B Lab Forces For Good Podcast — Episode 9: How can companies build and sustain an engaged workforce?
So much of what makes up a ‘good’ business is external. Companies promote the positive impact of goods and services to customers, they put out PR statements about their purpose, and they make commitments that shareholders and customers call for.
But what about the people who make a company run? In this episode we answer:
How can companies ensure that workers are satisfied and share their sense of purpose?
How can businesses give employees opportunities to learn and grow?
What is the best way for businesses to get and implement feedback from workers?
Bernard Gouw, Senior Manager Social Standards, B Lab
Douglas English, Founder and CTO, Culture Amp
Moniek Tersmette, Business Humanizer and Founding Partner, Innate Motion
Jasmine Huang Qian, Cultural Decoder and Business Humanizer, Innate Motion
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Doug: [00:21:49] H.R. teams on their own can only do so much. You can gather a bunch of data and try and work out what to do with that. But really, to make meaningful behavioral change throughout the organization, it needs to be far more than just the H.R. teams.[00:22:13]
Bernard: [00:19:40] For a long time, workers have been taken for granted. [00:19:45][3.2]
Bernard: [00:20:04] it's great to see now that companies are starting to realize they do need to find ways to have an engaged workforce to attract them. [00:20:18][14.7]
Moniek: [00:30:33] you can continue to look and build a diverse team and. The next step is then to train people to. To take the benefit of that diversity. So not thinking, oh, uh, we tick the boxes. No, we are going to make use of all those differences. [00:30:54]
This is Forces for Good, a podcast from B Lab, the nonprofit network powering the global B Corp movement. Forces for Good takes a hard look at how businesses are helping to solve the biggest social and environmental challenges of our time. I’m your host Irving Chan-Gomez.
On our podcast, you’ll hear from B Corp leaders, industry experts, and changemakers. We’ll tell you about what companies are doing to move beyond buzzwords--and change destructive practices across industries. We’ll ask tough questions to uncover how we can truly drive positive impact for people and the planet.
So much of what makes up a ‘good’ business is external. They promote the positive impact of goods and services to customers, they put out PR statements about their purpose, and they make commitments that shareholders and customers call for.
But what about the people who make a company run? How can companies ensure that workers are satisfied, share their sense of purpose, and have opportunities to grow. In this episode, we’ll explore company cultures and what businesses are doing to understand the needs of workers and maintain a valued and dedicated workforce. We’ll hear from businesses that facilitate worker engagement for other companies, as well as organizations that are thinking outside the box to create a positive work environment.
Sustaining an engaged workforce is imperative in order for a business to be a Force for Good. Companies have to keep workers informed, give them the opportunity to express their views, and truly show them that they’re valued.
What kind of work environment do you want? How do you want to receive feedback, get assignments, and collaborate? How do you want the company you work for to respond to social and environmental issues around you?
Doug: [00:03:32] The idea or the area that that really took off for us early was the concept around employee engagement surveys. So helping to give voice to employees, helping organizations and particularly HR teams to understand what's working well, what's not and where they should focus their energy to create better places to work. And I think we've we've since used that as a bit of a launching pad into a whole heap of different areas [00:03:59][26.4]
Doug English is the Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Culture Amp - an organization that helps businesses become better places to work. When they started, Doug and his co-founders were stuck at companies that constantly disappointed them. One day, while commiserating about everything that was wrong with their workplaces it hit them - the kind of place they wanted to work for was a company that created better workplaces for everyone.
Doug: [00:02:08] And I think for me, probably one of the big ambitions at the time was that I wanted to build the kind of company that I would like to work for. And I also wanted to do something that was kind of bigger than just us, like something where we were kind of deeply contributing to to something more meaningful. [00:02:26][18.8]
Culture Amp started by offering engagement surveys. Doug explains that surveys help to give employees a voice within an organization. And while surveys are a great place to start, Culture Amp has continued to build worker engagement through newer tools to give feedback, learn new skills, track goals and create deeper relationships between managers and employees.
Doug: [00:06:20] I think starting with engagement has actually worked really well in terms of helping us to build some really deep benchmarks into a whole heap of different organizations across lots of different industries and quite literally across the globe. And it's helped us to see what are the recurring themes, what are the recurring challenges that people have and helped us to identify? What are some of the things that we can have the biggest impact in in in the aim of of creating more engaged employee workforces and creating having a bigger impact on the experience of of employees and then then also on the on the companies. [00:07:01][40.4]
Culture Amp works with major companies, from SoulCycle to McDonalds. They’re able to pool data from these international organizations to spot trends and see what drives workers.
Doug: [00:18:40] I think particularly over the last decade, has been a big shift from organizations realized, essentially organizations realizing that their their people are an important asset and that by that there is a really important symbiotic relationship there where if you can create growth opportunities and supportive environments for for employees, that they will do amazing work and create great companies and there'll be really impactful business outcomes. [00:19:18][38.3]
In recent years, Doug has also noticed employees demanding more from their employers.
Doug: [00:40:28] There's already a much deeper expectation on employers than there was even, say, ten years ago. You had employees are now you're expecting organizations to have a position on some of the the social justice policies or social justice justice topics that are coming up. They there's there's a much deeper expectation that that employers will have a have a solid plan on how they they deal with the climate crisis and how they think about their their footprint on the on the planet. And I think there's a much deeper expectation that that employers will work with employees around a bunch of these things. And employees want to have a part part to play in in holistically how they think about their lives and how they how they have a positive impact on on their communities. [00:41:34][66.5]
Doug says Culture Amp wants to attract these kinds of people that have opinions about where they work and will push their company and leadership to do better. Culture Amp became a Certified B Corporation 5 years ago at the suggestion of an employee.
Doug: [00:14:23] in some ways, I think the most powerful part about becoming a B Corp is really just having a scorecard, essentially a way of of of being able to demonstrate to to our and to ourselves into it, to our employees that we are walking the walk, not just talking the talk. So I think it just definitely helped us a lot in terms of hiring and hiring the right types of people, as in the more mission aligned people that I think are going to be a much better fit within Cultural Amp. [00:14:56][33.4]
You might remember Bernard Gouw(GOW) from our episode on living wage. He’s the Senior Manager of Social Standards at B Lab.
Bernard: [00:02:26] When we say worker engagement, we refer to the state of an engaged workforce. [00:02:31][5.2]
Bernard: [00:02:52] What we mean by that is essentially, I think that the quickest way to define it is that workers have a positive connection with their jobs and their employer. And what exactly does that mean? Well, a few things that come to mind. Our sense of motivation, commitment, satisfaction, and crucially, a sense of shared purpose. [00:03:19][26.7]
Workers deserve to be engaged in their job, and mission driven organizations can leverage employee engagement to push further into its shared purpose.
Bernard: [00:07:15] It's about everyone in the company being brought in and in harmony working towards that purpose. And so for those kinds of companies, worker engagement isn't just about happier workers, it's also about achieving the bigger purpose altogether. [00:07:30][15.5]
That is why B Corp Certification includes standards relating to worker engagement.
Bernard: [00:16:50] the B Corp movement is all about changing the purpose of business. Business as a force for good. [00:16:58][7.3]
Bernard: [00:17:06] business to maximize stakeholder value, not shareholder value. So there's an incentive to have an engaged workforce. [00:17:18][12.4]
Workers are stakeholders in a company. Other stakeholders include customers, suppliers, local communities and even shareholders. Most businesses are used to operating in a system that maximizes profit for shareholders with little regard for these other groups. Now, many businesses, especially B Corps, are moving toward a system of stakeholder value. They want to maximize value for everyone, not just shareholders.
Bernard: [00:35:02] Currently we have worker engagement satisfaction as part of our standards [00:35:08][6.7]
Bernard: [00:35:14] So we have questions that ask about whether companies have worker satisfaction surveys and we break that down. We also look at the added components of that. For example, are those surveys or to the surveys provide this aggregated data, for example, gender segregated, disaggregated data so that you can see the difference between satisfaction levels of men and women or between other important, important groups. [00:35:44][29.7]
Bernard: [00:35:57] An important part of that is for any kind of survey that's being done, for any kind of data collection process that a company has, they have to share back with workers what the results are and what's being done with with those results. [00:36:09][12.0]
Doug told us that Culture Amp’s engagement surveys have shown business changing since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Bernard points out to similar trends.
Bernard: [00:19:40] For a long time, workers have been take it for granted. And it's been very interesting to see with the pandemic how priorities have changed for workers. [00:19:56][16.6]
Today, while hiring, businesses are more likely to make the case to potential employees that they are mission driven and working to make a difference.
Bernard: [00:20:04] it's great to see now that companies are starting to realize they can't take workers for granted and that they do do need to find ways to have an engaged workforce to attract them. [00:20:18][14.7]
By looking into employee engagement, we are also able to lift up equity considerations in the workplace and, more broadly, social issues like the wage gap and childcare.
Bernard: [00:23:27] So men prefer having jobs where they can get a bigger salary, but they have less flexible in terms of time offs and higher demands in terms of working overtime. For example, women, on the other hand, prefer jobs where there is flexibility. Now I use the word prefer with care because. For a lot of women. Sure, they're opting into jobs with this flexibility, for example, working part time. But the reason why they're opting into those kinds of jobs, because care responsibilities, domestic household responsibilities disproportionately fall on women. [00:24:03][35.6]
Moniek Tersmette (Monique) and Jasmine Huang Quian call themselves business humanizers. They think their company, Innate Motion, is ahead of the curve on many of the trends we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Here’s Moniek.
Moniek: [00:16:36] from the start, we had that desire to be to be global with a small team. [00:16:42][6.4]
Moniek: [00:17:03] . And then we ended up with a few principles. We said we are riskless, meaning no offices, no buildings, we are borderless, that anyone can operate from wherever in the world we are business. There is no hierarchy. It's people taking their responsibility and being little entrepreneurs. And then after a few years, this all started 16 years ago. And after a few years, we always added. And yes, we are a B Corp. S [00:17:39][11.6]
From inception Innate Motion has been a remote company. They illustrate a lot of the worker engagement suggestions Bernard and Doug made. They call themselves a global purpose agency. Innate Motion’s mission is to help businesses better connect with their stakeholders. Jasmine explains the relationship they’re trying to build.
Jasmine: [00:09:37] So in the journey we also encourage clients themself to speak to their customers. Actually, we don't use the word customers, we use the word people they want to serve because in the end of the day, people who buy their products, their brands. They are the human beings, so they are the people they want to serve. [00:09:57][20.0]
Jasmine has been at Innate Motion for 14 years. Over that time, she says she’s seen progress in the company’s mission to humanize business, not just with the companies they work with, but internally as well.
Jasmine: [00:33:55] So every three years they actually refreshing the style guide, they refreshing the tools. They try to really look at what's the trend outside, you know, society was the movement was the new movement for the category and what's real need to be solved as a societal issues. What do we care about the most? So based on those different factors, the way change the tools, change our narrative, and also change the way the methodology, how do we help clients to be more human? So that's why I felt the a lot of stimulation along the journey and also because what you mentioned about the diversity of culture and also different generation, I also felt I learned so much from different culture. I learned I gained a lot of different insights from different generation as well. [00:34:44][49.1]
Internally, Innate Motion works hard to maintain a positive and colla-borative work environment. They block out time for things like coaching, feedback, and teambuilding. And they do it all a little bit differently…
Moniek: [00:24:59] So we don't have systems to check up on people. We only have systems to open the curtains, to open the door and tell the others. This is what I contributed. I can, you know, take it from here. And sometimes we even make use of that time zone differences by working all together. So someone in Asia starts with something that needs to be done with a short deadline. Someone in Asia starts, someone in Europe takes over, builds on it, looks at all the comments put in there, and then someone in the Americas zone tries to finish it. That's beautiful, but that can only be if people are ready. For that full transparency, full openness, and ready to collaborate, ready to do an effort and understand what the previous version did, even though there was no moment where you could hand over a face to face or hand over in a video. [00:26:11][72.7]
Jasmine says a culture of feedback and open communication is critical for employee engagement, especially in an organization that works with and for people from all over the world.
Jasmine: [00:22:01] feedback culture is really to encourage everyone to talk and to have a set conversation and also to be honest about your feelings towards each other, not only professionally and also on personality and the way to be honest on each other's personalities. Extremely important because we all from different culture, from Asia, even Asia, within Asia region, we have Indonesian, Chinese, Thai not really tied but touch based in Thailand. And Vietnamese used to have a Vietnamese and then kind of imagine also with the European from all different kind of European countries and then American we all we don't have many majority of us, we don't speak native English. [00:22:51][50.4]
Jasmine: [00:23:03] we really believe the power of talking is extremely important. Don't write a long email. Email should be short. If you really cannot fix your writing of the email, then talk. You need to talk to each other and always there will be a lot of misunderstanding. Then you hold back your emotion, your anger, your frustration. [00:23:23][20.5]
Jasmine: [00:23:58] we are still learning improving. We are not perfect. It is not easy to build such a strong human culture within a remote environment. [00:24:12][14.3]
Importantly, Jasmine also shares how by optimizing processes for work, they can use their time together to connect and engage in more meaningful ways, beyond just progress updates.
Jasmine: [00:43:10] we have weekly catch up call. So the topic is normally around the frustration, the joys we have in the team, of course, plus our agenda on the on the projects, on the work we do. So if I have a frustration with Monique and I will share with everyone, that's my frustration. And then she annoys me this, this, this. And then that's my struggle, I guess. I don't know how to solve it. Then people will jump in to help to give a solution, or they will say, Monique is Dutch, she talks like this. And then actually what she means is this. So that helps people to clarify the misunderstanding, cultural misunderstanding. And then, of course, we also encourage people say, hey, why don't you go back to Monique or go back to Jasmine, have a call and to talk about your feelings. [00:44:05][54.2]
It also highlights how different contexts can impact workers' ability to show up.
Moniek: [00:42:02] in in an average office, people go to the coffee machine and they talk there about the World Cup or about the war. They have these moments where they talk. We we don't push. They have moments where we talk at the coffee machine, but we do take conscious time. Every meeting that we start to learn, to recognize that we're there, to recognize that Jasmyn might have had a sleepless night because of young children in the household. We, we, we, we talk about that. And then we move to know let's do business. [00:42:40][38.5]
Moniek says the last is important, because it trains people to listen. And by listening, companies will be able to truly understand and capitalise on the value of diverse teams.
Moniek: [00:30:33] you can continue to look and build a diverse team and. The next step is then to train people to. To take the benefit of that diversity. So not thinking, oh, uh, we tick the boxes. No, we are going to make use of all those differences. So we reach out to people simply because they are younger. I'm one of the oldest in the company, so I often reach out to people from other generations asking their perspective simply because I cannot see what young people see. I can't look through their eyes. It's better to listen to them. Same for all the cultural differences, so be aware of the fact that you are just one tiny little dots in the world and you need all the other dots and their perspective to complete your picture. But that requires that you realize that you are such a such a tiny element. In the end, some modesty is important to to be able to listen to other people. [00:31:40][67.5]
This approach to employee engagement is --different in the sense that it focuses on building relationships, which means caring for one another and being genuinely invested in each other's success.
Moniek: [00:18:20] And then we really need to train to be very transparent, to be very open, to be very curious, to care for each other and make sure that in that constellation of everyone more or less being on their own, in their own country, that no one ever feels lonely. And and that takes takes a lot takes a lot of care, far beyond the level that in an average professional organization care for each other. We do care for each other. [00:18:54][34.3]
Moniek and Jasmine agree that companies have to not only hire diverse teams, but they also have to facilitate relationships.
Moniek: [00:38:19] True empathy with other people is like exercising. We sometimes call it empathy fitness. You need to really train that, that empathy as a muscle as your condition. Um, because it's easy to, it's, it seems easier for people to lean back and, and to relax and find that comfortable position and not pay attention anymore because they are so much at ease with themselves. Uh, but that doesn't allow others to, to flourish as well. So if you, if you have an ambition to let everyone grow and develop, you need to all work very hard to make that happen. [00:38:59][40.0]
Driving change in a workplace and the relationship building that Moniek and Jasmine have described, is not easy. Doug from Culture Amp agrees that everyone in an organization needs to drive change - especially leadership.
Doug: [00:21:49] H.R. teams on their own can only do so much. And yes, you can run you know, you can you can run a performance cycle. You can run you can run an engagement survey cycle. You can gather a bunch of data and try and work out what to do with that. But really, to make meaningful behavioral change throughout the organization, it needs to be far more than just the H.R. teams. We really see managers in particular as being the fulcrum for driving change within organizations. [00:22:18][29.0]
One way they can do that is by engaging with employees in one on one meetings. Culture Amp facilitates these and gives employees the opportunity to flag that they’re not feeling like they can grow or they’re not feeling cared for at work.
Doug: [00:23:12] I think historically one and ones are typically a a tool that managers often would use to get a status update on on what's happening, you know what you're on projects like you know what's what's gone, what right. What hasn't where are the blockers? How can I remove blockers? And what we've done with our one and one tool is we've, we've actually tried to focus in on, on some deeper things. So before, before getting into any forms of status updates, you know, having the employee focus on basically some sliders around what, how are they feeling about their well-being, how are they feeling about their work relationships, their productivity, those sorts of things. And and then using that to to drive deeper conversations. [00:24:07][55.5]
What Culture Amp, and Innate Motion are doing is sparking conversations and giving companies opportunities and tools to do better. According to Bernard, while there is a business case for worker engagement, it shouldn’t just be about that.
Bernard: [00:03:24] Often times organizations will. Define worker engagement as well. It's positive connection that workers have with their jobs and therefore they go the extra mile. [00:03:38][14.1]
Bernard: [00:03:52] they're sneaking in the business case for the company to showcase. Okay, if you do work, engagement workers are more productive. Even if that's true, I don't think that's. Part of the inherent definition of work engagement. Certainly not the reason why work engagement is important. [00:04:09][17.7]
If we agree that businesses should be accountable to a wide range of stakeholders; then employee engagement should be about recognising how value, beyond compensation, is created for workers.
Bernard: [00:32:38] It's about balance and it's about being productive whilst taking care of people, whilst making sure that their physical mental health is being looked after and whilst they're also satisfied with their jobs. So I do think that balance is, is the keyword here and. We can talk a little bit about this idea of going the extra mile, I think to clarify why I dislike it. It's not that going the extra mile is inherently bad. I in my job, I go the extra mile, I think every now and then because I enjoy my job and I like I like what I'm doing. The problem is, you know, and I've spent a lot of years working, doing labor assessments is that this is a slippery slope. [00:33:25][47.7]
Bernard: [00:33:52] You know, there are so many ways in which companies are unfortunately exploiting people and making them do more than than they should. So that's why I approach this with caution. You know, it gets not inherently bad, but because it's so often a way of exploiting people. I think it's best to avoid any initiative that seeks to do this as an outcome. [00:34:18][25.9]
Irving’s closing thoughts:
Our guests today made me think of employee engagement as a relationship between a core stakeholder, workers, and businesses. Moreover, businesses HAVE control to make a positive impact on workers, today. As such, employee engagement can and should be an act of care. Care not only about the value that workers provide to the business, but the value that businesses create for workers.
So, as people continue to seek purpose-driven work, and recognise the importance of balance in our lives, I want to encourage companies that truly want to be a force for good to ask themselves – Is our relation to our workers simply a transactional business arrangement? Or is it one of true care for them, not just as workers, but as people ?
If you'd like to learn more about B Corps and purpose driven companies visit BCorporation.net. And listen to the rest of our season! We have more episodes on how business can drive positive impact and be a Force for Good.
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The views and opinions expressed are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the positions or opinions of the producers or any affiliated organizations.
The podcast was brought to you by B lab. Our team includes Sherri Jordan, Jude Wetherell, Tom Hedges, and Hannah Munger. Forces for Good is produced by Hueman Group Media.
For this episode, I’d like to thank Doug English, Moniek Tersmette, Jasmine Huang Quian and Bernard Guow.
I’m your host, Irving Chan-Gomez. Thanks for listening. And I look forward to catching you in our next episode!