In this week’s episode of the Talent Revolution Podcast I speak with Billie Shipley, most recently the head of Employee Experience and Engagement at Jam City.
Billie is obsessed with creating a workplace and culture that are both productive and fun. And with more than a decade of experience in building workplaces that retain top employees for the long haul, she’s an excellent person to chat with about employee experience, and why it matters.
Specifically, we talk about what employee experience means in an increasingly remote workforce, and companies can get it right at a time that feels very polarizing.
The employee lifecycle is a circle, not a line
When I asked Billie about the biggest mistake organizations make around employee experience, her answer was a bit of a surprise. She didn’t talk about benefits, compensation, or a workplace teeming with happy dogs.
Instead, she said that employers ignore the full life cycle of an employee—which includes their post-employment experience.
Some people even return to work at a company they’ve left, meaning that the life cycle of an employee looks more like a circle than a line with a definite end point.
Once someone has left a company, they’re not only still a human being (who may have worked at that company for years). They’re also a fantastic source of information on what the company can do better, and a chance to gut-check exit interview information with the departing employee’s manager.
Kicking people out the door because they’ve given their notice is much more than a breach in etiquette. It’s a clear message to departing (and current) team members that their opinions aren’t valued, and a missed opportunity to learn from a key moment in the employee life cycle.
Billie’s advice on how to offboard correctly is simple and straightforward:
- Be a good listener: Never skip the exit interview. It’s the moment when people feel most empowered to be honest, at least when they’re talking to HR. Clear metrics on employee engagement are tough to get, but this is a fantastic way to track employee churn and to spot patterns in the reasons why people leave.
- Ask management exit interview questions: Someone who’s quitting might tell their manager they’re leaving for an exciting new job, but tell HR that they’ve burned out due to unreasonable expectations from management. Gut-check the answers you get by asking a departing employee’s manager the same questions you asked them: Why do you think this person is leaving? What do you think they’d suggest we improve?
- Don’t dismiss your alumni network: You’d be surprised by how often people will “boomerang” back to a former employer, often after they’ve leveled up their abilities elsewhere. Even if they don’t come back to work for you, they represent your brand out in the world—for better or worse. The key takeaway? Don’t burn any bridges. Staying on good terms with alumni means more positive messaging about your company will circulate in the industry. And don’t forget about the “PayPal Mafia,” former PayPal employees who went on to do great things. Your company name attached to someone’s future success is a rising tide that lifts everyone.
Internal employer branding means removing the rose-colored glasses
When it comes to any kind of branding, we all expect a certain level of whitewashing. Marketing your employer brand is like dating—ideally, you’re honest … but you’re also putting your best foot forward.
But, Billie says, if you want to promote real employee engagement, you must provide a look behind the curtain. If you’re doing internal messaging right, you’re being authentic and telling more of the truth of what’s going on behind the scenes.
People see through smoke and mirrors right away, and authenticity begets loyalty.
Life at [insert company name here]’s Instagram feed is never a genuine reflection of the real thing, and the people who work at a company don’t want to feel like they’re being fed the same curated version of the truth.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to share every picture from the final hours of your annual holiday party. But there are a few great options, like featuring real employees in your outreach, or allowing people to take over your social media for a day.
People connect to seeing someone’s actual desk and what the true working experience is like in a way that they don’t with heavily edited and filtered images.
Just how honest should companies be?
Well, you probably won’t pick your unhappiest employees for these kinds of projects. But engaging real people to help tell your brand story is a critical element of drawing a truer picture of life at your organization.
Company values shouldn’t just decorate your wall—they should be your North Star
Hot-button topics are getting a great deal of air time these days, and it feels like everyone is trying to forge a path that feels aligned with its values. Take Basecamp, for instance, who recently came under fire for taking a very hard line against people discussing social issues at work—period.
Rightly or wrongly, companies like Basecamp and Coinbase have made it a priority to eliminate social justice as a topic of workplace conversation (with somewhat disruptive results). Others, like the Chicago Community Trust, have made social change a corporate mission.
The values you prioritize are up to you. The key is selecting values with intention, and ensuring that they inform every decision you make as a company.
They should answer questions like: “What do we stand for?” And: “What do we universally say no to?”
If you’re having trouble honing in on your company values, think about what riles you up. What are you, as an organization, passionate about? The answers might even change over time. Facebook famously started out with a value of “Move fast and break things,” which has since changed to “Move fast with stable infrastructure.” The new value reflects Facebook’s current size and scope in a way the original did not.
Determine your company values early, and make them a part of every conversation. If a decision is made without the CEO in the room, that decision should be guided by company values. Everyone should know what your company values are and talk about them on a daily basis.
If they’re just words on a wall, you’re missing the point.