The Employee Experience Revolution: Navigating the Future of Work


The way we work has changed — for the better. Gone are the days of “employee engagement” initiatives. Enter instead the age of the employee experience. Now, leading organizations know that the key to higher productivity, profitability, and engagement is to focus on your employees’ whole experience with your company, from recruiting to retirement.

In this 2020 webinar, Kazoo VP of People & Strategy Dania Shaheen and founder and CEO of Starr Conspiracy Bret Starr tell you how. A time-stamped transcript, with guiding headers, follows:

00:00 Michelle: Alright, everyone. Now please join me in welcoming our speakers to the floor, Bret Starr, Founder and CEO of The Starr Conspiracy, and Dania Shaheen, Vice President of People & Strategy at Kazoo. Bret Starr is founder and CEO of The Starr Conspiracy, a marketing agency that has served thousands of clients around the world since 1999. He has dedicated his career to helping businesses connect with buyers on a human level. Bret is an author and a speaker, but spends most of his time researching new marketing models, strategies and tactics, and consulting directly with his clients. His agency has been the recipient of more than a dozen local, state, and national Best Places to Work awards, along with numerous marketing awards.

And as a Vice President of People & Strategy, Dania is a key member of the executive team at Kazoo, where she leads Human Resources, Talent Development, Value Creation, and M&A Strategy and Execution. She is passionate about driving change, enabling creative thoughts amongst teams and developing actionable solutions. Dania has an MBA from the University of California, Los Angeles, and she earned her undergraduate degree in Economics, and a minor in accounting from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Both Bret and Dania’s full bios are located in the speaker bio widget if you wish to learn more. Now, without further ado, I’ll pass today’s presentation over to our speakers, Bret and Dania. Welcome.

01:33 Dania Shaheen: Thank you so much, Michelle, really appreciate it. Before we move on to our agenda, I have to say… I’m sorry, there was an ambulance behind me. The joys of working from home. Really excited to be doing this webinar today with Bret. When I first decided to move into the world of HR technology and joined Kazoo, Bret and the work that they do at the Starr Conspiracy was some of the material that I read to get familiar on this space. So it’s pretty exciting to be able to chat with him and talk about one of my favorite topics and our favorite topics at Kazoo, the employee experience revolution and the future of work.

02:14 Bret Starr: I just wanted to say thank you for having me, and thank you, Dania. It probably seems a little strange to have someone from a marketing agency as part of a conversation like this. And one of the reasons I wanted to participate, and I’m happy to, is because all of the folks that I work with are in the work tech space. And so we’ve been focused in dealing with HR issues for over 20 years and topic. So it’s a very exciting topic, I’m very excited to be here, and especially pleased to be speaking with you today, Dania.

What is the employee experience revolution?

02:50 Dania Shaheen: Such a pleasure. So today, Bret and I are gonna set the stage and take you all on a path to understanding what’s happening in the workplace today, why employees feel disengaged and why the retention of key talent is so difficult. What I have to say before we jump into the crux of the material is change will simply not happen without a shift in the perspective that places people in the center of business strategy. And so today, we want to lead you all with the knowledge that helps you all support the employee experience revolution. And so on that note, would love to jump into the context here. Now, I have to say, Bret, I could not resist when we started talking about this content, I couldn’t resist Googling the definition of revolution. Because I don’t know about you, but it inspires certain words and reactions in me. I don’t know if you feel the same way.

03:44 Bret Starr: Yeah, I do. It’s one of those words that’s… It’s a real lightning rod. It means different things to different people, but it’s definitely evocative.

03:51 Dania Shaheen: It is very evocative. And so I have to say, before Bret and I jump into it, Google yielded the following definition, “Revolution is a forcible overthrow of a process or social order in favor of a new system.” And so if we think about our workplace today, it’s in the middle of a revolution. Many employers continue to use these strategies that they were using maybe a decade ago that they think are still really relevant today. And to put it in the most simple words, the policies, processes, technologies that define the relationships between companies and employees for the past several decades, they’ve gotta be replaced with more human versions for today. What we’re doing today is not quite working, and I’m sure a lot of you see this in the workplace today. What your company is putting out may not be resonating the way it should be. And so as we find ourselves in the midst of this global pandemic and we stand in the middle of what is a very significant moment, it doesn’t slow this revolution. And, Bret, you and I actually debated this a little bit, we talked about this as we were preparing the materials, is that we’re in the middle of this significant moment and your feedback was actually, “This is accelerating the revolution.”

05:11 Bret Starr: That’s right. I think this is. In my view of the way that we apply solutions in work tech or the human capital management market segment or whatever you wanna call it, the people solutions that we put in place. My view is that there’s been very few true organizing principles that have occurred in the history of this market. And so when I talk about an organizing principle, an organizing principle is something that it’s an idea that everyone coalesces around in response to a major event. So if I use an example, probably the last true organizing principle in this space was a software as a service. So the invention of the Internet, then in 1990, the World Wide Web was invented. And the organizing principle, the response to that event, was the creation of software as a service. And people, their value from a vendor perspective was judged by how closely they adhered to that organizing principle.

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How has work changed in the last decade?

06:13 Bret Starr: And what’s really important about it is it’s a moment when everyone looks at everything that they have and they’re using inside their organization, and they critically evaluate it against that organizing principle. So back then, everybody looked around and said, “Look, if this stuff isn’t software as a service, if it’s not in the cloud then it’s probably not a good solution for us.” And it caused them to replace everything and start over with new stuff. And now what happened when we started over with a bunch of new stuff, that was software as a service or in the cloud, is that we largely maintained many of the same processes that we were using before, we just simply automated them.

06:49 Bret Starr: Since that period of time, we’ve been talking about the future of work and talking about the future of work, and it’s just never really manifested. There’s all these things that we know we need to do in order to improve key aspects of the employee experience and employee engagement, but they were never really taking root at the rate in which they should have. And when something like this happens, when something that’s so significant happens, it is an event that’s going to create a new organizing principle, and that organizing principle’s taking shape now as everyone has been sent home to work or they’re working remotely in other ways. And we’re all trying to figure this out together, and we’re figuring out what’s important and how we respond to it. And one of the things that’s becoming abundantly clear is something that we’ve all been talking about for a long time and have known, but one of the things that’s become abundantly clear is that the employee experience is so significant and so important to keep people together and to keep businesses moving forward. And so I think the coronavirus pandemic has really put a spotlight on the issues that have been around for a long time, but accelerated our need to address them in a very aggressive way for the good of all of us, for the good of people who wanna keep working, the good of companies who wanna keep moving forward. So it’s a very interesting moment. Yeah.

One of the things that’s become abundantly clear is that the employee experience is so significant and so important to keep people together and to keep businesses moving forward.

08:44 Dania Shaheen: That’s real. These are webinars from your home office. So Bret, I really love… I know, I gotta laugh. I love this concept of organizing principles, and it cues up so well how things are changing in the world that we’re living in today. The best way, I think, to set the stage for the revolution is really around and understanding how these things are changing, which is the catalyst for the revolution. There’s always been various forms of implied social contract in the agreement between an employee and the business they work in, and this slide highlights some of those changes. But, Bret, as we think about the principles that you were speaking about before on the earlier slide, you see this really maybe accelerating from to the two that we see on this slide. And even your comment around covid, right now everyone’s working from home, and where we work and when we work, we see it change in real time as we’re all sheltering in place and doing what we need to do to support the local economy and those around us.

09:54 Bret Starr: Yeah, and keep in mind, a lot of what we’re seeing right now are people working in ways that companies were a little bit resistant to initially. So when you think about just the way that work has changed over time and what we’ve moved from and to what we’re moving to, there were a lot of organizations who were very concerned about flexible work schedules and about people working from home, and all these other kinda things that really companies were forced to do in response to covid-19. And so what we’re finding is that organizations that were resistant to these changes, that are part of the way people want to live and need to work were… They were thrust upon them. And it’s all working, it’s all gonna be okay. People are getting work done, and they’re communicating. And so I think it’s gonna cause people to critically evaluate some of the stances and positions they had on policies in the past, and I think that this is a great opportunity to just really pay attention and be mindful of what we’re seeing that is working right now so that we can carry that forward with us into the future. When we get on the other side of this, I think there are a lot of things that we’re gonna discover about the way people work together and about the employee experience that we’re gonna wanna carry forward with us, and I think that’s incredibly significant.

11:43 Dania Shaheen: I agree, Bret. I almost feel like this is a great opportunity for those who are people leaders to really almost… As we’re dealing with the tactical and handling the day-to-day implications of everything going on around us, to really put a strategic eye to how we embrace what’s coming next and how we position our companies to take this on in the future.

What is the role of leadership in the employee experience revolution?

12:06 Bret Starr: Oh yeah. You make a great point. The role of leadership has really never been more poignant a point than it is now, because folks can really distinguish now the difference between management and leadership. And I think a lot of what we were experiencing that was getting in the way of building a great employee experience was a lot of process bloat inside organizations, and a lot of what I would refer to as management tax, of people that were engaged in more management-oriented stances than they were leadership stances. And what we’re finding is that as the workforce has dispersed in response to the pandemic, is that the management tax has actually gone down, the leadership quality has actually been turned up. And in many cases, people are able to be much more productive because of that. And I think that’s one of those learns that we need to hold on to and carry with us into the future.

13:09 Dania Shaheen: Absolutely. I love that phrase, “process bloat,” I’m definitely stealing that for our meeting. So on that note, I’d love to transition us into our poll question as we talk about what’s going on and want to ask you all who are listening on the call today, do you think employee experience is a real thing? And Bret, I know for you and I, we definitely are like, “Yes, this is a real thing.” But how important is employee experience when we think about the revolution and the future of work and everything that’s going on around us?

How does employee experience fit into today’s challenges?

13:56 Bret Starr: Well, this is… I’ll put my marketing hat on for a moment, and jump back and forth, because in order to do the work that we do… We do a lot of analysis in the space, we do a lot of trend detection and that sorta thing. And so sometimes people will hear a label or a category label or a concept, and they’ll say, “Oh, that’s a trend, or that’s a fad, and that’s gonna die away.” And sometimes in the moment, it’s very hard for people to distinguish between what a durable concept is, to distinguish between a durable concept that is really meaningful and people are gonna coalesce around, versus one that’s just something to talk about for a few months and then move on to the next hot topic. And so I think what we’re all discovering is that there’s been a lot of a coalescence around employee experience in a way that is going to change the work experience and reorder the universe of work for the next decade to come, at least. Because now that we know the things that we know about the impact of driving engagement and some of the other outcomes that are associated with employee experience, they can’t be ignored.

When we get on the other side of the pandemic, there are a lot of things that we’re going discover about the way people work together and about the employee experience that we’re going to want carry forward with us. I think that’s incredibly significant.

15:26 Bret Starr: This notion of optimizing around the emotional connection that you have with workers inside a company based on every interaction and every point inside the organization is so critically important. And the thing is it’s been happening in the consumer world for a long time as people switched from this notion of marketing to this notion of customer experience, and it really caused them to re-evaluate how to treat people and how they did different things, and the chain of events that leads to someone becoming a customer and buying. And that same thing is happening in the world at work around this notion of employee experience. So it’s an incredibly durable label, it’s an incredibly durable concept, and I just see so much innovation drive in this direction, I think it’s gonna be one of those organizing principles that impacts the way we work for a very long time.

16:28 Dania Shaheen: Agreed. Agreed. Well, let’s see what our attendees thought. Oh, wow, 99.2% believe employee experience is a real thing, which is obviously not surprising given the content that we’re sharing today, but really refreshing as we continue to chat with you all and talk through employee experience and some of the foundational elements and how to bring it into your business.

16:56 Bret Starr: Dania, this is really surprising to me.

16:58 Dania Shaheen: Really?

17:01 Bret Starr: Yeah, it really is. But what I’m curious about, and one of the things that perhaps we can talk a little bit about as we move on and maybe ask some questions about at the end is, do people think it’s important? So if everyone believes…

17:20 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, agreed.

17:22 Bret Starr: Yeah, if everyone believes it’s a real thing, do we believe it’s important and why? And is it important only right now, or is it important in the future, or has it always been important? So I’m looking forward to having a little bit more of that conversation.

17:38 Dania Shaheen: Same, Bret. I think it’ll be interesting to hear from those who are listening, their views on it, employee experience importance. For me, it’s always a little difficult ’cause I live, eat, breathe Kazoo and the platform, and we really pride ourselves on trying to embrace a lot of this. But I’ve worked in other places that employee experience, people might think it’s a real thing, but it certainly wasn’t a priority for the company, so I agree. I’m interested to hear what those who are attending, how they feel, and its level of importance for them and within their own company. So as we talk a little bit more about employee experience, we thought we’d level the playing field and make sure we had a clear definition that we can all anchor on. Employee experience is the quality of emotional connection that an employee has with a company. It’s shaped by their interactions with people, policies, processes, and technologies during significant moments in their journey with your company. And so, Bret, I have to say, we talked a little bit about employee experience, but I know some people tend to get confused between employee experience and employee engagement. Do you mind sharing a little bit of the difference between the two?

What is difference between employee engagement and employee experience?

18:53 Bret Starr: Yeah, so first of all, I wanna establish that employee engagement is a real thing, that it’s important, but I think that employee experience is a more holistic concept, and I think employee engagement is part of employee experience. So for me, employee engagement has always really been focused on the notion that employees are passionate about their work, and that because of that passion, they’re willing to put discretionary effort into the work they do. And so it’s a very work-centric view of commitment from an employee, and it doesn’t really address all of the interactions that an employee has with an organization, especially across those four… I think those four dimensions that you mentioned are perfect, there’s a policy dimension, there is a people dimension, there’s a technology dimension, a process dimension.

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20:00 Bret Starr: And it starts before folks have even really come to work with your business, it starts with their perception of your employee brand, that’s part of the employee experience, just like part of the customer experience happens before someone ever buys a product. And then there’s significant moments during the interview process, all through onboarding, through a moment of learning, promotion, all these things. And so I think employee experience is a much more expansive view of how employees are connected to your business and all these different touch points. And when you talk about significant moments, these can be significant moments in a normal flow through your tenure with a company, but there’s also significant moments like the one that we’re experiencing now, in fact, this is probably the most significant moment that we’ll ever experience in terms of our relationship with our companies. And so I’m curious, everyone that’s listening to this, how has this reflected on the employee experience when we’ve suddenly had to all go home and work, and those policies and those processes, and the people and all that stuff? It really did put a spotlight on all that stuff, and I think it has something to say about the employee experience because of it.

Connection, appreciation, growth, and meaningful impact: the keys to inspiration and alignment

21:30 Dania Shaheen: Absolutely, and I think you’re spot on, Bret, when you’re asking those who are attending, how what’s going on has impacted some of these things, only because I think when you think about what employees are looking for, even despite all of the change that’s going on, there are some common wants that people kind of… Not kind of, that people continue to want as they pursue employment or look to develop, they want those opportunities for growth and development, they want to feel connected with colleagues in the community, they wanna feel appreciated at work, they want continuous feedback. So I wonder when we think about all these wants and things that people desire, if those don’t go away even in an environment like this, it’s really about us in the workplace rising to meet and support those wants.

22:26 Bret Starr: That’s absolutely right. And as we’re gonna talk about later in this presentation, there’s different aspects of what an organization needs to achieve with the employee experience. Folks need to be aligned and they need to get work done, but they also need to feel inspired and that more emotional drivers.

22:45 Dania Shaheen: Absolutely.

22:46 Bret Starr: And so as we go through this period, some folks are focusing more on just making sure that people are getting work done, and other organizations are doing a really good job of making sure that people are inspired and still engaged through this process. And both of those dimensions are important, and so again, this event that we’re all going through together, that we’re all in together, is really exposing the foundation of a lot of companies around what they care about most in terms of delivering employee experience.

23:20 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, absolutely. When you think about wants and what employees are looking for, Bret, when you think about your own career and how you’ve grown and pursued what you’ve pursued, have your wants changed significantly or just continue to mature as you have pursued different things?

23:41 Bret Starr: I think that there has been a consistent thread that reveals a lot of constants. I’ve always wanted to feel like I was making a difference.

23:49 Dania Shaheen: Me, too.

23:54 Bret Starr: I always wanted to feel like my work was important and that I was good at it, and I was learning things, and I always wanted to work with people I like, so those things were constants. Early in my career, when I was first getting hired at companies, there was a lot more focus for me on compensation and stuff like that, and I think over time, those things recede to the background and it becomes more about the experience that you’re having. So I would say that most of it has stayed the same with just some slight changes around things that I used to care a lot more about, that I eventually found just don’t really drive me, that they’re not the things that get me excited. How about you?

24:40 Dania Shaheen: That makes sense. Yeah. I feel the same way. I feel the same way for me, I agree with you. Earlier in my career, it was maybe a little bit more compensation-focused, a little bit more title-focused, and as I’ve found my groove and my passion, I do realize the undercurrent to a lot of what I desire is the ability to make a difference in the workplace I’m in, feeling appreciated for the work I’m doing, it can be really easy to not get that appreciation, and to your point, just working with people who I wanna work with, who I feel connected with, and it doesn’t mean that we’re best friends, but it means there’s a lot of mutual respect there. And so that’s not always easy to find.

25:24 Bret Starr: No, it’s not. And it’s just funny, when you said that, I’ve always… I’m embarrassed how much I used to care about titles.


The employee experience and the employee life cycle

25:36 Dania Shaheen: And now you don’t. There’s a point where you’re like, “Oh, I’m good.” And so, Bret, you touched on this a little bit earlier in the presentation, but we touched a little bit about just the employees’ life cycle and really looking to… And what you see, everyone, here on this slide, this is probably just a brief overview of everything that falls to a people leader as they manage through the employee life cycle. It can be very daunting. It’s everything from attraction, recruiting, onboarding, developing, retaining, exiting employees, all of that ecosystem, falls to people… The people seem to really guide and manage. Here on the slide, we’ve got a couple of those significant moments that Bret was talking about earlier in the employee life cycle, but it really just scratches the surface of those significant moments. Anything else here, Bret, that you would highlight around the employee life cycle and just the daunting task that sits in front of all these people leaders as they manage everything from hire to retire?

The employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX)

26:43 Bret Starr: No, I would just say this is a great time to think about it from the perspective of comparing it to the customer experience, which is a notion that has taken over the consumer market. If you think about the customer experience as starting with stepping through the door into the retail store or going to the website and having an online experience or purchasing something and receiving it in the mail or seeing it in Amazon, there’s all these different touch points that companies care about creating emotional connections with their buyers around, and once they start to think about it that way. At first, it was a little overwhelming because there are so many ways that consumers interact with brands. And so when people are creating their own process maps for all those significant moments and milestones in the employee life cycle, it’s just important to think about it from that same perspective, what are all of these moments, these significant moments where folks are making up their minds about how they feel about working for a company? So it’s a very strong connection to think about it in terms of your employees being your customers. And that helps shape a lot of it, I think.

28:03 Dania Shaheen: Absolutely. And we do this internally as well, where we’ve got our own personal life cycle mapped out, and we try and objectively grade ourselves as best as possible when we think about these various touch points and how we as a people team and our leadership team are supporting people along this journey, it can be really tough to find that balance. And you touched on this a little bit earlier, Bret, and kind of alluded to it, but we think about this balance between inspiration and alignment, and the overarching… Cultural might seem like the wrong phrase to use, but really just that balance between the inspiration and alignment that really does help to support a strong employee experience along all those touch points. When we think about just that balance, focusing on one component of that employee life cycle that we just spoke about, and Bret spoke too as well, it’s almost insufficient when you think about the workplace today, there’s multiple touch points that we have to concern ourselves with, especially as HR practitioners, and so it does boil down to that balance.

The four quadrants of the employee experience: surviving, off-course, bare minimum, and thriving

29:11 Dania Shaheen: And so I wanna take a moment, before Bret and I jump into this, and just talk a little bit about the graphic you all are seeing to my right, but essentially with the X and Y axis showing inspiration alignment in the four boxes. Really quickly just wanna touch… The Y-axis is all about the inspiration, the drivers of that are the connection and appreciation, which are critical for an environment where inspiration can flourish. X-axis is about alignment, drivers of that being meaningful impact and growth, which are critical for driving the alignment within a company’s vision and goals. And so we’ve got a couple of boxes here that we’ve mapped to the X and Y-axis showing when you’ve got a company that is inspired and aligned fully, they’re thriving, that’s our purple box there, but we’ve got a couple other boxes here which might resonate with folks, especially as we think about our workplace today, it can be difficult to hit that thriving box. And so you’ll see here X and Y-axis highlighted, inspiration alignment. Let’s talk about this first box here, surviving. Bret, what does surviving mean to you?


30:24 Bret Starr: Well, you’re just barely getting by. In my line of work, I walk into a lot of businesses, mostly technology companies, but also a lot of services companies, some of them are very old companies, I’m talking about over a 100 years old, some of them are new start-ups. And after you’ve done enough and asked enough questions and been involved with enough strategy conversations about those businesses, you can get a pretty quick read about what kinda vibe is going on in the office and whether they’re thriving or surviving. A surviving company is really just getting by, and it shows up in two ways. Number one is that they’re frequently not well-aligned in terms of hitting their goals, which shows up in the financial performance of the business, so if they’re growing at all, it’s usually very slow, but it also just feels really heavy walking through there, like people aren’t having a good time working there. It’s a loud clattering of keyboards, not a lot of conversation…

31:37 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, absolutely.

31:38 Bret Starr: And not a lot of people moving around. So I think we’ve all seen companies that are barely surviving.

31:43 Dania Shaheen: Oh yeah, absolutely. Heck, I think I’ve even worked at one or maybe two, I’m embarrassed to say. Yeah, agreed. I think you’ll typically see low NPS scores, lower than average retention rate, just various indicators that would show you that perhaps the company you’re at or the company you’re supporting is just surviving. We’ve also got a box here looking at off course. So this is high inspiration, but lower alignment. Bret, I’m gonna ask you again, What does off-course mean to you?


32:15 Bret Starr: Well, again, these are some of my favorite companies because everyone is so excited to be there, and so they’ve solved a lot of the hard part, there’s a lot to build on, and I think in terms of just thinking about it from building on what’s working rather than just constantly thinking about issues and trying to solve all the issues, when you have a very inspired group, that’s something that you can really build on. But when a company is, off course, it’s usually a bunch of very well-intentioned, excited people who just aren’t rowing in the same direction, they’re spinning off in all kinds of directions, getting distracted by shiny things, and they put everything they’ve got into it, but there’s no real sense of alignment around these things all working together to drive a successful outcome for the group of people who comprise the company and in terms of the performance of the company as well. And so I think they’re very well meaning, they just don’t have the structure in place to make sure that what one person is working on makes what the other person is working on more powerful, and then it all comes together in a way that shapes the destiny of the business in a positive way.

33:43 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, absolutely. I wholeheartedly agree with you, inspired companies are so exciting when you walk into them, but when they’re not aligned, you can easily get lured in, it’s so exciting to be there, there’s so much energy. And then you work there and then you realize things aren’t getting done. It’s hard to realize that you’re making an impact, and all of a sudden you’re like, What’s wrong here? Everyone’s so excited to be here, but why aren’t we getting anything done? Where’s the productivity? So it’s a tough one. Why is there no growth?

34:16 Bret Starr: You’re right. And you know what? I think it’s really hard to stay in this box for very long, because I think that eventually, one of the things that really drives inspiration is winning, and people love to win, and after being really excited and working really hard for a long time and the company is just not succeeding, I think you start to erode onto that inspiration level because of not having the alignment, not having the wins and the results.

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34:47 Dania Shaheen: That’s a great point, Bret. I agree with you, I think it’s hard to stay in this box. Eventually, that’s gonna wear away at the company. We’ve got one more before we go into everyone’s favorite box, which is thriving. But looking at the bare minimum. So what does it mean to not be inspired, but be very, very aligned? Bret, I’ll ask you again here, too, what’s bare minimum mean to you?

Bare minimum

35:10 Bret Starr: Well, it’s basically the things that people are forced to do because of regulation or the bare minimum things that they need to do to stave off competitors, taking their talent. And I think what you see in these situations, that they can be highly aligned, they’re very command-and-control type environments, they’re very hierarchical, they can be very siloed. Everyone has their goals, and their goals roll up to departmental goals, and departmental goals roll up to company goals, and that may roll up to the five-year vision, and the big hairy audacious goal and all that stuff. And so they’ve got all of the systems in place to manage productivity and get people moving in the right direction in terms of the work that they’re doing, but because they’re not really investing in creating that great employee experience, maybe they’re only doing like the summer picnic, basically. What I think, and people don’t realize, is that using the same level of alignment, they could get a lot more results outta the business if people were also inspired. And it’s very similar, I think, to being high and inspirational on alignment. I don’t think that you can stay here forever because eventually, when that inspiration rose to a significant point, productivity goes way down, even if the work that does get done is aligned with the company goals.

36:50 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, wholeheartedly agree. I think that’s spot on. The goal-oriented person in me always loved being really aligned, but it’s hard to be so aligned and feel under-appreciated and under-recognized and not necessarily find meaning in your work, which I know you and I both said was something that was actually super important to us as we’ve moved up in our careers. And so now for the final box, which is the box that we all aspire towards, thriving, so thriving means your teams are inspired, they are aligned. Companies are thriving when people are both aligned and inspired. And, Bret, because I’ve grilled you on the other three, I have to ask, what does thriving mean to you?


37:35 Bret Starr: Well, these are just inspirational companies. Basically, if you think about it from, again, a customer experience perspective, they deliver on everything that the brand promises. So when you walk in the door and it feels very exciting and there’s a lot of great conversations going on and there appears to be a true sense of congeniality and people enjoy working with each other. And then you get deeper and deeper into the organization and you realize that everyone is rowing in the same direction, which often, frankly, takes a lot of setting your ego aside and realizing you can be right and still be wrong, if that makes sense. And that more important than being right is everyone just moving in the same direction to get something done and being very excited about the impact that they’re having on each other and on the company, and the impact that the company is having on customers and the world.

38:30 Bret Starr: And it’s why almost every business book that I’ve ever read highlights thriving companies, because it’s like a campfire on a cold night, everyone wants to be close to it. And I just get really excited thinking about many of the thriving companies that I’ve seen, because people want to make a contribution, they want to be productive, it’s an important part of feeling a sense of purpose. And when they’re able to do that and produce great work and be inspired, it’s just one of the things that makes the world work. So it’s very important.

39:06 Dania Shaheen: Absolutely. And Bret, you touched on this concept a little bit earlier as well, the concept of discretionary energy. My guess is thriving is where that discretionary energy gets unlocked, where you’re unlocking potential out of people that even maybe they didn’t realize they may have had.

39:23 Bret Starr: Yeah, and it’s because they’re not… And this is where that sharp distinction between engagement and employee experience comes into play. It’s not because they’re only passionate about their work. It’s because they have a strong emotional bond with the company and with the people they work with because of the collection of significant moments and that level of bond that’s been formed. So it’s much more than, “Hey, I’m just gonna work extra or work harder or work better, because I care about the work. It’s that I care about everything in this company and this company cares about me.” And so I think it’s a whole ‘nother level of discretionary effort that almost defies that label. It almost defies categorization.

40:13 Dania Shaheen: I like that. “It defies categorization.” Yeah, I think it’s spot on. So on that note, we’d love to get a feel for you all in the audience. How do you feel about your organization being inspired right now? Do you feel that your organization is inspired right now? Yes or no? Bret, what would you say… I mean, you’re CEO and Founder of The Starr Conspiracy. I imagine you’ve got a high bar when it comes to driving alignment and inspiration.

40:49 Bret Starr: That’s right, yeah. And I would say, again, moments like this really expose your ability as an organization to drive alignment and inspiration. And I would say that… And I hope that some of my co-workers are listening right now. I have never been more proud of a group of people in my entire life, and we as a group of people have never been more inspired to keep doing the work that we’re doing because we know it’s important to us, to each other, and to our customers. And so I think that our organization right now is incredibly inspired. And it may seem paradoxical, given the current circumstances, but we picked up a shovel and we went to work, and that got people very inspired. And we know what we need to do to make our clients successful, so we’re very aligned around that as well.

Audience poll: Is your organization inspired?

41:51 Dania Shaheen: That’s awesome. So from folks in the audience, 53% feel their organization is inspired, 47% say no, their organization is not inspired. Bret, these results surprise you at all?

42:05 Bret Starr: No, this is what I expected. Because in our present circumstances, you’ll talk to one person who feels like they’re very well supported, they’re having a good experience, or good experiences they can have inside the organization under the current circumstances. They were set up to work virtually, they’re able to communicate, they’re able to get continuous feedback on how their goals have changed. And then you talk to other people who went home and haven’t heard from their manager, and they set up their goals in December, and they don’t really have any insight on how their goals have changed, and so they just feel a little bit lost right now. And it’s been about half and half.

43:00 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree, this is pretty spot on to what I would expect as well. And so it does cue up as we move from inspiration to understanding alignment. We’ve got one more question for you all. Do you feel your organization is aligned right now? We talked about inspiration, now we’re looking at alignment. So Bret, you mentioned some people set their goals in December and still have not revisited them, even though they’ve been sent home, they’re working from their home offices. They’re maybe unsure, “Am I doing what I need to be doing? I haven’t heard from my boss in a couple of weeks. What’s going on here?”

43:37 Bret Starr: That’s right. Again, the world just changed. And so individuals had goals and those were rolled up to team goals, and the team goals rolled to company goals and all that stuff, and then goals suddenly had to change and cascade through the organizations overnight. If your company is set up with an old-school performance appraisal approach to life, there is really no way that you could have reacted in an agile way because a lot of the stuff that happens that people are only now starting to realize is that a lot of “performance management” using those traditional models, really happens conversationally because it can’t be managed through the systems. And so when everything changes and you can’t address that in an agile way, that creates a lot of getting off course.

Audience poll: Is your organization aligned?

44:32 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m interested to see what our audience had to say. Oh, another split. We’ve got 48.4% saying their organization is aligned right now, 51.6% saying their organization is not aligned right now. So folks were a little more aligned on the inspiration, maybe struggling with that alignment.

44:53 Bret Starr: Yeah, I wish we could correlate these. Maybe in the future, we could… I’m curious if some feel aligned but not inspired, and some feel inspired but not aligned, or if there’s a one-to-one relationship between organizations that feel both and organizations that feel neither.

45:12 Dania Shaheen: Agreed. Oh yeah, that’d be a great data point. So as we move in and talk a little bit more, we touched on this idea of balance, inspiration, and alignment really driving a thriving workplace. There are some emotional needs that we find employees… That actually companies must address in order to drive this concept of employee engagement throughout the business. And so these emotional needs, the ones we’ve got cued up here, these four pillars of EX, connection, meaningful impact, appreciation, and growth, those are foundational to creating the employee experience and to making sure you’ve got what you need to create that thriving workplace. And so, Bret, I was most interested in this when I had read through the manifesto and looked at a lot of this content, and I know we hold ourselves internally at Kazoo to a lot of this as well, really cultivating these pillars. Talk to me a little bit about the balance of these pillars and how they are so foundational to employee experience.

46:27 Bret Starr: Well, yeah, I think that, again, when… And this is another example I think of why employee experience is a more expansive concept than simply engagement. You can’t hit on just one of these things and expect to thrive as an organization. These are all very human needs, from a social academic perspective, you’d say they were high-impact motivators. And so these things… A lot of times, I think people feel that when folks walk through the door at work, that they stop being a person and they start being a professional, and suddenly none of the emotional things matter as much. But in fact, they matter as much and sometimes even more at work because we spend so much of our time at work. So people need to feel that strong sense of connection to people and to what’s going on in the organization.

47:30 Bret Starr: One of the biggest complaints that folks provide in exit interviews, and we’ve looked at data across years, is that no one ever said thank you. So appreciation is very important. And those are the sorts of things that build up. So when you start thinking about significant moments and you start breaking it down to all the times when someone simply should have said thank you or shown some sign of appreciation, when that doesn’t happen over and over and over again, it continues to chip away at that employee experience. And people wanna believe that they’re having a meaningful impact, that the work that they are doing matters, and I think that’s the role of leadership, to put that into context for folks, and then it’s the role of leaders throughout the organization to make sure that they’re constantly tying what people are doing to that.

48:18 Bret Starr: And then they wanna feel a sense of personal growth. And we all want that in our lives, in both the personal side and the professional side or the work side, we wanna feel like we’re getting better at something, we want opportunities for mastery, as they call it. And so these are human drivers that are never gonna go away. And because we spend so much time thinking about work and absorbed with work at our company, we’ve got to get these things through our jobs, in addition to other places where we might seek them out.

49:00 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, absolutely. Connection, appreciation, meaningful impact, and growth. Just really, really key pillars to creating and really building a great employee experience. Thank you so much for sharing your insights there. So as we think about… Sorry, took a minute, some technical back end. As we think about just the future state and what we’ve got in front of us today, the choice is really ours, right? Work is changing. So, Bret, if you could share any insights and anything to cap off today, even though I know we’ve got some Q&A coming up, what would be some pieces of wisdom that you would share with folks that are listening today when we think about the future of work and employee engagement?

The future of work and the employee experience

49:53 Bret Starr: This is our most important moment, and it can be our greatest moment. And what we’re seeing now is the manifestation of all the choices that we’ve made as companies leading up to this point, in terms of how people are feeling about their employee experience right now at this moment. So if we all come together and we stand up and we focus on taking care of the emotional needs of people as we’re going through this very difficult time, it can be a defining moment for us as individuals and as companies. And I think that what we learn and the things that we see work and the way that we come together, we can take those things with us into the future, and we’re going to realize that what really drives the success of companies is the level of connectedness and the way people feel about their work and the people that they work with.

50:47 Dania Shaheen: I couldn’t have said it better myself, Bret. It’s, do we defend the older attitudes and behaviors and beliefs, or do we lead into the future and create a culture where people feel like they belong, their work has meaning, their efforts are appreciated and their opportunities for growth are there? So on that note, would love to end the presentation. And before we move into Q&A, ask you all, after attending this webinar, how important is the employee experience for your organization? Bret, how important is it for… You touched a little bit… You guys are gold standard, and I know for us at Kazoo, we are always striving to try and have the best employee experience we can.

Do we defend the older attitudes and behaviors and beliefs, or do we lead into the future and create a culture where people feel like they belong, their work has meaning, their efforts are appreciated and their opportunities for growth are there?

51:36 Bret Starr: I think it’s everything. I honestly believe it’s everything. Because if we weren’t in a position to come together right now by meeting the emotional needs of the people that we work with, then we wouldn’t be able to deliver the help to our clients that they need, and then our clients wouldn’t be able to deliver the help that they need to deliver to their customers. And it all comes down to whether people feel inspired and whether they can be aligned around what needs to get done in order to do the business of the company.

Audience poll: How important is the employee experience at your company?

52:18 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, agreed. Let’s see how our listeners felt. Oh wow, 95% saying it is very important. So that’s always good to hear. And so the challenge, Bret, is in a time like today where people’s attention is so, so spread out, and this actually transitions us into one of our first questions, with everything going on today, should we really be thinking about and spending time on employee experience? I know a lot of people are getting pressure on their spending and where their efforts are going, especially people leaders. What are your thoughts there?

53:00 Bret Starr: It’s the first thing that I focused on. I kept my spring break short, I came home and I went from the inside out. I started by focusing on my people and the experience they were having, and there was a lot of uncertainty around school closures and all that stuff. And I know from experience, there’s this chicken and the egg debate out there about, “Does a great employee experience create a great customer experience? Or does having great customers and creating a great customer experience lead to a great employee experience?” And that is no longer a debate, if it ever should have been, employee experience is the chicken, and client experience is the egg. And so I knew that I had to take care of my people first so that they could take care of others. So I think it’s… And people who can’t do that right now, that’s the first thing that they need to be focused on, but it’s also something that they need to think about in a durable way, not just, “How do I put in place some patches to fix the employee experience so that we can get people inspired and aligned and move the business forward in times like these?” But they need to be thinking about it in a way where they can take it forward with them as we get on the other side of this so that they can hold on to the gains that they’ve made in creating a great employee experience.

54:36 Dania Shaheen: Yeah, absolutely. And so, Bret, I’ll piggyback off that. You’ve done a great job of highlighting why it’s so important. There was a great question that just came in. How do you convince your executive management team that engagement is important? That the job security, compassion, flexibility, that they contribute so much to the employee experience, which really unlocks that discretionary energy. Any tips that you would offer there?

55:03 Bret Starr: Well, yeah. I’d say the first tip is they’re not gonna have to do much convincing now, because everyone is keenly aware of what the employee experience is in their company right now, more than they’ve ever been, and they know what impact it’s having on the productivity of the organization. So if people didn’t think it was important before, it’s probably not gonna take much convincing now. However, for those that still need to be convinced, there’s tons of science around this. And I think that putting together some information that demonstrates the impact of having a people-first employee experience driven orientation in your organization, and the impact that has on the success of businesses is a great way. So, look, you’re either gonna be convinced by the people case or you’re gonna be convinced by the business case. The people case is being made for us. If the people case isn’t gonna do it, then you gotta put together the business case, and the business case is strong.

56:12 Dania Shaheen: Agree. I wholeheartedly agree. Well, and I’m so sorry, I wish we could take more of these questions, they’re so good, but we actually only have another minute or two left. So I actually think I’ve gotta hand it over to Michelle at this point to go over… Just cap off on some logistics and getting credit and things like that. But Bret, thank you so much for doing this and for taking the time to talk about the future of work, how employee engagement is the cornerstone here. I know I really appreciated your time and this discussion.

56:47 Bret Starr: Oh, it was great. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity, and thank you for inviting me. And I’m sorry, I warned you, I’m a long talker, I did it again. It’s all my fault. I’m the one that squeezed the time. So next time I’ll be more succinct. I always say that.

57:08 Dania Shaheen: I appreciate you, Bret. Thank you so much.

57:12 Bret Starr: Thank you.

Improving the employee experience with technology

We hope this webinar helped you understand the importance of the employee experience at your company, and gave you some ideas about where to start. And if you need a little more help, well, that’s where we come in.

At Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings performance management and recognition and rewards — including Goals, Feedback, Conversations, Recognition, Incentives, and more — into one simple, easy-to-use platform.

If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.

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