Podcast Episode 38

Wired for Success: A Tech Business Approach to Employee Engagement

 In this insightful podcast episode on employee engagement in tech companies, Nina highlights the importance of actively listening to distributed teams to maintain high levels of engagement. She highlights the need for structured communication channels and anonymous feedback platforms to address issues like stress and mental health in remote work environments. Additionally, Nina discusses the role of leadership in championing employee engagement initiatives and leveraging technology, such as AI-driven feedback analysis, to promote transparency and organizational improvement.

Nina Quist Founder & Director @ Contechi

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Ryan Davies: Welcome everyone to the Tech Business Roundtable podcast show. This is a podcast show dedicated to shining a spotlight on tech innovators, entrepreneurs, founders, and the compelling narratives behind the movements that they’ve established. I’m your host, Ryan Davies, and I’m hosting today’s discussion, Wired for Success: A Tech Business Approach to Employee Engagement, with Nina Quist, Nina. Thank you so much for joining us here today.

Nina: Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Ryan Davies: This is something where, you know, in our little preamble and lead-up. Like I said, this is a. It’s got a personal little bit behind this and things like that. I think that this is an area that often ends up getting either overlooked or it’s too much of a challenge and it ends up being a buzzword area. I’m really excited to dive deeper and get your take on what you’ve been so successful with and for our listeners. Nina has diverse work experience in marketing and communications. They started their career in 2016 as a content marketing manager and have leveled up from there to head of marketing and communications. She has been the head of marketing, where she is now working as an editor for SAAS projects. It is a very well-rounded, and this is somebody who is absolutely perfect to speak to in this area for us. I think you can probably do a better job of covering up your background than I can. So, I’ll try to turn it over to you for a bit of an introduction and share a bit about your background in the tech industry and your journey.

Nina: Sure, thank you. My name is Nina, and I’ve been working as a marketer within B2B SaaS and tech for more than ten years. I initially started my career as a freelance writer and a journalist. So that’s sort of the angle I came into marketing from, which I think has been super helpful working with tech businesses because it’s often about translating quite complex and techie topics and turning them into something that actually resonates with the target audience. I’ve been working for a couple of fast scales over the years building marketing teams from scratch, and that’s really where I thrive when I get to come in, and there’s really nothing there in terms of marketing and or in terms of content marketing, and then I get to build that out that inbound machine so that’s sort of my specialty and now I am head of marketing at Eletive. Eletive is a people success platform. So, the core of the product is employee engagement surveys, as you touched the poem. So, that’s what we’re all about driving engagement in organizations all over the world and using technology, cutting it to technology AI and advanced algorithms to help businesses achieve their people goals and build really great people strategies.

The Importance of Employee Engagement

Ryan Davies: That’s great, and I think that it’s so crucial, and tech is something that’s so fast-moving, you know, there’s so much growth, and then all of a sudden it’s, you know, maybe they’ve got AI to change the way they are doing things and people are moving into new roles and all of this and I think employee engagement is critical to make people feel that they’ve got a voice that they’re important that they’re happy, right? That’s the type of culture that they want to be a part of. I would love to hear your definition of employee engagement and why it’s just so crucial for the success of the modern tech business.

Nina: Employee engagement is a rather complex concept, really. When you think about it, there, are a lot of different parameters that will affect your level of engagement, but if you try to put it shortly when you’re engaged in your work, you’re committed to your work, and you’re enthusiastic about your workplace, about your work tasks, about your goals and your work, you put up in that extra discretionary effort to reach your goals and you’re proud of your workplace and we can see looking at the statistics that it’s actually a minority of people who feel that way about their work and a large part of the working population are either unengaged or actively unengaged and when you’re actively unengaged, you’re actually working against your employee’s goals or your employer’s goals and you’ve reached that sort of cynical state when you’re just doing like the minimal effort and you’re not really contributing at all and I mean, the cost to that is quite substantial and there’s also an opportunity cost to that because imagine if you would have someone who actually was engaged, what would you achieve with that role? So there’s a lot of potential. I think we have a big issue with low engagement around the world, but if you turn it around, there’s huge potential in that. So, the companies that manage to turn that around can quickly see really great progress because what we can see is that engagement is closely tied to productivity to retention, reduced sick leave, reduced stress-related illnesses, and reduced absenteeism. So, there are so many positive factors that are impacted by engagement. I think what we’re starting to see, which is really cool, is that companies and even VCs and PE firms are starting to look at employee engagement as a leading indicator of business success in the same way as you would view a pipeline for example, it’s a leading indicator because when your people are engaged, they are going to perform, they’re going to find solutions to solve your problems. Like your product will always get old and you have to re-invent it. It’s like it’s the people who will make that happen. So, especially in tech, people are your most valuable asset.

Ryan Davies:   Absolutely critical. I mean, You’ve touched on a little bit already about the fact that the ROI is massive from that engaged versus disengaged or, like you said, even cynical. I actually just watched Office Space like two weeks ago as that movie holds up for so long with his line of like I come in and do just enough not to get fired. That’s where his attitude got to the movie. I show up, and I do just enough not to get fired every day that I go, and you’re like, wow, it was 25 years ago, and now it’s evolved into the same kind of thought process for people, and you mentioned that a highly engaged workforce, especially in a technology-driven environment is huge. What are some of those key indicators? So, for people who are looking at it, I don’t know if my workforce is necessarily engaged or not. How do I set a baseline for that? How do I discover some of the indicators that you see? 

Nina: That’s what we do with our platform: We provide the means for sending out regular pulse surveys. So you would just sort of if we look at the history of employee engagement surveys a decade ago or so, companies would often send out these huge employee surveys like once a year or even bi-yearly, and they would have like a big questionnaire with maybe 100 questions, and then they would gather the answers, and they would have extensive consultants looking at the answers, and it would take a lot of time before they could act on the results and by then most people maybe have changed roles or left the company and it wasn’t very agile. Nowadays, companies are looking for more agile, more modern ways to sort of gauge the level of engagement all the time to, like a thermometer, take the pulse of your organization and measure 11 different drivers of engagement that have been scientifically proven to be connected to high engagement and to organizational success and example of that is the level of feedback and communication relationship to colleagues, relationship to your manager, your sense of purpose and meaningfulness, your sense of participation your access to the right tools and the workplace environment. There are a number of factors that we compile into an engagement index depending on how often you send out the survey, it will be if you send it out weekly or if you send it out biweekly, it will be just four questions every week, and the next time for different questions and what questions you will get depends on your answers in the last survey.

Ensuring Employee Engagement in Distributed Teams

Ryan Davies:  There is AI behind working in the background, making sure you get the relevant questions so that organizations can quickly pinpoint where there is an issue, like where you are as an individual having challenges because 11 problems that you can face when you’re sending out employee service if you’re sending out the same questions over and over again, people get survey fatigue they stop answering. That’s why we’ve built these smart surveys to adapt to your responses. They’re more dynamic. If these 11 drivers are what we measure and compile into an index, then you can see the whole organization sort of like in a heat map, so you can immediately spot them. This segment is red here; we have to really drill down into the data and see what is not working, and then you can sift and slice, and dice the data. OK, for this team in this particular unit, there seems to be an issue with the manager, which is an example of something that is very detrimental to engagement, as you can imagine, and then it becomes really easy to address that because you have it in black and white or in red and green. In this case, you can see very easily where there’s a problem, and you can also see trends. You can see the results plotted on a timeline, which helps you see if your organization is moving in the right direction or in the wrong direction because, you know, your engagement is not something you can just flip a switch and people are engaged. It’s a process. It’s an agile process. You ask for feedback, and then you take action on the feedback, and you ask for feedback again. That’s sort of like to call that the flywheel of people’s success because it’s like a constant feedback loop that you need in order to have your people stay engaged.

Nina:  Right. I mean, that is incredible, and we can see now, that I was going to ask a question about how technology plays a role in this. I think you’ve kind of touched on that in the fact that we’ve gone from which never happened way back when, but paper surveys or it was more like just, hey, your boss asking you and you having to sit with them and go well, of course, I’m happy here like you’re never going to say no. Right? So you would do that. Now, there are surveys, and there are things like that, but I’d love to kind of understand a bit more about what metrics are most effective in measuring employee engagement and how you kind of touched on it as well. Maybe these kinds of come together of how organizations really analyze that data that’s been gathered to make those informed decisions and improvements when they’ve seen those metrics. What you can do once you have the data, that’s when you can start to analyze it, right and the thing is that it’s not going to be. There are no cookie-cutter solutions because all organizations are different in a sense. Some things are commonalities, but it’s when you have your data for your organization that you will be able to start seeing the patterns. I spoke to a customer just to give an example. I spoke to a customer a couple of weeks ago, and they had taken their data, their engagement data, and they had put it into their BI system and cross-matched it towards their profitability and their customer satisfaction metrics like their MPS metrics across the board in their organization and that’s when they were able to identify that for their organization, the most crucial engagement metric was the one that was called feedback and communication. So they could see that when they were able to increase the rate of how people would rate feedback and communication, that would affect all the other engagement metrics. When people felt that feedback and communication were working, it would impact everything from relationships to colleagues to even how they perceive their physical workplace. When feedback and communication were improved, people were more happy with their tools, their desks, and their environment, which is crazy because it doesn’t cost anything to improve feedback and communication, right? But without this data, they wouldn’t have been able to know where they should put their effort and start initiatives and training, etc. What they could also see was that comparing their, all in all, least engaged units, the 15% that were least engaged to the ones, the 15% that were the most engaged, and the 15% that were the most engaged those units were twice as profitable as the ones at the bottom. I think that’s the beauty of getting your own data. That’s when you can start to understand the dynamics of your own organization. There’s, there’s not just going to be like one thing that is the thing to track for everyone, or you should track it, but this is the thing to sort of address, but there is one metric that is becoming more and more popular to use as like an HR KPI or a KPI  to sort of rule them all, and that is the eNPS. I’m sure you’re familiar with the eNPS score, like the net promoter score. In tech, we use it all the time to see how happy our customers are, and now more and more companies are using the eNPS, the Employer Net Promoter Score, to get that same type of feedback from their employees because that’s actually a shift we’re seeing like companies are starting to treat employees a little bit more the same way that we’ve been treating our customers because we’re starting to realize that we depend on our employees even more. We can see that in the language used by HR, people are talking about, we used to talk about the customer journey. Now, we talk about the employee journey. We talk about customer experience while we talk a lot about employee experience, and you know, all these commercial terminologies are starting to translate more and more to HR because we understand that it’s very expensive to lose employees. It’s very expensive to have to hire new ones. It’s not good business. It’s worth a lot of attention and effort to make people happy where they are. I also think in the wake of the pandemic and people working more and more remotely, people are harder to retain, especially within tech. You can work from anywhere for anyone,and it’s not a big shift to quit and start somewhere else. It takes more than money to keep you in one place. It has to be something more; you have to capture people’s hearts, and the sort of yeah, it’s about engagement.

Rayan Davies:  I completely agree with you on that. I just want to say, Nina, are you reading my screen or my notes here? I think you’ve gone to my next question three times because I was going to ask you about the rise of remote work, right? And understanding how technic companies can really ensure these high levels of employee engagement in these distributed team environments, right? This is something that is, again, it’s very much a different world from prep, which is, it feels like it was decades ago at this point, but really, it was still in this decade; it was only a few years ago, and teams are trying to again, they’re distributed teams, they’re all over the place. How are you, you know, are tech companies able to ensure those high levels of employee engagement are still reached?

Nina:  Exactly. I think, as always, that’s always my answer. The way to know what you need to do it is to ask your people because they will know what they need. You just have to listen to them, but when people are distributed all over the world, and you don’t talk by the coffee machine or the water cooler anymore, you don’t need each other. You have to find a structured way to ask people regularly at scale. How are you doing? What do you need? Because when you do that, you will have the answer. It’s quite simple when you think about it like that. We provide the platform for doing that in a way where people are anonymous, where they feel safe, and where it’s easy. So that’s what I think it’s all about and one aspect that I think it’s important to remember also is that when you don’t see people all the time like we used to do in the office, it’s harder to know if someone is struggling. It’s harder to know if someone is facing maybe stress or mental illness, and then it’s really, really important to have those open channels with your team members and your employees where they have somewhere to turn. In our platform, for example, it’s not just surveys. There’s an anonymous chat function There’s a whistleblower function. There are different ways for managers to reach out. If they see from the results that this person doesn’t seem well, then you can reach out without that person having to disclose their identity. You can create a safe channel where you can sort of share your problems. It could also be issues, with bullying or harassment or whatever it may be, that are sensitive issues, and then employees need a channel for that to make sure everyone is safe and well.

Leadership’s Role in Employee Engagement

Rayan Davies: That’s amazing. Even in the office, sometimes it’s hard to make those connections. I mean, there are so many people who’re good at hiding things, or maybe they are. The day-to-day is tough to read. They’re a bit they come, their work is they released their sanctuary so they’re happy when they’re there, or they’re just not or whatever it is, right? It’s hard; it’s just that challenge exists in person and remote, and I know, you know, where I was a while ago pre-pandemic again, sort of a thing, and during the pandemic, that was a big thing was we had teams in across Canada, across the United States, across Ukraine, across Europe culture differences, right? It’s so difficult to find out what is a priority for one person over another, what work-life balance means to one person over another, all of those types of things. I think that comes down to the leadership side and being able to like the role of leadership in this. How can leadership within tech organizations actively contribute and champion these initiatives and the feedback to them as well as from them? From the leadership perspective, because, as you said, it’s great from an employee engagement side, but sometimes you get leadership teams that are spread out, and you’ve got different levels of engagement there as well. What’s your take on that as well? 

Nina: I think when you are looking to improve engagement to improve employee experiences, nothing is more important than focusing on the leaders who can ensure that they have the right skill set, the right approach, and the right attitude. On that note, what we also offer is 360 surveys that can help you not just get feedback from individuals but also help leaders get feedback on how they’re doing as leaders. You can actually use 360 feedback for everyone in your organization, having team members give feedback on each other because it’s all about not only getting feedback from your manager but getting feedback from your peers, getting feedback from your direct reports to sort of build that self-awareness that is so crucial in order to be a good leader. I think that’s a really helpful tool when it comes to developing leaders and driving engagement. It’s just important to communicate very clearly within the organization that these types of surveys are made to help everyone develop. They’re not about accusing anyone of being a bad leader. You have to help people perceiving that feedback as a gift rather than a threat because sometimes people can become a little bit defensive if they’re worried about the feedback they’re going to get but also on that note, I want to touch upon something else in relation to your last question, how tech can be used for the purpose of improving the employee engagement an experience because I think one challenge when you have if you have a big organization that is distributed all over the world, top management often is a bit can be in an informational silo, it can be difficult to sort of really keep your ear to the ground and really because information gets stuck at the different levels and people are a bit afraid to share maybe the problems and they sort of never reach all the way up in the hierarchy and if you have an organization with thousands or tens of thousands of employees, it’s very tricky for top management to read all those people are leaving free text comments maybe and how do you manage that vast amount of feedback data? So that’s where technology becomes super, super helpful, especially now with the AI components we’re developing where you can actually have natural language processing to help you understand what people are saying and have the system analyzing and giving you like a rundown of the most important topics that are coming up in the organization and then you can drill down when you see. OK, here’s an area that seems to be problematic, for example, and then that creates a new type of transparency from the very, you know, through all the layers of an organization, which I think is super important.

Ryan Davies:  Absolutely. A big thing here for me is always around change management, right? Because I’ve had it too before where someone said to me, here’s your mandatory survey you have to do, and already the word mandatory. Basically, you go get your back up and be like, oh, you know, and right, so now what do I have to say? I’m going to get in trouble if I don’t write that kind of thing. What’s your take on being able to introduce something like this to make sure to get that organizational buy-in and really help communicate the reason and the importance of this employee engagement feedback and what you’re going to do with that information?

Nina: Yes. The communication is absolutely crucial to communicate the purpose of the survey that it’s not to sort of monitor anyone, to really be very clear on the fact that it’s anonymous and that there is no way for anyone to know who is answering what and these surveys are a tool to make the workplace a better place for everyone and to really repeat that. Also, I think the most important thing is to not only communicate when you’re launching a service but to keep communicating around the actions you take based on the feedback that you’re starting to receive. I think that’s the key part: Some companies fail if you don’t follow up on the survey feedback and sort of share it with the organization.OK, we got these results. So now we’re going to take these actions if you never get that sort of, if you never close the feedback loop, people will become dissolution after a while. They just feel like they’re sharing their input and feedback, and nothing ever happens. It can backfire and actually lower engagement. So it’s important to have the structures for that. I think when it comes to Eletive, we try to shift like the traditional dynamic of employee service where all the feedback would end up with the HR team or the HR manager, and the rest of the organization would sort of lean back and cross their arms and just wait for HR to fix everything, which is of course not possible because HR cannot just like pull engagement out of a hat like a white rabbit. It has to happen within the team where the work is happening. So we try to shift that by giving managers access to the results. You can give admin rights at different levels. So that ownership is with teams and with the team members, everyone should be responsible for improving the workplace together. So, each employee has their own dashboard where they can track their own engagement score, which also helps you take ownership of your employee experience because it’s a shared responsibility right there. It takes two or more to tango, and it’s never just one party that can fix things. It has to be a collaboration of effort.

Key Takeaways and Final Remarks

Ryan Davies: I think it’s a perfect way to kind of sum it all up together, but I always love to kind of get a final piece of advice or a key takeaway, you know, something you would offer to our tech business leaders that are really aiming to enhance employee engagement, create better workplaces. Something you’d like to share with them to say, you know, this is again, I think for the past almost 30 minutes, we’ve been able to really drill down why you have to, but just that last piece of takeaway for them to say this is really what matters here.

Nina: Now, I would say, start measuring because what gets measured gets managed, and we measure all the other important business KPIs in our businesses down to the very decimal on a daily basis. It would be really weird if the sales of CRO would say that they didn’t really know exactly what the pipeline was looking like, but they will tell you next year when they check it. Does it not work? I think we need to have the same mindset when it comes to employee engagement because it’s as important, and it affects all the other metrics that ultimately will impact your bottom line as well.

Ryan Davies: Perfect. Absolutely. So, with that before we sign off here, Nina, I’d love just if you’d like anything else to share with our audience about how to get in touch with you where they can find out more information. Really take advantage and take that first all-important step in terms of being able to increase their ROI and understand the information and the data that exists from their teams.

Nina: So I think a great way to learn more about Eletive is to visit our website, eletive.com. And there, it’s also super simple to just click the book a demo button and get a free demo and just talk to one of our product specialists to understand if eletive might be a good fit for your organization and if you have employees and you want your employees to be able to perform at their best chances are we are a pretty good fit. So, yeah, let’s talk.

Ryan Davies: Absolutely perfect. Thank you, Nina, so much for this amazing podcast, Wired for Success: a Tech Business Approach to Employee Engagement. I think there’s a lot here for people to unpack and understand. Again, tech is such data numbers and analytics-driven, right? This is something that probably gets missed a lot, and there is data and analytics here to be captured and to understand and not like you said, not once a year, take the whole team and do a two-hour all-hands meeting and go through their annual 100 question survey, but keep your finger on the pulse and keep it growing. If people treated it like a revenue center like it is, it would really change the outlook, right? So take that forward and start to put some things into place for your organization and whatnot. And again, thank you, Nina, for this incredible podcast on employee engagement, and I want to thank our listeners as well. We can’t do what we do without you. So, until we meet again with another amazing TBR episode, I’m your host, Ryan Davies. Take care everyone. Thank you.

About Our Host and Guest

Director of Marketing – Ekwa.Tech & Ekwa Marketing
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Head of Marketing at Eletive
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” The way to know what you need to do it is to ask your people because they will know what they need. You just have to listen to them.”

– Nina Quist –