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The Employee Experience Trifecta - HR, IT and Internal Communications, with Carolyn Clark

Carline Clark recently joined Jonathan Westover on Human Capital Innovations podcast to discuss how HR, IT and Internal Communications can help to improve your employees experience and how to apply it to your organization.

One of the first things that needs to be understood is that “... [e]mployee experience is every single touch point in an employee’s life.” All leaders should “really consider [themselves] as advocates for the employee wherever [they] are.” You want your employees to feel safe and comfortable within the workspace by doing simple things, from accommodating different practices that students follow for religious reasons, to making sure that your employees are told the truth and understand what is expected from them. “The people who are doing it right are the places who have evolved and who are now creating spaces where you can connect, you can get informed, and you can have this community.”


Next, Carolyn suggests we should “... [r]eflect on [our] own organizations, what’s going well? What could be improved upon.” Carolyn also notes, “... the people who are thriving are the ones who are figuring out how to create those experiences [with effective HR and communication management] digitally so that everybody can be part of the culture of the company….”


Finally, Carolyn suggests that we should “... take these two pieces of advice and the broader conversation we’ve had today and try to see how you can apply it in your particular context.”


You can listen to the full episode at innovativehumancapital.com/podcast, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts, just search “HCI Podcast”.


Read the full transcript below:


Carolyn Clark. Welcome to the Human Capital innovations Podcast. I'm so excited to be here. It is a pleasure to be with you. You're joining us from the Appalachian area, beautiful part of the country, and I'm a little bit jealous. We are talking pre interview, just about some of the stuff going on there and some of the of connections we have between your family, mine and your husband's work and my work and such. Anyway, so it's great to be able to have the chance to sit down and talk with you. This has been something that's been in the works for a long time, and we finally get the chance to sit down and have this conversation. Today we're going to be talking about employee experience and as you term it, the employee experience trifecta that is HR, It and internal communication. So we're going to parse that out, split that apart and try to understand that better and how we can enhance the employee experience within our organizations by focusing on those three areas as we get started. I wanted to share Carolyn's bio with everybody. Since starting her career, Caroline Clarke intentionally diversified her experience to all facets of communication, from producing news to consumer PR product PR, to media relations and corporate communication, and more recently, leading internal and HR communication at major tech companies, including Yahoo, Oath, GoDaddy, and Opendoor. She has led countless transitions, navigated more crises than she can count, and shepherded thousands of employees through complex acquisitions and integrations. She has a passion for navigating difficult situations and an ability to drive communication strategy through complicated corporate issues, some of which many companies never experienced before. Pleasure again to have you. What a terrific background, harrowing experiences it sounds like. So we're going to be talking about all that together today. Anything else you would like to share with the audience by way of your background in personal context before we dive on into the topic? No, I mean, not necessarily. As you said, I'm based here in Boon, North Carolina, and so I've been remote for many, many years, and the reason that is relevant is because so many people are remote, and for so many years I was one of the only ones. And so that's just kind of given me a really interesting perspective. But nope. I'll also say I'm a mom to one daughter, she's eight, which has transformed how I think as well. I think most parents would probably agree it just shakes you up in all the right places. And so as a mom, that's just it's hard to not mention it because it is such a part of my day to day along with work. So no, but you got it. What a bio, right? It's such a mouthful. I feel like I need to edit it out a little. And there's many more things. You have so many accomplishments. And I edited it down because I knew I could probably spend a half hour just sharing your background. But that's part of what this conversation is for. I'm sure more of your background will come out as we're having the dialogue. And certainly your experiences are very valuable, and we'd love to get your insights. And you're absolutely right about parenting transformative. You talked about transformation in your bio, and I think childhood and parenting navigating all of that is perhaps one of the most transformative types of experiences that we have in life. Yes, wonderful. All right, so as we talked about, let's start with employee experience generally, and then we'll narrow in. This is all the rage now. Like, it's one of those buzz terms, right? Everyone's talking about employee experience because of the great resignation and the tight labor market, organizations are having a hard time staffing positions, and so they want to enhance the employee experience. What does that mean to you, though? Because the term gets thrown around all the time. I think it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What does it mean to you? Yeah, when I think about the word employee experience and it's so funny because those of us who have been in this space for so long, the fact that it is finally getting some of the attention it deserves is a little bit you're like, well, way to catch on so many years late. But when I think about employee experience, it really is every single touch point in an employee's life. And by the way, that means everything. It means from the way that you log on to your computers if you're a remote worker, it means when you go into your bathroom and an office and what the experience in there is. And I have a great example. I'm going to tell you about that one. It means what happens when your computer, or let's say your keyboard breaks. How do you get a new one and how fast can you get it, what's the process to get it. It's also how you give feedback, what the culture is. I mean, it is so all encompassing and so simpler. The way that we think about it is we could never I don't think there is ever a company ever, that could really tackle everything because it would just be it's kind of every part of the business as simpler. We talk about it as being the way that we build community, we connect employees, and the way that people really communicate. But employee experience is so large overall. I want to tell you my bathroom story, john, can I tell you this? Okay? And I don't think I've ever talked about this before, but when I was at Yahoo, I was lucky enough to be there when Marissa Meyer became our CEO. And of course, there's a lot of things we can talk about with that, but one of the things that she did was she went into the women's bathroom and you wash your hands and you put your hand under the paper towel dispenser and the paper towel dispenser, dispensed a piece of paper towel that was this big. Well, that is not enough paper towel to dry your hands. So what do you have to do? You put it under there again. You put it under there again. One of the things she did as she calculated, and this is the kind of person she was, but she calculated the amount of time wasted by putting your hand under there three times and what it would save for you, frustration wise and literal time, if you put it under there and it gave you the right amount of paper towel. That is the epitome of employee experience to me right there in that story. Yeah, I love that because there's so many of those little things throughout your experience. We were talking about higher end in the pre interview, and this is one of it's just you shared a bathroom story. I'm going to share a bathroom story. It came out this was, I don't know, a decade ago or so. The university that I'm at, they got some negative press for the quality of the toilet paper in the bathrooms, and it was like the crummy corporate, like, single fly, right? And for whatever reason, I don't know why this was particularly newsworthy, but it actually kind of got some traction in the state. And all of a sudden, it was like, it was the embarrassment of the university, and the president was so embarrassed, and blah, blah, blah. It was all these things. On the one hand, you're like, oh, that's just dumb, and that's silly. But on the other hand, we all know what it's like when you're using the bathroom and not having the types of materials that would actually help you have a better experience. And so it's a tiny little thing that ultimately, because of all that negative PR, the president's like, okay, we're going to put better toilet paper in the bathroom. And guess what? Everyone was super happy about it because it's just a small thing, but everyone uses the bathroom, and you use the bathroom several times a day, and it improved. Even in just marginal improvements can make a big difference in the aggregate. Oh, my gosh. It's a symbol. It's really, you know, the bathroom stuff is a symbol. That toilet paper and that paper towel is a symbol of really the way that people need to be thinking about all those touch points with an employee. It doesn't mean, by the way, that employee experience to me, doesn't mean that you're doing everything employees want. It doesn't mean that you because first of all, you could never everybody has a different it's a different day. It's a different life. But what you're doing is you are considering every piece of the experience that an employee has. And considering it doesn't mean you're making a change necessarily. I mean, if it was going to put the university under to buy very expensive toilet paper, you would make a different decision. You might go mid range, but it's all of those things. So for me, these examples are symbols of how everybody should be thinking about employee experience. And yeah, I could go on and on about that. Yeah, I think we have a gazillion examples. My head is flooding with them. I'm going to give you one more quick one before we move on because it's also somewhat related to bathroom examples. But what we saw, I don't know how it is in North Carolina in terms of diversity. Utah, we're a pretty white state. Utah Valley University, where I'm at, we're actually the most diverse university in the state. But that's still not saying a ton because we're still pretty darn white. So it's something that perhaps for years and decades, people haven't really thought about some of these sorts of things related to diversity and inclusion. One example was for those of the Muslim faith who needed to say their daily prayers. Where can they do it? There's no actual place on campus for them to do it. And so what they would end up doing is going into stalls in the bathrooms to say their prayers. Eventually people started to kind of realize that was happening. I mean, the total number of Muslim students in this area is probably not huge, but even if it's just one person, you don't want them to have to do that, right? And so there were some conversations and eventually we got to the place where we created what's called a reflection center. So it's a nondenominational just spiritual reflection center that can provide those types of spaces for anyone, whether they're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, whatever. And they want to go in and have some quiet time to reflect and do things like pray or other meditation or whatever and just having and it's not a huge space, but it's a dedicated space on campus. So now those students can have that benefit. It makes a huge difference. And like you said, it's a signal even for those, you know, I'm a straight cisgender white dude, I have a Christian upbringing, so that's not something I would've necessarily even thought about. Right. But now that I know that the university cares enough about those students who are minority population, they care enough about them to provide that. Even though I'm never really probably going to utilize that, it still matters to me and I still feel proud about that and I appreciate it. And so these little signals, whether you personally utilize that service or that thing or not, it still makes a big difference. It does. And this is where you're really getting to the heart of many of us in employee experience, who are practitioners of employee experience. We really consider ourselves as advocates for the employee wherever we are. And what, you know, that the example you gave is very similar to what happens in many organizations where you've got this team of people who are it is their job to think about and to advocate for all of the employees. And again, it doesn't mean that you are being wasteful or not being good stewards of capital or all of these things. It is that you are considering it. And so in internal comms, which is where I've spent most of my career, every single thing I do and my team does is consider how are you empathizing with the employee, how are you advocating for them and how are you ensuring that the truth is always told? Even if the truth is not positive, right? Truth can just be it doesn't have a negative or positive slant. It is just the facts. So I think you're bringing one of the things that makes employee experience work and be elevated in an organization is when you have the people in the right roles to be able to advocate and you have a place. For those employees to be able to share their truth, whether it's through surveying or whatever your listening strategy is as an organization, it all plays together very, very good. Good. And some of these examples that we've been giving are simply physical facilities, right, of the place where you're working. And there's extra considerations when you have remote teams that are around the country or around the world, when you have these dispersed, distributed teams that maybe you don't have all the same physical kind of considerations, but many of the same issues are still should be at the forefront as we're thinking about employee experience. So facetoface employee experience versus hybrid or remote employee experience, that just complicates things. But it's really important to consider those things as well. It is. And that's, of course, what we do. We are employee experience platform, so we really think about the digital piece. But when you again, when you go to the roots of what even what we're trying to do as a company is create this space, this digital space where you as an employee can go. And that experience also has to be really thoughtful. You have to make it easy to find things. You have to make the ability to get information that you need to do your job or to be involved in the cultural aspects of your organization. That all matters in a digital place, whether you're remote or hybrid or not, it matters. And for so many years, I think people have said like, are intranets dead? And the reality is intranets how they were, or these gathering digital places, yes, they are dead, but the people who are doing it right, of course I'm going to say we're doing it right because my paycheck comes from simpler. But are the places who have evolved and who are now creating spaces where you can connect, you can get informed, and you can have this community. And that's what's happening in the digital employee experience space, is that the people who are thriving are the ones who are figuring out how to create those experiences digitally so that everybody can be part of the culture of the company or all the connection. All that. Yes. Excellent. All right, so let's dive in a little bit deeper to talk about these three main components we're going to be focusing on for the rest of our time. That is HR it and internal comms. Tell us a little bit more about your perspective on that and how those three can work together and the relationship between the three in terms of trying to provide better employee experience. Yeah, so when you think about all three of those areas, internal comms, HR, and It, they all have the same audience in many ways, right? They have the same people they're serving, which tend to be the employees. Not tend to be. They are. They are the employees. Right. Most organizations, those three functions are very separate, right? HR lives in the HR space. It lives in the technology space. Internal comms often lives in the majority within communications or marketing. Some of the occasions they're in HR, but they really are in separate places. They have separate budgets. They have separate goals. They have separate head count. And that's pretty standard. And I kind of want to make the argument that in the future there's going to be an employee experience team that is made up of that trifecta, where they're sharing the same budget. It's not like a borrow from the budget. It is a literal. You're sharing the bandwidth, you're sharing the headcount, you're sharing the money. All that. We are not there yet. There are very few companies or organizations that are there yet. They should be, but they're not there yet. So right now, the way that it's working and how it's worked most of my career is you're constantly that trifecta are talking to each other and having to push and pull from each other, which creates both close relationships and conflicting relationships. So it's just a complicated little trifecta because everybody is separate. They all have similar goals. Not the same goals, but similar goals. And so it's really there's so many examples you can think about. So let's take one example of that trifecta and walk through it. I'll take a positive one because we could take a negative one and talk about what happens in a layoff or what happens when there's a massive change. You know, those three are in the same room, working their work streams, whatever, but take a positive one, which is recognition. Okay, so all these companies, one of the things people are saying is, we need to be able to recognize our employees, either not just financially rewarding, but with the sentiment, the feeling, all of that. So your HR person tends to be the first person to say, I want to have a recognition program and so what do they do? They go down this entire route of figuring out how to do that, and then they say, hey, It, knock, knock, knock. We don't have budget. This is also a software we're trying to implement here. We need you to be involved. Come on late into the process, get on board. And then, oh, by the way, internal cons. You got to communicate it. You got to help us market it, do all of that. That is a typical scenario that happens all day, every day with those three people. What happens is that those It people come in late and they say, you missed the budget conversation, right? Like, we only have this much budget for software and we got to check all the security. Nope, can't do that. Got to push it out. And then internal says, oh, God, love it, really want to support you, but you're trying to launch this at the same time as performance reviews, and nobody's going to have time to consume it. The capacity of the employees confused. So those kind of conversations happen in every scenario at every organization between those three people all the time. And, you know, I would argue and one of the things that I've pushed for in my roles when I've been leading internal comms is bring everybody to the table, to the begin with, let everybody be part of it and take down those insecurities, which I think is people talk about, but like, is HR? Are they nervous that someone tried to take credit for their recognition program? All of those things, if you just boil it all out, there are all these human things that are coming into play. And I would just argue, if you can get all those people together, ideally on the same team, the experience, the outcome is going to be so much greater because they're all playing in the same space versus separate. And that's the thing, is we are all on the same team, aren't we? We get siloed, though. We get siloed in our little functional areas, and then all of a sudden, humans tend to get territorial and then we get defensive and we want to protect our little areas and whatever. We're all on the same team, so let's just work together and collaborate better is what I hear you advocating for. And yeah, you're absolutely right. When I think of HR, this is what I teach at the university, and I consult with organizations and It and communications that's like, so connected with HR. Like, you can't do good HR without those other pieces. And if you're not good with those other pieces, at least able to communicate effectively and have dialogues and collaborate effectively with those other functional areas, you're not going to be successful as an HR person. And so, absolutely. And this is what I'm constantly teaching my students. This is what I'm constantly talking about with organizations. And yet this functional divide persists in most organizations. And it's not people don't have bad intentions, I don't think, and people aren't trying to undermine each other and whatever, but functionally, systematically, you have these divisions that just end up perpetuating problems and they're hard to overcome. So we have to find ways to better align. Yeah. And I think the root of and I don't know as much on the It front, but I'll say on the HR and internal cons interaction, I think one of the reasons there is this underlying kind of tension from time to time is because internal comps specifically is a relatively new people have been doing internal comms a long time, but it's a relatively new sort of function with an organization. And because it's relatively new, nobody has cracked the code on proving the value, truly proving the value of internal cons as it connects to the business drivers. And so what happens is you've got these people going in trying to prove the value of their communications outputs, and then you've got HR also trying to prove the value of their programs, like the recognition program. And rather than that, combining that for the same goal to say, let's all ladder up all of our value into improving this one score. And who cares if HR is the one measuring that score? You can still get in there and have a collective goal. I think that there's just this tension of people are afraid. I think naturally people who are in these roles are a little bit of that human psychology takes over and you're like, well, God, if they do it really well, put on my job, and just all that stuff that comes into play and I hate it's. Who we are, we're survivalists. I think that's part of it. But gosh, if we could just leave that stuff on the side and just not feel the intimidation of losing our jobs or losing our value or the importance and just feel confident enough, like we know what we do brings to an organization, I just wish we could impact that somehow. Yes, me too. And maybe we'll end there. I noticed that we just have a few minutes left together today, and I'll need to let you go and get on with your busy day, but maybe a few pieces of advice that you might have for companies that are trying to build better process to bring these areas together. What would you say to organizational leaders around the process, actionable pieces of advice so that they can help to create that better employee experience? Yes, two things. One, if you're in employee experience, so if you're in that trifecta, really understanding what the other person does, don't go to if you're in internal comms, don't go to all the internal comms conferences, go to the HR conferences, go to where the It people are, understand what their pressures and they're trying to do. So that's the first just like if you're an ex do that, because the best way to have empathy and understanding for somebody else is to get yourself in their shoes. So that's the first one. And I think the second one is to really, for all organizations is to really take the time to look at the experience holistically understand how your digital employee experience and the tools you use there. Connect with all of the other experiences and period. Look at it. Holistically think about it. And we could talk for probably hours about all of that stuff, but those are my two. Probably. Good. Yes, good. I think it's really important for us to take actionable steps. So I would encourage listeners and the audience to really just think about this. Reflect on your own organizations, what's going well? What could be improved upon. Take these two pieces of advice and the broader conversation we've had today and try to see how you can apply it in your particular context. Well, Carolyn, it has been a real pleasure. Again, I know at the time I need to let you go, but before we wrap things up, I just wanted to give you a chance to share with the audience how they can connect with you, find out more about your work, your team, and then give us a final word on the topic for today. Yes. One, connect with me on LinkedIn, especially if you're a practitioner. I have all kinds of things I love to just share with people. Two, our Simpler blog is really, really robust. It's got a lot of actionable tips. So check that out and get in there. Read my latest Taylor Swift blog, which is a real fun one for me. But check out our blog, and that's it. Just go to simpler.com. And Simpler, by the way, has two P's, because we put Ppl, like people in the middle. It's really cute. So check that out. And I think just the last thing that I would say is get curious. And getting curious about the parts of an organization that have been really successful. Find out why they've been successful. Why is marketing getting the budget and you're not? Why is CX getting the budget and you're not? So go get curious. That's probably the last thing I'd leave it with. I love it. That's great advice and pretty much any walk of life. Get curious. Stay curious constantly. Be learning constantly. Be growing wonderful. It's been a real pleasure. I encourage my audience to reach out, get connected, find out more about what Carolyn and her team at Simpler can do for you. And as always, I hope everyone can stay healthy and safe, that you can find meaning and purpose at work each and every day. And I hope you all have a great week.


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