“It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
That’s a Jeff Bezos nugget of wisdom, and it’s unequivocally true. Within tech, in particular, brands compete not just on the quality of their end product but in every part of the customer experience. It’s about end-to-end engagement and delight. But there’s another experience to which we tend to give less attention: the employee experience.
It’s no secret that quality employee engagement is integral to a strong culture. And research shows when your employees are happy, your customers are happier. My company creates software that allows hundreds of businesses to implement and maintain stronger ethics and values, giving me an inside look at what makes for a healthy company culture. We’ve all seen what can happen when culture suffers or employees are treated poorly. From Amazon to Uber to Blue Apron — employee disillusionment can have a long-lasting impact on a company’s internal and external reputation.
Most business leaders say digital transformation and employee engagement are priorities, but we rarely put the two together. The rise of the ideal company culture has driven more attention to the employee experience, but there remains a massive opportunity to disrupt traditional employee processes. If tech leaders apply the same innovation they show their customers, they can drive greater employee engagement and loyalty at scale.
This is already happening.
Ethics Training, Meet Virtual Reality
Ethics and compliance training are necessary parts of building an ethical culture, but more often than not, companies use mind-numbing, ineffective methods (i.e., tedious handbooks or corny videos from the ’80s). Enter Peter Loftspring. He leads global ethics and compliance at Black & Veatch, an engineering, procurement and construction company with 11,500 employees, 100-plus offices and projects in over 100 countries. The size of the company makes ethics training even more complex, but Peter knew there had to be a more effective way to engage employees around ethics and compliance. His answer? Virtual reality. (Full disclosure: I learned of the project at Black & Veatch because they are a customer of my company. However, the aforementioned VR initiative was developed separately from our work together.)
Yes, really. His aim is to make ethics a visceral experience. As Peter describes it, “I want to make people feel uncomfortable.” That way, he hypothesized, ethical lessons are more deeply ingrained. In essence, they become muscle memory. Think of that TV show What Would You Do? or the recent Burger King PSA. The idea is to put people in near-real scenarios in order to show how they would truly feel and react. That way, if and when it happens in real life, they’ll know how to make the best choice.
Peter created the first proof of concept earlier this year. Employees queue it up on YouTube with their phone, strap on a Black & Veatch-branded headset and experience compromising ethical situations firsthand. Scenarios include being pressured to use copyrighted imagery or accidentally causing a security breach with poor password practices. He tested it on a group of employees this year and saw a 99% completion rate within two weeks.
Code Of Conduct As An Award-Winning Film
Marsh & McLennan Companies is a 60,000-person professional services firm with employees all over the world. As it prepared to roll out its new code of conduct, it knew it had a challenge. As Saira Jesrai, then the senior compliance officer in charge of the developing the code, put it, “The question is: How do we resonate with all of our … employees that speak different languages and have different cultures? The project is slightly daunting.” Their answer? Film. And not some corny corporate video. A full-blown, 50-minute documentary directed by award-winning filmmaker Ryan Fenson-Hood.
The result was Faces of Marsh & McLennan, a compelling look at five employees around the world and how they dealt with various challenges — the aftermath of an earthquake, terrorism risks, corruption and Saira’s own challenge of connecting an organization of 60,000 faces. The film is beautifully done, but more importantly, it accomplishes the company’s goal of communicating values and culture across cultures. This kind of project obviously took time and money, but even if a feature film isn’t in your budget, the lesson still stands. When leadership challenges itself to prioritize engagement and creative communication, the result is often more effective and long-lasting than the status quo.
Your Friend, The Ethics Chatbot
The last example is from my own company. Several months ago, I sat down with my chief ethics and compliance officer, Katie Smith, to discuss the need for a new code of conduct at our company. Traditional codes are long, dense, legal documents housed in PDFs or collecting dust in desk drawers. I challenged Katie to think differently, and she came back to me with an incredible idea: a living code of ethics.
But Katie went a step further. She used emerging technology to bring ethics to life via an ethics chatbot. Most of the time, an employee opens the code of ethics only when they have a specific question or concern — either about something they did/are considering doing, something that happened to them or something they witnessed. Therefore, Katie recognized a critical need to “capture” that employee engagement in the moment. Now, when an employee opens the code, a chatbot appears in the corner to ask, “Do you have a question?” Employees can report an issue, access additional resources or simply ask questions right then and there.
These technologies and projects aren’t quick fixes. A movie or chatbot won’t affect instant organizational change. However, they’re part of a larger priority shift. Disruptive tech companies have some of the most creative, technically savvy, innovative employees. Customer experience will always be core to our work, but it’s just as critical to nurture a positive employee experience alongside it. Our employees are our lifeblood. If we put even a percentage of that innovative energy toward improving employee engagement, we’ll reap the benefits of a tech industry with happy, engaged individuals at its core.