Narr: Have you ever thought, “I need to pick up dog food on my way home,” only to start seeing ads for dog food on your phone or computer? It doesn’t have to be dog food, it could be anything. But those ads seem to pop up everywhere you look, it can feel pretty spooky. We’re so connected digitally that it does feel like we’re just stumbling upon them. It’s effortless. Marketers are experts at using data to tailor ads to us and get our attention. Nicole Alvino knows we’re more inclined to pay attention to information that’s meant for us, that’s personalized.
Nicole Alvino: It’s really no different when we think about the opportunity for a digital employee experience.
Narr: In the same way marketers are masters of spurring consumers into action, do you want to know how to grab your employees attention and get them to engage, tune in, and gear up? Nicole Alvino’s going to show you. Nicole is the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at SocialChorus, creators of the leading workforce communications platform used by companies like Amazon, Ford and Dow. She helps companies transform the way they communicate with their employees, especially at larger companies with over 30k employees. Today she’s talking about how to deliver a tailored experience to each employee. Let’s get into it. Welcome to Cruising Altitude.
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 Nicole Alvino. But first, a word from our sponsor.
Nicole Alvino: As Chief Strategy Officer, I’m really looking after our strategic growth. And where do we want to be three years from now, five years from now? And looking at all of the different ways to make that happen. Obviously we have a plan and then there are different things to help accelerate our revenue, whether it’s international growth opportunities, whether it’s leverage from partners, whether it’s M and A. And it’s really thinking about how do we continue to lead our industry, deliver innovation to all of our customers and really take what we’re doing to the next level. So that’s the high level and then core to that is I spent a ton of time with our customers. I share a core belief with our largest customer, Amazon, the world’s second largest employer, really about learning and hearing from customers every single day. So not a day goes by that I don’t have an interaction, a conversation with a customer to really understand what’s happening in their world as they think about the digital landscape, as they think about the digital employee experience, their employee experience more broadly and just how they are thinking about their own business transformations. And from that, I can take a lot of those inputs and really think about where to take our company and help to mobilize our incredible team in order to get there.
Narr: Let’s get the bird’s eye view of the EX space in our first segment, The Flight Plan.
Nicole Alvino: Digital employee experience is the industry that we are in, and we’re very lucky to have some of the largest players in tech, also in the industry. So Microsoft recently sized the entire employee experience market as 300 billion dollars, um, which is just so exciting because there’s an incredible amount of opportunity and of course that means investment in ensuring that we can deliver on employee experiences that really do work for every different type of worker wherever they are in the world, whatever their role or shift or pay grade might be.
Narr: Trying to change the way companies communicate with their employees is hard enough to begin with. But to do it with big, established corporations only magnifies the scope of the challenge. SocialChorus knows their way around this dilemma, since 10 of the Fortune 50 are already using SocialChorus’ FirstUp platform to power the transformation of their workforces.
Nicole Alvino: Often we find that the biggest challenge is just that initial hurdle of, “Do I change?” And what does that change mean? And we think about helping our customers in a mental model shift and really getting to the point where the pain of doing nothing and not changing is actually more than the pain of change. And it’s interesting because that hurdle or that mountain is overcome and you get a collective of the C-suite on board with yes, we must change, we must deliver a digital employee experience that is modern, that is personalized, that is for every worker, then the resistance becomes less because you have everybody bought in on the Why. And we find that that part is actually the hardest. So getting a chief people officer, a chief communications officer, a CIO, all to agree on how to solve this unique problem, often CEOs are even coming into the conversation to make a decision about, yes, we must change. And then this is really the way forward. And this is the employee experience that will really drive our business into the future.
Narr: But how does Nicole go about getting that crucial buy-in from the C-suite?
Nicole Alvino: Getting multiple C-level executives on the same page is a very difficult task. I think the good news is when you find something that they all can rally around, it’s a certain north star. And if the north star comes from the transformation that they’re managing in the business. So Ford is a great example. They’re a big customer of ours. They have a business transformation that they are making into frankly, a modern technology company and a new CEO and a new CMO and different business leaders and what they are all connected on is that business transformation and the opportunity that brings. And so once they’re aligned on that north star, Then it’s a lot easier to get alignment on the How. Of course there might be differing opinions and different ways to solve it. But once you have the Why, the What and the How can be a bit easier.
Narr: Out of all C-suite executives, three of them are especially critical to get on board with the change. Because they’re the ones that own the employee experience.
Nicole Alvino: it’s either a CIO will say, I own it. A chief people officer will say, I own it. A chief communications officer will say I own it. I think the reality is it’s all three of those need to play a part. You can’t have an employee experience without great technology. You can’t have a great employee experience without technology that works seamlessly. You can’t have a great employee experience without communications at the core and making sure that communications is the backbone of that employee experience. And of course you can’t have a great employee experience without your people leader thinking through the entire employee journey from pre-hire to retire. So, our experience, and my experience has really been, you need the different perspectives from those different personas to really deliver that exceptional employee experience.
Narr: Now that we know a bit about SocialChorus, lean your seat back and stretch your legs because we’re jet setting to our next segment about creating a deluxe employee experience, First Class.
Nicole Alvino: To create a great digital employee experience, we’ve really taken best practices from marketers and what they’ve been able to achieve on the consumer and customer side of the house. And those things are personalization, an anywhere approach and data. And I’ll double click on each of those. Personalization means hyper targeting the information to the individual. So based on your location, type of work, tenure, whether you’re a manager or not, even other preferences, your employee resource groups, for example, being able to target based on all of those types of things. So you are getting a completely personalized experience different from mine. So that piece is really key. The second piece is anywhere. And this is about truly meeting people where they are digitally. We all have different preferences about how we like to consume our information. And if you start to look at even the different types of workers, folks who are in manufacturing, working on a shop floor or on a line, they are bound by the time they need to work. So they need digital screens. They need potentially a kiosk to log into. They need some things to be available to them at home if they want to consume it. If it’s something like benefits that they might need to share with a partner. So that anywhere approach is key. Being able to meet people exactly where they are digitally, both to help them consume the information and do the receipt part of their employee experience. And also to ensure that it is a digital employee experience that truly works for them. Again, think about how we go through our journey in our personal lives as consumers. We hop between email and websites and mobile and desktop and other screens we look at. The best marketers, find us where they, where we are, deliver us information that’s personalized to us, that then entices us to take action. It’s really no different when we think about the opportunity for a digital employee experience. And then the third piece is data. Again, taking lessons from marketing, every type of information delivery has the power to be data-driven, to drive outcomes that we want, whether it’s a CEO update that every people manager needs to see. We now have data to know where and how certain people like to consume that information. We can deliver it in a way that works for them, and we can continue to refine the message, how we automate that delivery in order to drive outcomes. So there’s a real opportunity with data in information delivery, and then over time data become insights about your workforce, which then actually can become true intelligence. So how can I look at, or predict, different employee journeys? If I know that a certain type of worker with a certain profile in a certain part of a world of the world takes certain actions, can I predict if they’re going to be a top performer, can I tap them as someone to be in management, or are they going to be a retention risk? Those are the types of insights and workforce intelligence that we can begin to glean from a best-in-class digital employee.
Narr: SocialChorus has borrowed the best practices of marketers to understand how to deliver a world-class digital employee experience. Large companies can apply this framework in order to successfully reach all the different employee personas within the organization.
Nicole Alvino: The best digital employee experiences truly are using those principles and really thinking through their own employee personas. So doing the work to say, how does a new manager get through their day, their week, their month? What are the types of things that they need in order to provide that rich digital employee experience? And how can I make sure that that experience is seamless? Then they’re going to look at one of their factory workers in different parts of the world. Do those experiences differ? Then they’ll look at a sales person, then they might look at folks who are in or on an executive track. So it really comes back to, le thoughtful about these different personas, about the journeys that they need to take. And then let’s use technology to really deliver that right information to the right person in the right digital place at the right time, which in turn is that personalized digital employee experience, wherever the employee is, fueled by data and also delivers rich insights to the organization. So. It’s not an easy silver bullet. It takes work and thought, but it is possible.
Narr: And Nicole says the best of the best start the digital employee experience before the person is even hired.
Nicole Alvino: The organizations that are really thoughtful, and this is being very holistic about the digital employee experience, and even starting from an intern. We have several companies who are actually using our platform to power their interns. Abbott is a big one. To really start that employee experience before they become a full-time employee. And that’s something that does go the extra mile, especially if you’re thinking about this whole class of millennial workers that will make up the majority of the workforce next year. And the types of things that they will begin to require of employees. One is a digital employee experience that looks and feels like what they get in their consumer life. They do not read emails the way that we were taught to read emails before we even had email. They’re used to real-time, immersive experiences, personalized to them wherever they are. And that is the type of thing that if an employer can show that as part of the recruiting process, as part of an intern process, that’s definitely a leg up and that’s something that would be an exceptional digital employee experience.
Narr: So how is SocialChorus helping drive that next level experience even before day one? Nicole gives an example of how some of their customers are doing it right.
Nicole Alvino: I’m super humbled and proud that Jeff Bezos, right before he passed the reigns to Andy Jassy is Amazon’s new CEO, said that their goal is to be the number one employer and provide the best employee experience on the planet. That’s something that SocialChorus is playing a huge role in. And so we are just so excited to partner with them. And it has all of the tenets of an exceptional digital employee experience. Personalization is key, delivering that anywhere approach. So whether it’s mobile insight and intranet via email, via digital screen,some other things that I can’t quite share yet, but are pretty game changing if you think about any places that screens are, as well as providing all types of Amazonians, a very seamless experience. So, I can watch Andy Jassy’s new CEO update. I can also check on my expenses from Concur. I can also book a meeting with our room booking tool. So being able to have all of those experiences work in a seamless fashion and bring together different types of technologies is really the opportunity and where the bar is set very high. Ford is another great example. They have a business transformation that they are leading and really looking at their people, their communications to their people and that digital employee experience powered by SocialChorus. They call us Blue Oval now, but this opportunity that in order to deliver what Ford’s new leaders need to deliver, they absolutely need their folks on the same page, which requires change. And so really thinking about how to reach the interns to the alumni. They even have a program for their alumns. And if you think about how many Ford workers who have worked at Ford throughout the course of history, they have a lot of a multi-generational families. So just incredible stories that they want to continue. Providence is a great example of a digital employee experience that’s really leveraging data. They’re one of the largest healthcare providers in the U.S. With over 120,000 caregivers. They actually had and treated the very first COVID case. They had, before COVID, started their digital transformation. So when COVID hit, they were able to take advantage of things like predictive analytics to help other healthcare systems, and frankly, all of us to predict when PPE would run out, where the next wave would be. We’re working really closely with their Chief Communications Officer and their CIO on using some of those same principles in their digital employee experience. So how can we really not only reach all of the caregivers on the front line with what they need, different information in different parts of the country and how can we really use data? Whether it’s around the employee experience, how can we find top performers? How can we flag folks for potential retention issues and really use that data to continue to deliver an exceptional employee experience?
Narr: Now that we’ve talked about the best in class, it’s time to hold on tight because we’re heading into some rough air to talk about the bumpier employee experiences in our next segment: Turbulence.
Nicole Alvino: I won’t name names as far as the worst employee experience I’ve seen, but I will share a couple of things that just won’t work long term, especially in a world where we really need to be focused on our people and focused on giving them that exceptional employee experience. So organizations that only are focusing on a certain class of worker and frankly, that’s a professional worker at the expense of their frontline workers or of their deskless workers, that is a losing proposition. Unfortunately it took COVID to teach that lesson to a lot of different organizations, but the fact is regardless of somebody’s shift schedule or pay grade or type of work, they need to be connected. They deserve to be connected. And there’s no way that a CEO can steer a ship or manage change unless they can reach 100% of their workforce reliably and can get feedback. So I’d say the second piece that doesn’t work is if there is a structure in place that does not allow for any feedback. That’s only top down and a bit of command and control. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Malcolm Gladwell at our industry conference, Attune. And he talked a lot about this move from a hierarchy structure to a network structure, and talked a lot about millennials and they live and breathe in a network. And if you think about old corporations, it’s very hierarchical. And we need to, at the very least, meet in the middle. No, you can’t run a big company all in the network model with everything decentralized. And there is a lot to be learned from a network model, from different nodes of influence and how to really drive change, leveraging some of the really great potential of a network model. And then I think the third pitfall is a lack of authenticity and a lack of transparency. So I started my career at Enron. My bosses all went to jail. I witnessed the worst of corporate America and of a lack of transparency, a lack of ethics and a lack of honesty. And I personally vowed to myself that I would only start or build organizations where I could control the ethics to make sure that that wasn’t the case. And it’s incredibly exciting to see what we’re doing now at SocialChorus and enabling leaders of the world’s largest employers to connect authentically and transparently with their entire workforce.
Narr: Nicole has had one of the worst possible employee experiences in corporate America, having started her career at Enron. So she’s learned some important lessons of what not to do. But she says she’s still learning and growing. The pandemic has been another formative period for her.
Nicole Alvino: Biggest employee experience lessons of the past 18, 24 months? Empathy empathy, empathy. Leaders must listen to their people. They must connect authentically. They must deliver experiences that can promote well-being. And all of these things in a pre-COVID, pre kind of social unrest that at least I’ve seen in my lifetime world, were seen as nice-to-haves. And I think between COVID, followed by racial injustice issues with George Floyd and what continued throughout the summer just told leaders and organizations that we must have a focus led by empathy. That is on well-being. That is on diversity, equity and inclusion. And that has to be at the forefront as we’re thinking about company strategy. So we can no longer only have company’s strategic objectives without an equal focus on our people and our processes and practices to ensure that we’re inclusive and equitable in our practices, we’re getting that diversity of thought and experiences. And with all of that, we truly are listening.
Narr: Nicole says that the pandemic has been a test for many, including herself.
Nicole Alvino: As leaders, times of change are really when you either succeed or fail. And last year, the past 18 months leaders have either showed how they can shine or how they’ve fizzled out. I humbly believe that I am a good leader. I try to learn every day taking lessons learned from Enron and the past 20 plus years since then. And I have learned again with empathy, with authenticity and transparency, that piece is key. So one example, right when the killing of George Floyd happened, for me, I said, we, as a company need to do something, we need to take a stand. We can’t just sit here. We’re a small Silicon Valley company, but we have to do something. And so, I posted a post in our platform, we call Harmony. This is the idea. Leaders can share authentically what they’re thinking and get input and thoughts. And so I said, we are committing to be actively anti-racist. I don’t know what that all will mean right now. But I want your thoughts and you have my commitment that we will lay out a plan. We will hold ourselves accountable and we will do something. And so is that perfect? No. Can I be better? Yes. But I did welcome some incredible thoughts and ideas and insights from our team that there’s no way that I, or even the rest of our exec team would have come up with. And so we did put a plan in place that we’re refining, that we’re executing and it’s movement. And that’s what needs to happen for any large change that will happen in society. And I do believe that businesses have a key role to play. It is going to be small steps that will continue to drive value, and it is a commitment to delivering the change and to be part of the solution.
Narr: Nicole delivers a really valuable message. It’s not through sweeping gestures that real change happens. It’s the smaller, consistent steps that really drive change. And when things get tough, her main piece of advice as a business leader is: listen. Listen more than you talk.
Nicole Alvino: I think one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from some of the most successful people in business, owners of the Boston Celtics chairman of the board of the New York Times, these people were the quietest in the room. And so I saw the power that, that had. It’s also an opportunity to really listen and learn from people in different parts of your organization. I’ve often found that the best insights, the best ideas really come from people closest to the work. And it really is important to connect with and listen to people in all facets and all roles. A second critical piece is have a growth mindset. So it’s something that’s important to me as a person. It’s important to me as a mother. It’s important to me as a leader. That’s one of our SocialChorus key hiring values, is really thinking about growth mindset and the people that we want to bring on. And with that growth mindset, you have an opportunity to be an exceptional leader. You’re always a learner, you’ve learned from others who have succeeded. You learn from your own mistakes. And I think that there’s something that’s just incredibly powerful about the humility and the opportunity that that affords. And then the third thing is you’ve got to make bets. Yes, you want them to be the right bets. Often you won’t know that the bets were the right ones until you get the benefit of hindsight and maybe some market timing and luck there, but you need to act. We always want to use data as much data as we get, but there is a certain point where there’s never going to be enough data. And you do have to trust your gut, especially when dealing with people. I recently read Bob Iger’s biography, who was the CEO of Disney he delivered the most shareholder value of any CEO in history and fascinating book, I highly recommend it, but some really interesting stories about having to make deals with some of the biggest names in tech and media. So Steve Jobs and George Lucas, these are two people who you would have said they are not going to sell their companies, period. Bob figured out a way to connect with them on a personal level and trust his gut, trust his instinct, even when the data might have stated otherwise in order to get these deals done. And it really was connecting on that human level. Those deals that he was able to get done did put Disney on a completely different trajectory in a completely different way that they can deliver revenue and accelerate revenue. He delivered 600% increase in shareholder value during his tenure, as well as do things like make my boys very happy that they can get all of the Marvel movies on Disney plus.
Narr: Listen, have a growth mindset, make bets and connect with people. SocialChorus is making it easier for any business, especially those with over 30k employees, to meet these worthy goals and cultivate a deeper connection with their employees.
Nicole Alvino: Every organization has the opportunity to deliver an exceptional digital employee experience that works for every worker. Yes, it takes thoughtfulness. Yes, it takes time, but it really is thinking about your people, your different personas and providing an experience that gives them exactly what they need. It’s harder than it sounds, but it is doable. And we’re incredibly excited about playing in that space, being part of the solution and partnering with some of the largest companies in the world to deliver exceptional digital employee experiences.
Narr: Like Nicole says, the key is considering your people. What do they need? How do they want to access it? And how can you deliver it all in a package meant just for them? Nicole’s success at SocialChorus shows how personalizing the digital employee experience is more likely to engage workers, and how integrating it all into one streamlined platform makes it possible to devote more attention to what matters: human connection.
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 firstup.io.