How to Create a Magnetic Employee Value Proposition

with Michael Trout, VP and CHRO at State Farm

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Michael Trout

Episode 30

”Once someone feels like they belong in the organization, that’s when the magic happens. Then they have a mission and purpose. That’s when their career with the company starts.”

Michael Trout is VP and CHRO at State Farm, leaders in mutual insurance and the largest property, casualty, and auto insurance provider in the U.S., with over 60,000 employees. Michael has been with State Farm for more than 30 years, having served in different leadership positions including VP of Operations in Human Resources. And on this episode, Michael is discussing how to improve employee value proposition, why you should accept a lateral position change, and using AI to customize the digital employee experience.

”My director wanted somebody who understood the business but could also communicate with the employees, create followership, connect with employees and build relationships. That’s the skill that’s probably helped me throughout my whole career is you have to be able to speak business. If you can’t speak business, you lose credibility in the boardroom.”

Listen in to hear

  • How State Farm is improving first line leadership through a coaching tool called Real Performance
  • Why virtual programming is a great way to get employees involved in ERGs
  • Ideas for offering employees opportunities to connect in-person and online

”It’s always about promotion, promotion, promotion. My argument is, ‘Learn as much as you can so that when you’re promoted, you have a leg up and you have an advantage over the people who don’t have all of those experiences across the organization.’”


Michael Trout removebg preview aspect ratio

Michael Trout

VP and CHRO | State Farm

Michael Trout is VP and CHRO at State Farm. He has demonstrated progressive responsibilities working in the financial services industry with deep expertise in employee relations, talent operations, HR and Learning transformation in a large Fortune 40 organization as well as a history of working in the insurance industry. He has led the organization through post-COVID work structure and significant growth. He is also responsible for attraction, retention and advancement of a highly diverse and multi-location workforce. 

Michael has been with State Farm for over 12 years. He started as VP of Operations – Human Resources in 2006, and started in his current role in December 2021.

Episode Transcript

Narrator: If you want high employee retention, you need to hear this. We’re talking with a guest who has spent over three decades with the same company, which is itself over 100 years old. And he’s teaching us how to create a magnetic employee value proposition. In other words, how do you not only draw in employees, but how do you entice them to stay? That’s what Michael Trout is sharing with us today.

Michael Trout: We hear a lot about employee value proposition and things like that, and it’s really how do you meld the business and the business objectives and the mission and purpose of the organization with how do the people help us get there? And we’re still a people oriented, relationship oriented company, so it’s a critical component in business success.

Narrator: Michael is Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at State Farm, leaders in mutual insurance and the largest property, casualty, and auto insurance provider in the U.S., with over 60,000 employees. Michael has been with State Farm for more than 30 years, having served in different leadership positions including VP of Operations in Human Resources. And today, Michael is discussing how to improve employee value proposition, why you should accept a lateral position change, and using AI to customize the digital employee experience. 

On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Michael Trout. But first, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsor.

Michael Trout: My role currently is end-to-end human resources for the organization. And, and I like to think of it as, uh, it starts all the way from talent attraction through onboarding, through development. Through succession as we think about other leadership positions and things like that through post-career. Uh, I have a great team though. Obviously not one person can do all of those things. I came up through different roles in HR, after I left the business area. So I’ve, uh, my background is probably more from the lead talent partner, classic HR, business focused HR services, and then some, uh, organizational design and development also. But it’s the holistic HR entity and development. Also, we have all of the learning pieces also.

Narrator: Michael has lived and grown his career at State Farm. Which has been possible because of how State Farm approaches professional development and promotion. It’s one big reason why employees stick around for decades.

Michael Trout: You know, it’s a great thing about working for State Farm. We’re a promote from within organization, which is not, uh, that common nowadays actually. But I started, I have my degree in, uh, insurance and risk management. You know, That was a natural start for me. Throughout my career, I’ve been with State Farm for over 30 years. But I’ve had nine separate roles within the organization, so I feel like I’ve moved companies about nine times throughout the organization. I started in underwriting, personal lines, underwriting, and then moved to commercial lines underwriting.Did catastrophe claims after that. Then moved into HR and D, It was an interesting situation. I had a uh, director come to me and said, Hey, have you ever thought about HR and D? I think you’d be really good at it, there’s a little bit of a joke behind it cuz he said, I don’t really like my HR and D rep and I like you. Would you like to take the role and you’re gonna be my rep if you do it. So it was kind of a, it was a neat way to transition to it. Uh, and I moved to HR and d and then, that was in Dallas, Texas. and I did that after graduation, I was in Dallas and then moved to up here, to Bloomington, to the corporate headquarters. Then moved through HR roles and then went back to auto claims for a little while and then, uh, came back here. So really the thing that I tell people about State Farm that’s a great opportunity is, you don’t have to switch companies to switch jobs. You can move within an organization, especially promote from within organization, and that’s it. takes a lot of stress off an employee because you know the organization, you know the mission and purpose of the organization, but you’re not in one job through your whole career. You can move horizontally and vertically throughout the organization. Uh, and I’m, I’m evidence of that. 

Narrator: Michael’s director chose him to lead HR because he saw that Michael had not only the experience across departments within State Farm. But he also had the interpersonal, or people skills. And both are key to effective HR leadership.

Michael Trout: Yeah. You know, it’s always interesting cause I had a chance to visit with him later on after being in this role and I went back actually to his retirement when he retired. So it was fascinating to put some years between it But the reality is it’s the ability to communicate in business terms, and I think that’s what he wanted is somebody who understood the business. But could also communicate with the employees and create followership on the employees and connect with employees and build relationships. And I find that that’s the skill that’s probably helped me throughout my whole career is you have to be able to speak business. If you can’t speak business, you lose credibility in the boardroom. You lose credibility with the business leader executives. So number one, understand the business, but be able to communi the employee portion of the business and how the employees make the business successful and draw those bridges, uh, and all of the issues and challenges associated with that. If you can bring that into the conversation, you have instant credibility and it helps you move forward. And, and I, I think about today, we hear a lot about employee value proposition and things like that, and it’s really how do you meld the business and the business objectives and the mission and purpose of the organiz. With how do the people help us get there? And we’re still a people oriented, relationship oriented company, so it’s a critical component in business success.

Narrator: Often we think of promotions upward in the company as better than lateral moves. But both have value. It’s those lateral moves that helped Michael understand the business as a whole. And are the reason he ended up as CHRO in the end. But in the moment, those moves weren’t always understood by everyone.

Michael Trout: When I started my career at State Farm, I had good role models at home. My mom and dad both worked outside of the home. They both had roles. And I remember my mom, who had been more in the corporate world and things like that, she said, Michael, I don’t know about all those lateral moves because they may slow you down because you have to learn to become an expert again and move forward. And I said, but I, I’m interested in this. It’s something I wanna learn. And I remember getting those same things from my mom a little bit as, okay, watch the lateral moves. I wouldn’t give up the lateral moves for anything because they gave me the foundation across multiple areas, but gave me the flexibility, the agility, and the foundation to then when I did move up, I didn’t have to learn as much because I had that foundation across multiple channels. We’re an insurance company, so I had personal lines and commercial lines, which are the two big lines of underwriting, and then I had fire claims and catastrophe claims. And later in my career I got auto claims through a lateral move. It helped me now in my role have credibility across multiple channels, and I, I would encourage people not to give up on lateral moves. I know that that’s something that, uh, is not . Necessarily when you’re in college and schools and when, when I interact with kids that are in insurance programs and things like that at a university, it’s always about promotion, promotion, promotion. My argument is learn as much as you can so that when you’re promoted, you have a leg up and you have an advantage over the people who don’t have all of those experiences across the organization. I would say play the long game. There’s too many people that play the short game and really playing the long game in a career, it will add a ton of value because it’s how you build credibility across an organization.

Narrator: We’re already getting to the good stuff here. But let’s take a step back and have a look at State Farm as a whole in the Flight Plan.

Michael Trout: Big companies have a unique perspective because you have personas across multiple channels when you’re a large organization. Uh, you know, obviously an insurance company is a massive data company, so you have this very large enterprise technology IT organization, and that’s a, that’s a subculture in its own. They come in with different development languages, program management, agile management, and a different mindset around work and things like that. I love the IT organization cuz they push us to think forward all the time. And it’s, it’s fun to see them as they get in the organization. And then you have claims and claims is the frontline. And we talked earlier about food service and things like that. That’s actually the point of service where the agent sells the policy, but then when something happens, when we actually deliver on our promise claims are the individuals that deliver on that promise and they deal with the customer and help the customer recover from the unexpected. That’s a little bit of different job and you have to enjoy the negotiating. You have to enjoy helping people recover from those things. Then you have underwriting, which is a very technical role uh, where the applications that come in, they make sure that the pricing is appropriate and the application gets placed correctly, and all of the data behind the scenes that that’s all categorized correctly. So you’ve got these personas across, you know, the technical persona, project management, program management. You’ve got the front end customer service, customer contact role, then you’ve got the underwriting back of the house organization and, and I’m not even doing it justice cuz there’s lots of other organizations, pieces within the company. But those are the big areas where we probably hire most of our people. The fascinating thing about this organization is just because you start in one of those areas does not mean you stay in that area. We’re promote from within, so we move people through those verticals, which helps us with that horizontal. That’s why people have such long careers at State Farm because I don’t know that many people want to stay in the same job for 30 years or 35 years. They want change. They wanna see things different. Our proposition is come to us, and you’ll get three or four or five different careers within the umbrella organization. And it takes away all of fear of switching employers and making sure does the culture fit me, does the mission, does the purpose. We have all of those things across the horizontal, but maybe you want to do something a little different in the verticals, and that’s, that’s our value proposition. That’s what we believe makes us different from other companies and quite honestly, gives us an advantage when it comes to our workforce.

Narrator: The culture, the mission, the purpose of State Farm are all reasons people are drawn to work there. But there are so many other reasons State Farm stands out from crowd. Let’s talk about that in First Class.

Michael Trout:  I always say that I had the advantage of having time in fire claims, which actually helps me understand the mission and purpose of the organization. And we talk a lot about belonging. Uh, and I think you hear that across my peers and, uh, CHROs at other organizations is how do we create an environment where people feel like they belong? Our employees feel like they belong in the organization and they see their self fit. And then we talk about mission and purpose. Well, when you’re in the insurance industry and you help people recover from what could be their worst day, their worst moment, their worst week in their life, it’s very visceral when you meet with that customer who has had that situation. And early in my career, I got sent down to Miami, Florida after a hurricane. It was, uh, hurricane Andrew, which was devastating to Miami and South Miami. You would meet with people who their whole home was gone. There was nothing left. And all of their belongings, everything, their photos, their wedding pictures, everything, those were all gone. And the only thing they had was a connection with State Farm that could help them recover from this unexpected time. And you saw really quickly the mission and purpose of this organization and how powerful it was. Uh, I, I’ll always remember this claim. This is like the, the claim that probably cemented me in this organization. It was a police officer in Miami. His family had lost his home. He had to go work because of the devastating storm. So he was working 24 hours trying to help with the recovery from the storm. And he came in and he sat down across the desk from me and he, he, he broke down. He started crying and I’m thinking, okay, here’s this police officer, this person who’s so in charge and so in control. And he just said, I need help. And we helped him recover from the unexpected. Uh, he had lost his home, lost everything. and I said, okay, we’re gonna, we’re gonna help you with this. We’re gonna walk through this claim. Uh, number one, do you have a place to stay? And, you know, we walk through that process, but what you see is the good that you do in the mission and purpose at State Farm. I want my career, when I’m done with my career, I wanna look back and say, I did good things for people and I did good things for the world. And I think everybody feels that way. That cemented me to the organization and created my passion around the organization.

Narrator: But while doing good things for people is tremendously meaningful, it can also be really hard. State Farm employees are often helping people who have, for example, gotten in a car accident or had storm damage to their homes. Customers are stressed, likely exhausted, and having a hard time. So emotional and mental support is important for employees. 

Michael Trout: So our claim organization, their job is to deal with people who’ve had something unexpected or bad that’s happened in their lives. we’re not at our best as a customer, when I have a claim, I’m not at my best and I can say that even working for an insurance company, I recently had a loss on a, a property of mine, a, a windstorm loss. And I’m thinking, okay, that’s just what I want to deal with. I’m busy, life is busy, and I’m, then, I’m gonna have to interact with somebody. I’m gonna have to explain everything to ’em. How long is this gonna take? I’m gonna have to deal with contractors. What we find is people that come to State Farm from a service background that are used to doing that. So when we look at attracting folks, when I was in college, I waited tables and bartended. That’s how I, uh, paid for school and paid for things in school. I had already dealt with customers and I had dealt with customers sometimes that weren’t having their best day and things like that, and I got energy for it. So I knew coming into this that that’s something that I enjoyed. I enjoyed that customer interaction. we build very close teams. It’s one of the things that as we work through this hybrid world, because a lot of our claims are hybrid now. Before, if I was having a bad call and I was in the office back when everybody was in the office, my team was around me. So they knew this was, they could sense that it wasn’t going well and we would put our arms around each other and you would, you know, , let’s help each other through this. So the coping mechanisms and things like that. One of the things that I worry about most in the remote world is I might be having that really tough customer interaction and nobody knows it anymore because my team and my peers aren’t next to me. So how do we create the right tools and the right processes? We just rolled out something this year that I’m really excited about, which is called Real Performance. it’s a coaching thing for first line leaders as they interact with their employees. And it has three tenets. And the first one is building trust. And I think about in an organization in the world today, trust is something that, in my opinion, has eroded very rapidly in the world. And what we know, we want to be an oasis at State Farm for our employees and leaders. We want to start within our walls of building trust. So we want leaders to connect with employees and help build that trust and connection with the employee so that when an employee has a bad day, they trust their leader, they can reach out to ’em and basically have conversations about it. And then number two, we want leaders to provide meaningful feedback. In other words, to have this coaching culture or conversation back and forth. Cuz that’s what in my career, when I was having the hardest time or when I was having rough interactions, I wanted that relationship with my leader. That’s who I trusted the. You always trust your first line leader. Our data says that it’s overwhelmingly employees trust their leader, and we’ve built that at State Farm. But then how do I engage in a honest coaching conversation with meaningful feedback back and forth with that leader? And then does that leader recognize what I’m growing? Do they recognize that maybe that bad moment I’m having is actually a growth moment for me? Maybe that’s something that I’m learning on the coping mechanisms and things like that. Maybe that leader knows me because of the trust relationship enough to say, Hey Michael, you’ve been going through some really, really hard claims. Do you have the right mechanisms in place? Do you maybe need to reach out to our EAP program? Do you need to connect with team better? Maybe come into the office and we’re as a team unit, maybe it’s time that you come in and we have the conversations. so we’re not perfect yet. I don’t think anybody’s perfect in this new hybrid remote world, but the reality is we’ve lost so from being together, there’s no question about it. We’re trying to supplement it through digital and through media. The reality is I think we will slowly develop relationships much more quickly through video, but right now we’re in a little bit of an awkward time period as people build those skill sets, uh, and change how relationships are built, nurtured, uh, and how we deal with things when we’re not having the best day in the world.

Narrator: A great resource State Farm offers is employee resource groups. They’re voluntary, employee-led groups that support diversity and inclusion within the company.

Michael Trout: First of all, our ERGs and those are great connections. I actually have the opportunity to lead one of the ERGs, and it’s been a, it’s great for me as a leader. And I wish I would’ve had some of these relationships when I started in the ERGs. And now we encourage folks, if you’re interested, we have ERGs and there’s almost an ERG for anyone’s interest. And, and honestly, we don’t limit you to which one you can join. Maybe you just wanna learn more and join an ERG. But building those relationships and community and trying to dice it down to, okay, how do I find, belonging in the work? How do I feel like I belong? And oftentimes, the ERGs are a way to do that. Especially as a new employee. I wanna find somebody who’s, somebody that like, that looks like me, that’s like me, that has similar experiences. And the ERGs are incredibly powerful tools, uh, and they help with that concept. And I keep saying it over and over as belonging. Cuz once someone feels like they belong in the organization, that’s when the magic starts happening because they feel like they belong. They then understand the mission and the purpose. Then the job becomes a lot more fun. It’s not as much work. It’s fun because I feel like I fit there. I have great relationships there.They have a mission that I can get behind. The purpose I can get behind. All of a sudden, magic starts then, and that’s where you start your career and you can build out a career in this organization.

Narrator: Michael leads one of the ERGs.

Michael Trout: No, I do, I still lead the Pride Organization. I’m actually handing that off to two leaders coming up. I’m excited about it. I’ve, I’ve led the organization for quite a while and we have two new leaders that are coming in, and I think that’s healthy too. As I moved to the C H R O, one of, one of the things that I realized really quickly is I represent all employees and sometimes there can be some confusion when you lead one of the ERGs. And in my role, I represent everybody in the organization. So we felt like it was a good move to get a couple of my good friends to, uh, lead the Pride organization, but it’s been an incredible opportunity for me. And pride to me is exciting because it isn’t just L B G T Q I A, we represent everyone, women, men, every person of color. it’s like this great melting pot and it makes it complex at times. But you, what you see is no matter what all of those differences are, the commonality creates such incredible power within that organization. And that’s what ERGs can be. What we get together and we realize, hey, we have commonalities. And those commonalities are important, but those commonalities also can be transcend, even this group, and they can think about, okay, how do we think about the customer with those commonalities? And it’s, it’s a great growth opportunity. And it’s also a, a safe place for folks that might just be coming into the organization, uh, might not understand the organization quite as much. 

Narrator: And the ERGs are easily accessible because their activities are largely online.

Michael Trout: So we’ve always done a ton of virtual programming. All of the ERGs do a ton of virtual programming. We’ve d we did that actually before the pandemic, just because we have four major locations. We have 60,000 employees spread out over a, uh, large geographic. So I actually found that the ERGs were probably a little bit better prepared to go virtual just because we had had our virtual programming for a long time. 

Narrator: These groups are a great place for new employees to connect, and learn more about the company.

Michael Trout: So a lot of things about what’s our culture or how do you succeed at State Farm? What does promote from within mean? What’s it mean to work for a mutual insurance company versus a stock company or a private company? What, what’s the difference? How does that play? And these ERG groups have are great ways of helping people understand all those things and the dynamics of a career at State Farm. And then we think about our customers. How can we help from a business perspective appeal to customers across all of the ERGs? The good thing about State Farm is you know, we’re the largest property auto insurer in the us. We have more of every type of customer that, however you define it. We have more of them. So we should be able through these ERGs to understand these customers even better. And what, what are they bringing to us and how can we better serve them? Um, and that’s the ultimate goal.

Narrator: Through the ERGs, employees will learn that they have a lot of options when it comes to the direction of their career within the organization.

Michael Trout: Yeah, so number one, the insurance industry has not traditionally done a great job of helping people understand our careers. It’s not considered one of the sexy industries that everybody wants to go into, but the reality is almost every one of those other industries, if you, if you wanna be a finance person, think about the finance related to a claim organization and a massive a hundred plus billion dollar organization like State Farm. The finance jobs, the investments that happen underneath. The customer service and claims. If you like to be close to the customer and you want to interact with the customer and you want that variability in your day, or if you’re a method person and you like process, the underwriting, whether you have the method and the process and the process is so critical. Or the technology obviously. We’re one of the biggest data companies in the world. If you think about how much data insurance companies have and how important it is that we keep that data safe and the integrity and all of those types of things. I think that what has happened, and I, and I saw it when I was in college and I was getting an insurance and risk management degree, is everybody thinks of insurance as sales cuz they think of the sales process. Cuz the vast majority of people, their only interaction with insurance is probably a sales transaction. The reality is we haven’t done a great job of helping people in university and outside of university understand how many different avenues there are within the insurance industry. And, I have an opportunity to interface with CHROs from other, uh, companies in the insurance industry. And we talk about how do we help people see the value in our careers? Because quite honestly, it’s not the thing that’s out there on the media and people are seeing, but the reality is we employ a ton of people. And when I hear about what Gen Z talks about is they want to make a difference in the world. They want to have a career that helps people.  Wow, we’ve got that for you. In the insurance industry, industry, you help people recover from the unexpected. You help people build financial security. They ensure their families so that if something horrible happens in your family, that there’s a way that you can continue your . Family and, and continue to meet your goals. So there’s just so many opportunities in this industry to help people and to be a part of people’s lives. I think we’re gonna see that we align very, very well with the generation coming up that actually is more interested in having a, making a difference in the world. Uh, and we offer those opportunities for folks to make a difference and have a career. And we offer all of the security of a large company. There’s a great value proposition for folks that are looking for a career, in an industry that’s ever changing, ever, ever adapting, and is very mission and purpose focused.

Narrator: As an ever-adapting company, State Farm has incorporated a variety of tech tools for both employees and customers to use. So they can communicate on whatever platform they’re most comfortable with.

Michael Trout: You know, a lot of our customer con, almost all of our customer contact either through a digital means, so we have a pretty, uh, robust tech presence because that’s how you reach out to us and contact us. What’s incredible about today is I can start on my app, on my phone, I can file my claim on my app, I can take photos. And all of that can go into our employees and they see that behind the scenes. But then the employee can reach out to me, they have conversations, and then just on my claim, then a person comes out and meets with me on the claim. So I had every single type of interaction in my claim, and I had a different potentially employee experience when they were dealing with me. So one employee was probably dealing with the app and they were dealing with the data from the app. Another employee actually talked to me and built the connection with me and the relationship. They were my contact. That’s the person that I have. Then the third person’s the person that came out to my home and, and a chance to meet with him. When you think about the employee experience, they could have all three types of those interactions at any time in their career. And I think there’s something fulfilling about that. I’m, I worry about, too much of one thing, and that’s why I’m such a huge proponent of hybrid work because I think it’s the value of remote and I, I fully appreciate the time to step away from buildings and to do the focused work that I do when I’m remote. But I also like the time I spend with my peers and with the folks that work for me. I get energy. We have uh, department meetings. and that energy when they’re in the room and they’re just talking. It’s always fascinating how noisy and loud the room is cuz people don’t get to spend time together. And I think as human beings, we are wired for relationships. We are wired for interaction. And I worry if you don’t get enough interaction, that could lead to some of our mental health challenges that we’re having because you’re forcing a human being to do something that is not natural. We want to provide opportunities for our employees to connect digitally, of course. Uh, the growth that we’ve seen in those platforms between the beginning of Covid and the beginning of the pandemic today. It’s almost natural now, and it wasn’t natural at first. Uh, and you see that and we’re getting better at that. But it never makes up for some interaction with your team and interaction with folks you work with. So we’re big believers in that mixture. We want to try to balance across all of those. And every person is different, and every person has different needs and desires and goals and different things in their life. But what we want to do as an employer is make sure that as a whole we’re meeting the needs of all of our employees, and we believe we do that best through robust digital platforms, teams, teams, communication, all of the technology. We’re moving our organization from our legacy platforms to all cloud platforms. We’re connecting our agency and our sales force to our claims force and our underwriting force, using digital and technology through the cloud. What we’re trying to do is create that seamless customer experience and to be able to support the customer, you need to be able to do it digital, face-to-face. And those should be seamless for the customer. And we’re trying to create that during the background. Now that’s an ever-evolving and ever-changing thing. Uh, and it requires a lot of change, agility from our employees because platforms change, tools change, uh, work changes. And, and if I was gonna say, there’s a skill that everybody entering the workforce today should have is a high level of change agility. Not feeling like there’s just one way to do things. Always be open to something different I worry at times that the remote work at times created singular ways of doing things and people think this is the way we have to do things. And what I see is that agility across all channels is so critical.

Narrator: And one of those tech tools is an intranet for internal and employee communications.

Michael Trout: We definitely have a robust intra that we use. And that’s, that’s our main connection point and hub point throughout the organization. That’s where everything starts. And we feed off you know, access to all of our HR programs and everything come through our internet hub, our leadership programs, our employee communication, video delivery, and execution. We continue to improve that. The reality nowadays, what we struggle with is people having time to consume all of the information that we are trying to deliver to folks. I do think it’s overwhelming all of the amount of information that we ask people to consume. That’s one of the things that actually creates stress at times. So we have to continually improve and make sure we’re delivering information, data, connections at the right time and in the right amount so that we don’t overwhelm folks. I feel like the world is kind of overwhelming right now. You’re, you’re getting hit from so many different angles. You’ve got your iPhone, you’ve got your iPad, you’ve got work, and all of these things are hitting at once. The winners are gonna be the people who figure out how to manage that information flow and keep it consumable and relevant and timely.

Narrator: Michael’s team is targeting those areas of improvement by tuning into the metrics and data they’re gathering. And they’re also looking into incorporating new technologies all while keeping the quality of their employee experience top of mind.

Michael Trout: Obviously we have all of the analytics around our systems and, and use of our systems. We measure our employees continually. We don’t use a lot of predictive analytics. We’re actually not doing that right now. It’s fascinating. You know, obviously over the last couple of weeks, with all of the AI news. It’s interesting to see what the potential is. I, I will tell you one of the areas that we’ve been most fascinated by is in learning and AI. And how do you deliver learning using AI and how can the employee create customized experiences for their self in that channel? Uh, and I think there’s a lot of potential there, especially if we can get the noise out of the data and make sure that it’s relevant and accurate and those types of things. And I think that’s gonna be the biggest challenge. as we’ve used AI in the applicant process, you have to be extraordinarily aware of the biases that might exist within the AI. And make sure that it, you don’t get unintended consequences. Now, we have checks and balances in place to try to prevent that, but the reality is, just like in human beings, there’s biases in AI too at times. And you have to really be careful to ensure that those biases aren’t playing out. But honestly, we haven’t done a ton around our digital employee experience and predicting what the employee needs at that time. We’ve, we’ve just not done that at this time. 

Narrator: With all of the great things Michael and his team do at State Farm, part of their success is also knowing what NOT to do. In other words, there are critical moments in the employee experience that they just have to get right. They can’t make mistakes. And one of those moments is onboarding.

Michael Trout: But the worst experience for an employee can be when you make the higher decision and you bring them on board, and you’re not ready for them day one to join the organization and feel a part of the organization. Uh, and that’s the worst experience. And right now, with the hiring volumes that we have, that’s something we pay very close attention to. Cause what we know is that first 30 days is critical to that employee when they join. They need to feel like they belong. They need to have a connection, they need to have a mentor. And all of those things established in the first 30 days. There can be glitches, especially with remote work and people working from home. Say that for some reason the mailing doesn’t work and their workstation doesn’t get to their home at the right time. Cuz we do mail these to a lot of employees and for one reason or another it doesn’t get to their home or when it gets to their home, there’s a glitch in how it connects to their internet and things like that. Those things are horrible employee experiences that actually ruin sometimes the relationship with the employee in the first 30 days. And it’s very difficult to recover from. So we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how do we ensure that that first 30 days is so critical. Our claim organization does a lot of the hiring and now they assign a person that’s doing the job that the individual was hired into to that new employee. So they have a immediate connection with someone. So if there’s a glitch around the computer or we don’t get it hooked up correctly, or the training doesn’t make as much sense, there’s a person they can immediately pivot to and say, this isn’t working very well. And that individual can say, okay, let me help you with this because I’ve done this before. I’ve recently gone through the process you’ve gone through, let me help you. It was amazing, the difference in retention we saw when we assigned that person to those individuals. I mean, it, it was a multiple factor for retention. With just that one thing. Now, the business area comes back and says, that’s really expensive when we hire that many people to assign person. But it’s not more expensive than the separation rate. So you have to constantly look at, okay, how do you invest in these new employees and help them feel like they fit in the organization? So that’s one where we started off, we had a really bad experience at the beginning of 2022, and by the end of 2022, we had dramatically shifted the experience.

Narrator: Another thing Michael keeps an eye on is employee workload. 

Michael Trout: Any time that, you know, other negative experiences that can happen is, if someone feels like they’re overwhelmed by the amount of work, we had a record growth year last year, so we grew more than in our a hundred year history. But the reality is were we quick enough to start hiring and staff the organization or did we put stress on our support organizations because of that growth? And I believe that we missed the curve a little bit coming out of COVID on hiring folks and getting them trained and getting them ready to deploy. Now we’re making progress in that right now, but there’s nothing worse in wanting to deliver world class service to customers and feeling overwhelmed. And we experienced that a little bit in 2022, and now we’re, uh, working very, very hard to ride the ship on that.

Narrator: Over his more-than 30 year career at State Farm, Michael has overseen the takeoff of careers, the scenic detours, the long hauls. So he has advice for people looking to land in the right career.

Michael Trout: But there’s a lot of exciting things that are happening in our industry, and as I think about that transition, it’s been years for me, but I, I connect with nieces and nephews and things and that connection as people leave school, either high school or college, and they come into the work world, there’s a lot of hesitance because they don’t know if they fit or they belong, or does this company represent my values? And I would argue that’s the most exciting time in life. And you’ll look back on that time and think about how exciting that was when you joined an organization and you built those relationships. I would say don’t be afraid of it. Own it and just come out and be excited about it and find an organization that represents your values, where you can actually do something good for the world. Those companies exist, and if you catch yourself in a company that’s not like that, find one that is. Because there are companies out there that have a mission and a purpose, and and all of the things that you want to achieve over your lifetime. You want to be able to look back on your career and, say that the world’s a little bit better cause of my role and what I did at that organization. I mean, everybody’s goal should be to leave the world just a little bit better than the things they did that might have not made the world better in the end. That’s, that’s an accomplishment. But make sure that the mission and the purpose align with you as a person. The satisfaction of your career, it’ll won’t feel so much like work. When you’re achieving that mission and purpose. 

Narrator: So guide employees to align with their purpose within the company, offer multiple channels to connect and engage with the organization, and help them leave the world just a little bit better in the end.

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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