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Culture as a business accelerator

Employee engagement in a digital business - technology’s role in fostering culture

Our hero: Salesforce

Salesforce. In the three years to 2015, they went from 8,000 to 18,000 employees.

Unifying them all around a consistent culture, while trying to attract the right kind of new people and get them on board, was proving tough.

When one new hire had such a frustrating first day that he just quit – and the story went round the whole executive board in a flash – they knew they had to re-imagine employee engagement.

Their story: Growing employee engagement

In 2015, Salesforce was the fourth largest software company in the world and in the top 10 of the Fortune 100 Best Places to Worki. But their challenge was to keep, spread, and build employee engagement, while growing so fast, and use technology as the medium with which to do this.

They weren’t alone in seeking to overcome employee engagement and culture issues. In fact, Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends Studyii placed these as the number one challenge for senior managers, with 50% of business leaders citing them as very important, twice the level of the previous year.

And Gallup, in their State of the Global Workforce Reportiii 2013, point to what they call ‘an epidemic of disengagement’, with 63% of employees ‘sleepwalking’ through their day.

Salesforce’s Jody Kohner, Vice President, Employee Marketing and Engagement and Jennifer Johnston, Senior Director, Global Employer Branding, think the reason for the epidemic might be that traditional HR approaches aren’t working any longer.

The world outside work has changed, with the mobile/social/cloud revolution, but companies are still doing one-way executive comms, annual performance reviews, endless meetings and emails – which don’t engage today’s talent. Employee systems haven’t kept up with the changes in consumer technology.

As Jennifer Johnston (JJ) says, ‘When you give your employees cloud/social/mobile tools – those same tools they’re used to using outside of work – it’s a huge accelerator. And when you don’t, it’s a huge engagement and productivity killer.’.iv

Being intentional about culture

Technology is a part of the solution, but only a part – the rest lies in intention and consistent effort.

Jody says, ‘At Salesforce, we’ve found we have to be very intentional with our culture, how we define it and articulate it. Then, and only then, can you find technologies that will help be a catalyst, that will help spread the culture.’

JJ agrees, ‘If you’ve got a solid cultural base, technology can be a real accelerator... it’s how we scale our culture across this large global organisation.’

Not surprisingly for a software company, they use their own Salesforce cloud platform that thousands of companies around the world use to manage customer experience, to manage the employee experience. It links together various HR systems, like Workday, Corpedia, Wageworks, Workscape, ADP, Concur, and Coupa, and makes them available through an integrated mobile-friendly portal.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing…

Man overboard

In 2014 they were having problems with the on-boarding experience. Many new hires weren’t getting their desk, equipment, and access on day one, because 36% of hiring managers weren’t requesting them in time. They were getting 3 out of 5 score on the day-one experience, and only 76% of new hires considered themselves successfully on-boarded by day 90.

If you’ve got a solid cultural base, technology can be a real accelerator

‘One new hire had such a frustrating first day trying to get into the company systems, that the guy just quit,’ Jody confessed. His story went round the whole executive board. So they knew they had to re-imagine the whole experience.

Overhauling on-boarding

Salesforce used analytics to predict the type, volume, and location of kit and access that would be needed for new hires, and pre-provision it, to ensure availability. They made the new hire provisioning app easier for managers to use, to make sure new hires had their essentials on day one, and increased communication around it.

They encouraged new-starters to use the online employee community – where they can ask questions and help one another out. If a new hire filed a question in the employee community, and it wasn’t answered within four hours, a help ticket was automatically created, and a service agent would contact them. If they filed multiple tickets, it triggered an alert to the service team, which would call the individual proactively and solve all their issues with them, there and then, over the phone.

Based on understanding gleaned from the community and helpdesk questions, they built a new hire employee email journey to drip feed the information an individual needs to know, when they need to know it, from signing the offer to the end of their first year, rather than drowning them in information on day one.

And they offered employees a self-service app where they could search a vast knowledge base or file a help ticket – all from their mobile phone, if they got locked out of their laptop.

The results:

  • 93% new hire provisioning app filled out in time (up from 64%)
  • 4.85 score out of 5 for the day-one experience (up from 3.0, and exceeding target of 4.5)
  • 85% of new hires consider themselves successfully on board by day 90 (up from 76%, but not quite at goal of 90%).

Giving meaning to work

So much for on-boarding; now to deliver the meaningful work today’s employees want.

Salesforce introduced a range of other online communities where employees can communicate and collaborate, and find the information they need to do their jobs. More importantly, it helps them feel they have a voice and influence on the direction of the company.

There are groups at the level of the whole company, a regional office, a specific customer, or product. The latter is where the definitive current version of a sales deck is held. So even when the company is taking on thousands of new people, everyone’s accessing the same messages.

They even have an ‘airing of grievances’ group, one of the most popular. Jody explains their approach is ‘bring it out into the open, let’s talk about it and solve it – because that’s what the world’s most innovative companies do, they solve problems.’

The wider issue: Can technology help engage employees?

It’s well understood in HR circles that engaged employees are more productive and loyal. They create more satisfied customers, better financial results, and greater shareholder value. The disengaged do the opposite, and are more likely to move jobs, even if you desperately want to hang onto their skills.

So how do you create this kind of culture, and can technology, like the kind they use at Salesforce, help?

The research conducted by Professor Dexter Dunphy of a the University of Technology, Sydney, who works closely with respected consultants in the field, Human Synergistics International, suggests that the key components of cultural management are leadership, clarity, and communication.

It starts at the top

It starts with decisive leadership by the CEO, who must be willing to demonstrate a personal commitment to changing his or her own behaviour. The CEO must take with them a core group of agents of change. They need to clarify the mission, purpose, and values of the organisation and reinforce them with consistent internal communication.

But it’s fuelled by technology

And this is where technology can help – as the medium through which a culture is communicated. Technology doesn’t create culture, but it’s very good at transmitting it.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review February 2016, Ashley Goldsmith and Leighanne Levensaler of cloud HR software firm, Workday, agree. ‘If you asked most people to list the things that create and maintain a strong company culture, chances are they wouldn’t list technology.’ They suggest a metaphor: think of a company as an organism, in which culture is the heart, processes are the brain, and technology is the nervous system responsible for communication.

Technology doesn’t create culture, but it’s very good at transmitting it

And in today’s world of enterprise social media, that communication is more two-way, informal, peer-to-peer, short, and snappy. Workday, like more and more companies, conducts online chat sessions that give employees the opportunity to ask top executives whatever questions are on their minds. And one of their clients, Adobe, often ‘pulses’ employees to get quick feedback on their experience, like, ‘Has you manager talked to you about your career goals in the last month?’

Our opinion: Digitise HR but keep it human

Marilyn Chaplin is Group Executive for People & Culture at Dimension Data. She believes digital technology is transforming the contribution HR makes to corporate performance.

‘Gone are the days when HR was seen as a transactional, box-ticking, paper-heavy administrative department,’ she says. ‘The digital explosion is impacting the way we attract, retain, and manage talent’.vii


In fact, technology is fundamentally changing the way everyone in an organisation experiences HR – from how job seekers hunt for opportunities online, to on-boarding new employees, right down to how you deal with compensation and benefits, or even succession planning.

As workforce management systems become more sophisticated and core HR functions increasingly become automated, it would be easy to dismiss the role of HR. ‘The fundamentals of HR, like corporate values and culture, remain critical,’ she stresses.

‘At Dimension Data, we deliver services to our clients through our people. We’re passionate about making a difference to our clients and that passion lies in our people. The more engaged our employees are, the better their performance.

‘We recently took a giant step in our digital transformation by implementing Workday, a cloud-based HR platform. We chose Workday because it delivers what employees today and tomorrow expect when they join a forward-thinking organisation. It’s an employee-centric technology that works the way our people work – collaboratively, on the go, and in real-time.’

Get smarter with big data

If digital technology is reshaping HR, then data is the catalyst for that change. There is a trend towards harnessing big data in HR to gain richer insight into workforce trends, refine recruitment initiatives, and ultimately deliver better service to clients.

‘Data is going to be crucial for better understanding and executing a business strategy,’ Marilyn says. ‘If you don’t have this information at your fingertips, you won’t be able to make agile decisions to increase your competitive advantage.’

Richer intelligence allows HR leaders to see the shape of the organisation

Richer intelligence allows HR leaders to see the shape of the organisation. This omniscient view empowers you to make critical decisions, such as what functions can be automated, where you can build shared services, or create centres of excellence. ‘This is especially important from a cost perspective,’ she says. ‘Not only to keep your own costs down, but to pass that benefit on to the client.’

Most important, however, is the role of data in recruitment. ‘If you want the right person in the right role, you need data analytics,’ she believes. ‘For example, if the business identifies the need for more data scientists, you can focus on campaigns that attract these skills. It can also give you insights into how a new generation of talent thinks, behaves, and interacts in the digital space.’

Back to our hero: Where’s Salesforce now?

Today, 95% of their people say they understand how their job contributes to the company’s success and 93% are willing to go the extra mile to get the job done.

So it’s not surprising that they’re also among LinkedIn’s Most InDemand companies, have earned a Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Best Places to Work award, and were included for the eighth year in a row on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2016.viii

As an employer, Salesforce are a force to be reckoned with, and one powered – in more senses than one – by technology.


i  100 Best Companies to Work For, Fortune, accessed June 2016, http://fortune.com/best-companies/
ii  Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends Study, Deloitte University Press, http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/at/Documents/human-capital/hc-trends-2015.pdf
iii  State of the Global Workforce Report 2013, Gallap, http://www.gallup.com/services/178517/state-global-workplace.aspx
iv  How Salesforce uses Culture + Tech to Engage Employees, YouTube, 5 October 2015, ‘How Salesforce uses Culture + Tech to Engage Employees’
v  Professor Dexter Dunphy, in association with Human Synergistics International, In Great Company, 2012 http://www.humansynergistics.com/uk/products-services/Books/InGreatCompany
vi  Ashley Goldsmith and Leighanne Levensaler, Build a great company with help from technology, Harvard Business Review, February 24 2016 https://hbr.org/2016/02/build-a-great-company-culture-with-help-from-technology
vii  Marilyn Chaplin, ‘7 ways HR earns its seat at the boardroom table’, Dimension Data, 7 February 2016, http://blog.dimensiondata.com/2016/02/7-ways-hr-earns-its-seat-at-the-boardroom-table/
viii  Cindy Robbins, How We’ve Made Salesforce a Great Place to Work, Salesforce, 3 March 2016, https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2016/03/best-place-to-work-salesforce-2016.html

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