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Becoming the Employee Experience Guru

with Tony Saldanha, former VP of Global Business Services at Procter & Gamble

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Tony Saldanha

Episode 3

“Systems need a human touch. No amount of design can provide that personal experience without it.”

Tony Saldanha is an industry leader in information technology with more than 30 years of experience in Global Business Services design, operations and governance.  He’s the former VP of GBS at Procter & Gamble, and was previously named one of the world’s Premier 100 IT Professionals.  In this episode, Tony talks about user-journey mapping, setting expectations for continuous improvement, and striving for employee delight.

“The good thing about the digital employee experience is that it is changing and becoming better and better.  It’s really important from a user experience standpoint to build that into your plans. Just because you’ve come up with an idea of a user-journey map that is dramatically better than what you have, it doesn’t really mean anything because there’s going to be a startup somewhere out there that’s going to make that look really old fashioned next week. You have to build that iteration and learning as part of your journey. Otherwise it’s really easy to get outdated.”

Listen in to hear

  • Every issue that arises can turn into a positive opportunity for interaction with the user.
  • During hard times, increase communication, look for places to pivot, and paint a vision of the future.
  • Pretend you’re an external company competing for users’ business so you’re forced to study your user experience and see where there’s room for improvement.

“I think that there is more to be learned from the world of design, advertising, marketing and communications that needs to be applied to technology. Organizations that do that clearly do much better than those that don’t.”


Tony Saldanha Headshot Square

Tony Saldanha

Former VP of Global Business Services at Procter & Gamble

Tony Saldanha is an Industry thought leader in information technology and shared services. He’s an author, advisor to boards and CXOs, as well as a sought-after keynote speaker. He has three decades of experience on Global Business Services design, operation, governance and outsourcing.  Tony is a Fortune 25 company executive with extensive international business expertise in the US, Europe, and Asia. He’s a founder of AI and Blockchain startups, and was named among Premier 100 IT Professionals on the 2014 Computerworld list.

Episode Transcript

Narr:  Creating a first class digital employee experience takes someone who knows and understands the employees.  That holds true across languages, geographies, and cultures.  In order to steer that experience towards excellence, you can’t just go along with the status quo, you’ve got to surprise employees and delight them.  Successfully piloting the digital employee experience in this way takes a real leader.  And for companies at a cruising altitude of over 30,000 employees, it takes a guru.  Our guru today is Tony Saldanha.

Tony Saldanha: There is nothing more exciting than being able to connect the dots between the what’s needed and the what’s possible. There are so many exciting things that are possible these days in terms of user experience. The challenge in most organizations is not that you cannot deliver a certain set of experiences, but most people don’t really know how to do that.  You show, what is it that startups are able to do in the corporate world? What are the experiences that are absolutely best in class? And then you connect the dots between your own situation and the possibilities out there.Become the guru, become the coach, show people how, and they will follow. 

Narr: How can you bring that dream employee experience to fruition?  As an IT professional who served a company of over 100,000 employees, Tony Saldanha can help.  Not to mention he has more than three decades of experience across the U.S., Europe and Asia.  Today, he’s sharing his wisdom with us about what makes a positive employee experience.  Let’s get into it.  Welcome to Cruising Altitude.

Welcome to Cruising Altitude, a podcast 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 Tony Saldanha.

Tony Saldanha:  So I started with Proctor and Gamble in 1991 in India. Being responsible for systems related to marketing and research and development, I’d had the opportunity to work prior to that in the U.S. for about four or five years, again, all in the IT space, which is interesting because my educational background was an MBA in marketing and finance. And I had my roommate do all of my IT assignments. So, this is important because, I want to make the point around  you don’t have to have formal education in something to be able to learn from it. But over a period of time I kept continuing to learn about IT and global business services or shared services, which is the set of services in an organization like accounting, HR, IT, and so on and so forth, which are consolidated and combined. And then you use common systems and outsourcing and off shoring to be able to drive efficiency and effectiveness benefits. So after 27 years and six different country assignments and a total of about 15 different roles at Proctor and Gamble, where I ended up was essentially being responsible for global IT and global business services, global shared services in every region of the world. At Procter and Gamble, that’s a relatively large organization about two, two and a half billion dollars. And so the responsibilities there were,  to almost kind of think of yourself as an external service provider. So anything that you need with facilities or payroll, or,  your PC, or for example, if you need to create new artificial intelligence models that could help you make procurement of buying decisions or,  help you to plan your shelf space, not at a conceptual country level, but for every shelf in every store that you sell to, which obviously you can only do,  using AI technology. You couldn’t physically design every shelf at every store because of volume numbers. So that’s the kind of work that the organization of IT and global business services does. And I was privileged to end up retiring about three years ago as senior vice president of the IT and global business services organization.

Narr:  Tony is the former VP of Procter and Gamble, and when he worked there, he served a workforce well in excess of 30,000 employees.  Let’s get to know a little bit more about the mechanics of Procter and Gamble in our first segment, the Flight Plan.

Tony Saldanha:  Proctor and Gamble at the time. when I was playing these roles had roughly between 90,000 to 110,000 employees across the world. The world of IT and global business services was kind of split into  let’s say about 15,000 resources. 5,000 of those would be P and G employees. And 10,000 of those would have been outsourced or contracted to other providers.

Narr:  So Tony had his work cut out for him.  He wanted to create an exceptional experience for his employees, and he knew that doing so would require holding employee interactions to the same high standard as customer interactions. 

Tony Saldanha:  So one of the biggest challenges when you’re in the business of internal services, right? Whether it is IT or payroll or,  facilities is the employee experience. How do you manage for experience across various geographies? Different countries, different levels in the organization? It’s got to vary, but this is really where the principles of user experience become even more important. Most service organizations, especially in the technology space, aren’t really focused on the concept of user experience. They are more driven by, this is what the contract says, or this is what I’m supposed to do for the employee. I’m going to  run payroll once a week and make sure it gets delivered on a Friday or I’m going to give you,  these brands of PCs or this kind of email and that’s it, right. I’m going to solve your tickets within 30 minutes. That’s a mistake. Because  employees also have a life outside of the company. They’re also consumers. They see the experience that they get from the Apple Store, or,  other areas. And so as an internal service provider, you have to do the same thing that,  good companies do, which is you have to segment your users, right.  There are senior leaders in the company and then there are,  relatively junior people, and their expectations are different. And I don’t necessarily mean in a foster service for the more senior people but  it is more about,  what are they looking for? The services they require may be actually very different. They may be looking for information and data and decision support, not necessarily, handholding through training on technology. Then the other thing you’re basically looking at is you’re also segmenting based on types of services. As an organization, you may be responsible for PCs and IT and, payroll and accounts receivables and decision-making, but you don’t want to feel like they’re coming from five or six or 10 different functions within the company. You want to apply the same set of standards on seamless communication and in a frictionless user experience as if it was all coming from one organization, you know, maybe one number to call. one set of standards. And so these are some of the basic principles that good, strong internal shared services in IT organizations provide  that are honestly no different than what you might come to expect from the consumer standards of user experience.

Narr:  Tony mentions seamless communication and a frictionless user experience.  But how does he achieve them?

Tony Saldanha:  Here’s the basic approach. First and foremost, you have to design the services that you’re delivering from an end user perspective. Let me give you the most traditional and famous example. A new hire comes into the organization. You throw at them, Hey, here’s your form that you have to fill to get your user ID or badge for the building. And another one, if you want your payroll, please fill in your bank account information on this website and then another one, Hey, if you want your email, fill in this particular different form, right? The fact that these all come from different parts of the organization, one from facilities, one from HR, one from IT is is irrelevant. They all need to look and feel similar. So the best way to do that is put yourself in the shoes of your user and then design your communication as part of the end to end experience, right? The end to end experience is new hire onboarding. And so the minute you start to communicate from that perspective you’ll come together as a seamless experience.

Narr:  But user experience is particularly difficult to run smoothly in large companies that house multiple departments.

Tony Saldanha:  So when it comes to user experience in large organizations, especially ones that, because they are large, they are functional in nature, IT, finance, so on and so forth. The question then becomes how do you integrate the user experience across all of this? And that’s really where the construct of global business services or shared services is important, right? Because that particular construct takes charge of the two most important internal business experiences in the company. One is the experience towards the employee of the company, the hunded thousand people of Procter and Gamble. And then the second is the experience towards decision makers, right? These are the people that will essentially use the reports or the AI algorithms to make decisions, to run the business. Right. So these are two different constituents right? So in organizations that don’t have a shared services construct, they tend to then, either as part of IT or HR or other centers of experience to drive common standards on user experience in the organization. And that’s a good stock, but you know, that is a challenge there in the sense that, these are organizations that can only recommend, but they cannot own the outcomes of that service.  And this is really where as organizations mature, they go from a functional design, you know, like IT is different from HR is different from, so on and so forth to sweeping  together all of the transactional services.  So, I give the example of new hire onboarding, right? So PCs and email and so on and so forth and putting them together physically, and in terms of organization design, as part of a separate organizational entity, which is called global business services. And that organization has got the responsibility. It’s not just to do standards of user experience, but also has got teeth  to implement it. Right? Because you own it. You’re supposed to deliver all of the services together. So again, it’s a maturity continuum. Most organizations will start with a center of expertise and then, as you get more and more mature,  you start to put organizational structures and teeth behind it so that you’re actually also able to deliver the outcomes in a seamless manner.

Narr:  And from there, how do we measure success? How does Tony know his initiatives are working, and how does he keep improving upon them?

Tony Saldanha:  So as you then start to mature and look at employee experience, the question then becomes, how do you measure that in a corporate environment, right? How do you know you’re doing well or not? And the answer to that is even though you work in a large company, you work in a function, you work in a GBS, you’ll have to pretend as if you were an external company, providing these services. As if you were an Apple or a Google. Right. And so what that drives you to do is to think in terms of the employee experience and the services as if  you had competition. As if there were other five or 10 other organizations that were competing for the business. And what that would drive you to do is to study your users, to see what is it that they do, right. It would drive you to basically say, okay, I find that the users take 10 clicks or 10 steps to be able to register their payroll information before they can start getting payroll. And so then you set up metrics of performance, like, Hey, not just you ran your payroll on time and that, if somebody had an issue, you were able to resolve it within 30 minutes or whatever it is, but you also start to mature with your metrics to say, Hey, I’m going to drive continuous improvements.  That instead of 10 steps to register for payroll, you can do that with one click on your mobile phone.  And so your metrics evolved because now you’re starting to pretend as if you were looking outside in and you were trying to measure employee delight as part of the whole service.

Narr:  Tony uses this term, “employee delight” and it really captures the idea that employees are happily surprised when things at work are easy.  Let’s talk about the best practices Tony uses to achieve that first-rate digital employee experience in our next segment:  First Class.

Tony Saldanha:  Providing employee delight to your employees within a company is actually a lot more challenging than providing  user delight in the consumer world. And the reason for that is most large companies have to operate within an ecosystem and standards of different  systems and services, including security, and the interoperability between your accounting systems and your security systems and your procurement and it, and so on and so forth. So it’s a little harder to do that, but it is absolutely very possible. So there are three steps to make sure that you are coming across as a delightful service provider to your employees along the lines, but not quite as good, because it’s almost impossible to completely mimic an app or type of experience in a corporate environment, but you can get close. So the three steps are as follows: one is, you’ll have to change your internal operating model, so that instead of siloed functional experiences, you kind of go after it based on an end to end employee experience. So the example I gave earlier was employee onboarding sort of three different functions as one experience. That’s step number one.  And then once you do that you kind of pretend and you operate as if you were a hungry startup looking for business outside in as opposed to a bureaucracy within the organization. The second is once you do that you kind of go and really understand your user base.  So what you have to do is not just the employee journey map type of experience, which, you know, the consumer app design world does extremely well, but it’s really not applied or applied mostly in terms of lip service in large companies. What most large companies end up doing is, because they buy products off the shelf, so I’m going to use, concur or, for travel and expenses or coupons. For procurement, you’re kind of stuck with whatever experience you get out of those big box suppliers. Right? What you have to do is actually say, okay, I understand that’s what you’re getting, but I’m going to study the user journey map. And what I’m going to try to do is I’m going to try and force the simplification of that user experience, even if I have to,  to kind of use those particular large, softwares, can I put a layer on top of that that actually mimics the ease of use that you could get out of an iPhone app experience?  So that’s the second step. The third step is then continuous evolution. A large part of the problem that  user experience leaders have  in large companies is that  if you’re a startup working in an iPhone app, you could have a new release come out every three days in large companies. By the time you actually qualify every change that needs to go out across the world, you’re happy if you can get a new release every six months or a year or so. So what you have to do then is also look at your technology stacks and figure out how you can continue to drive the user experience. As I was saying earlier, almost like a wrapper, which is much more flexible and, keep the underlying systems more or less stable. But if you do some of those, as I said, you can get fairly close to the, the apple app store consumer experience. It is definitely possible to do that.

Narr:  And Tony has taken inspiration from his own positive workplace experiences in what he hopes to create for his employees.  

[00:17:46]Some of the best , um, experiences that , um, I remember , um, uh, having , uh, had , um, uh, actually , um, came from , um, let me, let me do this again.

Tony Saldanha:  I’ve had several really good experiences as an employee. Some of them came from very personalized experiences and some of them actually came from  software or hardware experiences. And I’d love to share examples of both. So here’s an example of just a very good human approach which companies can follow. As it happens, the only time I’ve been pick-pocketed in my life, although I’ve had  the occasion  to be in about 60 or 70 different countries across the world, was actually believe it or not in Switzerland. Where I was on a business trip and got pickpocketed  and I had a flight to catch the next morning to go to the next country. and I was kind of stuck.  There was an international SOS company hotline. And I called it in and they said, don’t worry. we’ll have their Amex card delivered at eight o’clock in the morning. And, we’ll have cash given to you or you can pick it up at the airport and so on and so forth. And it was a delight just to be able to kind of go through that experience. But the additional delighter was, within an hour, I had calls from my own boss who was in the U.S., so very different time zone. Very late in the day for the person, and actually the chief HR officer of the company saying, are you okay? And I was like, no, I’m fine. Lost  my wallet. Now, I haven’t been mugged and I’m not in danger or whatever it is. But that’s really the human touch that, I think you need to build on top of systems that, that, again, this is really. the personal experience that no amount of systems design alone can handle. Now, having said that I’ve had the opportunity of, systems delighting as well. You can create experiences whereby  systems can proactively recommend solutions. Instead of saying, Hey, type in the data and you’ll get the report at two o’clock in the morning or whatever. I’ve had the experience of as part of my organization to say, Hey this is the information on shipments or reporting and the system  comes back and say, did you know that, this piece of data seems a little out, or this is what you might need to follow up with that particular leader in the organization. Today, our systems are mature enough and I don’t mean our as in one company, but in the globe, that you can actually reimagine them from not just taking orders from the human, but also being almost like an active assistant working with you every step of the journey. And when you actually have that kind of experience, it kind of takes it to a totally different level. And it makes you as an employee a hundred times more productive than if you were  looking at the system as a chore that you have to do.

Narr:  But there’s no end to the amount of work that goes into improving the employee experience.  Staying on the cutting edge requires constant iteration.

Tony Saldanha:  The good thing about the digital employee experience is that it is changing and becoming better and better. I mean, literally by the hour, by the day In my line of work it’s, as I consult with Fortune 100 organization leaders and board members, one of the things that I constantly tell them is that, every month, if you happen to take a look at what’s happening on employee experience in the innovation capitals of the world, Silicon Valley or Berlin or Singapore or India or Israel, you see that the bar continues to move up. And so it’s really important from a user experience standpoint to build that into your plans. You know, just because you’ve come up with an idea of  a user journey map that is dramatically better than what you have, it doesn’t really mean anything because there’s going to be a startup somewhere out there that’s going to make that look really old fashioned next week. And so you have to build that iteration and learning as part of your journey. Otherwise it’s really easy to get outdated in this area.

Narr:  Now let’s buckle up and talk about the worst employee experience in our next segment: Turbulence. 

Tony Saldanha:  The worst employee experiences are the ones that usually are simply frustrating. And there’s a reason why many of them are associated with call centers or apps that don’t work or systems that are just frustrating. It is really important to remember that the goal from a user experience is  not necessarily to avoid a hundred percent of the time that the systems go down or things go down. What you have to avoid is essentially the effect  that is a cascading set of problems that you add on top of that. So, if I wanted to go in a bank and deposit a check and the app failed, I’m fine. I understand, that happens. But then if you call the call center and then they make you wait a half an hour, and then on top of that, they don’t answer your question. And then, it takes about three weeks to resolve that now you’ve taken what was an understandable problem. And then you’ve made that into an absolutely horrendous experience that has you, the bank customer, saying I’m going to just, change my banks. Right. So there are a few principles. One is. you have to make sure that when things go wrong, you turn that issue into a positive opportunity.  And that’s why, good call centers, Zappos being for probably a dozen years now, the gold standard there, you can call them for anything. And then even if you had a problem, you essentially end up maybe buying more stuff because you loved them so much. Right. And so I think that’s the first principle, which is turn every issue into a positive opportunity. Then the second thing is how do you learn from all of these issues? You have to constantly mine all of the things that go wrong, either from systems breaking down to call centers, to essentially change the way the user experience works. It’s interesting to me how most often companies don’t mine that, to figure out how they can improve. I mean, they will invest all kinds of experience dollars to bring in external consultants to tell them how they need to do different things, but they will not mine the information that exists within their own organization. So, I mean, you know, these are some of the principles that really help turn the negative things that are inevitable in most organizations into a positive opportunity.

Narr:  Tony admits that he’s made his fair share of mistakes when it comes to user experience.

Tony Saldanha:  And a lot of those is related to getting your priorities and goals mixed up. So for example, early in my career, when we were trying to implement systems for the sales organization to capture some of their trade spending promotions information,  I may have made the mistake of looking at this as a financial governance. You know, I need that information because otherwise how do I keep track of the money type of a problem. Which it was, but if you stop there, you forget that you can make it so onerous for people to enter the information. Like, even if they wanted to enter the information, they just don’t have time. And then you never get good quality information. So I think the lessons I’ve learned mostly on user experience is that there are no circumstances in most companies where you could say, I don’t care how bad the user experience is, I just need that information, or I need that to be done. Right. You can always do all of that, all of the governance, all of the controls, but then make it easy for the user and the employee to give you that information, because that actually improves the quality of the controls in the organization.  Over The last you know, 30, 35 years of my own career I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and I certainly have learned a lot about user experience. I think the reality is that in the early days of IT as a function, user experience was simply not considered to be a priority. Automation was considered to be a priority. So, instead of doing this stuff on paper, let’s get it on and force all of our employees to do this on the system. And that’s understandable. I mean, it was a mature it, a maturity thing where, if you can’t change the process so that, instead of having your vendors fax you the invoices and then you’ll have data entry operators put that into a system, you force people to essentially electronically capture that information. And then that ends up being in your system.  That maturity had to happen. At some point in time very early on, we had to say, we have to get that information, quite literally, even if it meant, crappy systems. However, I think the lesson that I learned in my career was that that may have been understandable. Not necessarily justifiable, but understandable, as a strategy about 20 years ago. But it was, incomprehensible that that should be a strategy after the birth of the internet. Because what the internet essentially did was it changed both the technology as well as the expectations of your users. and this was, again, a mistake. Like many other professionals, I kind of stuck with the, well, let’s just get, all of our users to do this, even if they don’t like it, because it’s necessary for compliance. And I think we will not quick enough maybe about 20 years ago to basically say yes, but there’s no reason why you still cannot do a Kano analysis or a user journey map, or a design thinking approach to looking at the way these work processes work. All of those technologies and all of those concepts existed 20 years ago. They existed in a different function. A package design or a product design function, not in the IT world. So I think the IT world, including myself could have jumped on to those capabilities and concepts earlier on. Now, to be fair to myself and others, we were still among the first in the world to kind of jump onto those concepts. But again, I think that there is more to be learned from the world of design and the world of advertising and marketing and communications that needs to be applied to technology. And I think organizations that do that clearly do much better than other organizations.

Narr:  Tony also says the job becomes even more difficult during something like the pandemic, which can put enormous strain on a company. In times like this, strong leadership and clear communication become even more important.

Tony Saldanha:  So it’s always challenging to lead in troubled times. And I think that what differentiates strong leaders from others is that they understand that a leader without the rest of the organization following them is very easily mistaken and confused to be the enemy on the battlefield  if you kind of think in terms of old fashioned infantry days, right. So the fact that your company, your organization, the world is going through troubled times, is not the problem. The fact that as a leader, you’re not looking at this as an opportunity to provide perspective and guidance to the rest of your troops. And to make sure that they are following you, is I think the mistake that happens more often than not. So what do you do? First and foremost, during tough times, you talk more often to your employees, your clients, your customers, To reassure them that, you’re there, that part of your job is to essentially change strategy and to provide direction. You increase the contact. The second thing that you do is that, you look for areas where you need to pivot. You understand the nature of the burning platform, right. In which areas is it absolutely critical to just say, we have to burn our bridges? We have to burn the boats.  There is no going back. We have to change the direction. And to very clearly communicate that to your stakeholders and your employees and your customers. Every change is also a positive opportunity. There will be other areas where you basically say, just because we burned our boats in these areas, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity to build new infrastructure or new capabilities in these other areas. And part of what you have to do is then you have to always paint the vision of the future, which is exciting. So that people not just know what they have to stop doing, but they know what they have to start doing. And I think this is easier said than done, but these are some of the basic principles that I’ve tried to use that have always kind of stood me in good stead. 

Narr:  With over 30 years of experience serving employees around the world, Tony has gained valuable wisdom and insight about what really works to inspire that employee delight.

Tony Saldanha:  My advice to a VP who’s been chartered with leading user experience would be to first and foremost go into the trenches and to work hand in hand with the actual consumers of the experience first and then secondly of the organization that actually designs the systems or the capabilities that delivered the experience. There is nothing more exciting than being able to connect the dots between the what’s needed and the what’s possible. There are so many exciting things that are possible these days in terms of user experience. The challenge in most organizations is not that you cannot deliver a certain set of experiences, but  most people don’t really know how to do that. As I was mentioning earlier on, the IT industry for corporate type of systems has evolved tremendously from being technology-focused to  being user-focused. So along with that is the need to essentially educate and to show the possibilities to the people that work in the IT or shared services function. And how do you do that is part of the puzzle. How you do that is you essentially show by examples. You show, what is it that startups are able to do in the corporate world? You know, not in the consumer world. What are the experiences that are absolutely best in class? And then you connect the dots between your own situation and the possibilities out there. Technology architecture allows you to throw a wrapper of user experience on top of whatever creaking, broken user experiences might exist within the organization. So it’s very possible to, at a minimum to hide. But you know, you don’t even have to hide it. I think, you can change the user experience and actually let that become the core experience for the organization. So it’s not the technology. It’s not the willingness. I think usually the challenge is in the, how. How do I go about doing that? And so that’s the advice I would give to any person, any VP that’s being put in charge of this, right. Become the guru, become the coach, show people how, and they will follow.

Narr:  Tony’s advice here is invaluable.  Don’t place limits on the level of employee experience you can attain. Don’t settle for the status quo. Keep evolving, keep pushing forward.   Look at models of superior user experience, dream of something better. Treat your employees like customers whose business you’re fighting to retain. And if all else fails, Tony will be there to be your guru. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode of Cruising Altitude is brought to you by SocialChorus. SocialChorus is the creator of FirstUp, the platform that makes the digital employee experience work for every worker. FirstUp brings personalized information and systems access to every employee, everywhere.

No matter whether they’re wired, distributed, or on the front line. That’s how they help Amazon AB InBev, GSK, and many others stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at

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Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

In this podcast, we will talk to leaders who are designing the best digital employee experiences in the world – from the front lines to the back office. Life is different over 30,000. Welcome to Cruising Altitude.

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