Narrator: You know you want your employees to feel valued, to feel connected, to feel supported in an environment that fosters their best work. Today we’re also adding a touch of glitz and glamour. Angie Grossman knows all about that.
Angie Grossman: I’m a really big Insecure fan, which is the HBO Max show and or HBO show. And we were at a press junket for the podcast. So they had flown us out to LA and I just ran to the restroom like really quickly before we were about to record. And as I looked up washing my hands, Issa Rae was right next to me washing her hands. And I was like very much so lost my cool as a professional at that moment, but it was just so cool to see someone you admire and you look up to so much in person also washing their hands, the very human side of some of these celebrities that you’re like, ‘Oh wait, you’re just a human too.’ Um, and then we actually interviewed Jay Ellis, who is Lawrence on the show insecure. And he was just an Absolute delight and he was, he was great. So I think that day really blew me out of the water as far as I can’t believe this is my job.
Narrator: Angie is Senior Employee Experience Specialist at WarnerMedia. She has been with the company since 2017, originally having joined as an HBO employee. And not only has she rubbed shoulders with A-listers, but she knows how to make WarnerMedia staff feel like celebrities. So step right this way to your private jet, because Angie is going to show us how to bring glamour to the employee experience.
On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Marija Zivanovic-Smith. But first, a word from our sponsor.
My role actually has two different kind of prongs to it. For the employee experience side, I think one of the big things that I live by is putting the employee experience at the heart of everything I do. So initially creating, or essentially creating an environment where people actually want to show up and do their best work. Uh, that’s our goal. And some of my responsibilities on the EX side include creating and supporting opportunities for collaboration through networking sessions and community engagement initiatives globally. Um, also establishing our listening strategy through, you know, managing, listening group sessions and supporting our employee engagement pulse surveys that we send out in the company. A big part of my job that I’m really passionate about is our storytelling. Uh, I, we like to highlight careers, you know, people’s personal stories, learning stories through employee spotlights, and also through our internal employee podcasts called Voices. And a big part of my job is the onboarding and orientation experience. So that has been like our, our team’s baby and just switching from in-person to virtual, uh, and that whole process of how we come together. And the final part of my job is the communications liaison. So I work directly with our internal communications team, creating campaigns for our company-wide initiatives and how we can communicate those out to employees.
Narrator: Before we take off, let’s get a look at Angie’s overall industry in The Flight Plan.
I am obsessed with my industry. So we are a mass media entertainment company, including our programming, news and sports. Uh, I have to give a shout out to our, some of our incredible brands, HBO, Warner Bros, Adult Swim, Bleacher Report, CNN, Turner Sports, and so many more. Um, and HBO Max, of course, is our, our, our big baby with putting out the most of our content and our programming. So our industry is got some glitz and glamour, and we love bringing stories and content into the consumers’ homes.
We have a huge range of employees because we are so big. We have a very diverse group of employees from all over the globe. They’re all very passionate, creative, innovative, agile, always thinking two steps ahead. Again, I’m very biased, but I think our people are absolutely incredible and I’m just blown away at the talent that we have inside of WarnerMedia and with everyone we work with. It’s incredible as we’re doing these employee stories to hear the talent that these people have as they’re coming into WarnerMedia.
We have an incredible team. Uh, so we’re a part of HR and we have a larger team that we sit in. So our larger team is called Talent Strategy and Employee Experience, which has three different pillars. So we have Talent and Performance, People Growth and Leadership Development, and then Employee Experience and Culture. On our specific bucket or vertical, we’re a pretty small team. We’re six people, um, within the team. So our team is small, but we really leverage other parts of the business and we need to all work together to pull off initiatives. There’s no way we could do it on our own. And we also really leverage off our larger team, our Talent Strategy and Employee Experience team coming together to make these initiatives come to life.
Narrator: Designing employee experience is difficult as it is, but because of recent mergers with brands like HBO Max and Discovery, WarnerMedia is experiencing some unique challenges.
We had started off as individual brands and then we merged together as a larger big WarnerMedia company. So I think it’s been working through some of those individual cultures to then come together and mesh as one big family.It’s been a little bit of a challenge cause we all come from kind of a different sub-industry in a way. but I think just with this last year, being a global company, we’re coming from so many different countries, so many different time zones, languages, we have local cultural differences. And then of course we’re virtual. So, you know, our big goal is trying to come together to create a global perspective where all the employees feel connected across all of those different obstacles. And of course we have now the hybrid working model. So we have some people that are going into the office, some people that are at home. So it’s really, how are we keeping tabs on all of our employees and are they having similar experiences across the globe? So figuring that out has been a big challenge.
Narrator: Despite these challenges, WarnerMedia aims for the stars with their employee experience. Let’s pop some champagne while Angie shares her best practices in First Class.
Angie Grossman: We could be here all day, cause I’m very passionate about this, I’ll start with our collaboration tools and how we’re using those to bring our employees together, to be able to work together. Uh, you know, we use monday.com. We use Teams, we use Slack and we create all these different avenues so employees can stay connected and engaged. And I think one thing that I love aside from the work is we have channels that are dedicated to specifically things not at work. So just for fun, we have a cat lovers’ channel. Um, we have different types of, you know, programming, almost like book clubs for our programming that we go in and talk about. And I think it’s a great way for employees to just have fun and engage in topics outside of work. Um, so that’s been really helpful with the digital experience on creating that kind of water cooler type environment. You know, I talked about working through different time zones and countries and trying to figure out how that works. So our company has come up with what we call a golden hour and that is an hour each day that lines up with almost all of the time zones. And so that’s a big thing with the digital experience that we want employees to say, okay, this is the,very specific hour that we can hit the most employees at one time. Another part of the digital engagement experience, you know, Zoom fatigue, it’s real. People feel it. It’s happening. So I think one of our biggest successes has been, or best practices has been pulling together some tools that we can use to bring people together outside of Zoom. We implemented a random coffee, which is where it pairs employees across the company randomly from different countries, different departments, and then they can decide what cadence they meet. And it’s a great way for employees to come together and be able to network and get to know more people across the company. We also have a company we partner with called Preciate and they have lots of themed parties and things that we can have kind of come together. We had a Cinco de Mayo party where we had music and everyone brought, I mean, everyone was home, but everyone brought like a certain dish and then you get to play games. And so it’s a little bit different than maybe sitting in a Zoom meeting. That’s one of our big goals. Um, and the one that I’m most passionate about is our Voices podcast. So this podcast is for employees, by employees and with employees. It is the heartbeat of WarnerMedia in my eyes. But telling employees stories and creating connection, you know, throughout the company again, plus it’s fun and it’s really informative. Uh, we learn about the WarnerMedia culture, talent from programming will come on. If we have upcoming shows, we get some of the talent from those shows coming in or producers. And it’s really focused on things specifically for the employees, um, creating that connection and culture.
Narration: And since Angie can’t check in with every single one of their tens of thousands of employees, she has some tools to help her measure how well employees are doing. Especially with the move to remote work.
Angie Grossman: One of the big things we have done this past year is our pulse surveys. So we had one for the return to office that we sent to all employees, and they’re all anonymous. And it asked questions based on, are you comfortable going into the office? Do you want to go into the office? Um, and then we took that data and created the hybrid workplace based on what employees needs were at the time, which I thought was just really cool that we were able to cater to the exact needs of the organization at that time. We also recently launched the employee engagement survey. And so we just wanted to check in with people. How are you doing? How are you feeling what’s going on? Are you burnt out? What resources do you need? Uh, and I think getting that feedback and then being able to curate content, especially in our learning and development side and our courses. I think that’s been really impactful for employees to see the difference from, here’s some challenges. Okay, we’ve heard you. Here’s what we’re going to do about it. So I think that’s a really great way for us to measure the digital employee experience. And also we have lots of events that we run, um, digital events. We had a taste of learning week, and you know, we judge that on how many people signed up/ how many people actually show up? So I think those are both really great ways to measure how things are landing, uh, within the company.
Narrator: Now, many candidates are initially drawn to the iconic WarnerMedia brand, but Angie knows how to help new hires feel welcomed and supported right from the start.
Angie Grossman: I think our biggest thing is, you know, with orientation as new employees are coming in, we want to give them the best experience and we, we make sure the second they walk in that door, they feel supported and catered to, and we have lots of initiatives in the company, um, that give them the resources to be successful. Um, so we have employee connection is our company-wide, you know, team dedicated to employees being successful. We also cater a lot of things based on the region. So, for example, maybe some of our content or initiatives in APac might be a little different than Latin America. And so we try to take advantage and look into what’s happening there, maybe culturally or at the moment, and try to curate experiences based on the specific locations. We also want to really look at burnout. So we’ve offered burnout workshops throughout the company to people who feel like they might need a little extra support on how to create that work-life balance. Um, and it’s catering to the overall organization, but it might specifically be to certain pockets that are feeling a little more, you know, overwhelmed or burnt out at the time.
I think with our orientation, we’re global, so we’re catering to a lot of different people all over the world. And I think one of the biggest things is we want to make sure that it’s consistent. So we want to make sure everyone is getting the same orientation experience, regardless of where they are located. So we have a 90 day onboarding process from the moment they walk in the door. And we really cater to what the employees need. You know, orientation we run on their first day. So every Monday, and we give them all the information they need to know, and we understand that it can be overwhelming. So we give them resources they can sit with and they can come back to when they’re ready, but making sure that they have all the information that the new hires need I think is really important as they’re coming in on day one. Whether that’s the history of the company, how things work tech wise, some of the expectations. I think orientation, we just try to cover a wide gamut of topics, and we also make it fun. We want to make it interactive. We bring in our IP and we show a sizzle reel, you know, with our upcoming programming slate. And we really want to pump up the new hires and get them really excited to be working at WarnerMedia. And then we also have specialists that work on different parts of the business, if they need more help, you know, as far as benefits or maybe, like I said, technology can be, you know, challenging when you’re setting up virtually. Uh, so making sure all of those things align so that the employees are just having a really smooth and enjoyable process, that is the goal as they merge and blend into WarnerMedia as a new hire
One thing that we’re doing with our onboarding is when employees come in, we were sending them welcome boxes. So it’s full of swag and fun WarnerMedia stuff. And most of them don’t know it’s coming. So it’s kind of a nice surprise. Like you get your computer and then you get your welcome box and then you have all of your WarnerMedia swag. So you’re ready to dive in to the company, uh, and just really be successful.
Narrator: Angie knows that a good first impression with the company means decreased churn. Employees are more likely to stay longer, and work up into more senior positions like she has. Angie says she has learned a lot from her mentors on this. Plus she says it doesn’t hurt that the entertainment industry has special perks of its own.
Angie Grossman: So I’ve had really incredible leadership. I’ve been so, so, so lucky to have such amazing people in leadership positions that have really helped me find my path and encouraged me, but also believed in me, I think. And pushed me outside of my comfort zone to grow. And so that’s really helped me excel in my career. And also I like to, to pay it forward. So making a difference in others’ careers. I love mentoring. I’m always a mentor with our interns and I always take time to help with career coaching or any career guidance when people are looking for, ‘Hey, what should I do next?’ I love those type of conversations. And I think on a more glamourous side of working in entertainment media, we went to the Game of Thrones premier at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Uh, that was absolutely incredible to be in the room with the cast and the crew and all the HBO employees were invited. And it was HBO at the time before we were WarnerMedia, but it was such an incredible experience. And I think it just made me feel very proud to work for the company. And then of course I have to talk about Voices because that has been such an incredible opportunity working on the podcast, um, before COVID they sent us to press junkets all over, you know, mostly in LA on the west coast. And I mean, brushing elbows with Issa Rae, Nicole Kidman, Mark Ruffalo like, that was such a cool experience. And I just felt so lucky to be working for WarnerMedia.
I think it was the Taste of Learning. It was one of our digital events and we work with some of the talent because, you know, we say we’re one WarnerMedia family. So some of the talent from the programming will come on and speak to the employees and, you know, pop up on our, some of our, you know, Zoom calls. And I know a couple of years ago, Sarah Jessica Parker sent everyone a voicemail. So this was on our original work phones back when we were in the office, but it came to your work phone and said, you had a voicemail and you picked it up. And it was like, Hi, Warner media employee, this is Sarah Jessica Parker. And so that, just some fun stuff like that, I mean, as an employee, I absolutely love it. And it’s fun to be able to get that type of excitement. And I think a lot that I’ve learned working with the talent as far as the podcast, too is, these celebrities and these people really want to give back, they want to interact. They want to say thank you to the employees. And the type of feedback we get is just the employees are the most fun to interact with because we’re just so excited to meet them and be a part of the company altogether. We used to do some screenings and we still do screenings. We’ve gone back and forth in person, virtual, but there was one for, um, Crashing the HBO show a couple of years ago. And Pete Holmes came in and we played the episode and then he went up on stage and he did a Q and A with the employees. And it’s something we really carried on for a long time. And I hope that we can bring back when we’re, you know, physically back in the office. Uh, but trying to set up virtual might be the future as well, too.
Narrator: Angie has her own favorite experience of feeling star struck.
Angie Grossman: I’m a really big Insecure fan, which is the HBO show. And we were at a press junket for the podcast. So they had flown us out to LA and I just ran to the restroom like really quickly before we were about to record. And as I looked up washing my hands, Issa Rae was right next to me washing her hands. And I was like very much so lost my cool as a professional at that moment, but it was just so cool to see someone you admire and you look up to so much in person also washing their hands, the very human side of some of these celebrities that you’re like, ‘Oh wait, you’re just a human too.’ Um, and then we actually interviewed Jay Ellis, who is Lawrence on the show insecure. And he was just an absolute delight and he was, he was great. So I think that day really blew me out of the water as far as I can’t believe this is my job.
Narrator: But things can’t always be picture perfect. Buckle up there’s some choppy air ahead. Because we’re getting into the rougher parts of employee experience in Turbulence.
Angie Grossman: Going back to hiring, new hires in a virtual world. So There’s lots of challenges there. You know, we, we hire new employees. They’re supposed to get their computer in the mail. It doesn’t happen in time. They come on day one, they don’t have anything. They feel stressed. Like, it’s just that challenge where maybe we aren’t able to set them up for success. So that’s been a big challenge in that aspect, but our employees are super resilient and I think we’ve been able to bounce back and our tech side is working so hard. And I think that’s just life. Things just come up and things happen. And, uh, I think once employees kind of get their foot in the door, they understand that it just something that happened and we’re working super hard to fix it, and we’re really glad you’re here and now you’re going to be super successful. So I think that’s been one of our biggest challenges and, you know, maybe a tough employee experience as far as new hires
Narrator: Regardless of your industry, the COVID pandemic has made work hard. Angie says they’ve implemented some practices to make work not just easier but more enjoyable.
Angie Grossman: The last two years have been crazy. And it’s like, we’ve CA we keep having the pivot, which always makes me think of Friends, the show, but pivot, pivot every way to try to adjust and really, go back to what are the employees needing? So everyone’s experience is different. And even when you’re working from home, It’s different. And we just want to make sure that people are equipped across the org. So it’s going back to those resources. It’s making sure that people are set up for success. And again, it’s the wellbeing and the burnout. That’s been a huge focus for us these last two years is, taking a step back and assessing, you know, what are the needs of the employees right now? And how can we help? And, you know, we implemented no meeting Fridays, which I think have been really nice for people to be able to say, okay, Friday I can catch up on my email. I can get things in a good place before Monday. Um, and you know, Optional team happy hours or open office hours. hangouts and leaving those types of community events open-ended if you want to join, there is no pressure. Because we want to make sure we’re balancing, keeping people engaged, but not adding to their workload. So I think we’re, we’re really just trying to focus on a balance and what we can do best to cater to the employee’s needs at that moment.
Narrator: And some of their new initiatives still won’t recreate what it was like to be at work in person.
Angie Grossman: We’re all about opening our kimonos and admitting our failures, because I think you can’t learn unless you fail, right? So, you know, what’s not working. Okay, great. Now we know let’s move forward. And then one of the biggest challenges and things that I personally miss a lot at the office is recreating that water cooler. So, you know, it’s, it’s really challenging because you aren’t having those casual conversations with folks in the pantry, in the lobby, wherever. You’re not having those. So we really want to recreate this virtually, but we just haven’t been able to figure it out. I think with the, the Zoom fatigue and you know, if I want to talk to somebody and I call them on Slack, maybe they’re in a meeting. I don’t know. It’s so different than just seeing someone physically in the hallway and being like, ‘How are you? How are your kids? What’s happening?’ So that’s been something that we just haven’t been able to hack.
There’s so many people we have any I’ve even spoken to in the last two years because we don’t work together. So it’s yeah, it’s been, it’s been challenging.
Narrator: And even some of their well-meaning initiatives didn’t turn out as planned.
Angie Grossman: I think one example of unintended consequences, I touched on our random coffee initiative. So, you know, we thought, oh my gosh, this is going to be amazing. People are going to be able to connect all over the globe. It’s going to be fantastic. And then we forgot, or maybe overlooked the fact that people were having challenges with their workload. So it was like, ‘Oh, maybe we shouldn’t implement this new program. People are already feeling really burnt out. Now we’re throwing this at people.’ So it was kind of a double edged sword. And there were some unintended consequences from that.
Narrator: But Angie says that the pandemic has helped her realize what truly matters in the employee experience.
Angie Grossman: It feels like we’ve only been living in times of difficulty and change lately, but I will say that the biggest thing that I really value is just being human. Uh, looking at it from, okay, we’re all humans here and I try to be extremely empathetic and I try to really listen. And the open conversation and the honesty because as a leader within the company, we don’t know what’s going on with employees and their personal lives. We don’t know what’s happening. So I think it’s having that mindset of being really open and having that human connection with your employees. And a quote I live by is putting the human back in human resources because we are all just people at the end of the day. And we’re just trying to do our best.
So I think it’s really important to make the time to make those connections, you know, have those coffee chats, get to know people, learn about them and really keep in touch. Because creating connection is how you can create engagement. That’s it.
Narrator: Giving employees your time and energy is the most valuable thing you can do as an employee experience leader. The more you’re invested, the more likely employees are to also be invested, and give that energy back to the business. Treat employees like the asset they are, and they’ll be feeling like stars in no time.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at firstup.io