Podcast  /  Work Minus Bad Employee Experiences With Jennifer McClure

Work Minus Bad Employee Experiences With Jennifer McClure

It’s normal to talk about customer experiences, but what about employees? Team members have similar high expectations on what should be possible in the workplace. Jennifer McClure leads us through what happens when companies focus on “employee delight”.

jennifer mcclure

Today, our guest is Jennifer McClure. She is the founder at Unbridled Talent, and this episode is Work Minus Bad Employee Experiences. Hi Jennifer, how are you today?

I’m doing great. How are you doing?

I’m doing good. I’m having a good experience. But, I want to hear more about you. Tell us about your journey how you got into the work you’re in now.

Sure. It’s been about almost 20 years as an HR leader and an executive in the corporate world, then transitioned into executive search where I worked as an Executive Recruiter for about three and a half years. And then in 2010, stepped out on my own. I started my own business where I am primarily a professional speaker. So, I’m now talking to conferences, events, corporate events, leaders, etc., about high-impact leadership and talent strategies.

So, well, walk us into this topic of employee experiences. Why is it important to talk about?

I think it’s really important for us as leaders to think about how we, you know — obviously, our focus since time began is on productivity. How can we get more out of the people that are there and allow them to feel productive, which translates into some engagement aspects, etc. And so what I think we missed for several years and it’s starting to become more of a focus for many leaders is that how we navigate out in the world in the technologies and the customer service systems, etc., that allow us to experience both good and bad customer experiences out in the world. We were a little late on the uptake to think about translating that into the workplace. Now, workplaces were still very much around lines of approval and requisition forms, and cutting people out of systems or getting authorizations, etc., where I can do most anything today. On my mobile device, I can watch what I want, I can buy what I want, I can get information on demand. So, people expect that experience in the workplace, and it gets them really frustrated when they can’t navigate their work the same way they do their life.

Yeah. I think this is important because we’ve talked about, mapping the customer experience, understanding how the customer journey through your process. But, we’ve been pretty slow to map that employee experience. So, if somebody actually wants to go into the company and start to figure out what that looks like, where do they start?

I think, looking at your employees as customers is a good way to kind of start thinking about the process and, like you said, mapping the customer experience journey. All along the way, we’re trying to do everything we can to keep people in our sales funnel or to not drop out online or to not leave our stores. We’re doing things to make sure customers feel appreciated that they have the ability to get what they want, when they want, and how they want it.

And so, we kind of translate that thinking through the employee experience rather than, okay, you work for us now so you should be grateful. Rather than thinking, these people are here to serve, they have the skills that we need. We can’t do our business without them. We have to have people in those positions and so why not have somebody who is able to bring the skills that we hired in the first place and apply them at work.

So, we should be applying kind of that same thinking to, how do we keep these people engaged in the process? How do we make their systems and activities go seamlessly? How do we have them experience delight? I think that’s another thing to think about, you know, customer delight. I worked for a company many years ago, a Japanese organization where they’re kind of phrase was: We wanted to be number one in customer delight. And I think, if we thought about that for our employees, wouldn’t that be great? We had an employee workplace that was number one in employee delight.

Wow. You’ve been in this world for a long time, so I’m actually curious to hear some of the other stories about some horror stories of things that are just terrible about the employee experience. So, anonymously, can you share with us a few things that you feel like represent the worst of what we do?

Sure. This is maybe a little bit old but I think the concept is still relevant, and I share this story on some of my keynotes that I do. I worked in an organization just 12, 14 years ago. The internet was there and we had just started using things like Blackberrys and allowing people to access their work email and stuff. But in the place where I worked, we were not there yet. Our CIO was very very risk-averse. Everything was locked down. To be able to do most anything in the organization, you have to have a certain level of approval, etc.

And one day, the CIO and the CFO whom we reported to came into my office and closed the door and they wanted to fire our top salesperson who was responsible for our biggest accounts, and by, all accounts, was doing just fine. And I was surprised to see not the VP of Sales in front of me but the CIO and the CFO talking about we needed to get rid of this person. And so I, of course, asked for more information and the reason why is they had found out that he had created his own VPN, his own virtual private network and found a way to log in to our system remotely.

And again, we think about that today and we’re like, What?” But, I think, again, the thinking process still is there in some companies. And so, the more we talked, I was confused, miserable. Why don’t you let me talk to both Dave’s boss and, today, we will find out what’s actually going on. So, I got his boss. He was a remote employees so we called him and found out that he had become so frustrated because he is a traveling salesperson, basically. He was in airports all the time, in hotel rooms at night, and waiting in customer lobbies like Walmart, Target, etc. And he said, “I’m sitting there watching my competitors be able to work virtually where I can’t.” And he said, “If I want to continue to be able to be successful in your business the way that I need to be able to business, I have to be able to work remotely. So, yes. I made it. I found a way.” And so, ultimately, we didn’t fire him. That was not the right thing to do.

That’s good.

But, we shamed him and said, “Don’t do that again.” And then shortly after that, our CEO who was a young energetic CEO, who is in the Young Presidents Organization, and he had gone to a golf outing with the Young Presidents Organization, and he came back in, he was super excited, he walks in my office, and he throws on my desk this Blackberry. And I was like, “What is this?” He said, “You can access your emails. You can do all these things. I want one and I want you to have one. I want all the executive to have one.” And it took like an hour for him to get what he wanted. CIO was not happy about it. But the CEO said, “This is what I want and we’re going to get it happen.”

And so, I think that’s a good example of we didn’t — and I regret that I was not maybe more forward thinking. I didn’t allow him to fire him so I get points for that but I didn’t think far enough into, “Hey, we actually need to think about what he’s saying here.” He is our biggest source of income. He has our biggest source of income in his hands and he’s telling us that he can’t do his work effectively. And not only are we telling him, “Don’t ever do that again. Try to find ways to work more effectively.” But, we prevented him from doing that. And then, just because a different person with a different title came in and said, “This looks cool and all my friends have one and I want it.”, he got it. And I think that’s often how we look at things at work. Things don’t move forward until the right people say that we need to do this or my friend is doing this or I saw this being done in an article that I read online, instead of hearing from our employees about what frustrates them or what’s preventing them from being successful at work and actually facilitating ways to knock down those barriers and challenges for them.

What kind of advice do you give somebody who doesn’t have the right initials behind their name to be able to make those sweeping changes? What are some ways that if they want to improve the employee experience around them but they maybe don’t have all the power they want, what are some things they can do?

My advice for anyone who wants to make change and getting pushed back or being before he get pushed back is to make a business case. Executive speak the language of money. And so, if you are able to put into dollars and cents what making this change is going to do for you and the company in terms of being able to increase revenue, increase productivity, increase customer satisfaction, quality, safety, you know the top line kind of measurables of the company, you’ve got to take the time to really put your thoughts down instead of “I just want this” which, you know, a person with the right initials often can say. But, if you’re further down and you’ve got to convince some people, you’ve got to be able to put down and say, “I’ve actually done research. Here are the facts. If we don’t do this, this is the cost to the company. Or, if we do do this, this is the opportunity or the ROI.”

That’s how to approach anything that you want in business particularly if it’s changing hearts and minds of people who are resistant. You’ve got to be able to show them the dollar impact. So sometimes, if you’re proposing something new, maybe it’s hard to get those numbers. Well, that when you then need to go out and find other people who are doing it. Especially if its competitors or people who are in your industry and maybe someone else has tried it and it’s working, or it’s worked, or they are getting ahead of you in some way. You got to be able to show people in your organization, if you’re not first, why you shouldn’t be in that middle third layer of the adoption curve in order to stay ahead.

So, let’s take on the topic of technology. We’ll update the discussion from Blackberrys. So, what are some new technologies that are being used today that do improve drastically the employee experience?

You know, people don’t use Blackberrys anymore? Actually I heard the word last week at a pretty large financial services and I’m like, “Wow! People still use those.” I think we have to think, obviously, where we’re tethered to things that are internet-based and cloud-based, etc. So, we have to think about what’s out there. There are so many tools, software, SaaS things out there that are for free or cheap that, I think, a lot of companies don’t take advantage of in terms of, again, bringing about what are the frustrations that our employees are experiencing. We jump from, “Well, it’s hard for them to do this.” to “Well, it would cost us way too much money to do that.” instead of really starting what’s the first step.

An example would be more current company that I did an interim executive role a few years ago. Our biggest issue in the organization was communication. And we had employees in 23 states, in small officers and their kind of communication structure was CEO would meet with the executive team, the executive team exactly team will go talk to their executive leaders or directors, and then they would start to put it down to the regional directors. And by the time — you know, it’s the telephone game. By the time it got into the local offices, the message was not the same. The next step might be, well, let’s create some memorandums and share that, etc. But that’s not how people really consume the information today. They don’t read corporate memos about the latest things coming out of the executive teams. So, we tried to look into things like maybe some internal chat and other things were out there. Of course, there’s all kinds of instant messages.

But again, the IT department was a little bit resistant to that. So, I went rogue and I downloaded one myself because I was working as a consultant so I didn’t have a company laptop. I brought the HR team on board, we powered it, we loved it, we found success with it, and then we went to the CIO and said, “We’re having success with this something that we piloted. Can we pilot with another group in the organization?” So, we picked the sales team and they allowed us to pilot it. It wasn’t happy that we had done it. I’m not saying everybody should do that. But by taking little baby steps, we were able to do that. And then, ultimately, what we decided to do — because our email systems and everything were G-Suite, Google based, we actually created an internet on Google websites which I didn’t know was even a thing, the Google sites. The person on my team said, “Hey, I can use this for a non-profit that I’m involved in. Why don’t we just create a page for every department? They can have chat on their page.” And I was just like, once you start the thinking of how can we communicate better, we can start to see who knows what’s available, what can we try, what can we pilot. And ultimately, we did create kind of that intranet with what we already have, where we’ve gotten pricing and other things to look at tools and software. And that’s ultimately why we didn’t go with the exam room type system that I had tried because it did cost a lot of money to bring that in the organization. But, we found out we had some things already internally we can use that can do something similar. And once we had already gotten people on board with the idea of this is a new way we can communicate, we had a much easier path to adoption.

Yeah. And I love the example you gave too because you talked about one person who said, “Okay, I use this in my non-profit and so we should be able to do the same.” And I think that’s what you’re saying too about that employee experiences saying, “Look on being satisfied in so many ways outside of work. All of my needs are being met. I’m using technology to do so many things I didn’t think were possible before. Why can’t I do that in my job too?” That seems to be a common theme.

Right. I mean just this morning, I joined a gym that I’ve been a member of three times before. You know how that goes. And I was like I just don’t want to go in there and sit through the sales process to buy personal training and all that. So, I went online and look over, you can sign up for membership online, so I did. I paid my fee, I downloaded the app, I pulled up. You could create a digital log in card and so I’m going to be able to go to the gym this afternoon and just swipe my little phone. I’m going to be able to know hover the barcode over the entry and I won’t have to talk to anybody. So, if I’m an employer, if I’m in a company, I’m thinking, what about doing something similar for a new hire? Why can’t we have them go on register online, fill out all their paperwork? There are companies and products and tools that are dishonest. But, so many don’t. Why don’t I have them be able to complete all the experience on their own time when they’re ready, download their employee badge on their phone so that they can just walk right in the door and be ready to go on the first day of work? As you said, kind of applying that thinking of, this made my life easier and I should look at my workplace and say, am I able to apply similar thinking to things that are more difficult than they should be?

So, we’ve been talking about technology a lot but, obviously, the employee experience covers a lot of human touch too. So, what are some things, the new things people are doing that are just as human basis of how we can improve that employee experience?

Yeah. Again, I think it’s the back of that is focused on employee delight. And, if I think about a couple of experiences recently where I’ve been delighted, I bought — really invested time and research into buying because I do travel a lot. And, you know, I’m a lady who carries a big bag with a laptop in it. And so, I did a lot of research and chose a fairly nice bag that was a little pricey for me but I carried my last one for six years all over the world, and so this is an investment. And so I just posted a picture of my old one with busted handle and said I’m upgrading to this new Dagne Dover bag and really excited to carry it on my first business trip. Shortly after that, I get an email through LinkedIn which was surprising because I posted on Instagram and Twitter, Facebook. I didn’t post it on LinkedIn. I get an InMail through LinkedIn, so it means they had obviously looked at one of my profiles, found me on LinkedIn, and said, “We’re really excited that you are liking your new bag. Can we send you some things? Would you give us your mailing address?” And I was like, just tell me you’ll send me some free, you can get my home address anytime — which is probably not wise. So, I was like, “Sure.” And I’m expecting like a Thank You card or something in the mail. In a couple weeks later, a big box arrived on my front doorstep and I opened up and it was two very expensive bags from their collection. They sent me two bags worth more than the expensive one that I had bought, and just to thank you. And I am now a customer for life. I bought two more of their bags since then. I bought a gift certificate for one of my friends for Christmas. I’m delighted. We’re just getting something so unexpected. They could have sent me a $20 bag. I would have been delighted. The fact that they like over delivered is amazing.

So again, back to the employee experience, are there employees in your organization that — we’ve said this all along. People like personalized recognition. And so you send them notes, and if you can get the supervisor to write, if you get the CEO to stop by their desk, that’s all great. But, how can we really amp that into when somebody does something wonderful — and a wonderful, again, doesn’t always translate to big money savings. Maybe, again, you just implemented a new idea, you made someone’s day easier, you were delightful to work with. You know, how can we really look at ways to delight people? Send them some a gift or something — let me take that back. They don’t have to involve money. It could be things where we recognize someone in a very meaningful way to them. I’m a diet coke fanatic. You know, a lot of people are Starbucks fanatic. So, I’m a diet coke. If you just brought a diet coke by my desk and gave it to me, and said, “Thanks for the work you’re doing. We know you enjoy these. I thought I bring you one.” I’ll be like, “That is amazing.” I thought that my boss just gets me. So, there are ways I think to do this and thinking first about non-monetary ways to delight people is probably much more effective because, as we all know, once you start delighting people monetarily with gift certificates or anything that has dollar values, unfortunately, that can come back to bite you because then people start to equate the value of what you gave them to the value of what they did or what you did for someone else. Or, in some ways, it’s an entitlement. Where is my $10 gift certificate for doing this versus if you just find ways to be creative and thankful and grateful? I think that’s a way to delight people every day.

Yeah. And, I like it. The example you gave about you said you were going to be a customer for life. So these things, obviously, you’re trying to get your employees to say, “Yeah. I want to be employee for life. I want to work here forever because I enjoy being here so much. I like it so much.” And you also talked about that personalized experience which is a uniquely human thing. It would be hard for a computer to learn exactly that diet coke is your favorite one and then to deliver it to you. But somebody does notice that as a human and can bring that personalized experience into the workplace. To really bring that touch would be excellent.

What makes it more meaningful, “Hey, you actually see me.” People want to be seen. They want to be acknowledged. And if you know that every morning I come in carrying my diet coke when everybody comes and carrying their Starbucks, you know that that’s something that I enjoy and you saw that. So, as you said, it’s more of that personal acknowledgement. And back to the bag example, I always kind of have goal things out there, and one of that is that someday I’ll buy a Louis Vuitton bag. It’s funny, I thought last week I probably will never buy a Louis Vuitton bag now because I’m a Dagne Dover customer for life.

Yeah. There you go.

I was okay with that. So I did realize there is no goal for something that is meaningful to me. I think at workplace, it’s the same. Somebody gets a call from a recruiter but yet they’ve had a lot of connection and they enjoy their job and other things are going well, but they’ve had a lot of meaningful experiences where they felt valued. It’s going to be a much better way to retain them, then all the other things that are important as well. Things like salary, benefits, etc., if all that’s equal, they’re going to stay in the place where they feel valued.

Sure. Well, Jennifer, this is just one of many topics that you’re an expert on. So, where can people go to learn more about your thoughts and about what you have to say?

Sure. You can all things Jennifer McClure at jennifermcclure.net. I’m on Twitter, @jennifermcclure. Certainly, on LinkedIn. All the other social media platforms, as well. And, I have a podcast called Impact Makers with Jennifer McClure which if you like hearing from people who are out there making an impact in the world of all kinds and how you can do more of that, to build a career that you love, and I life that matters, then that’s a great place for you to be.

Yeah. I know it is a great podcast. I’ve listened to it. I like the honesty and the freshness that you have on there. It’s a really good show.

Thank you.

Well, excellent. Thank you so much for being on the show and we look forward to being in touch with you later too.

All right. You have a great day.

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