating us, Tyson, on the adventures from mat leave.

[00:02:18] Tyson: For sure.

[00:02:21] Alexa: Awesome. Well, I am on the road, and I have nothing else to report. I'm going to move us to our POPS in the news.


[00:02:39] Alexa: Our article this week is a common theme with POPS in the news. Again, because nobody writes HR articles about anything other than the horrible stuff. In this instance, I'm actually conflicted on this, which is a regular subject for us, which is that Starbucks has a bunch of employees calling for a union. The title of the article, at least the insider version, this is on a few different web blogs, is "Starbucks calls its workers 'partners' but some who are trying to unionize the chain isn't living up to that promise." General gist is Starbucks, they have a fair amount of lingo internally that's pretty, I would say, employee-friendly. They call them partners. I think it's 400,000 employees at Starbucks, which is nuts.

Anyway, long story short, the article here is a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, "Okay, you call us partners, but we're not really partners," because they have come under scrutiny recently more than once for basically overworking everybody. Obviously, labor shortage is a major issue, especially in restaurant cafe, part-time work right now, and the idea is that Starbucks has tried, I think, at least the article insinuates to do right by at least even part-time employees, they call them partners because they do get stock options. They have to invest. You got to be there for two years, but they actually do get stock in the business. They don't have voting rights but that's not important.

They get skin in the game, and they give full-time benefits to part-time employees. My understanding is that Starbucks has a pretty awesome training program. They take care of their people, but this particular article is about this group, I believe, it's in New York that is trying to unionize because basically they're just understaffed and everybody's tired of it. [chuckles]

[00:04:22] Tyson: Starbucks went through some difficulties a while back. I don't know if you remember this, but this guy went viral on Instagram, I think, or maybe Snapchat or something complaining about working at Starbucks because they had introduced the ordering ahead, that you can order on your app and pick up, so you're managing drive-thru ordering on the app and in-store customers. It just became too much and I remember there was a huge backlash. That must have been, I don't know, a few years ago now.

[00:04:48] Alexa: Yes, they've taken heat for quite a few things. Obviously, they have the famous story recently where they kicked people out who were patrons there and they had to do all this racism training. They're just a big brand, they take a lot of heat. I think this one is interesting though, and I struggle with this one. I'm normally on the side of like, when people are trying to unionize, everybody knows where I stand on this. You haven't empowered your people team. They've failed. They've been rendered useless because they're not able to bridge the gap that we always talk about.

In this instance, I struggle a little bit though, because they are getting more than your standard retail cafe-type personnel would get, but they're understaffed, which means they're paying more per person as a business to take care of you, but they have less people working per store. I don't know if the issue is they've just trying to been optimized. We'll take care of our people. We'll ask them to do more with less and they've hit the end of that rope. It's like, people are fed up and they're done,you just can't, there's no more water to wring out of the towel, or if this is an instance where it's truly potentially because of the labor market. Restaurants, bars, they're all struggling right now.

[00:05:54] Tyson: Those are two different arguments, right?

[00:05:57] Alexa: Totally, not saying they are the same.

[00:05:57] Tyson: There's an issue of staff being understaffed, which like, okay, that sucks. Understaffed in a good work environment where there's good benefits of being treated properly, whatever understaffed. Then the other argument is that "I'm not being treated as a partner." Which is it? Right? Because those are two completely different sides of the coin.

[00:06:12] Alexa: Yes. That's what's not clear here. Is like they're saying, "I'm not treated like a partner," but then I'm reading about all the stuff they get, and I'm like, "Well, I don't understand. Do you want all the additional benefits and to also not be understaffed? Because you might have to give up something." I don't know.

[00:06:29] Tyson: Yes. I'd just love to know a bit more about what they're fighting for in terms of the partnership. Because typically, like you said, in a situation where people are unionizing it's because they don't have the good benefits. They're not treated right. They're not trained. They are not et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:06:41] Alexa: Right. It's like Amazon, they're pissing in bottles, and it's like, "Yes, yes, yes. Let's call. Let's call. I call union on this."

[00:06:48] Tyson: Right. In this situation, it's like, well, what is it that they truly want? Which I'm wondering.

[00:06:53] Alexa: I worry because this is the kind of shit that always gets written about. It's like the outlier stuff where it's like, "Oh, let's make this big brand look shitty for not taking care of their people." It's like, "I don't know that it's that clear."

[00:07:04] Tyson: I was going to say, when we chatted with Ryan, he had those great-- what did he call them?

[00:07:07] Alexa: I was reading this thinking it may need some Ryan Bond in there.

[00:07:10] Tyson: What did he call it? The-- Not the [unintelligible 00:07:13].

[00:07:13] Alexa: Mindsets.

[00:07:14] Tyson: The mindsets. I'm like, "Hey, those are all great things to add in here. Starbucks could really benefit from that." Then I'm like, "Wait a second." That doesn't help with them being understaffed still. That doesn't solve the problem.

[00:07:27] Alexa: Right. I do think some mindsets would help here. I was reading this thinking of our dear friend Ryan Bond.

[00:07:29] Tyson: Oh, totally.

[00:07:31] Alexa: Maybe the best part of this article to wrap up these thoughts is that it says-- Look, Howard Schultz is a famous CEO for how he turned this company around and the culture there. Like, famous. He wrote a book on it that's like a New York Times, all the things, best seller. It says that they literally keep two extra chairs at company meetings and conferences to represent workers and customers. A custom that was started by Howard Schultz while he was there. Literally, in meetings, there are two empty chairs. This is fucking Passover and we're waiting for Elijah to represent the customers and the workers. LOL at that, because that's cheesy to the 11th degree. I don't know.

I can't see through the forest for the trees on this one. I truly can't. I always want to rep the employees and be like, "You're right, nobody's fighting for you," but I'm stuck on this one. This just feels like shitty press.

[00:08:21] Tyson: Yes, I agree.

[00:08:23] Alexa: Yes. All right. Well, without further ado then I will move us to our wonderful guest for the day. Our guest today is Jill Christensen. She is a former fortune 500 corporate communications business executive formerly at Western Union, Avaya, and Nokia with a Six Sigma Green Belt. She speaks around the world on engagement and re-engagement and what organizations need to do differently to attract, retain and engage the employees. Welcome, Jill.

[00:08:45] Jill Christensen: Thank you. It's so great to be here with you. What an interesting topic, Starbucks.

[00:08:49] Alexa: Oh, yes. They can't really win.

[00:08:53] Jill: No, but I agree with you. I think it's shitty press. I think they're incredibly understaffed. I think employees are exhausted and I think we are also dealing with unrealistic customer orders.

[00:09:05] Alexa: Yes. I mean, they introduced the technology platform, like four extra order flow. They didn't add more employees.

[00:09:12] Jill: Well, and also it's like the chocolate mocha Grande, triple cream with two sugar, low iced. It's like, it's gotten out of control.

[00:09:22] Tyson: I created one of those monsters in my father. He's almost 70 and he never had that, anything like that before. You should hear his Starbucks order now. I think it's actually exactly what you just said.


[00:09:35] Jill: I read an article last week. Employees are revolting.

[00:09:39] Alexa: Yes. I believe it.

[00:09:41] Jill: There's [sound cut] enough time. There's too many people on the line. There aren't enough employees. Company gets your arms around this. People shouldn't be over the order whatever they want.

[00:09:50] Tyson: That's why I go there.

[00:09:51] Alexa: Wait, wait, wait. Just to be clear. In a normal world, if you get to order whatever you want from a store that you like let's add on a great technology platform, you just wait in line. You don't get it 30 seconds after you order it. Busy places have lines. I think the problem is if these store managers have been taught that you get your order immediately. It's super fast. There's no wait. The customer has this expectation of the store that isn't being met because they've changed the operation internally. What they're not seeing is that those two guys behind the bar are making 60 drinks for people you can't see standing there. They're on the app.

[00:10:31] Tyson: I've never even thought that though.

[00:10:33] Alexa: It sounds like the employees are stressed out because clearly, they can feel it from the customer.

[00:10:38] Tyson: I never thought of that. That normally when you go out, we have Tim Hortons here in Canada, you get hot chocolate.

[00:10:44] Alexa: They have better coffee.

[00:10:46] Tyson: You get hot chocolate and that's it. You don't ever change it. Here, at Starbucks, I didn't even-

[00:10:52] Alexa: So Canadian.

[00:10:52] Tyson: -think the fact that when I get there, it's like, you have this whole laundry list of things.

[00:10:59] Alexa: Oh my God. It's ridiculous.

[00:10:59] Tyson: I didn't even think of that. I didn't think [unintelligible 00:11:01] anywhere else.

[00:11:02] Alexa: I don't even like Starbucks. I actually think their coffee is gross, but I just drink black coffee. I've gotten away from all the other stuff. I just drink straight black coffee. I was in a Starbucks with a colleague and a teammate the other day, and she ordered one of this extra pump, no sugar, something, something, and my whole universe stopped and I went, "Oh, wow. I forgot you can do that here." Not that there was nobody there, but yes, I think it's just unrealistic expectations. If you're going to order a mocha-chilled, second pump looked at funny latte, it should tell you just like your delivery when you order lunch, like, "Cool. It'll be ready in 20 minutes. It'll be ready in 30 minutes." Not it's just like mobile order ready in five minutes.

[00:11:41] Jill: Exactly. It's not as if it's a secret because every time you pass a Starbucks, there's a line around the building of cars. Those are just the people in the drive-through. Then there's people walking in, there's people doing mobile orders.

[00:11:54] Tyson: A mobile order is fast.

[00:11:56] Jill: I think the pressure is on the customer. The pressure is on the employees. I wrote about Starbucks in my first book. They're supposed to have an extraordinary culture per their employees. This isn't leadership saying this. This is employees saying that this is an extraordinary place to work where they make me a priority so I can make the customer a priority so the customer can have an extraordinary experience and cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, all the way to the bank because that's how I think employees need to work.

[00:12:23] Alexa: I think employees are saying, "I know how you trained me. I know how this is supposed to feel and this feels shitty because you introduced this app and you didn't give me a way to keep the customer experience consistent." They're pissed about it because they're like, "I used to be really good. Everybody here used to love me. We used to be great at getting orders out the door and now you've just created this cluster fuck for me where my whole team is always stressed out." I get that.

[00:12:46] Tyson: Plus the shortage of work that's coming with this great exodus that everyone's talking about from the pandemic.

[00:12:51] Alexa: Perfect storm.

[00:12:53] Jill: Supplies. The supply chain. Right?

[00:12:56] Tyson: Right.

[00:12:56] Alexa: Yes. They were complaining about limited ingredients.

[00:12:56] Jill: I was in Starbucks last week. I tried to green iced tea. They're like, "We don't have green iced tea. I said, "What do you mean you don't have green iced tea?" Like, "We have no green tea." I said, "When are you getting it in?" They're like, "We don't know." I drove away. I didn't even order something else.

[00:13:09] Alexa: Modern civilization is doomed. I'm convinced. This is how you know it's coming to an end is when Starbucks can't get fucking green tea. All right, Jill, moving away from Starbucks because I'm sure we could all vent about this for another hour. We want to hear a little bit about you. Tell us how you got in here. You speak all over. You speak on engagement, but let's go way back to early career, Jill. Let's go on the way back machine.

[00:13:30] Jill: Fascinating. I worked in corporate America for 22 years in the New York area. I had only worked in the telecommunications industry, so I thought that only telecom was dysfunctional. I thought just telecom was broken. 12 years ago, I said, "You know what? I'm tired of the rat race. I'm moving to Denver, Colorado, to take it down a couple of notches, launch my own business." When I moved here, I started doing consulting and I quickly picked up firms in the oil and gas industry, the mining industry, retail, software, insurance. Within a year I realized it's not just telecom that's dysfunctional, all industries are dysfunctional.

[00:14:09] Alexa: Amen. What were you doing in telecom? Tell us a little bit about that.

[00:14:11] Jill: In telecom, I was leading global internal communications.

[00:14:16] Alexa: What's that like?

[00:14:17] Jill: It's fabulous because it's very similar to HR. You have your finger on the pulse of employees. You own the intranet site and you own all communications inside of the company. You write for the CEO and then all the people on my team wrote for the other C-suite members. The CIO, the CMO, the CFO. You are literally working side by side with senior leaders, trying to put words in their mouth that are open and honest and transparent and real and raw and genuine, and getting lots of pushback, because senior leaders tend to not want to be that way. They always have a story. They always have a line. They always want to spin it a certain way. Again, when you're in internal communications, you learn a lot about employees, what they like, what they dislike, et cetera.

[00:15:06] Alexa: What's the worst thing you ever had to communicate?

[00:15:08] Jill: Well, the worst thing that ever happened was we were going to lay off 10,000 employees. My boss said to me, "We need to go into the CEO's office and they're going to tell us all about what's going to happen." They're telling us all about what's going to happen and I'm taking notes. I said, "Let me write the memo to employees and I'll have a draft within 24 hours." They said, "No, we're not going to communicate this to employees." I said, "What do you mean we're not going to communicate this to employees?" They said, "Well, we don't want people to know that this is happening." I said, "People are going to hear that this is happening." They're going to see--

[00:15:44] Alexa: How do you fire 10,000 people and nobody knows?

[00:15:47] Jill: Well, we were located in 55 countries and had thousands and thousands of workplaces. There's a rule in HR that if you fire more than a certain number of people at a certain location, then you have to reveal it. It's public information and public knowledge.

[00:16:03] Tyson: That's [unintelligible 00:16:03].

[00:16:04] Jill: We didn't hit that threshold anywhere. It wasn't mandatory that we had to communicate it externally, write a press release, et cetera. I said, "You people are absolutely crazy. People are going to see one another packing up their desks. They're going to get more work. They're going to see people crying. People are going to disappear. There is no way you can lay off 10,000 people without communicating it internally and communicating why it's happening, what we're going to do to ensure it doesn't happen in the future so that people don't just sink into their foxholes and hide and not get any work done because they're afraid of getting their headshot off next."

[00:16:44] Alexa: It's like a CEO's wet dream that you could lay off 10,000 people and nobody would know. You'd just be able to close down a whole building, lock the doors, turn the lights off and never have to talk about it.

[00:16:55] Tyson: I feel like that would come up on an earnings call though. I've worked at a company where we laid off a shitload of people and we didn't tell anyone, but then it was said at the earnings call. I don't know if it was--

[00:17:08] Jill: Here's what I didn't know.

[00:17:09] Alexa: Cost reduction.

[00:17:10] Jill: Exactly. What I didn't know at the time is that the CEO and senior leadership team were getting ready to be taken over by equity investors. They knew that we were going to get delisted from the stock exchange and get moved from a public company to a private company. They didn't want any negative press. They wanted the industry analysts and the angel investors to think that everything was fine so that they could get a higher price point for the firm. They were just sweeping everything under the rug.

I said, "I advise you, this is one of the biggest mistakes you'll ever make. Everyone is going to hear about it. The trust that employees have in you is going to diminish even further than it already is. They're not going to feel like they can speak up. They're not going to feel like it's an environment that's safe to say, they're not going to feel any level of trust."

[00:18:02] Alexa: Did that happen?

[00:18:04] Jill: Absolutely. "You're going to push employee disengagement into the toilet."

[00:18:08] Tyson: Was there a chief people officer as part of this conversation?

[00:18:10] Jill: Yes. We had a CHRO who was involved.

[00:18:13] Alexa: What did she think or he think or they think?

[00:18:16] Jill: She didn't have a lot of pull and weight.

[00:18:19] Alexa: Shocking. You don't say, Jill.

[00:18:21] Jill: [chuckles]

[00:18:22] Alexa: A CHRO with no pull.

[00:18:24] Jill: No pull.

[00:18:24] Alexa: Amazing. I never heard of such a thing.

[00:18:26] Jill: She was physically at the table, but the people didn't listen to her. I went to back for employees because that's what you do when you're in internal communications and they didn't listen to me. Within a year, we did an employee engagement survey. I think our employee engagement was 22% and literally a few days after all these people were let go, you could walk through the hall and hear a pin drop. Everyone knew that something had happened. Then you were hearing rumors and gossip and no one really ever knew, but everyone was afraid and so everyone hid. They went into their foxhole and no work got done. Productivity fell. It was a nightmare.

[00:19:06] Alexa: Everybody stops trusting the man and then it all comes to a complete halt.

[00:19:09] Jill: Absolutely. Yes. It's like if they don't see me, I might not be the next target. I'm just going to lay low and do what I have to do to get by and not speak up, shake the apple cart, do anything. That's not an environment that inspires people or motivates people or gets the best out of people. It diminishes people, it deflates people, it disengages people.

[00:19:33] Alexa: How do you make the jump from communications in its truest form to the E word - don't worry, we're going to double click on the E word - to engagement? What does that look like? How does one go to doing engagement work?

[00:19:51] Jill: When you're in internal communications, you know that 80% of communications inside of an organization are HR-related. The vast majority of your team members are writing about HR stuff. Internal communications typically has an excellent relationship with HR because they're counseling, guiding, and coaching them about the language that they should use to communicate HR stuff to employees because people care a lot about the HR space. It's their payroll, it's their benefits, it's their compensation. It's the hottest topic inside of the company. When you work in internal comms, you get to know HR like the back of your hand.

When I worked at Avaya and Western Union and led global internal communications, I sat on the HR senior leadership team because internal comms was nestled within HR. You're also the person who's responsible for communicating the results of the employee engagement survey, the plans to improve the culture, et cetera. You're attached to the hip with HR when you're in the communications function. Most people don't realize that a lot of employees complain to HR. Second, they go to internal comms because they know that these are the people who are championing the messages inside of the company.

It's usually pretty well known that internal communications is constantly counseling senior leaders to be open, honest, transparent, real, genuine, and raw and that senior leaders push back. Then what comes out of the corner office is some crap piece of communication that could have been written for any firm where you could have taken off this logo and slapped on a different logo and you'd never know the difference.

[00:21:30] Alexa: There's nothing worse than watered-down PR press release style comms. You're like, "Wow, there's nothing in this. Oh my God, you said nothing while saying something. I don't know. I don't get it."

[00:21:42] Tyson: That's usually the magic that you hear-- When you hear a CEO speak, it's like they can answer questions without actually answering questions or they can say something without saying--

[00:21:50] Alexa: Answering the question. Politics 101.

[00:21:53] Tyson: It's funny to hear though, Jill, you say that as the comms person, you're actually pushing for something that's more transparent and more raw. It's the CEOs that are pushing back. Usually, I don't know, me being an outsider that doesn't know anything about anything, I'll see these comms and I'm like, "Oh, this was some magician comms person that wrote this in this way." Usually, the perception is that it was the comms person that was watering down the CEO.

[00:22:18] Alexa: Yes, that spun it.

[00:22:19] Tyson: That's spun it, and that magically answered the question without answering anything at all.

[00:22:25] Jill: If you're a naysayer or if you're just a company guy or girl, you do that, but really good high-performing comms people are constantly trying to push the envelope and counseling, guiding, and coaching senior leaders to be open and honest and transparent. People are smart. I have said that to senior leaders my entire career. I said, "If you've got the right person in every chair, you've got a lot of smart people working here and they can see through your bullshit. They know exactly when you're sweeping things under the rug, giving them half a truth, lying. If you think that is causing your people to be inspired, motivated, productive, great brand ambassadors, you're kidding yourself."

[00:23:04] Tyson: I think that often when I'm hearing is a CEO-- Again, I'm not a CHRO or anything like that, so I don't know what these conversations look like at the top. If I'm sitting there on a company-wide discussion and the CEO is speaking about something that's HR-related, I sometimes think, "Are other people hearing the same thing that I'm hearing? Can we all just acknowledge the bullshit that's happening right now and that we're hearing?" I'm like, "Are people buying this, or do I just know because I'm in HR?"

[00:23:34] Jill: No, Tyson. They are buying it because they don't have the confidence and courage to speak up and push the envelope. That's my opinion, right? It's that most people in organizations, they're like soldiers. They just follow along because they don't want to rock the boat, they don't want to get fired. They don't want to be labeled a whistle-blower. They just play the game. They play the game because they want the salary. This is what organizations do. They pay you incredibly well, they give you extraordinary benefits. Years ago, we had amazing pensions and all of that was so that you would stay in line, you would tow the company line.

You would shake your head, you would go along with whatever was decided. It was those few people who were the odd men out who would push the envelope, speak up, call senior leaders on their stuff. They usually weren't very popular. I believe in an organization, that's how you get ahead. You may think that a senior leader really wants everyone just to agree with them and just go along with it, but the truth of the matter is, senior leaders respect people who call them on their stuff because so few people have the confidence and courage to do that.

[00:24:51] Alexa: Smart ones know that if they're sitting in a room full of people that are just smiling and nodding, something's wrong because you usually know you're not that smart and it's not that easy. You're like, "All right, where's my pushback. I don't get it. What's wrong? I'm not getting any feedback."

[00:25:07] Jill: Passive-aggressive. People love to be passive-aggressive, right?

[00:25:10] Alexa: Yes, sure.

[00:25:10] Jill: They're just going to sit there and be yes men and nod. I could never do that. It's not how I'm wired, right?

[00:25:17] Alexa: Yes.

[00:25:18] Jill: I've got to wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and know that I was honest and open and real and that I was doing everything that I could to make that environment inside of the company as good as it could be. I once had, a senior vice president pull me into our office and say, "Jill, who's your client." I said, "The employees. She said, No, no, no. It's the C-suite."

I said, "Well, I tend to disagree with you. I know that I'm working on behalf of the C-suite, but I feel like I am doing them a disservice if I am not being open and honest and telling employees the truth. However, be how I roll, that's how I operate. If I'm not in the right position, maybe I don't belong here, but at the end of the day, I have to wake up in the morning and look myself in the mirror and be proud of who I am and what I did that day." In all honesty, I'm shocked that I lasted 22 years in corporate America.

[00:26:17] Alexa: I was going to say that feels like a long time.

[00:26:21] Jill: Because I'm very entrepreneurial, but in all honesty, I felt like I was there fighting for employees the entire time. Also, I've got to be honest with you. I worked my way up quite fast because I did know one thing. Even though I was constantly pushing the envelope and speaking up and asking why, and just challenging a lot of things, I could always show results.

[00:26:45] Alexa: That's where I want to go with this.

[00:26:48] Jill: I measured everything that me and my team did.

[00:26:50] Alexa: Like what?

[00:26:51] Jill: I could show senior leader-- A lot of people in internal communications count how many articles they put out each year and say, "Oh, look, we increased the number of articles that we published by 50% year over year. Who gives a fuck?

[00:27:04] Alexa: Why does that matter?

[00:27:05] Jill: That's like a rat's ass. What I would do is I made sure they added a question to the employee engagement survey that said something like "the communications in the organization enable me to understand our strategic direction and shift what I do on a day-to-day basis to add more value." I would add questions to the employee engagement survey that showed that because communications were very strategic, were very real, were very honest, that there were programs inside of the company that enabled employees to interact directly with senior leaders where employees were able to voice their opinions about important decisions that had yet to be made so that leaders could take employees' opinions into account before making those decisions.

We set up all of these systems inside of the company to create a two-way communication culture. I would add questions to the survey that would say, "The focus groups that enable me to voice my opinions before decisions are made that impact me caused me to be more engaged and proud of fill in the blank company name." You could see these numbers just moving up, up, up and up. I could show the value of the communications function, not from a measurement standpoint of articles, but from a standpoint of, because the communications are what they are, strategic and real and honest and raw and genuine and direct, people are more engaged, people are more productive. People feel like they are valued. People feel like they have a voice and their voice is being heard. I could prove all of this to senior leaders.

[00:28:48] Alexa: Could you prove that beyond just surveys? No offense, but I'm going to push back a little bit on just survey results.

[00:28:54] Jill: I don't know if you ever worked in an organization that had a crappy culture and then engaged on a culture journey.

[00:29:00] Alexa: Why do you think I'm sitting here, Jill?


[00:29:03] Jill: Right. If you've worked in an organization where somebody had the confidence and courage to stand up and say, "Our culture isn't where it needs to be, and we're going to fix this," right?

[00:29:11] Alexa: Yes.

[00:29:11] Jill: Then they embarked on a strategic employee engagement journey and they actually followed through and managers did what they had to do. Leaders walked to talk and things really started to turn around. There's a fascinating phenomenon that happens. You just don't see the number move, the employee engagement survey number move. You can feel it in the halls because, at the end of the day, an organization is people and people are energy. When you've got an extraordinary culture, you have more people who stay late and work. You have more people who laugh and smile. You have more people walking through the halls, conversing with one another and collaborating and bouncing ideas and you can feel that, you can sense it. You can see it.

[00:29:53] Alexa: Everybody wants cultural Shangri-La, obviously. That is the goal. Everyone wants that at their company, but how do you measure that? How would you go into an organization and say, "Okay, you clearly don't have that. Here's how we're going to get you there."?

[00:30:08] Tyson: Hold. I think we need to start, Jill, can you provide us with your definition? Definition of engagement.

[00:30:15] Alexa: Yes, good call.

[00:30:16] Tyson: Okay. Let's just start there.

[00:30:18] Jill: It means they trust senior leaders and feel an emotional connection to the organization. They're in a relationship, they feel a connection. They want to be there. They trust the person who they're with. They believe. That's my definition of employee engagement. What I've realized is when I started doing this work full time, just employee engagement lane, six years ago, I have lots of people who reach out to me and say, "My company culture sucks. Here's the name of the CHRO. Here's the name and number and email of the CEO. I want you to reach out to them." I actually would.

I actually had this vision in my mind that if I reached out to organizations with shitty cultures and talked to them about the benefit of having engaged workers and that I know that your culture might not be where it needs to be, et cetera, that all of them would reach out to me and jump on the bandwagon and we'd start partnering. It was like cricket. Nobody ever responded to me. That's when I started to realize that in order to fix an organization's culture, you can't want it more than they want it for themselves. An organization has to be ready. They've got to be in a place where they are suffering in some way.

Employees are not being productive. They've got major retention issues. They have employee engagement survey scores that are in the gutter, where people literally come to work and they're sleepwalking and they've checked out. You know when you work in an environment like that, but even though millions of those environments exist, you still can't help them unless they want your help. They've got to be in a place where they've hit rock bottom and where they realize that, "Our culture is killing us. We're going to decide that we're going to do something about it.

[00:31:55] Tyson: Can we just also talk about then the connection between engagement and culture and how those two things then become connected?

[00:32:05] Jill: Yes. The definition of culture is how we do things here. In order to change a culture, you simply need to do things here differently tomorrow than you're doing here today. Employees tell us that the environment in which you ask me to do my job, the culture has a major bearing on whether I'm going to come to work every single day and give you the shirt off my back, or basically run on that hamster wheel and barely do what I have to do to get by, to not get fired. It's that work environment that people are in, who my manager is, whether or not communications are open and honest, whether or not people are getting recognized, whether or not I feel connected to something bigger than myself.

It's those types of things that either cause a person to trust leaders and managers, and feel connected to the organization or cause people to distrust leaders and feel no emotional connection at all. They're basically going there and taking that paycheck. The culture has a major bearing on whether or not somebody is engaged or disengaged, meaning they've checked out.

[00:33:09] Tyson: You say culture determines engagement versus engagement creating culture.

[00:33:15] Jill: Correct, because every single one of your employees who showed up on their first day, 110% engaged. Every single one of them. Think about your first day that you ever started on a job. You were going to be the highest performer that a company had ever seen. You were going to hit the ball out of the park. You were so excited. You trusted the leaders. You felt a connection to the company. Our dysfunctional cultures chip away at people's spirits over time. People go from engaged on their first day to disengaged, and sometimes it even happens on the first day. Some people's onboarding experience is so horrendous.

[00:33:52] Alexa: Oh my God. Don't even get me started on onboarding. [unintelligible 00:33:54] episode on onboarding.

[00:33:55] Jill: They're onboarding is so horrendous. You get one chance to make a first impression.

[00:34:00] Tyson: We didn't know you were starting today.

[00:34:02] Alexa: Yes.

[00:34:03] Jill: Exactly.

[00:34:04] Alexa: Wait, no, no. I wanted to spend the next three hours fighting with the HRIS on HRIS portal. Welcome to the team.

[00:34:10] Tyson: You're computer is not set up.

[00:34:12] Jill: Yes. We actually disengage employees on day one.

[00:34:19] Alexa: Oh God, I'm struggling because I have so many questions about this because these words are so charged. I don't mean that to sound cynical. People say engagement culture all the time and people say, "Oh, you can change culture." Like I said, cultural Shangri-La, everybody wants that. It's actually very, very hard to do. I would argue it's probably harder. Although you may be the expert of the cultural resurrection, Jill, I don't know. When it is that fucked up, you're walking into that place, you're like, "Man, people don't like it around here," it is hard to do a turnaround. It involves a lot of uncomfortable things. It also involves asking senior leaders who've nosedived the organization to change or to leave. In some ways, I'd argue you should maybe never let it get to that point, but that's easier said than done. I have two questions for you. If you were to think in terms of engagement, communications, whatever, let's assume they're on a spectrum. You were to think about the way that organizations think about this stuff from an internal and an external perspective.

Let's say small group to large group perspective, maybe if you were to put those on an axis, like, I may not trust Pepsi corporate, but I might sure as shit trust my immediate team. The shit that the comms team puts out in my email is crazy. I never read it because it's useless. It says nothing while saying something right. My team is great, I trust them. Maybe the organization is so big that I struggle to trust it. At what point do you have to break that stuff down to be effective?

Then also I would imagine when you're talking, especially from a communication point of view, that organizations-- You can take a leader who used to spout a bunch of bullshit and cover everything up and say, "We need you to be more real. We need you to be more authentic." There's a point at which they either one, don't want to do that [laughs] or two, they don't want to do that because they don't want that to turn around and then get posted on The New York Times.

I used to work on Wall Street, where the first thing they teach you day one was like, "If you don't want it to show up on the front page of The New York Times, do not put that shit in your email. Don't write it down, don't write it down anywhere." How do organizations be raw and authentic and all these things while communicating to thousands of people and get to people on a relatable level while also not telling the world all their dirty laundry?

[00:36:39] Jill: To answer your first question, team versus corporate. We know that 76% of an employee's/employee engagement lever has to do with their frontline manager. That person has the biggest bearing on whether or not you are engaged. If you work for a strong leader, you tend to have employees who are more engaged. If you work for a crappy leader, you tend to have employees who are less engaged.

[00:37:06] Alexa: On a manager by manager level though. When you say trust leadership, you mean your?

[00:37:11] Jill: Your direct supervisor. We've heard the moniker, people don't leave companies, they leave supervisors. Now, you look at the statistic that 58% of managers in America have never received a day of managerial training. Because people are not promoted because they're great leaders of people, they're promoted because they're great at their job. Then with those promotions, you get people who report to you. That's your reward for doing good work.

You get a raise and you get to become a leader of people. Yes, even though the organization at whole may have a really bad culture, if you've got a fantastic manager and you like your coworkers, that will go a really long way in helping you to stay engaged. People can be isolated on teams with great leaders, great managers from what's going on around them. To your second question, I was trained that way as well. If you don't want to see this on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, don't print it. Because basically, even though we were in the internal communication space, anything that you say internally can leak out externally.

[00:38:23] Alexa: There was an article, there was not that a bunch of these recently, but it's like the new thing to do, which is why I'm asking this question is, the woman I went to college with Steph Korey runs Away Suitcases, like away travel and got just absolutely annihilated in the press because they leaked a bunch of her internal slack notifications. Somebody screenshotted that shit and was like, "Look at how she treats us."

To be fair, it was absolutely terrible. She's clearly never had any training, she's in the 58% Jill. How do you communicate real authentic? Because if you got to tell people what's really going on, all you got to do is hit forward to the shareholders.

[00:39:05] Jill: Exactly. I think that's one of the biggest reasons why typically many C-suite senior leaders are not real, raw, and genuine, because they know that anything that's going on inside of the company if we share it with employees in an effort to be transparent, it could potentially affect the stock price, it's going to affect our shareholders. At the end of the day, a lot of people don't like to think of it this way, but the truth of the matter is, if you're a publicly-traded company, you exist to turn a profit for the shareholders period.

[00:39:35] Alexa: Full stop. There's nothing else,

[00:39:37] Jill: Period. There's nothing else. A lot of people don't like the way that feels, but it is the truth.

[00:39:41] Alexa: Well, it's getting a lot of backlash now too. What was that?

[00:39:44] Jill: Yes, because-

[00:39:44] Alexa: First thing came out and said, we're now about stakeholders and shareholders or something.

[00:39:48] Jill: Yes. In-service. Being in service. The truth of the matter is, that is drilled into senior leaders' heads in business school. They really do to their credit. They really have this balancing act that they're playing every single day, and that it's telling employees what's truly going on without potentially having a negative impact on our company, the future, the stock price, et cetera.

I think smart and savvy leaders are able to tow that line. Or they're able to say, "Yes, something is going on in this space. This is what we can tell you. There are things we can't tell you due to privacy, due to whatever it has to relate to." Again, I think savvy leaders don't just swing to the side of being closed off placating the media and the industry analysts. I think they strike a balance of we might not be able to tell employees everything, but let's share with them what we can. I think many leaders over-rotate and they say better safe and sorry, you've also got a legal who is always in the room whenever--

[00:41:05] Tyson: That's trying to justify their fucking jobs.

[00:41:07] Jill: Exactly. An internal communication is being written that might-- or even a press release, that might potentially be hairy.

[00:41:15] Alexa: You ever want to not do something, ask your lawyer, because they'll give you eight million reasons why not to do it but they'll never tell you how you can do it.

[00:41:23] Jill: Exactly. The many times you've got legal battling internal communications. You've got internal comp saying we have to be open and honest and legal saying we can't for these on-team reasons. Then you've got the CEO who tends to air on the side of legal.

[00:41:37] Alexa: Which is fine. Here's the thing. Putting a bow on this entire conversation. We've got the corporate level communications which to be quite honest I've always erred on the side of employees don't necessarily need to know everything. They don't need to bother with what's going on at some of those levels. For me, when I'm thinking about my own personal engagement and when I'm looking at the manager level versus the C-suite level, what I want from the C-suite level is to know that they're ethical that they're not saying all this shit that's like-- we see the stuff that gets released. I forget what the OA situation was but I feel like it wasn't great.

[00:42:12] Jill: It wasn't great. To be clear.

[00:42:14] Tyson: It wasn't great.

[00:42:15] Alexa: Once it was laid out it does sound like you deserved all of that but--

[00:42:17] Jill: Exactly.

[00:42:17] Alexa: It was just fucked up that it was like these were internal slack communications and you put her on the front page of medium like come on.

[00:42:23] Jill: Right. I don't want to think that my CEO is out there doing anything that is unethical, illegal, anything like that. If I can sleep easy at night knowing that, then I'm like, "Okay, sure. Fine." Maybe that's a naïve opinion, but I don't really give a shit otherwise. I'm not expecting the corporate-wide comms to tell me all of the details, all of the minutes of the ability. Do you know what I mean?

[00:42:50] Alexa: Yes.

[00:42:52] Jill: Versus your immediate team which I 100% agree is way more important. For me, as long as I know that I'm aligned with the company mission and I'm here to like-- I'm with it. I want to work for a company that's doing the actual work that we do that makes me engaged. Then to know that there's not any shady-ass business happening at the C-suite. That also is an engagement factor. Then to have the more trust and personal commitment I guess at the team level and the actual work level.

[00:43:23] Alexa: I think it's you got to go a few levels because like your immediate manager matters, but also if you're like, "I'm trying to get up three rungs into the right one in the next 10 years of my career, you got to be like oh those guys three up one chess move away from me."

[00:43:35] Jill: It's relationships that are meaningful to you.

[00:43:37] Alexa: Exactly.

[00:43:38] Jill: Yes, exactly and relevant.

[00:43:39] Alexa: They communicate well and I trust what they say and they're honest about the way they restructure their teams and do their things.

[00:43:44] Jill: Totally. Until on a CHRO kind of thing or until you're getting to that level, I don't need that warm feelings from the CEO or the C-suite as long as I know I can rest easy thinking that they're here to do something good. That again, relating this back to the engagement conversation.

[00:44:03] Tyson: What are the secrets Jill that people may not realize? I feel like a lot of these conversations about engagement culture get really obvious really fast, so maybe a couple of closing thoughts here as we get--

[00:44:14] Jill: Let's throw in the virtual aspect.

[00:44:16] Tyson: Yes and especially remote, I can't wait to hear a little bit about this. What are some of the ways that maybe are not obvious that you help teach organizations that are proven in some sense of the word to actually help with this stuff? Like what are--

[00:44:31] Jill: The truth of the matter is you'll never succeed if HR is the only player on the team. Because then it's rolled out like a program or an initiative, and your employees think it's the program, Azure, here today gone tomorrow. They're never going to trust that you are serious about turning the culture around you creating a great place to work. Somebody from your C-suite has to get involved in your employee engagement journey. Somebody at that level has to have the confidence and courage to stand up and say, "Our culture sucks but together we can fix this." Then it's about your managers, it's not about HR. All of your managers need to commit to creating extraordinary environments on their teams, managers need to step up and become better leaders of people. Because again, 76% of the variant in employee engagement comes back to who my specific frontline manager is, who is supervising me? To your point, Alexa and Tyson, yes, you do want to know that your CEO is a decent person with integrity, who has a vision for our organization. I trust that they can lead our organization into the 22nd century.

Yes, you want to know that, but you have little interaction with that person. It's your direct supervisor and your team members who you interact with on a daily basis. It's really about upskilling managers, and getting managers to think about every single day, "How can I create an environment on my team that enables every single person to be the best version of themselves? Inspires them and motivates them to give me the shirt off their back versus coming to work and doing what they have to do to get by running on that hamster wheel."

[00:46:08] Alexa: Can you share an example of that? Let's say we have a manager listening that's like, "I want to do one thing tomorrow to make my team more engaged."

[00:46:16] Jill: Is to seek the opinions of the people on their team before they make important decisions. So many times leaders and managers go into a conference room or go into their office and make a decision that impacts the team without getting any input from any of the team members. This causes people to feel like they don't have a voice at work and their voice is not being heard and that causes people to disengage.

Rather than making decisions about the team, for instance, I'm saying to organizations left and right, don't go into a corner office and decide what the future is going to work for your company. Create a back-to-work survey, ask employees, "How often do you want to work from home? How often do you want to be in the office? If we did need to stagger people working from home and being in the office, how many days would you want that to look like?

Do you want your own office space or would you want shared office space?" Again, we come down with these decisions and we don't give people a voice. We don't have two-way communication cultures in many environments, where people have the ability to engage in a dialogue or a conversation with their manager or their leader. Tones of decisions are made, they're pushed down to people, and then people feel like you want to know what? They're not listening to me.

[00:47:31] Alexa: Open a channel of communication for your team to give you feedback before decisions. That's my one takeaway for those managers listening. What about remote? Jill, I know you're coming out with a book soon about remote culture. I'm fascinated by this. My mother actually happens to be an instructional designer who studies how people learn through technology. I literally talked about this shit over the Thanksgiving dinner table, [crosstalk]

[00:47:56] Jill: We need to get her on the podcast, just a side note.

[00:47:58] Alexa: Oh, Jesus. Probably, Jill, she'll talk your fucking ear off about this all day, focuses a lot on education, but largely how do people learn through technology. You can't just put a PowerPoint slide and expect people to work through it, a book called The Pajama Effect. Anyway, it's not about my mom, this is about you, which is a similar thing. That's more the style of how people learn through technology, curious to hear what you think about, again, maybe not so obvious remote engagement topics.

[00:48:24] Jill: Probably the biggest thing that has gone away is connection. We all took for granted that when we physically showed up in the same workspace, our need for connection, to feel like we're making a difference, we're connected to something bigger than ourselves, that we matter. That we're more than just a number was the being accounted for. Because I was physically co-located with other people, I felt a sense of connection.

We know that 80% of American workers go to work every single day because they want to feel connected to something bigger than themselves, only 20% go for a paycheck. Because we're no longer physically located with one another, the sense of connection that we felt with one another has completely been lost. Everybody feels like they're alone on an island. There are many different things that managers can do to recreate that sense of connection.

One of the things that I think is a great idea we call it, the truth tour or show and tell. That's where every single person on a team will do a round robin and they will show their home office or workspace to all of the other members on their team. They will pick up something that they purposely put in their new home workspace that has personal meaning to them. It could be a memento from a vacation, it could be a family picture, it could be an award from a previous job, and really talk about why they chose to put that one item in their home workspace.

Because employees tell us when I know my colleagues on a work level and a personal level when I get to know them personally when I can see inside their home workspace. When I can hear about their family when I can see something that they have surrounding them because it's meaningful to them. I feel when I get to know them on a personal level, I feel a greater sense of connection to them and I have a more vested interest in succeeding together with them as a team.

I feel connected with them, I feel like they're relying on me, I feel like we're all in this together. The ability for a manager to enable employees to get to know one another on a team from a work standpoint, and a personal standpoint, really helps bridge that sense of connection when we are no longer physically co-located.

[00:50:40] Alexa: That's interesting. When we went remote, we actually got a lot of feedback, almost like the opposite, we got feedback that said that seeing people's backgrounds in their homes created more of a disconnect. Because you had people, we'd see the highest up VPS, and executives with these beautiful offices. They're sitting at their pool, and they've got green space, in the back of that, you had just lower-level employees that are sitting in a one-bedroom apartment, on their bed trying to create some makeshift office spaces.

I remember when we went remote, there was this huge push to get these fake backgrounds, or to blur the backgrounds as well, so that's a different-- [crosstalk]

[00:51:18] Tyson: I don't know, I feel like that's a bad spin, though, right? I actually think it's like, "Oh, my VP is this nice ass beach house." I trust that if I work with this person long enough, I might know them. I'm clearly the poor, 23-year-old on the team, living in my one-bedroom apartment in New York with four roommates. It's great context.

[00:51:37] Alexa: It was more along the lines of, yes, it's all well and great. You like being virtual. I think we've had pops in the news like this. The high-up people, they like being virtual because they have beautiful homes that they get to live in. Other people, they wouldn't get got, they would get more out of office space because younger people now are playing this.

[00:51:55] Tyson: Yes, and the younger people want connection,

[00:51:58] Alexa: I will say something super controversial about this whole idea of virtual versus non-virtual. I just think that there are going to be people who want to be virtual, and there are going to be people who don't want to be virtual. The person has to just make that decision. I think if you have someone sitting on your team that just personally does not want to be virtual, it will be very, very, very hard to get them engaged.

[00:52:22] Tyson: I pretty much agree with you. I think the link between those two things is occasional insatiable FOMO. You create a couple of times a year where everybody involved doesn't matter if they're virtual or not, is like, "I cannot fucking miss this interaction, I got to be there. I want to be there, I got to be there. I want to get the inside jokes at the next virtual happy hour. I don't want to miss this. I'm going to be there."

Then you can create that connection in other ways it doesn't have to be every day all the time, in the office five days a week. Jill, any closing thoughts on that before we move to a people problem?

[00:52:57] Jill: No, but I think nobody should be telling anybody that they shouldn't be working virtually, or they shouldn't be working virtually. To your point Tyson, I think people are going to check out if they don't have options.

[00:53:07] Tyson: Yes, and if they feel like though-- I feel like telling someone, where they need to be, is the definition of asking me to not trust you. It's like, "Oh, you don't trust me to be able to choose where I work?" Again, shift workers, lab workers, this type of work, non-dependent. You're telling me where I need to work? It's just you're telling me you don't trust me? The full stop. That's just exactly how I hear that.

[00:53:30] Jill: A lot of old school leaders don't think that through, right. I get to make the decision, which I have to understand. Leaders never wanted this. Employees have been clamoring for remote work for decades.

[00:53:45] Alexa: I've been seeing this student for years.

[00:53:46] Jill: Old school leaders are like this, if I can't see you physically working, you're not working, you're not productive, so you want to know what? You're going to come to the office every day and employees have hated it. We just proved out the greatest social experiment of all time remote work works. You want to know why? Leaders hate it, they hate it, they probably wanted it to fail. To their dismay, it works and so now you've got loads of leaders who are being alien on their promise. [crosstalk]

[00:54:12] Tyson: Yes, it's going to make them a shitload-- Save them a shitload of money in real estate, though so I guess that's the positive right less

[00:54:17] Alexa: The less of those poor HR people that are going to try to get these people to go back to the office, I couldn't imagine having to deal with that nightmare. To get people to go back into the office after a year and a half, oh.

[00:54:27] Jill: Starting to hear about senior leaders who are rejected on the promise.

[00:54:30] Tyson: Yes, well, we talked about this in earlier episodes. I won't belabor it because we got to move on here we're running out of time but it's not going to work. We've talked about you can team cook this and you can be like, "You got to be in the office, three days a week but specifically these three days for these eight hours." It's like, "Why the fuck are you making that decision with 10,000 plus person level? Let the managers decide if they trust their team to get their shit done? It's their ass on the line anyway give it up to the managers, let them decide.

[00:55:01] Alexa: Yes but you have to remember CEOs get into that corner office for a reason. They tend to be very incredibly intelligent, but also narcissistic, egotistical, and self-centered, they think they've got all the answers.

[00:55:14] Jill: Psychopaths

[00:55:14] Alexa: It sounds like a few guys I dated in college.


[00:55:18] Jill: You've got this personality that enables them to run a company successfully, but that also is stifling and chokes people.

[00:55:29] Alexa: Share prices and humans are not always connected. Tyson, let's move to another, People Problem.


[00:55:36] Tyson: People Problem is from many many many followers on HR shook. I often post about engagement surveys and how the challenges that come with engagement surveys and the feedback is that you do the engagement surveys, you get the data. Then you put a lot of effort into action planning and the leadership puts together this wild action plan of all the great things they're going to do and within a matter of months that becomes deprioritized and it ends in nothing. How do we utilize an engagement survey more effectively, or not allow those things to become deprioritized or make sure that we're executing on the results of an engagement survey?

[00:56:31] Jill: Okay. This is simple. Believe it or not, culture committees don't work.

[00:56:35] Tyson: Jill, I knew we were going to be friends.

[00:56:38] Jill: Culture committees suck. They're the fun committee. They're the holiday party summer picnic committee. They don't work and here's the best part. Most of those people didn't even volunteer to be on the culture committee. They were hand-selected to be on the culture committee. They may not even give a rat's ass about employee engagement. The worst thing you can do is create a culture committee.

It does not work. Don't and also do not create an employee engagement survey if you're not going to do anything with the results. You will further disengage people. If you're going to embark on an employee engagement journey where you actually look at the results, you look at the five lowest-scoring questions, you say these are the questions we're going to go after. Managers, we are holding you accountable for increasing the score on these five lowest scoring questions.

Let's just say it's communication, recognition, performance management, training, and development. Then somebody needs to create an action plan where you work with your managers and you tell them specific things that they need to be doing with their team members to move the needle on these specific questions. Culture is how we do things here. When you get all of your managers working against those five lowest scoring questions, and you've given them the actions they need to be taking with their teams, you also need to say to them managers right now we're at 25% employee engagement.

A year from now we have a goal to be at 35% employee engagement. Effective today, you all have a shared performance management goal to increase employee engagement, 10 points in one year. We all know that we work in pay-for-performance cultures. If you meet or exceed your objectives, you get more merit and more bonus. If you miss your objectives, your merit may stay the same you might not get a bonus. We all know that hitting our goals or exceeding our goals is critical. You've got to have a manager objective to increase employee engagement.

Then in the best organizations, that employee engagement score becomes a key performance indicator. It becomes on the dashboard of what the C-suite is looking at every time they meet each month, They're looking at revenue, they're looking at turnover, they're looking at customer satisfaction scores, they're looking at the employee engagement score. For you to elevate it to the highest level in the organization and for the senior leadership team to understand, if we put our people first and they're engaged, people will put our customers first. Customers will have an extraordinary experience that is second to none, and they will keep coming back to us for more, cha-ching cha-ching cha-ching.

They've got to understand that correlation and when you've got employee engagement as a key performance indicator, then it's something that the senior leaders are looking at every single month. It's a topic of conversation, it's something that is top of mind, and it becomes a part of the culture. This is something that we care about, as much as we care about our customer satisfaction net promoter score, or whether or not our footprint in Europe is increasing 10% a year like we had targeted.

[00:59:32] Alexa: Tyson, thoughts?

[00:59:35] Tyson: Just to wrap, just to summarize that so making it a KPI, making the managers accountable, looking at a few things, not the whole kitten caboodle, but just a few of the lowest scoring things. Five lowest scoring questions, and then incentivize that through bonus and pay increase.

[00:59:58] Alexa: The only thing I would say is having one bite at a time. I feel so many of these organizations just state they have the best intentions. They do these huge surveys. They get all this data, and then they go to do what Jill's saying, but instead of the five questions, they're focused on 25 questions. It's just overwhelming. Instead of doing one or two things really well for a short, concentrated period of time, they try to do everything at once, and it just fucking backfires. I would say, "Yes, exactly." Oh, God, we've talked about that before too.

[01:00:25] Jill: We've talked about that.

[01:00:27] Alexa: Yes. We had talked about that. Also, if you're doing the top four or five questions, do one a quarter. Just laser fucking focus. Give every manager. I actually just did a speaking of this, I just did a nutrition program, Precision Nutrition. I rave about these guys all the time, but I lost 35 pounds. I've been an athlete my whole life. I've never had an issue with weight, but it was the first time in my life where it was like a system that was like, "Just for two weeks, don't do anything else. Just focus on eating lean protein at every meal."

Doesn't matter what the fuck else you eat. 16 Krispy Kremes if you want to just get one piece of lean protein in there. I was like, "Oh, I don't have that." They're not taking anything away from me. This isn't too much shit to remember. There's no rules about what I can and cannot do. The expectation is just that I try really hard to do this one thing for two weeks. If you do that on an organizational level, it's like, "Oh, it's actually not that hard for managers to ask for a single piece of feedback from every team member before a decision."

For one month, that's all you're going to fucking focus on. Then we're going to ask you what you thought about that and what happened with it. Then we're going to see the next month if that translates into the surveys or whatever. You got to make it chewable. People, they get overwhelmed.

[01:01:36] Tyson: Yes, and making sure that the solution is not overcomplic. You might have a question, which is like, "I don't have enough career conversations with my manager." Let's say that that's a problem. Then the solution is, "Okay, every manager has to have a career conversation every week, and it's got to follow all these steps, and we've got to make a new process for how to have those career conversations, and then we've got to create this and then do that."

That is where I find managers start to spin, and then they're like, "Hold on. What type of career conversations?" Tyson, we need some fore-line formation.

[01:02:05] Alexa: For Meeting sake.

[01:02:07] Tyson: Then it just becomes like, "We should have a committee that has focus groups and then a committee that has the solution, and then it's--"

[01:02:14] Alexa: All bad decisions ended a committee. I think is--

[01:02:17] Tyson: It's snowball. What I've done, I make engagement so simple. I'm like, "All right. When we look at these results, let's think of our two guiding words." That's all I give them. I give them two words. We find our two words. What are they? Let's say we talked about connection and let's say career. Career and connection, those are our two guiding words. We're not going to make any action plan. We're just going to remember those two words all the time and put it into our meeting.

[01:02:48] Alexa: Almost sounds like a mindset, Tyson.

[01:02:50] Tyson: [laughs] Exactly, though. It's so simple. When we're having a town hall, let's think about career and connection. When we're having a one-on-one with an employee, let's think about career and connection. It's just so easy. That's the bite-size piece just to get managers used to it and it's not--

[01:03:05] Alexa: Can't eat the whole elephant at the same time. One bite at a time, baby.

[01:03:09] Jill: You've got to keep it simple because I have lots of managers saying to me, "Jill, you're asking me to do more work." I'm like, "You want to know what I'm not?" He said you should already be communicating. You should already be recognizing people. You should already be doing performance management. You should already be hiring [crosstalk] hiring the right people. Absolutely. I say to managers, "You want your job to be easier? You want to stop being a psychologist 30% of the time?"

Create a team of engaged employees because when your customers are engaged, they're going to come to you last. They're going to have fewer problems and you will have more time to spend on your day job.

[01:03:42] Alexa: Yes. I love it. All right. Jill, if people like what you have to say, where can they find you and where can they find your books?

[01:03:47] Jill: They can find me at JillChristensenintl.com. My first book, If Not You Who Cracking The Code Of Employee Disengagement? Is on Amazon and my second book is debuting in early October on Amazon called Remote 101. It's all about the future of work, how to engage remote workers. I encourage everyone to check it out.

[01:04:07] Alexa: Awesome, Jill. This was a blast. Thanks for being here.

[01:04:10] Jill: Thank you. Keep up the great work.

[01:04:12] Alexa: Thank you.


[01:04:13] Alexa: This episode was executive produced by me, Alexa Baggio with audio production by Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. Our intro music was also done by the wonderful Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. You can find more information about us and future episodes at peopleproblemspod.com or follow us at--

[01:04:26] [END OF AUDIO]

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