Kalifa, thank you so much for joining us today. It's an absolute pleasure to have you over here and, you know, talking about the employee experience. Would be great for everyone to just get a quick kind of introduction about yourself.
Yes, absolutely. So I am an experienced coach and an executive advisor. My background is in industrial organizational psychology. I've done a lot of consulting internally and externally with Fortune 100 companies, with startups, with nonprofits. My focus has always been the interaction between employee experience and people analytics. How do we make it a much more integrated, smoother process? And the whole idea is that employee experience is a product that companies have and we can make better experiences. So there's a lot of work we can do in that space.
Oh, that's excellent. You know, right off the bat, I think a quick question is you said you work with startups and enterprises. Do you think that startups are kind of, you know, concerned or want to know more about this? Or at what stage do you think companies get to that maturity level of kind of thinking about analytics, thinking about the employee experience? You know, where do you see that happening?
So traditionally, I see it happening too late. Right. Their establishing their employer value proposition way too late. And I think if we look at what's happening right now in the tech space, that's the result of it. It's where you're focused on financial center design and product, which makes sense, right? You're focused on that for so long that HR is just a necessary evil of something that you have to do. And so what I find with a lot of tech companies, especially smaller ones, they're at a stage where they're growing. And so they're suddenly like, Oh, we need, we need to take care of people, right? Because we need to grow headcount. We need to figure this out. But that's already too late because the culture that you think you've brought in, it is very hard to scale if you haven't managed it with data at the beginning. What I am finding though, are there some very shrewd VCs right now and some shrewd business leaders who are now saying"We have got to really start figuring out our culture very early, before we go to our next round of seed funding", right? Because this is where culture is where a lot of companies collapse, right? One of the biggest things too is, again, I'm talking about the tech space and the startup space, because that's where the majority of the that's the industry that the majority of the startups that I see are in. They reach a point where they scale their products, right? They've cornered their market. They've done, you know, they've done good marketing. They are known within the space that they're trying to be in and they're scaled. So they're going through that point where they're looking for new products and new innovation and new expansion. But, they didn't focus on culture. So here's the problem. When you have scaled and you've plateaued, the thing that holds you together at that point is culture, right? The innovative culture, the employee experience that you promised, the data that you have to grow, to understand the gaps and the performance issues in your party, the alignment, the leadership, if it's not there, that's what shows up. So you could have so many table tennis games and so many sleep pods. You know, it all sounds good in the beginning, but if you did not actually build your culture through employee experience as a strategy it all comes out in a wash and you end up with things like overhiring, mass layoffs because it was never part of your strategy.
I hear you loud and clear. And I think you know, what I'm most intrigued by is when you said investors are pushing their startups to do this. I mean, that's really refreshing to hear because I don't think I've seen too many of them who kind of, focus on this, but if that's happening and that's changing that's amazing to hear.
Now it's few and far between now, but it's true. I've seen someone bringing them in a lot earlier, like they're pushing them when they're thinking of their board, they're like, when they're thinking of their leader, it's okay, so who's the CHRO, right? And so that is new and that's, that's very helpful. And I hope it's I hope it's a trend that continues.
Hoping that it does for sure. And I think when you say, you know, treat EX as a product, and when you say that companies, startups, as they're kind of growing, they focus on their product, they focus on their go-to-market on, you know, their revenue top line. Bottom line is not even that much of a concern with funding coming in. But how do you kind of insert people and the employee experience as a product? What's that thought process?
So the way I tend to phrase it is your employee value proposition. Lots of companies love to talk about it, what's the employee value proposition and they put, they throw money behind that. Cause you know, companies love a good marketing campaign, right? That's that public image that you want. So they love a good marketing campaign. And so it's what's our culture that we wrote down on paper. So the way I phrase it to people is think of your employee experience, the entire strategy, just like any other product, right? That's your hidden product. That's your other product. Here's why. When I put in an application to work for your company, I am actually applying to buy that product that you're selling me. You're telling me that this is the experience you're going to give me and this is the money you're going to give me in exchange for the contributions I make for you. So I am buying that product. If I'm a customer and I buy a product. And it sucks. I might get my money back. I can go on a public website and talk about how trash this product was. Right? I can go on social media. I can go on Yelp. I could do that. Employees don't do that. But now that's happening more. Right? Because now people are going on Glassdoor to tell you that you have a bum product. Right? That's your Better Business Bureau in a sense. Right? They're going on Blind and they're talking about it. And what's even more interesting to me is a lot of younger employees are now going on TikTok and telling all your business. They'll tell it all now, right? And that's because it's this product that you have that you need to invest in. And the same way you invest in your customer experience because you know how to do it. You see your customers as people, right? You need to do the same thing with your employees because that hidden product can make or break you, right? There are a lot of companies now losing face because what's becoming clear is what the marketing campaign of that product was, people are coming out saying it's not that way anymore. This is not this is this was all a facade. They didn't do any of it, you know, and so that's what it is. So just thinking of it that way. I think it, it allows us to start having a very different conversation about HR. It allows us to have a conversation about HR, where HR can be data driven, where HR can be measured, where HR can be customized and personalized, and where you can fill gaps. You treat it like another product that you have. It's a strategic set of decisions that you can make, and then that can be tied into your bottom line goals. I think that's, it's a mindset shift about HR. We'll get there. You know, it's just a little bit of a dinosaur. We'll get there, but it's it's a slow shift that I am seeing happening.
So so do you think it kind of makes sense to build a framework around the product mindset for HR? So you kind of have the product roadmap, which is kind of your workforce planning. You have the product analytics, which is your people analytics kind of coming in and looking at the KPIs that you're meeting. But a product is also very often kind of tied to revenue. So how does that happen from a People Ops and a people experience perspective, how do you see that happening? You know, if EX is a product, how does that get tied to revenue? What should be the kind of KPIs?
So let me. Let me explain. This is not as easy as the product, right? Because people are annoying, right? That's the constant that we always have to deal with. But the way I talk about that is you have to seriously look at your key variables like attrition. Think of attrition like customer loss. Right? Yeah. Those kind of things. People who return to work customers that come back, right? Think of the human behavior that you measure on the product side, right? How much time you have to spend marketing. Think of that in terms of sourcing and recruiting and the cost of that. What is the cost when you lose your customer and have to find a new customer, right? Same thing when you have, when you lose an employee and you have to find a new employee, you have customers that are brand ambassadors for you, right? What happens when you lose employees that are brand ambassadors for you? And they're key people that get you clients and customers for you. So when you think of it in those types of ways, and you really strategically parallel it to how you would invest in a product, right? Then it becomes a lot easier to picture it. One of the things that I think muddies the water is everybody's like let's calculate the ROI of HR. It's tough. It's tough. Right. It is tough. It is like a holy grail in international organizational psychology for somebody to try to tell you what the exact ROI is. And I'm here to tell you that if anybody tells you they can calculate your exact ROI, they are lying to you. Right. But if you want to buy the product, feel free, but they're lying. You can't get the exact ROI, but you can come close when you start looking at, for example, what is the cost of this layoff? What is the cost of the reputation of this layoff, this mass layoff that you had. This is how much you're going to have to pay to get talent to come back in. Like when you start thinking along those lines, it starts feeling more like a strategy. Yeah. Than a thing that you just have to do. I just have to hire some people. No. If you're building a new product, for example, and you're trying to assess the gap and your customers are saying to you, you know, I really like your products, but I really wish I could do X with your product, right? So you invest in the research and development to expand your product and come up with your X point O vision of your product. Same thing you could do with employee experience, right? You have employee voice. You have all these numbers in your HRS systems that you can use. You have data, you have organization, organizational network analysis, you have surveys, you have all these tools that you can use with all this beautiful data, right? And some of it is beautiful unstructured data, my favorite type of data that you can use to tell these stories that allow you to make decisions within context. Same thing. Same thing. It's just, we don't, we've so traditionally seen that HR is nothing but you know, a cost on the wrong side of the balance sheet. And if we have to save money, if something goes wrong, let's just get rid of people. Right. It's not working that way anymore. Because the whole idea of let's just get rid of people and then bring them back when we're okay. It's not working anymore. Because people are like, I'm not coming back. You're trash. Thank you. Right. Or if I do come back, you're going to have to pay twice as much for me as you did, because now my relationship with you is, it's just like when you have to give a customer a discount because you broke their trust. Right. You take a loss, you take a hit. Just like how you have to pay me now a higher salary to come back. Because your reputation has taken a hit. It's the same thing. We gotta get more leaders to think that way though.
Yeah, I mean, at Tydy we kind of keep thinking about data a lot, right? And one of the things that we do is when you kind of think about let's say one particular process onboarding, for example, right? And you're kind of thinking about how quickly can you get the person productive and you know, really be a part of the revenue generation activity that he or she needs to be, right? So that time to productivity becomes a good sort of data point to talk about, to kind of look at and then see how you could improve upon that. So for a consulting company, for an IT company, for a services company, you know, getting that person productive and revenue generating is probably, you know, the most important sort of KPI from an onboarding process perspective. If it took them one month, can you bring that down to one week? Suddenly the CFO is Oh, wow. You know, I can get this person generating revenue on day eight.
Quickly. Right. Right.
And if you don't kind of look at it from that holistic perspective and you look at, you know, onboarding as a cost center, then unfortunately, you're never going to be able to see that revenue enablement or that impact that you can make as an organization. Right. So I think we, we love data from a Tydy perspective. And I know you do too, because I've been following you on all the social media channels.
I'm a nerd. I confess.
So I think my question to you is, do you think that, you know, people teams have enough data to be able to build the right models, to build the right sort of you know, I would say metrics to, to kind of present to leadership today.
I'm going to answer that in the most psychology way, the most annoying psychology way I can. I do think there's enough data. I absolutely do think that HR sits on data. Is it good data? Is the problem. I think there needs to be talent that comes into HR to help clean the data, right? And that's why you look for the right technology and the right tools, because if it helps you clean the data, because here's the truth. Most HRIS systems right now are messy. If you see what comes out of it, you need something on top of it now to make it make sense, right? And so that's where the burgeoning HR technology fields and, you know, organizations like yours are really trying to help that. Is the data there? Yes. I also think the other thing is we got to get more HR leaders and even, think talent acquisitions professionals, for example, at the table, so that when we're thinking about the type of data you need to make a decision, just like you would do with any other part of business operations. Right. Those are the people who should be at the table saying, okay, this is the type of data we need. For example, one of the worst metrics that is used in talent acquisitions is'time to fill'. Yeah, there's so many things that can impact time to fill. And it's still used as a metric and it drives me absolutely insane. So I am part of the revolution against using time to fill, right. But part of the problem is it's an easy metric to get out of the system because you can see the time that was put in and you can see the time that was taken out. So a little bit lazy. Right. It's a little bit of laziness. The data's there and it's just easy to get. But if you figure out how to structure it, how to do features engineering with your data, so you bring in people who understand data and people, which is part of the problem. Sometimes we bring in people to do it and they don't understand people data. So they treat it like other data. You can't treat people data like finance data, right? Like I, I get on every platform and see. It's different because humans are different and every data point is a human, so context matters in a much bigger way when you make decisions and make recommendations and build tools for people. But we do it on the customer side. So clearly there are analysts who know how to use people data. Clearly there are tools that know how to clean people data. So my long answer to your very short question is, I think that the data is there. I think we sit on a lot of data. I think we collect a lot of data. I just don't know that we know how to treat the data in a way that optimizes the ability to provide good decision support. Yes. And that's the learning curve we have. And we need to build better data analytics skills for HR. HR is typically a generalist field, but there's need for a lot more specialization in that world and a better understanding of data literacy within HR.
That makes sense. And I think we've seen a lot of times kind of companies use you know, listening tools as their main data set. And just surveys and nothing else. Right. And I feel that is incomplete data because, you know, that's just either a very biased response from an employee or it just doesn't give you context of everything else happening from an EX perspective. Because I think one of the things I keep saying to all of our customers is, you know, when you think EX is an HR only problem, that's where your problem starts. It is the entire organization. It's, you know, the IT, the admin, the ops, everything coming together to build a good EX. And if you're not taking data from all of those instances, then you're kind of seeing a very incomplete picture and probably a picture of just that one moment in time.
Oh my gosh, you're speaking my language. No, you're speaking my absolute language. I completely agree. Listen, I love a survey like nobody's business, right? Like I will write a survey in my sleep. I will wake up and think, Oh, these are good questions. I could ask and write it down, right? I am a complete listener nerd, but I do not believe that we should always be doubling down on one tool. Yeah. Right. And I think too many companies think that's the out. Correct. And there's so many ways to listen to your employees. So the philosophy that I use is the organizational signaling theory, right? Which there are multiple ways that people send signals to you, and you just have to have the data in different forms that allows you to put together the full picture. So surveys is just one. It's just what we know, right? The surveys and the focus groups, and that's what people tell us outright because we ask them. But a lot of the data, and I will go as far as to say probably like 70 percent of the data that you can get on people are things that they're not actively telling you.
But they are signaling it to you, right? So you go into your HRIS data, you go into your talent acquisition data, you go look at things like where are people going? Yeah. Are they leaving the company? Are they staying? What does our attrition look like? What does our internal movement look like? Where do we put our people running away from one manager? Are they running away from one area? Like where? Where's the fire? Right? That's movement signals, right? What are they telling us with their feet, right? And then you have all these intranets and all these systems built out where we put information for people. There is background information there because you've seen where people are clicking, what are they clicking at and what are they going to right? That information exists for you, because you know, might be the head of total rewards, and you just released a new benefit tool of your life. Everybody's gonna love this. This is exactly what everybody wanted. I'm excited about this. We invested so much in it, but everybody's clicking on something different. Not the thing that you just thought that everybody wanted. And that's because they are telling you with their clicks that this thing is more important. So one of two things may have happened. One is you doubled down on something that it turns out was not the most important thing to them. Or the thing that you have spent all this time and investment in, you have not communicated or explained it properly. So people are not clear on it. So you need to really think about your communication strategy, or you need to think about the plans that you have so that you could get the traffic where you want it to be. Right. The other thing is organizational network analysis, where you have background information about who people are connecting with and when it's not done properly, it could feel very uncomfortable. I know it could feel like you're spying, but when it's done well, you're not trying to see down to the very individual level. What you're trying to figure out is where are the clusters, who are your influencers within the organization, where is the knowledge base, right? Where are the orphan teams? You know, where do we need to connect things? Where are gaps? That tells us a lot about what's going on in the organization. For example, you might have somebody who everybody's connected to and that person has not been promoted, in years. What happens if that person leaves? They break that entire network, right? That whole node breaks, you've lost a whole bunch of institutional knowledge because of that person is crucial to the operations of so many different parts of your organization and we take it for granted because that person's head is always down. Right. That person isn't necessarily the person who's always talking, but that's the person that everybody knows go to Chris. Chris has all the answers. Right. And so those are the different ways you can listen. All that is data. Right. And just like we do with products and just like we do with marketing and just like we do with CX. EX everything is data. We have data. We, as to your point, you can use operations data and see how that relates to EX data, right? You can use product data and see how that relates to EX data. It doesn't work by itself because your employees are networked within every as they are like your blood running through your veins and we don't see it until there's a problem, you know. And I think an example of that was during COVID. Right before that, you know, everybody's talking about, you know, we don't need people, we don't need our employees, you know, so it was a very employer centric conversation that was had. But. When things started to shut down, they're like, Oh, y'all want to work from home? Sure. Y'all need a pretty salary? Sure. Because they, you know what I mean? Because to me, it was an admission. You know, reluctant admission that they understand that the employee experience is important. That they understand that employees make have a big contribution, right? And, you know, employee experience at one point and this is probably going to impact you too. At some point, I know like my role, my job, the consulting I do is going to be, how do we put people and technology together? That's going to be a big part of workforce planning, right? Like, how do we put it together? Here's the thing, during COVID, AI is not new. No. What we see now, they're already ahead, right? They're, this is old canon for them. You know what I mean? And I'm like, wouldn't the best time to implement a lot of that AI technology been during COVID. Right? Wouldn't that have been the optimal time to do it? Really? Yeah. And they did it. They did it. They did not replace all of their workers. Right. During a pandemic, during what essentially was the most experimental time for the entire globe. Yeah, right. Yeah, they didn't implement a whole bunch of AI and started doubling down on the employee experience and health and wellbeing and their workers and diversity. They did it because I think there is a tacit assumption admission, sorry, a tacit admission that we know the employee experience is important. But we will get away with not strategically doing it if we don't have to, you know, and I think that's, I think that's where we're at right now. We're back here. Yeah. But can we get away with this again? You know?
Yeah. But wait, so when you kind of, talk to, you know, your customers and your companies, how do you get them to start thinking like this? What's base zero? Where do you kind of meet them? And then what's your sort of journey with them from that perspective?
I know this might sound cliche, but I meet them where they are. Right. Step one is I recognize that they didn't understand data. That is just the truth. And a lot of people don't want to use data because they don't understand. Yeah, they don't understand how to use the data, right? It's very intimidating for a lot of people. And unfortunately, we often are in a world where executives have to be, they're told that they have to know everything. And if they don't know something, or they don't understand something, or they're uncomfortable with something, they can't say it, right? Which is unfortunate, because some of the best executives I work with ask a hundred questions until they get it. And it's great. Right. But a lot of leaders are not going to ask the question. If they don't get it, they don't get it. The other thing for me is to talk in a language of the person that I am speaking to. So my rule one is'know thy audience'. I think in my field, a lot of my people, my folks, we have done a terrible job of being a little too academic in our conversations. So if I'm talking to the CEO, I need to know what's keeping the CEO up at night in terms of people, right? But if I'm talking and he wants to know or she wants to know about everything, everything across the board in general, right? If I am talking to the CFO, you know, they want to know how this impacts bottom line. They want to know what this investment is going to do. Right. Should I make this investment or not? Why should I make this investment? Right. And that's the conversation I need to have. I need to have it in a very different way. What is important in terms of finances and how can I show you that there is value in doing this in the short term? Because if you don't do this in the short term, your long term impact, which is typically how HR works and EX works. It's a long term strategy that you have to do. So really trying to change that up. But if I'm talking to the CHRO, they just want to know the people. Tell me about the time. Tell me about the processes and the people. And so I think it's just adapting that conversation with who I'm talking to and then walking on that journey with them and being very real about a journey that it's not simple. It's not overnight. You're not going to see it. And then helping them learn to celebrate those small wins, right? Those small things like your Glassdoor score increased organically. Right. Like people don't understand how much of a feat that is to get more positive scores organically. The company didn't do anything, right. And really trying to help them through that journey. And it's tough because you get people pushing back because what do you find with employee experiences? The minute things look a little good, you get a, you get that engagement score, you see less attrition. They're like we fixed it. It's done. We fixed it. You know what I mean? And it's really good. And I'm trying to understand, it's something you have to maintain. Yep. Right? You have your build phase, you have your maintenance phase. Too often we have the build phase, reaction phase, build phase, reaction phase. So you're constantly running in and outting fires as opposed to maintaining. Do predictive analytics. You've built it. Next step, predictive analytics. Let's start forecasting. Let's start understanding. To your point, we have onboarding. How do we get somebody to onboard and actually working and being productive in less time? Right? Then you start solving those issues that are not really issues, but efficiency. It's the same thing again we do with products. How do we make it just a little bit faster? How do we make this process a little bit more efficient? Right? And stuff like that.
That makes sense. Do you see a difference from who the starting point is? You said you speak to the CEO, maybe the CFO, maybe the CHRO. Does it make a difference who it kind of starts from the conversation?
Oh yeah. If it starts with the CFO, my job is a lot easier. I'll be honest with you. If I could convince the CFO. If that's the person who's saying, show me the data, first things first, that makes my life easier. Because one, I already see that they can see there's value in fixing this thing, right? It's something that's keeping them up at night. Everything else is easier. Right? Usually I have to start with the CHRO, right? Or the CPO. And then they got to go convince the CFO. We got to do that. So they have to go convince the board. It is so much easier. Right, that is my favorite. Oh, really? That is the best person to start with. The other person is your operative, whoever's in charge of operations, because if I could convince them that it is a part of operational strategy, they can more easily convince the CFO.
Oh, that's awesome. Yeah. It's really,
But in terms of advocacy, it's usually, for me, I usually see it as your CEO or your CPO or CHRO. They are usually the ones who are like pulling their hair out, right? They're the ones taking the hits from any news, the new board, they're the ones who, they're the ones who advocate for it. As a starting point, if I can win that CFO....
That's awesome. That's actually refreshing to hear. I would not have imagined that, but that's awesome. My last question for you would probably be a cliche question. What are your top three predictions of where EX is going to be and where data is going to be?
I think EX is going to be massively important within the next 12 to 18 months. Right now, the talent industry is a wreck. It is a wreck. It is a wreck. There's so many layoffs, particularly in the talent space. And it was a fast swing from what was going on during COVID. So what happened right after and this is globally, right. And it is massive. It's I call LinkedIn right now, my sea of sorrows, right. Every week there's something else going on, another layoff, another person looking for a job for a year now. But I don't think that is sustainable. You can't. You can't operate a business like that in an environment and people are pushing back in the most public ways I have ever seen. Yeah. Where they are calling it out on LinkedIn, they are calling it out on TikTok. You're seeing CEOs making comments and you're seeing pushback and backlash. You are having situations where a CEO says all of y'all have to return to work, and the employees are like, No. Okay. What? Right. We're seeing a rise in more trade unions globally, but that's especially big in the US where traditionally there's been more pushback on, on trade unions. So I think the next 12 to 18 months, they're going to have to really start rethinking employee experience as a strategy, as a product. I think that's going to be important. I think there's going to be a need for more EX technology to help make the data make sense and to help provide more efficiencies and get EX systems up faster. There's going to be a need for more technology that better integrates the data from all across of all across the business. So not just a survey. Right. It has to feel more comprehensive in order to go into a strategy. I think that is going to happen because the pendulum is going to swing back and it's going to be fast. Right. I think there will be more hiring and talent, but there'll be a lot more hiring of consultants to help them quickly fix it because there's a lot of fixing. And a lot of the fixing is, I'm sorry, I know we did terrible things. How do I regain your trust back? And that is tough, right? Cause you're seeing big brands getting slaughtered in the media now. And that is not something you typically would see. Like these are brands that nobody thought could be touched. Right. So that's what I see. So I think EX is going to be extremely important, but it's going to be more comprehensive data and data structures. It's going to become a more strategic part of how it's built in and it's going to be, at least my hope is so maybe hopefully that's not a pipe dream for me, but it's going to be better integrated into planning as not a separate thing. Yeah, but as okay, this is a major part of strategy. I think CHROs are going to remain having that voice that they would typically have. My other big prediction is with the fast rising, you know, machine learning and advanced AI technologies. I'm not even talking about generative AI. I'm talking about just AI technologies that increase efficiency. I think that's going to be a major part of workforce planning and upskilling. We're going to have to figure out what is the balance between people and technology. And that's what our workforce is going to be. People and technology.
So on the last one, do you think that it's gonna be more AI focused on insights and intelligence and you know, around that.
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. It's gonna be insights and storytelling. That's gonna be what's important. It's not gonna be reporting. I think we're shifting away from giving a CEO tabular dashboard and saying said here that's the answer. It's in there somewhere. Right? It's going to be like generating insights and real time insights. I think it's going to become really important for decision making for people.
Excellent. With that, Kalifa, thank you so much. I really enjoyed this. I think you know, I kind of lost track of time a little bit. Thank you so much. Yeah, I think we could go on forever, but I think I have a stop over here. I'm, I've been told. So thank you so much once again, Kalifa.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. Have a good rest of day.
You too. Thanks, Kalifa.