Here at Back, we’re strong believers in the importance of people experience (aka employee experience) when it comes to building a positive, sustainable culture that employees want to be a part of.
The Back team recently sat down with Tom Jewell – former Head of People at HelloFresh and current People & Culture Partner at Unleashed – to hear his thoughts on a host of People topics. We previously wrote up the highlights of the interview, like how he pivoted from Sales & Marketing to People & Culture, which piece of HR advice is the worst, how the pandemic changed EX, and much more.
In this article, we’ll be drilling down into Tom’s top lessons learned about People experience over the years. Read on for all the insights.
1. We should focus on “Experience” vs. “Engagement”
In Tom’s view, “People Experience” should trump “Engagement”.
“If you think about engagement, it’s often a process like ‘Let’s do a survey. You tell us what you think and we’ll look at that behind the scenes, then we’ll come back with solutions,” Tom says. “Good companies don’t do it that way. What makes ‘People Experience’ and the framing and mindset of that so much more impactful than ‘engagement’ is that it’s easier to look at it as a collaborative effort alongside the people who are experiencing it.”
In his mind, “engagement” leads to feelings of “us and them”, whereas with People Experience we’re saying “together, let’s craft amazing experiences, moments, and practices across our organization, that allow the people that work here to thrive and have a good time and feel at one with the place in which they work.”
2. Companies need better people experience in later stages of the employee journey.
At Unleashed, Tom and his colleagues work mostly with late Seed to late Series A companies, and he’s noticed something many of them have in common. In businesses at this stage, it’s much easier for leaders to focus on the frontend of the people experience. “It’s the top of funnel stuff. How do I attract great people? How do I give them a great hiring experience? Onboarding experience? But then it kind of stops.”
According to Tom, the main thing employees at these companies are actually crying out for is a better experience around the later stages of the employee journey. They might be asking questions like:
- How do I grow here?
- What’s my progression like here?
- How is my performance assessed objectively?
- How are you going to improve my manager’s skill set so that my experience improves?
- Why are we working in this way rather than that way?
“Those are the things that don’t actually get as much attention naturally from founders who are focusing more on the beginning of the funnel things like building the team,” Tom says. “The learning there is that the sooner you can start to focus on and talk about the later stage stuff, the happier your team will be in the long-term, even if the temptation is to just focus on growing the company and onboarding people as best as you can.”
3. There’s a lot of value in handling employee exits the right way.
Tom sees exits as a key People Experience point, not only for the people who are leaving, but also for those who remain in the organization. “Organizations that do People Experience well make sure that their values are brought to life through all of the touch points and everything they build. But it’s so often missed when it comes to exiting people,” he says.
The companies who handle employee exits the best strongly believe in transparency. It can be difficult, but Tom advocates for being transparent on both sides, especially of course if this is one of your values!
- With the exiting person – Transparency throughout the process, giving them feedback early and letting them know that an exit might be an outcome of what’s happening with those conversations.
- With the rest of the team – Why that decision was made and what the decision-making process was.
When being transparent with the team, you may need to be a bit more open than what feels comfortable, whilst always keeping in mind the dignity of the person leaving, naturally. “Think about what the opposite of that would look like,” Tom says. “You go around saying ‘We value transparency’, yet when it comes to this part of our culture it is all murky and someone’s just gone one day and the team hasn’t been told why. Wow, that’s gonna really create a lot of doubt and show a lack of authenticity around the values you supposedly believe in.”
4. Be reflective as an organization.
Some organizations are able to highly value reflection and view it as a key part of growth. On the employee exit example, Tom suggests two ways to work in some reflection: “One is to have a retro as a team to look at what you could have improved for that person’s experience – maybe your hiring process, maybe their onboarding or support they were or weren’t given. But number two is to also provide the exiting person with the option of coaching or therapy after their exit to enable them to reflect effectively on their time. They may have had a bad experience with the organization and that reflection could help them to move on and push forward.”
This ties back to embodying your values throughout the People Experience, so if being reflective is something you focus on generally as a culture, ensure that really comes through here, too. “Think about it like ‘We’re doing this because this is something we believe in and we’re strengthening the EX, but we’re also strengthening that cultural connection that people across the organization have.’”
5. Always think about the other side’s perception when it comes to communication.
Finally, Tom reminds us that we all look for the same thing from any form of communication – What’s in it for me?
“Always remember, when doing any comms, to think about it from the point of view of the other person – what’s in it for them? It’s so true that ultimately as human beings, especially when something negative happens, we often do look to be self-preservative.”
With the example of exiting someone from your business, not giving the rest of your people enough clarity and confidence around why that decision was made will lead them to think of worst case scenarios for how it could also affect them. “They will always immediately think, ‘Oh, but if I don’t know how and why that happened to them, well, what does that mean for me?’ This can happen even to your highest performers, and you don’t want people thinking that way. You want them to be relaxed and happy and performing at their best.”
So, a lot of the communication in this situation is about thinking of the other side – the “remainers” – and offering reassurance for those people, too.
Unleashed, Tom’s current organization, is a collective of senior People leaders who support fast-growth startups to grow and scale through People and Culture.