How to Empower and Engage Your Workforce by Focusing on the Employee Experience


Organizations have an opportunity to empower and engage employees through the experiences they create. An employee experience is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, especially in such a highly competitive market. But where do you start?


Welcome to the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Quick Take. I’m Julie Devoll, editor for special projects and webinars at Harvard Business Review, and today I’m talking with Michael Gretczko, principal, national offering leader, human capital as a service at Deloitte Consulting LLP, and with Jody Kohner, senior vice president of employee marketing and engagement at Salesforce.

We’re focusing today on how organizations can empower and engage employees through the experiences they create. An employee experience is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, especially in today’s highly competitive market. But where do you start? Companies should move beyond thinking about experiences at work in terms of perks and rewards and instead focus on delivering a consumer-like employee experience that is meaningful and offers values-based work.

Michael and Jody, thanks so much for joining us today. Organizations have been investing a lot in improving the day-to-day experience for their workers over recent years. Which area seems to be the biggest challenge, and where do they need to improve? Michael, let’s start with you.

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

I think this is a really important question and one that just about every organization that I talked to, and we at Deloitte talk to is trying to find an answer to. First and foremost, what’s really shaping the interest in this question is that workforce demographics continue to change. Organizations are constantly trying to evolve and improve upon that employee experience. We’ve done this study for the past ten years that looks at the predominant trends in the human capital market, and what we found is that we’ve seen these really large changes.

For example, 24 percent of workers are telecommuting. So flexibility is increasingly important to team members and can really shape the kind of experience they have with that organization. What we’ve concluded is that there’s quite a bit of room for improvement when it comes to things like work-life balance. And really what’s at the center of all of this debate and discussion is employees are looking for work to be really meaningful. And to give people a sense of belonging, trust in the relationships, given how much time they spend at work and what a big part of their self-identity it is.

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

I think that’s a really great point, Michael. The way we see it at Salesforce is that culture is just a huge part of the day-to-day employee experience. And so organizations really can’t think about it as an afterthought, right? It’s no longer a nice-to-have; it is a true business imperative. So for a company that’s growing as rapidly as we are, our culture makes a really big difference in our ability to attract and retain talent. We’re super proud that Salesforce has been named one of the best places to work, and that is the result of a deliberate and a very intentional focus on culture.

But I do want to say that we do not have this all figured out. We’re learning as we go. And one thing that I can share is that along the way we’ve developed a formula that has been really successful for us. And that formula is kind of one part being really intentional with our culture, how we think about it, how we prioritize it, how we talk about it. The second part is we really lean on technology to enhance the employee experience so that getting your job done is fun and it’s easy.

And the third part is that we figured out that we really need to look at the data. The data that’s coming out of modern technologies, the data that our employees are giving us; and in doing this, it helps us make faster, smarter decisions. So culture, technology, and data—having all three of these has really been our recipe for engagement.

Julie Devoll, HBR

So what has actually changed in the workforce that is attributing to the need for organizations to improve their employee experience? What are you seeing that’s most important to employees and their needs?

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

I think from the organizational view this has just become a business imperative. One of our studies concluded that organizations with highly engaged workforces reported a three-year revenue growth rate that was 2.3 times greater than the average. That’s a massive difference. And it’s become important that companies make sure that an experience is a big part of what they offer their talent.

From an employee view, I think what we see mostly is that this rise of the mobile workforce is also coinciding with a rise in longer days, and overworked and oftentimes even burnt-out employees in many organizations. The much-wanted flexibility that we’ve looked for for many years has actually led to this always-on mentality. Employees and employers haven’t figured out how to set guidelines around when to turn off at work and when to be able to unwind from a day. And this has really driven quite a bit of the dissatisfaction that employees feel at work.

As we went on and studied this, we’ve learned that less than half—49 percent of the respondents that we spoke to at many thousands of organizations—believe that organizations’ workers were unsatisfied with their jobs or the job design. Similarly, only 42 percent felt that their workers were satisfied or very satisfied with the day-to-day work practices, and 38 percent thought they had enough autonomy to make good decisions. Those numbers are relatively low when you consider how important this is for the success of that broader organization.

What we’ve concluded is now, more than ever, employees really want a couple [of] things. They want meaningful work that inspires them and where they can identify with the purpose. They want supportive management—leaders who are helping them achieve their maximum potential. They want a positive environment and one that has a number of growth opportunities. They really want to trust in their leadership. And they want visibility into how their leaders think and visibility into the value system that their leaders have and are driving at that organization. Their organizations need to be focused on those five things in order to be able to achieve that growth rate that we’ve seen with the best organizations.

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

I completely agree with everything you’re saying there, Michael. I think that while creating a really great culture is important and it’s key to improving the employee experience, that alone is just frankly not enough. Today’s employee wants social, mobile, smart, and connected technologies, just like the ones that they use every single day outside of work. They want all of this to help them work more efficiently and effectively in their work life the same way they do in their personal life. And if you think about today’s workforce, they expect the same consumer-focused experience that they receive in their personal lives in their professional lives.

And what this all means for companies is that companies must learn new techniques and adopt technology to really help bridge this disconnect. All of the tools that you expect from your vendor of choice should also be available from your employer of choice. So, at Salesforce, we do use our own technology to help us scale and deliver a consistent consumer-like experience for our culture across the entire employment journey. So that starts with attraction and onboarding, [and continues] all the way through their ongoing employee success.

I have a couple of examples of ways that we do this, just to try to maybe illustrate that a little bit more. One would be our employee survey. This is a great vehicle for employees to be able to provide confidential feedback twice a year. But it’s unique because all of the results are accessible to all of the employees. So you’re able to really drill down into the data at a micro level, and you’re able to impact change, and you can do this from your phone, or you can do this from your laptop.

We also, instead of overwhelming new hires with all sorts of the information that you need to start a new job, just drip that information out, right at the right time just to the right person, using our Marketing Cloud technology. So it’s not some death by PowerPoint onboarding with 800 slides that you’re going to need to refer back to and try to figure out what you need and when; it’s just that right message coming to you at the right time.

Instead of endless meetings and emails, we communicate and collaborate socially in our employee community, much the way that people communicate in all of the social media channels. We set that up for people here in the office. So just a few examples of the type of technology that you would expect from your favorite brands outside of work, making sure that that same situation, that same experience can be replicated inside the office.

Julie Devoll, HBR

Michael, question for you. The employee experience was originally based [on] the customer experience model. Are there areas where employees are or should be treated differently than customers?

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

Yeah I love this question. And I love hearing, Jody, you talk about some of the examples at Salesforce. I think they’re really powerful. I think what we have learned though, is there are some differences for employees. The first is that for most employees, work is a really big part of their identity. And their relationship with employers is very personal. It’s very deep, your employee-employer relationship. And it can be quite a bit deeper and quite a bit more important to employees than the relationship they may have with the product that they’re buying. So what they experience is a bit of the customer landscape.

Secondly, the way you experience working is much more social, it’s much more about being part of this community of a workforce. Your perception of your employer is very much crafted by the experiences that your other employees have. And that’s not always true with the way you might experience a product, a customer product, or a consumer product, where it’s much more sort of a one-to-one relationship.

And third, and perhaps very relevant to this discussion we’re having here and some of the examples that Jody shared, employees want more than just an easy set of transactions. Back to the scene you’re hearing from me is that employees really want a career with meaning and purpose. And I think the best organizations will empower the human side of workers. We talk often about helping employees realize their maximum human potential. And understand the fact that employees are people at their foundation, right? And they want choices in what they do; they want to be treated as an individual. And I think many organizations have gone through this sort of pendulum swing of driving very consistent experiences, but that also feel very transactional, and then moving all the way to very personalized experiences.

I think the market has generally landed on needing to have some of these personalized experiences, technology supporting it, and letting the individual’s needs build bottom up to what the employer then provides to their entire employee base to drive the kind of engagement that’s critical.

Julie Devoll, HBR

Jody, in what ways can an organization bring a refreshed sense of meaning to work?

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

You know, a great culture is about feeling connected to a greater mission. You’ve got to understand your share of the task, and ultimately you want to have a meaningful experience with your work. So, at Salesforce, we are highly transparent about our business priorities, and this really creates a sense of purpose and belonging.

Now what this does is that it helps employees know where they are going. What’s the plan for how we’re going to get there, and what is their share of the task? And this is what creates great meaning for them. They can see in their V2MOM how it’s impacting our ultimate bottom line. They can trace their individual contributions, and it just creates a sense of purpose, meaning, and, I will add, accountability. Because at Salesforce, every V2MOM is public; it’s all a part of our own internal employee community. And anyone can look up anyone else’s V2MOM, see what they’ve committed to do, and also see the progress that is being made against the methods and metrics that you are going to deliver upon.

Julie Devoll, HBR

So what role do engagement technologies play in helping connect employees to a sense or meaning of purpose? Michael, let’s start with you.

Michael Gretczko, Deloitte

My observation is that these new technologies really give us the potential to do things that we could never do before. And at the center of that is the ability to really help navigate this focus on personalization. To really get to know the employee versus trying to guess. I mentioned our human capital trends report a little while ago; our study there indicated that only 38 percent of employees were satisfied or very satisfied with the tools and technologies they have at work. It goes to this gap that Jody talked about between the consumer and the employee experience.

The workforce of today is really digitally savvy, more than they ever have been. And they want a consumer-grade digital experience that is very much about how they interact in their personal lives. For employers, that engagement platform can really help them understand exactly what matters to their employees. And we think at the center of this [are] the sensing and analytics that employers can do to really get in the heads of their employees, to understand worker preferences.

We do a lot of this work with our clients to help them build the systems and the processes and the management hygiene to be able to understand that, and then translate that into workplace technology that creates those personalized experiences, when you know but not guess what your employees need. It should be fully mobile, it should be user friendly, it should be intuitive with interfaces and dashboards. And it needs to make sure that workers feel like they matter, that they’re prioritized, and that we really understand them as employees of our organization.

These personalized digital platforms and some of the great technology that’s in the market today help make sure there is that connectivity. And when you have that connectivity and workers feel like they’re known and understood, we see a lot more productivity and we see that revenue growth that we talked about earlier. And I think we’re just seeing the beginning of the potential in these engagement technologies and the beginning of the potential to really drive great organizational performance through our people and to make the experience of coming to work be a really great one.

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

That is just spot-on, Michael. We definitely know that effective technology is an important part of the day-to-day employee experience. Beyond that even, technology empowers an organization to bring its values to life. It makes a value more than just something that’s painted on a wall; it makes it real, it makes it something your employees can actually touch and interact with.

A great example of how we’ve done that to improve our employee experience is, as you may know, giving back is a huge part of our DNA here at Salesforce. It starts on day one; all employees participate in their first volunteer activity just a few hours into their first day. And then moving forward, employees get paid [for] seven days off to volunteer per year. Additionally, they actually have another $5,000 in matching donations to nonprofits of their choice.

But what we were realizing is we’ve got this unbelievable value around giving back, and we really empowered our people to give back, but as we were growing, we needed to leverage our technology to scale our giving-back efforts so that we could really measure our impact. And that’s where Volunteerforce comes in.

So Volunteerforce is an app that lets employees discover new volunteering and giving-back opportunities, based on their location, their preferences, and their history. We track and we celebrate the numbers of hours volunteered in the app. And then based upon an employee’s previous volunteering or giving experience, the app can help make intelligent recommendations to them about upcoming events or organizations they may enjoy or they want to consider giving to.

And by the way, the number of hours that we intend to volunteer as a company is in the corporate V2MOM. So we state the goal publicly, we give them the technology to be able to interact with it to show that it’s real, and ultimately this has helped us fuel an incredibly passionate community of citizen philanthropists, and we are just super proud of our employees. To date, we have volunteered more than 4.3 million hours across the globe, and I can see that in the app, and I can see how many hours I personally have contributed to that.

Julie Devoll, HBR

Jody, it seems like the employee experience is constantly evolving. What do you think will impact the next significant shift in focus?

Jody Kohner, Salesforce

Well, one of the most interesting and frankly notable findings from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that employers are now at the forefront of trust. So the survey revealed that, globally, trust has changed remarkably over the past year. People are placing less and less trust in their government and more and more trust in their employers. And so what this means is that we really have to be prepared to be transparent and to have the tough discussions about social issues. Our goal is to foster an open dialogue and provide employees with the channels necessary to address their concerns quickly and effectively. And we can do this through things like our employee survey, our internal employee community, and even the V2MOM.

Last year, we actually launched the Office of Ethical and Humane Use because we wanted to make sure that there was due process and collaborative thinking across our whole industry for responsibly developing artificial intelligence and other fourth industrial revolution technologies that are shaping our world. We did this because it was important to our employees, because they surfaced this to us, and because we had the systems and the mechanisms in place to hear them and be able to respond to them.

So ultimately it boils down to the fact that it is critical. It is truly critical to foster a safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up.

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