Changing Employees’ Lives for the Better

with Christopher Shryock, SVP and Chief People Officer at Sam’s Club

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Christopher Shryock

Episode 27

”When you have a diverse associate population that feels included, they collaborate more, they come up with better ideas, and they have more ownership, not only for their work, but for the outcomes of the company.”

Christopher Shryock is SVP and Chief People Officer at Sam’s Club, a chain of membership-only retail warehouses. They have 600 clubs nationwide and another 200 internationally. Christopher heads all things HR-related for the over 100,000 Sam’s Club Employees. Before Sam’s Club, he spent about 14 years at PepsiCo serving in global HR leadership roles. And on this episode, Christopher is talking about about why you should rethink hiring based on interviews, how to simplify employee processes, and the real reason why it pays to have a diverse workforce.

”We’re trying to understand who’s likely to stay with us and who’s likely to perform better through assessing simple, basic cognitive ability, what preferences and experiences people have, and a little bit of situational judgment. We do that to hire people that perform better and stay longer, but also to try to remove as much bias from the system as early as we possibly can.”

Listen in to hear

  • How to find the balance between the digital and in-person sides of employee experience
  • Tips on creating efficiencies in HR communications
  • How to adjust your hiring process so employees stay longer and are better for the business

”Having one system is not sufficient to create a great employee experience, but it is a necessity. Because if you don’t even know where your associates are, if you can’t even have and track basic detail and information about them, how are you ever going to provide them with something that’s going to be personalized and relevant?”


Christopher Shryock aspect ratio

Christopher Shryock

SVP and Chief People Officer | Sam's Club

Christopher Shryock serves as Sam’s Club’s Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer. In this role, he oversees all aspects of human resources for Sam’s Club and is responsible for attracting, developing, rewarding, and retaining talent as well as building a diverse and inclusive organization. Prior to Sam’s Club, Christopher spent nearly 14 years at PepsiCo in a variety of global HR leadership roles in Plano, Texas; Geneva, Switzerland; Moscow, Russia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and New York. Most recently, he was senior vice president of human resources for the PepsiCo Foods North America sector’s Commercial organization where he led the HR agenda across the sales, marketing, and strategy and transformation organizations. Christopher earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Xavier University (OH) and a Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Hofstra University.

Episode Transcript

Narrator: About a third of your life is spent working. Whether that’s in an office, at home, a bit of both…that means the average person will spend about 90,000 hours of their lifetime working. 90,000 hours! So don’t you want that time to be meaningful? Both for yourself and the people around you? Let’s talk about that with Christopher Shryock.

Christopher Shryock: You talk about giving people, um, pride. You talk about giving people personal satisfaction. To a degree, you talk about giving people purpose. Um, those are small things that I think an organization can do. Um, but not only has an impact in that moment, but I mean, has the impact to kind of truly start to change somebody’s life for the better.

Narrator: Christopher is SVP and Chief People Officer at Sam’s Club, which you may have shopped at before for just about anything you need in bulk. They have 600 clubs nationwide and another 200 internationally. Christopher heads all things HR-related for the over 100,000 Sam’s Club Employees. Before Sam’s Club, he spent about 14 years at PepsiCo serving in global HR leadership roles. And today, we’re talking about why you should rethink hiring based on interviews, how to simplify employee processes, and the real reason why it pays to have a diverse workforce. 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 Christopher Shryock. But first, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsor.

Christopher Shryock: In my role, I’m fundamentally responsible for all aspects of human resources. So how we attract, how we develop, how we reward and retain talent, um, as well as trying to make sure that we’re building an organization that is truly diverse and truly inclusive. Sam’s Club is a membership warehouse club, so about $75 billion in net revenue. 600 different locations and, and a hundred thousand associates across the U.S. And Puerto Rico. Sam’s Club is a retailer. Um, so we buy things and we sell things. It’s not really changed that much since, uh, since the, the markets in the Middle East 2000 years ago. Um, on the other hand, obviously it’s a lot more complicated than that. So we’re, we’re a membership warehouse club, which basically means that people pay us for the privilege to shop at Sam’s. So we are, uh, pallet flow and pallet display. Um, and for us, when we really think about our retail experience, everything we do is about. The right quality of items, the right assortment of items. So because people are paying us to shop, they expect us to pick the best things for them. So if you’re looking for a computer or a pillow or a Halloween costume, we do the hard work for our members to find the very best things on the market to make that available for them. Um, We really work hard to make sure we lead on price. Um, and I would say most importantly, there’s a tremendous focus in terms of convenience. So making sure that people can shop with us when they want, how they want, and um, and where they want. 

Narrator: As for the employee personas Christopher is working with, they run the gamut.

Christopher Shryock: To your point about just the size of, uh, of Sam’s itself, I think, um, because it is so large, I mean, you have, when you have more than a hundred thousand folks working for your company, there’s all types of people that are working there. So when I think about personas, um, I think about folks are working on the front line in a club or in a supply chain site versus in an office. I think about folks that are working for us to fundamentally make and have a career versus people that are earning extra money to help pay for college or other things. I think about folks that are very recent hires we have versus we’ve got a lot of tenure in the organization and folks that have been here for 20, 30, sometimes even 40 years. Um, I think about folks that are parents with kids versus retirees versus teenagers and kind of any combination thereof. We’ve got folks working in merchandising and operations and supply chain and product and technology. So there’s kind of an infinite combination of the types of employees and the types of associates that we have at Sam’s. Um, and that is an HR function or a people function that we seek to support, to serve and to advocate for.

Narrator: What really stands out about the way Christopher talks about Sam’s Club is his understanding of the social experience that coincides with day-to-day work. And how it affects how an employee feels about going into the club every day. Let’s get into that and more about Sam’s Club in the Flight Plan.

Christopher Shryock: Everyone is looking for some type of social experience or, or sense of belonging. People look for a sense of fulfillment, a sense of purpose. I mean, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to go home at night and talk about what they did, what they created or what they completed. Um, on the other hand, a hundred thousand people are not the, are not the same. The size of that population, the diversity of it, It’s sometimes staggering and sometimes overwhelming when you kind of take a step back and, um, and look at it. And I think, um, trying to drive where it makes sense a degree of consistency in that experience across function, so across operations, merchandising, finance, tech, marketing, et cetera. Trying to drive consistency across locations. So, If you think about the 600 clubs we have, there’s another 20 or so supply chain sites. Um, and then equally trying to drive where it makes sense, consistency across ages and education and type of work. That’s a real challenge. and I think that is made more difficult by for myself and my team, it’s a lot easier to focus on really what you see every day, which is fundamentally people that are sitting and working in offices. But that is the incredible minority of the folks that we actually, employ. So one of the things that, you know, I’m always asking my team, and we’re always talking about when there’s some new initiative, uh, when there’s some new way of working or approach we want to take, is how is this gonna help a team leader in Utah? Because honestly, if we don’t have a very good answer to that question, we’re probably not solving for a better associate or employee experience for the masses. We’re probably solving for something that is pretty specific and pretty parochial, um, that we can spend a lot of time doing when the reality is a hundred thousand of our folks, they’re not sitting in an office. So that’s a real challenge of solving for what you see versus solving for the need of the majority.

Narrator: You’ve probably already noticed that Christopher refers to employees as associates. That term is used consciously, and reflects how Sam’s Club thinks about its employees.

Christopher Shryock: I think about an employee as it’s an individual. It’s someone that is providing basically just labor to a company or another person, versus if I think about an associate, that to me is more about a person that’s united with others in the service of something broader or bigger than what they can do alone. Um, it’s someone that is kind of working and thinking about the total enterprise, the total business, and how to partner and work with others. That to me is kind of, when we think about associate, what I, at least in my opinion, kind of view as that distinction between employee and associate. And that doesn’t mean we don’t have a hierarchy here. I mean, you can’t manage a business that size without it. But there’s this egalitarian nature to that. and equally, I think it feels more accurate to me given that everything we do here is trying to best and better serve our members. And everybody’s gotta be a part of that. That’s not something that I can do, that the CEO can do, that anybody sitting in a corporate office can do. That’s something that everybody has to be doing, everybody has to be thinking about and everybody has to be part of. And that’s why for me, associate, that feels far more candidly reflective of who we are than ‘I’m an employee. I turn up, I work these hours, I get this paycheck.’ That doesn’t really feel like Sam’s to me.

Narrator: Just listening to the way that Christopher talks about associates, it’s clear that Sam’s Club sees employees as making an investment of time when they walk in the door. Just that idea tells you a lot about how they value and treat their associates. And It’s only one of the things that makes Sam’s Club a First Class place to work. Sam’s thinks holistically about what makes a great associate experience and how to keep things simple for people.

Christopher Shryock: Digital experience is great, but it’s just one small part of an overall associate experience. , I think it was actually a model from McKinsey, they broke it out very simply and it’s how we try to think about it hereof. Associate experience. It’s partly the social experience that somebody has with a company, with their job, with their role. So it’s the people and the relationships they have. It’s doing work and collaborating across teams, and it’s kind of the social climate that exists within an organization. Is it a place that you feel welcome? Is it a place that you feel included? I think there’s social experience and there’s part two, which is about work experience, which is, am I clear on what my job even is? Um, do I have the ability to complete that work efficiently and flexibly and integrate what I’m doing into my life? And then, can I grow? Am I rewarded for the things that I’m doing? So that work experience part is pretty important to me. And then finally, you can come on to kind of now, what is the broad organizational experience in terms of the purpose of the company and how does that align with my beliefs? The technology or the digital aspect, as you said earlier of, does our approach to technology as a company, does it make things simpler for people? Does it remove friction for their ability and capacity to do their job? So I think that’s kind of the big thing for me that we really think about is employee experience is way bigger than digital and systems and process. It’s about that social experience. It’s about that work experience. It’s about that organizational experience. I think a second probably key thing that we’ve done is really around from, and I, and I talk more specifically about HR now, but it’s making sure that we have kind of, that there is actually one system. There’s no magic in having an HR system. I think on one hand they’re all equally good and equally bad. But to me, having one system, it’s not sufficient to create a great employee experience, but man, is it a necessary thing that you really need to have, Because if you don’t even know where your associates are, if you can’t even have and track basic detail and information about them, how are you ever gonna provide them with something that’s gonna be personalized and relevant? So we’ve put a lot of effort and energy in terms of that kind of having that one system piece. Um, and then I think the third piece that we’ve partnered a lot with the business on, um, it could be operations in the case of clubs, it could be product in the way that we think about designing things, but we’ve really tried to dial up this component of, can we just make things simpler for associates?Coming off of Covid, um, coming off of the current macroeconomic conditions and all of the inventory and all of the external challenges we have as a business, the challenges that people have individually, you’ve gotta make things simple for associates. So we’ve put a lot of effort and energy in terms of just how do we make our own processes as a people function quicker, easier, more intuitive so that people can focus on doing the things that we’re paying them to do, not going through a 19 step process for how to open a job requisition. So I guess for me that’s really kind of the way that we’ve thought about it is employee experience is a bigger construct than just technology and digital. Um, and that digital component, having one system, being focused on making things easy, that’s a pretty important place to start if you wanna build some credibility.

Narrator: So it’s important to make the digital experience easy and simple for associates, especially through relevant tech, products, and tools. 

Christopher Shryock: When I talk about one system, um, that probably for me is more of a backend piece from an HR point of view, which you need, and you have to have, you can’t have multiple different databases and those types of things. but if I go to kind of what I, think you’re more getting at is this broader component of just digitizing a total employee experience. I mean, I. I think about it. So if I kind of go back to that McKenzie rubric, if I think about social experience, um, we’ve really tried to make communication and collaboration more seamless so people that work together can feel part of that team. So if you’re in the product org, maybe that’s Slack channels, maybe that’s MS Teams for other groups in terms of how they co-create, or maybe that’s workplace for the Frontline. So that people are able to kind of post photos of their clubs, comment on work that others are doing that they work with or in other parts of the organization. It leads to this theme and this outcome of, there’s kind of one social experience we have. So technology, I think, can be a big enabler of that. if I think about work experience, uh, I mean there’s some pretty simple things we’ve done. I mean, and I think Covid taught us a pretty basic lesson of if you’ve got a lot of people that are sitting on Zoom calls and a bunch of other people that are sitting in a room, yeah, we had some work to do in terms of just upgrading cameras in conference rooms so that if you’re on Zoom you can actually see who’s speaking. Um, and we’re working on a lot, I would say, kind of more, more complex things in terms of integrating systems so that employees. Have visibilities to opportunities and personalized recommendations across the org in terms of skills to develop the learning options they have to build knowledge, uh, projects and roles that can help them achieve those aspirations, et cetera. And you’ve gotta have that kind of all, all pulled together. And then if I think about that organization piece around this kind of digital more personalized experience, um, we try to provide frameworks and options, but probably less direction, right? So if I kind of zoom all the way out, we had this day of service last week across Sam’s where we really intentionally said, this is the idea and kind of left it to people to volunteer based on what was meaningful to them. Um, and of course, we’re always trying to work to remove friction with technology. So in, in the front line, I think we’ve invested a lot in terms of tools and resources, um, handhelds, uh, the right apps, the right automation of, uh, work and reports, et cetera, just to make things easier. And there’s a lot of work that people need to do today or needed to do in the past, um, that isn’t really adding value. Um, and that people don’t really wanna spend time doing anyway.

Narrator: In an ideal world, employees really wouldn’t have to consciously communicate with HR all that much. Except for the really important things. Everything else should be automatic, seamless, and easy.

Christopher Shryock: I remember probably in the first week or so I’d got here, I’d asked a club manager, I said, Can you talk to me about who your people partner is? And unfailingly with that manager or any other manager I would talk to, they would say, I don’t know. I’m my own people partner. Or I call a 1-800 line to help me. Um, and that is not a great associate experience. Right. Um, I think for me, what I really aspire to isI, I don’t want the business and and associates interacting with a people team or an HR team on basic things. There’s no reason for HR to be in the middle of, you know, personal data updates or benefit selection or searching for new jobs or finding right training programs, et cetera. We should make that self evident and easy for folks. If I think about how we communicate, um, we really go to great pains to make sure that we’re using existing channels that the business uses. So this means I’m not sending a lot of emails to frontline associates who are never gonna check their email anyway. But you try to communicate key messages and things through not just what you have in break rooms and QR codes, but daily standups that a manager might have with associates to get those key messages out. And I think when it comes to what we do wanna be working in, communicating on with associates, I wanna make sure that my team, they’re interacting with the business on areas that matter. And that’s about identifying and developing talent. That’s about building organizational capability. And that’s about holistically solving associate problems that we see and we have. So for me, it’s not about we wanna automate away communication between HR and the business, but we wanna make that much simpler. We wanna make sure that that’s relevant, and we wanna make sure that where we are communicating, it’s against the issues and things that really matter, whereas a people function, we’re uniquely positioned to be able to do it. It’s not helping people navigate processes that we should have just made simpler to begin with. People partner for us is what others would call an HR business partner or an HR generalist.

Narrator: One way Christopher knows that his team is doing things right when it comes to the employee experience is how long people stay at Sam’s Club. He’s seen an improvement in longevity since they started hiring based on assessments, not necessarily interviews.

Christopher Shryock: There’s a few things that we’re doing. Um, I think number one is, and I’ll, I’ll use kind of the field as the example when it comes to hiring is we rely a lot more on assessments than probably we have historically done in the past. So for an hourly role, um, we’re trying to understand who’s likely to stay with us and who’s likely to perform better. So, you know, understanding and assessing simple, basic cognitive ability, what preferences and experiences people have, and a little bit of situational judgment, right? So how someone might be in terms of interacting or working with a member or with another colleague. And part of why we do that is because, well, we hire people that perform better and stay longer. But the other reason we really do that is trying to remove as much bias from the system as early as we possibly can. So I feel like if we’re doing our job well on that, we can hire people that are better for our business, that stay with us longer, and that as a cohort are more diverse than the folks that we have in place today. So if I think about frontline hourly, that’s really important cuz when you just rely on interviews, the data could not be clear. I mean, interviews, especially unstructured, and I’ve, I’ve sat in a lot of interviews we had in clubs. Uh, it is not exactly how you would write it up in terms of how to construct an interview. Um, it’s a pretty abysmal way of hiring, right? It’s full of confirmation bias. Um, it’s bad for diversity because people are gonna favor candidates who are similar, um, to themselves. Um, and not just bad from diversity in terms of what people look like sense, but bad for diversity in terms of, you know, tends to be pretty biased against folks that are typically more introverted. So I think for us, leveraging assessments early on in a process, and especially even leveraging assessments when you get further into the, um, further into the organization. So if we’re gonna make an appointment of an executive, yeah, there’s an element of cognitive, but it’s detailed business simulations, preferences inventory, and it’s really helpful to make sure we’re hiring the right people and that we’re putting kind of everyone on an even, on an even plane. In interviews then, it’s really much more about a bit of component in terms of, uh, culture fit and candidly some face validity. So that’s really kind of how we’ve, um, thought about it and I think we have been reasonably successful, um, in our ability and our efforts to do that. Um, I won’t say in the best way, but I would say in a better way.

Narrator: Much of how an employee perceives work has to do with their relationships, especially with their supervisor. So culture around leadership at Sam’s Club is centered around highlighting employee input and contributions and ensuring that everyone feels like Sam’s Club is a place where they belong.’

Christopher Shryock: The first part is really about if I’m an associate, Am I seen? And am I treated by the person I work for, or the leaders that are leading my organization as a real contributor to the organization? Not only are my ideas heard, are my ideas even being solicited fundamentally? Um, so we work hard with managers and this kind of ties back into that diversity piece of people tend to listen to folks that are like them, of giving managers tools and skills, um, and the ability candidly, to pause, to listen, um, and to draw things out of the associates that are working for them. Um, I think the second piece is, um, it really is about teamwork and collaborations. I mean, if you’re an associate, you wanna be a part of a team that’s engaged, you wanna be a part of a team that trusts each other, that cares for each other. Um, and that collaborates well with each other. So for me, This is partly, it’s about you can train and develop that, but it’s much more about are you rewarding and are you recognizing the people that are doing this well? Um, when we see some great innovation come from somewhere because of the team that’s in place, we really try to double down and not only call that out, um, communicate that effectively and understand how can we take this type of environment, um, and this type of outcome in other places and parts of the organization? Um, and then finally you have kind of just like, what’s the climate amongst, um, in a club, amongst a team, et cetera. And, and to me, this is core and fundamental to this component of psychological safety. it’s basically about do I belong here? Do I feel like I belong? Um, and for me it’s kind of that, simple. And that’s one for us where from the top down, we’re really clear that not only is this a place that we welcome all from a membership point of view, but this is a place where anybody can come here, anybody can be successful, and anybody has to belong. I mean, I think it’s like any type of employee research I’ve seen of, um, the companies that tend to perform the best are the companies that tend to be not only the most diverse, but the most inclusive. And that’s not just because having an associate population that looks like your members means you’re gonna sell more products. That means that having a diverse associate population that feels included, they collaborate more, they come up with better ideas, and they have more ownership, not only for their work, but for the outcomes of the company. So almost everything we try to do is not about how do you, um, how do you put processes around, but how do you identify and how do you support the conditions for people to have strong relationships with each other, For. Leaders to treat them well and to solicit their ideas and for people to feel like hmm. This is a place that they can belong.

Narrator: And where they can be in the future. Because Christopher and his team are developing ways to guide employees on a career path at Sam’s Club.

Christopher Shryock: We have more work in front of us than behind us on this one. But if I kind of expand on a comment I’d made earlier, I think we’re in the early, um, stages of ensuring that we can provide associates visibility to opportunities throughout the organization kind of via these personalized recommendations. Um, and what that helps them to do and to have is knowing, um, skills that they need to develop, learning options to build knowledge, and thirdly, kind of projects and roles that can help them achieve their achievable aspirations. So I think to do this, we really want associates to understand, number one, just where are they now. Part of that is assessment data, preferences, inventory. Part of that is their personal attributes, work experience they have at Sam’s, Walmart or before. Um, learning credentials they have, their education, et cetera. Then we want associates to understand kind of where is it they want to be, what do they aspire to, and what do they aspire um, towards? And as an organization and as HR practitioners, it’s kind of our job to have a point of view on how realistic is that aspiration and what are the gaps that an associate might have in terms of knowledge and in terms of experience? And then you can kind of come onto that final part, which is, then making personalized recommendations for what learning interventions can help an associate acquire knowledge. This could be some type of course, this could be this Live Better U program we have, which helps associates to get, um, high school degrees, associates degrees, bachelors degrees, et cetera. Um, and beyond learning, personalized recommendations in terms of what are other roles that can help them gain those experiences they’re missing, that can bridge that gap between where they are now and fundamentally where they want to be. So, I think a lot of companies look at this as a learning problem. Um, and I’m not honestly so sure, I’m not a big believer in this concept of, lifelong learning, which I know I probably shouldn’t say as an HR practitioner, but I’m a really big believer in lifelong employability, which for me is all about combining self-awareness. So who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, with awareness of the role you want to have and the right roles and the right learning options that can get you there. So that for me is I think a really powerful combination. Um, that’s our aspiration and bringing this to life is what we are working towards doing.

Narrator: And overall, Christopher knows that he’s aiming for an exceptional experience. Because he has had really amazing moments in his career too. Moments that have informed the caliber of experience he wants to offer at Sam’s Club.

Christopher Shryock: You know, for me, a great associate experience, it provides someone with personal satisfaction and pride fundamentally, right? So I remember, um, when I was early in my career and I had this experience of building this C-suite succession plan for the CEO of my former company. Um, and I’m sure that there’s things I’ve worked on as hard in my career, but I’m not sure there’s anything I’ve ever worked on harder. Um, and in the end I got this note from that CEO who barely knew me. I’m not sure if I had a name tag on that said Christopher Shryock this person would’ve recognized me. But I got a note from them and it just said, fundamentally, I want to thank you for all the work you’ve done on this plan. I think it’s the strongest one we’ve had in my tenure. And to me, I mean this note like may as well have been written by God himself. Um, and I still have that note. And I still look at that as a reminder of kind of the enormous impact that small and well-timed actions can have on associate experience. Um, and if I think about Sam’s Club, we have several programs that really target frontline associates, um, and one in particular called a manager in training program, which is helping associates get from a team lead to an assistant club manager. Um, and as a part of that program and others, they can actually earn college credit by completing this course. So there’s the benefit of a new, a broader, a bigger job. And there’s this benefit of you’re getting college credit from a four year university. Um, and it isn’t uncommon for people, um, usually a little bit newer to the organization to say that, you know, this is a program that gives them confidence they had before. I mean, a lot of these folks, um, they might not have, or they may have barely finished high school. Um, and now they’re in a program that’s gonna give them not only a promotion, but college credit. And it’s, it’s really emotional and they bring that up. I mean, you can see kind of the tears starting to well in their eyes. Um, and that’s an experience that you talk about giving people, um, pride. You talk about giving people personal satisfaction. To a degree, you talk about giving people purpose. Um, those are small things that I think an organization can do. Um, but not only has an impact in that moment, but I mean, has the impact to kind of truly start to change somebody’s life for the better.

Narration:  Christopher also knows the kind of experience he wants to avoid employees having at Sam’s Club. Let’s talk about those in Turbulence.

Christopher Shryock: So we’ve been looking in Sam’s and especially in the front line in terms of our onboarding experience, which is obviously pretty important. And there’s pockets of it where it’s not, great. And I remember I was in, um, I was in a club and, uh, the person that was responsible for kind of that day one orientation, I said, can you take me through that orientation? So they did, you know, we go upstairs, we go into this training room and in my mind, this was a year or two ago, they literally put a DVD in the DVD player, which I was a bit like, Okay, this isn’t great. Um, and uh, they turn on this video. And the first thing they showed and they played was a video about the attendance policy at Sam’s Club. And I’m thinking, okay, this is pretty, I understand why we would want people to be educated about our attendance policy, but is this the first thing that we wanna be talking about when someone is joining the company? Should it not be about what we are Sam’s, what we believe in? The role you can play, the opportunity you have in front of you. And I just thought this is just such a trite, pedantic thing for us to be focusing on. And I think it really kind of caused me to take a step back and you know, I had asked the person that was doing it, I said, You know, I have to ask, why did you start with the attendance policy as the first thing you showed? And they looked at me and they said, because it starts with the letter A. And I thought, okay, there is a much better way that we can be doing and driving this than the alphabetical order of the policies we need to go through. And I think for me, that experience, I mean, it’s an obvious lesson, but there are really moments that matter for people. And someone’s first impression they have of an organization, um, that’s one of those moments. Um, and that’s one of those moments that we or any company has really, really got to get right. So that was, um, not exactly a shining example probably for us or anyone in terms of how to do that the right way.

Narrator: Christopher is always looking for ways to improve the employee experience. But often making one change can lead to a string of adjustments. 

Christopher Shryock: It is still worthy of pursuit and we will continue pursuing it, but we had kind of this mission this year of in almost all of our clubs, we have these fairly small rooms that have kind of a series of computer monitors and computer stations, and kind of what we were trying to do was to say, I wanna close all of these computer training rooms over the course of the year. And part of why I wanted to do that was, um, number one, it’s just a miserable experience to be stuck in some windowless room in the back of a club, um, to allegedly do learning and development. Number two, it was this kind of wasted associate space for me of, there were a lot of other things we could be doing with those rooms that would be far more valuable to associates than, you know, a series of computer monitors. And the third thing that we thought it would drive was our ability to just simply move more and more and more content onto handheld devices, which is where associates were doing literally all of the rest of their work. So I think the aspiration was and is, um, right. I think that kind of what we found out and what we hadn’t fully accounted for was, um, there are a lot of things that associates need to do from a compliance point of view and perspective. Um, so again, I go back to that onboarding and orientation experience of kind of, there’s day one and there’s hours of compliance training and things that you need to do, which is something else we need to clean up. Um, but that’s not probably the greatest experience to have to now kind of, you’re forcing people into doing that on their phone. I think the second piece was it was forcing us at times, we were cutting corners to say things are mobile enabled when the reality was, you know, it’s a safari link and the experience for that handheld isn’t exactly the best. So for me it kind of, it’s a good lesson learned of, don’t necessarily moderate, um, the ambition and the intention that you have, but equally be willing to pivot on the short term of that ambition and intention, um, in the face of, okay, there’s some other steps and things we’re gonna kind of need to clean up, um, and clear up along the way. Um, and that for me was kind of the lesson learned of, I don’t regret doing it. Um, I don’t regret doing it at all actually, because it forced a lot of these things to the surface. Um, but equally, neither me nor my team, nor anyone else should get credit for saying, Okay, we’ve closed a bunch of computer training rooms. Um, if we haven’t done all of the other work to make those other aspects truly mobile enabled, um, and ensuring that we’re delivering not all of the content, but the right content onto those, um, onto those new devices. So that for me was a good example of right intent, right aspiration. Needed to pivot a little bit, kind of the further that we got into it.

Narrator: But there are keys to leading through these bumpy moments.

Christopher Shryock: I’ve been doing this for a little while now, and I think I kind of harken back to be empathetic, be honest, and be transparent. I probably used to skew a little bit more in that, honesty and, you know, just be brutally honest, I think what I’ve learned, uh, is I’ve done this now, is probably compassion and honesty is a little bit better of the approach. Um, but that only works if you’ve got that piece and component in terms of transparency. So I think, um, if you’re open with people about, you know, where they stand, how things are working and why, um, that’s a really key enabler. Um, and I think that, um, transparency is not necessarily code for, um, for easy, right? I mean, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve started in a role, and it’s apparent probably inside of the first 15 minutes that I’ve spent with an individual or I’ve spent with a group that this is someone or some group that has probably not had feedback, um, in a long time. And usually when I push, um, it’s because that, that others and specifically that manager was kind of afraid of the reaction that person or persons and not really wanting to step on toes. So there’s a woman I worked with before named Miriam and I, and I think a lot about something she would say, which is, you know, if a manager doesn’t really wanna be transparent, then I kind of delicately ask the question, well, how long do you feel that it’s appropriate to lie to someone about where they stand? Um, and about what their future might be? Because usually when you frame it that way, which is a little bit harsh, it flips to a very different reaction in terms of saying, again, there is a way to be transparent. There is a way to be honest. Um, and if you do those two things, there is a way to do it with empathy. But I don’t think the answer is ever, don’t be transparent and don’t be honest. Don’t only be transparent and honest. But if you do it with empathy, that to me starts to unlock, um, a very different way of, um, of thinking not only for the function, but for managers and others as well.

Narrator: And whether you’re facing anything from a poorly-led orientation to a global pandemic, as a leader in the company, the main thing is to keep a level head. focus on the big picture, influence others transparently, and pivot when you need to.

Christopher Shryock: I think the first is just to be calm. I don’t intend this to sound arrogant, but I think when you’re at a certain level in a company, people are watching you and what you’re doing and what your approach is a lot more than you think. And especially in those times of difficulty or change, the ability and the capacity to project calmness, uh, I think is kind of table stakes. the second thing I’d say is, thinking like a politician in the sense of what is the big picture? Being clear on what and unambiguously stating where you want to go I think is really important because then you can transparently do the work of trying to bend people towards the goal that you and the organization have set out. I think what doesn’t work is when you try to do everything behind the scenes, um, it’s really hard to kind of keep all of that there. So I think clear on what you want, where you want to go and bend people towards that is kind of the second key thing. the third thing that I would say, and I think this is especially true in terms of kind of times of change or ambiguity, So I have a few of my good friends of mine that are, economists. And what I like about economists is, um, they tend to be relatively unprincipled in terms of what does the data say, what’s the new information we have and how do we need to adapt to change course based on what we know now? That does not necessarily mean that you need to change the overarching goal or where you want to go, but it means you better be really open to accepting kind of a new reality and how it is that you actually want to get there stepping towards that goal. So kind of think like an economist, I think is pretty important. Um, and then the final piece is, it’s so cliche. It’s probably not helpful, but it really is. Communicate, then communicate again, then communicate some more. Communicate up, communicate sideways, communicate down, and when you think you’ve done enough, do it again. Um, but that’s really the way I think about it of, be calm. Be clear on what you, where you want to go and bend people towards that. Um, making sure that you’ve have the capacity to change course where you need to change course and just continue to communicate. People will forgive a lot if they feel like they’re in the know and they feel like they’re there with you. I think what’s harder for people to forgive is when you’re moving in one direction and nobody has any idea kind of where you’re going, why you’re going there, and most importantly, what their role in that actually is.

Narrator: When employees feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in their work, it’s because of a culmination of factors that all make up a truly first class experience.

Christopher Shryock: The key and the critical things for me are, um, when you think about associate experience or employee experience, It’s a lot broader than, do you have good digital processes in place? It really is about what’s that social experience the company provides? What’s that work experience? And what is that experience with, with the organization? I think that, for me is, um, is really critical. I think, you know, as a, as a people function, we can get really caught up in a lot of sophisticated processes and frameworks and analytics, et cetera, but the reality is, It’s called a people or an HR function for a reason. Because you need to deal with, you need to work with, you need to motivate and inspire people themselves, and you’ve gotta be able to meet, um, you’ve really gotta be able to meet their needs. Um, and maybe the only other thing that I might just go back and underline is, , there’s always gonna be things that are not working well. Um, and I think the key piece for me is to identify that, acknowledge that, and do something about it. Right? Nobody has the perfect plan. Nobody has the perfect roadmap. Um, life happens, events happen, but if you’re really clear on where you’re trying to go, just be open to that input. Be open to that feedback, and be open to making that path a little bit smoother while you’re down the road.

Narrator: So be transparent with your employees, support diversity and inclusion, and offer opportunities to change their lives for the better.

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

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Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

Conversations with 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.

Hosted by Firstup Founder and CEO, Nicole Alvino.

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