Transforming the Employee Experience: From Leadership to Engagement--Top Down and Bottom Up

08/02/2017 10:40 am ET
TommL

Few companies have managed to create a compelling experience for their employees yet. Not many have really focused on it. Now, the spotlight is on workers and their environment as corporations battle for key talent and struggle to retain their younger employees who question traditional working arrangements. It takes a coherent and comprehensive effort to make a significant and sustainable change in the way your company operates with an authentic emphasis on your workforce and their working reality.

This is to be expected since “command-and-control” management has been a core methodology dictating rigid operational norms over the last century for most executives and managers. We know it is hard to “unlearn” deeply-entrenched habits. Thus, these are substantial changes that so many companies need or are trying to make in order to create significantly different employee experiences, in the new talent-focused environments. Coordinated approaches—starting at the top AND the bottom—are critical.

I spoke to Jim Barnett, CEO and co-Founder of Glint, who has been the CEO or President of numerous companies including Altavista, Overture Search and Ancestry.com. We talked about his leadership style; how that has evolved over time; and how Glint looks at the employee experience – internally and as an integral part of its mission. The company develops and runs software for companies to measure, monitor, and improve their employees’ engagement.

Wade: It is almost as though you were born as a CEO as you have held the position numerous times. How have you seen your leadership style change over the years and what did you do to transform?

Barnett: The first time, I was thirty when I was working in private equity and had to step in and run a portfolio company, Petco, taking over from a CEO who was brought in to replace the founder. The business already had 1000 people and 100 stores and I found I really enjoyed the role. I certainly utilized the traditional “command and control” methods of the time. However, I have worked with coaches all my professional life and especially over the last ten years, resulting in my more conscious leadership approach now, and believe in happiness as an objective.

Wade: When you launched Glint, how did you purposefully establish your leadership differently, changing the experience for your own employees?

Barnett: In my evolved leadership role, I enable things to happen. It is not about my doing things. The team is critical and my work is sculpting the team. Every person is like a piece of the sculpture and needs to fit right. We are over 100 people now and growing rapidly. I empower employees and share information rather than controlling it as I did ten years ago, I push decision-making down further into the organization as well.

Wade: How did this approach translate into an appropriate corporate culture that could resonate with your employees?

Barnett: To create a good experience for employees, the company also has a very open culture and we have four essential values “PACT” – Positivity, Authenticity, Connection and Transformation. Positivity: Our passion, our service mindset of serving and helping others, so people can be passionate about the intrinsic value of their work. Authenticity: We are huge fans of being open, honest and in complete integrity. We work with coaches, and I am a fan of Diana Chapman and Jim Dethmer’s 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. Connections: This highlights the importance of our collaborative, team-focused culture and relationships with our customers and our work. Lastly, Transformation: This refers to our commitment to boldly innovate and transform our industry, an industry where the best practice for increasing engagement is changing from an annual survey to a continuous process driven by software and analytics.

Wade: What was the genesis of Glint? How does Glint understand employees’ experiences in order to engage them?

Barnett: My co-founder, Goutham Kurra, and I created Glint to help people be happier and more successful at work. We realized that there was no software to do this and we wanted to help everyone, not just leaders and managers. Therefore, understanding and engaging the whole workforce becomes critical. Glint’s software seeks to reveal the full range of employees’ situations—how they are feeling about a variety of key drivers of engagement and what is working well and what is bothering them. For a start, our platform enables anytime feedback and always-on pulses, allowing data to be gathered frequently and easily. Analysis is real time. As results come in, the platform begins to analyze all populations and provide insights and recommended actions immediately. We use natural language processing, so people can answer open ended text responses, and we can understand what they mean and what are the key topics about which people are talking. We also can automatically detect the sentiment of all of those comments. As a result, we are able to identify the top opportunities for issues to be addressed and where the negative and positive areas are. We also prompt for prescriptive answers, so employees can share their ideas that could be useful to consider and develop.

Wade: How is your software incorporated and utilized as part of clients’ existing Human Resources programs or resources?

Barnett: Our people science team has a strong background in Organizational Development in order to be able to interpret clients’ employees’ results and develop actions plans to increase engagement and improve business outcomes. We help integrate the Glint software into existing Learning and Development programs. We work with Human Resources, leaders, and managers to ensure the data gathered can be used effectively to change employee experiences in a relevant way. We focus on: the visibility of the data; narrative intelligence – what the data means; and creating accountability for the solutions that will improve employees’ experiences and increase engagement.

Wade: What other attributes are important for companies keen to change the employee experience and engagement?

Barnett: It is essential for a company’s leadership to gather and use data from their workforce—from top to bottom. With rapid and focused data collection, analysis and response, the company can understand and be on top of issues and address them swiftly. At this point, using data from over two million employees across different companies, after weighting for a particular organization’s specifics, we can provide predictive alerts, specific to each individual company. We have identified patterns in employee behavior and responses, so a pre-emptive intervention can happen. We aren’t just helping increase engagement and productivity, but also turning around potential talent departures.

Working on the Future of Work

The Future of Work is not about cosmetic or incremental fixes. Transformation is the appropriate word to describe the fundamental workplace morphosis required to apply and sustain new management methods. Barnett’s data reveals how important frequent feedback is to transition away from circumstances where employees’ needs and situations were barely known and rarely accommodated. We all have much to learn about general engagement parameters and those specific to our individual employees in order to make lasting changes. It’s an educational journey most of us have only just started. Luckily, we all benefit.

Sophie is a Workforce Innovation Specialist and Future-of-Work expert helping companies transition to new ways of working, dealing with matters such as employee engagement, talent management, distributed workers and new career experiences. She speaks frequently to corporate audiences about Future-of-Work issues. Follow Sophie @ASophieWade. Read her new book Embracing Progress. Next Steps for the Future of Work.

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