SocialChorus and Dynamic Signal are now Firstup. Learn more

How Top EX Leaders Elevate Employees to Do Their Best Work

Listen now on

“How do we get engagement of 38,000 people so they feel connected? Engagement that is ongoing, that makes them an active participant in our brand, in our vision, in our story, in our strategy? That, for me, is about being human.”

– Marija Zivanovic-Smith, EVP of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs at NCR Corporation

This episode features highlights from our first season.  We hear from 7-time CIO Mark Settle, Brady Pyle, Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA, Tony Saldanha, former VP of Global Business Services at Procter & Gamble, and more. Together, they bring you the most relevant insights to help you attract and retain world-class talent, implement effective tech tools, and improve leadership skills.

“There is this trap we fall into of assuming we know what employees want and what they need. And we don’t. We can make some generalizations, but we need to ask. We need to be asking the questions to understand truly what employees need inside an organization. And we need to understand that will evolve and change.”

– Joey Wilkerson, Employee Experience Lead and Acquisition Integration Manager at Cisco

Listen in to hear

  • How to hook new employees with a fantastic onboarding experience
  • Tips on engaging the incoming generation of workers
  • Ideas for adopting the right tech stack

“I began to challenge some of those notions around leadership. And I have seen, I have observed and experienced that you can be yourself and be an effective leader.”

– Brady Pyle, Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA

Episode Transcript

Narrator: Cruising Altitude has been on a journey to share the highs and lows of digital employee experience from top thought leaders in the industry. It’s been a heck of a ride. And today, we’re looking back at Season 1 to share with you some of the highlights. So keep your seat back in the upright position because we’re preparing to land the Season 1 finale. 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 highlights from Season 1.  But first, a word from our sponsor.

Let’s go all the way back to our very first episode with 7-time CIO Mark Settle. Mark taught us the importance of providing the right tech tools to each employee persona.

Mark Settle: “You’re the technology quartermaster for the army. And you’re just trying to give everybody the kit that they need, both at a generic level–hopefully we’re all going to be on one email system in the company–and then a kind of a more functional level that’s responsive to the needs of individual departments or work teams, or things of that nature.”

Narrator: But Joey Wilkerson, who is Employee Experience Lead and Acquisition Integration Manager at Cisco, says we need to check in often with employees to make sure their needs continue to be met, tech-wise or otherwise.

Joey Wilkerson: “There is this trap we fall into of assuming we know what employees want and what they need. And we don’t. We can make some generalizations, but we need to ask. We need to be asking the questions to understand truly what employees need inside an organization. And we need to understand that will evolve and change.”

Narrator: Because there’s a whole new generation of workers dominating the workforce, and what they’ll need from employee experience leaders is very different from what their parents’ generation needed. That’s what Nicole Alvino, CEO and Founder of Firstup, shared with us.

Nicole Alvino: “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.”

Narrator: It’s especially important employees have a great experience the very first day. That’s something we heard from Jâlie Cohen, Group SVP of HR Americas at The Adecco Group.

Jâlie Cohen: ”I think the onboarding piece is super critical and also should be one where, now this is a personal preference for me. It’s hard to do with volume hires. So for anyone out there where you’re doing mass hiring, this is difficult, but it’s not impossible. The importance of when someone joins an organization to not forget the importance of human connectedness, to have that personal touch. It can be a small item. I mean, something as simple as a branded coffee mug and a note from you to let them know that you’re expecting them.”

Narrator: And if you need to communicate with your employees, make sure your message goes to the right people, and that you’re to the point. Aaron Gerlitz talked with us about that. He’s the Program Manager of Information Security at Lowe’s.

Aaron Gerlitz: “You really want to make sure when you’re getting to them some communication, it’s concise. If there’s an action they need to take, that’s also concise and very easy to follow along. And that you’re not giving it to them too early or too late in the process. So it’s a really, really tough balance to make when you’re dealing with with those frontline workers, but it’s important, too”

Narrator: But every employee is different, so it’s important to celebrate their differences and have them be represented in your media. Here’s Erica Cary on that. She’s VP of Product and Services at Hilton.

Erica Cary: “If you’re showing an ad, it has Hilton in it, and we’re going through different scenarios of like how people can dream about spending their time at one of our properties or on vacation. If I can’t see myself in that dreaming experience, it does not feel personalized. But if Hilton, as a company, takes the time and the effort to really create inclusive dreamy episodes, that includes different people of different colors, different ages, different genders that I’m inherently creating this more personalized experience in an inclusive manner.”

Narrator: Every employee has their own strengths. Weston Morris, Director of Global Strategy for Digital Workplace Services at Unisys, says the key is finding out what they are. 

Weston Morris: ”Don’t be quick to judge somebody or put them in the box. A lot of times, that first impression is not quite right. And realize that everyone you meet is going to be smarter or better than you at something. So if you can find out what that is, and extract that gem from that other person, it’s just going to help you. And then the flip side is be ready to collaborate and share.“

Narrator: When it comes to being a successful employee experience leader, there’s no one right way. Brady Pyle, Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA says everyone has their own leadership style, and you just have to find what works for you.

Brady Pyle: “I began to challenge some of those notions around leadership. And I have seen, I have observed and experienced that you can be yourself and be an effective leader.” 

Narrator: Being an employee experience leader is really about people. Technology is just another tool to help enable that relationship. Especially at a company with over 30,000 employees. Marija Zivanovic-Smith knows about that. She’s EVP of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs at NCR Corporation.

Marija Zivanovic-Smith: “How do we get engagement of 38,000 people so they feel connected? And engagement that doesn’t stop. Engagement that is ongoing and engagement that makes them an active participant in our brand, in our vision, in our story in our strategy, and connected? That, for me, this is about being human. Yes, tools and technology. And we’ll talk about tools and technology. And I know very likely to ask me about that as well. They play a role. But this is about connection, communication, empathy. Truly, it’s about understanding each other.”

Narrator: The leader-employee relationship is about all those things and more. An important component is also trust. Here’s Alexander Senn, Head of People and Organization at Siemens Smart Infrastructure, talking about just that.

Alexander Senn: “I just observed and realized what happens with people when you really trust them and you empower them. You need to give them guidance about what do we want to achieve as a team, as a company. They need to have a clear view on the strategy, but then let them go. And then magic happens because when you give someone the trust and then the feeling of, ‘You can do that. I believe in you,’ It’s just amazing what happens.”

Narrator: And one thing we heard often was just to connect with employees and have conversations with them. We heard that from Lisa Cummings Penn, Executive Director of Employee Engagement in the Office of the CIO at Estée Lauder Companies…

Lisa Cummings Penn: “Mr. Leonard Lauder has always said listen first and lead second. And so I think that holds true for this in terms of really listening to your people, having really focused, intimate conversations with people and really understanding what people want. And listening to them and just taking that at face value, Some people won’t talk to you one-on-one. I mean, sometimes you’re going to need to do a survey, but however it needs to happen, ask people for what they want and then listen to what they say,”  

Narrator: And Angie Grossman, Senior Employee Experience Specialist at WarnerMedia.

Angie Grossman: ”I think it’s really important to make the time to make those connections. Have those coffee chats, get to know people, learn about them and really keep in touch. Because creating connection is how you can create engagement…That’s it.”

Narrator: Employee Experience is always a work in progress. Tony Saldanha, former VP of Global Business Services at Procter & Gamble, says he’s always working to refine his approach.

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

Narrator: And Quique Huerta, Global Employee Experience Officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance, says he’s always striving for excellence for his employees.

Quique Huerta: ”When you are implementing improvement in your employee experience, this is a process that never ends. So employees keep on raising the bar. So you are doing something, you are doing better, but then you need to keep on doing better is something that, that never finishes.” 

Narrator: And though we’ve come a long way in Season 1, this is just the beginning. There’s so much more to learn about creating a first class employee experience. Stay tuned for Season 2, where we’ll hear from industry leaders from Sony, Century 21 and more.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at firstup.io

Read more
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on email

Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

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

Listen now on

Cruising Altitudes Circle Cover Final Transparent

Sign up for our newsletter

Marketing by