26 min 13 sec

Marnie Robbins on the noisy world of Employee Experience

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Marnie Robbins on the noisy world of Employee Experience

Marnie Robbins believes your company's vibe is the source code to happier customers, lower turnover costs, innovation, better financial performance, and a soaring market valuation.

In this episode of EXtra! EXtra!, Marnie and Kiran talk about the things she always tackles first as the first HR/People Ops hire, how the EX world has become noisier after the pandemic, and her top predictions for 2024. Psst...there's data and AI in there!

#employeeexperience #futureofwork #hr #hrtech #peopleops #employeedata #hrpredictions2024
Marnie Robbins is a People Ops leader with years of experience working with companies of different sizes and across industries.

If you need advice on standing up your People Operations functions or to scale it, you can reach out to her at:

Or go to her company website:

Kiran: 0:42

Thank you, Marnie, for joining us today. It's an absolute pleasure to have you over here. You've had, a vast amount of experience from managing various types of operations, various types of companies. And I think what's going to be really interesting is to understand your take on employee experience today. So without further ado, it would be great to have you give us a quick introduction about yourself.

Marnie: 1:10

Absolutely. First off, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to have the conversation and excited of what Tydy has going on. So really looking forward to it. A little bit about me. I started in traditional HR roles many moons ago. Over, over the years, really transitioned from, traditional HR, which was very much the administrative portion and in hiring to more of a people operations, people and culture focus for a variety of organizations. And over the years I had a chance to be in healthcare. I was in manufacturing at one point, but in, in recent years, really transitioned to technology based companies or services based companies. But the one thing that was a constant among all of these organizations is they're all going through a moment of transformation, a moment of change. And in order to do that, you have to really focus in on people and culture and the employee experience. So I've watched that evolve over the past few years. Most recently, I took a step into the consulting role. Traditionally, I have been that first person into an organization. So really standing up the people operations process, as well as the people ecosystem and infrastructure that employees are going through. And so now, in VibeHRC, which is my consulting practice, is really focusing in on that employee engagement, that culture infrastructure and ecosystem, as well as building up the employee experience.

Kiran: 2:45

That's excellent. Yeah. As I said I'm really excited about the conversation today. And one thing that really struck me is you said that you're very often or you have very often been the first person that, comes in and looks at setting up your people processes. In, in your mind, from an EX perspective, who's really in charge of employee experience? Is it that first person who comes in and, looks at people processes and gets everything set up, or is it the manager or is it, ops teams? Is it the CEO? What's your kind of perspective?

Debkanya: 3:20

Or is it a generic HR role right now?

Marnie: 3:22

You know it's everyone, the way that I've



Marnie: 3:29

at the employee experience responsibility is yes, it's typically HR or people ops, whatever the organization is really leaned into. That is, I almost look at it like a systems designer, right? They're the individual who's coming in and they're project managing, but they're also the evangelist of why employee experience is important. They're the keeper of the data. They're the keeper of the process and enabling the rest of the company to have a great employee experience. Then, in addition to that, you really need your leaders to be not just buying in to employee experience, but also to be actively engaged in that experience. And then adding onto that, experience in a culture is really just that. It's how your team interacts with each other, how the, they interact with leadership, et cetera. So at some point, everyone touches that employee experience and has that responsibility, whether they actively signed up for it or not. The best relationship or the best employee experience I've seen in an organization was active partnership between people operations and marketing. Yeah, one of one of the organizations that I worked with a while ago, we had a very strong partnership of defining what that employee experience looked like. And that collaboration really tied our external brand, how we were demonstrating our vibe and our brand to our customers and tied that into our employee experience as well. And by having that cohesion between external marketing and internal employee experience, it literally did increase our referral rates, we were able to staff quicker, in a tight labor market. And so that was one that was a very strategic partnership that I try to carry into other organizations as well.

Debkanya: 5:33

That's fantastic, right? Because, as some people will say, your employees are your best brand ambassadors. So if you have happy employees, half the job is done because they are automatically going out and talking about your company. And the minute your customers realize that you have a great internal company culture, they think highly of you. It just does wonders for the brand and in general, right?

Marnie: 5:56

Exactly. It's trust, right? If your employees can trust you, if your team can trust you and your customers can feel that, they're going to trust you too.

Kiran: 6:06

So as that number one person who comes in and sets everything up. What do you do? What's your set of to do's?

Marnie: 6:14

I listen. Yeah. Take, Take inventory. It's, it's, it's major, you know, put your head down and listen, put your head down to the ground, understand what is happening under the surface. So it's easy to read a website. It's easy to understand the go to market fit, et cetera. But. Typically. What I will do is go in on a listening tour and depending on the size of the organization, that could be every employee in the organization. If it's too big, then we take a subset, of course, all the leadership team, but then we take a subset of making sure that we have diverse viewpoints throughout the organization, as well as, varying levels through, through the organization so that we can really understand, and have these really intentional conversations with those individuals. If they haven't done an employee engagement survey before now's the time, that gives a really good baseline. But then it's also digging into the data that exists, you know, whether that's, what are our numbers? What are demographics? A lot of that may take some time to actually pull that data from it, but it exists and in trying to compile and just figuring out what that story is. Where are we today? And then also understanding from the leaders, where do we want to be tomorrow and going from there?

Debkanya: 7:34

That's qualitative data that you're talking about where you're listening and you're talking to people and you're gathering all this information. When I know you said you work with companies of different sizes. Have you ever found that they've already had valuable data, like actual data, numbers that they've given you to make your work easier? Has that ever happened?

Marnie: 7:56

To a varying degree, there have been companies that have invested in technology where, we, there may be a nice dashboard, particularly the easiest way to gather data is around the applicant tracking systems, right? Time to hire who we're hiring, where we're hiring, etc. Those are the big data points that are usually there. And then once you get into the employee data, it's, what is in the HRIS system, whether they're using a PEO or an actual HRIS system. If that's there, that's great, because they may not even know the data's there, but there's dashboards that are, you know, what is your average tenure? What is your internal mobility rates? What is your employee sentiment score if they have been running, surveys and has that been increasing and decreasing? So a lot of times that data all compiled together can tell you a really strong story of what's been happening within the organization.

Kiran: 8:54

Specifically other than HR data, right? So this is something that we keep talking about is, is there are other data other than HR data, your traditional HR data that you can use to understand and build better employee experiences. For example is there data that can come out of an IT system, which talks about adoption of different software or talks about, where people get bogged down from a productivity perspective? What's your take on using some of that data to complement what already exists within HR systems?

Marnie: 9:28

Absolutely. Going through the employee journey and seeing where we're spending a lot of our time strategically, whether that's through, where are your support tickets coming in, how are they getting held up that can actually influence where your team is spending their time from an engineering perspective, etc. So there is a strong partnership with where are we spending our customer facing time with what we're doing internally and what the flow of our work is looking like. Another strong correlation that kind of comes to mind that's a little off of what you're asking, but it's sometimes tying that employee data to external. So I think of employee net promoter score, or employee sentiment. How is that directly correlated with our customer? Are they correlated? What's going on with that data and to be able to dig in.

Kiran: 10:18

What do you think are the biggest challenges with some of this data though? When you're thinking about data, I think it's very easy to get lost in it. Also, I don't know if I'm right over here, but I think also traditionally the people function has had less visibility into the data. So once you get data, what do you do is always the first question, right? So how would you guide your clients today to do that.

Marnie: 10:45

Insights, right? That's the, your question is such a great question because I think a lot of people in the, whether it's people operations or HR see that through technology do you have access to data and that's shifted. But what is maybe lagging is the knowledge and skill sets of how to utilize that data to come up with KPIs, to come up with how does that tie into the company strategy, etc. So there's a couple ways, it depends on budget. But for me, the big thing is, okay, number one, look at what others have done in the industry. And that includes looking out to Harvard Business Review, Gallup, McKenzie, like understanding their insights, because that helps you understand the important insights within your organization. And you can help build that within your org. Another one is, technology investment. HR and people ops didn't go to school, they haven't built their career around developing those insights. So there's a lot of technology out there that helps with that. And then there's, yeah, there's also the idea of consultation. Yeah, sometimes there's professionals out there that can actually help develop and build those insights, those reports and those game plans. And a lot of times people operations and HR people have so many things that they're dealing with and that they need the help, whether it's through technology consultation, you name it.

Debkanya: 12:15

But do you find that, companies are actually starting to think more seriously about EX? Like you said, there is data available. There is technology available today. But ultimately it comes down to, like you said, leadership truly believing in EX making a difference to the bottom line, right? There's a very straight line from, from the customer experience towards, profit, but that line from EX to profit is a little, out of the way. Do you see that, there's more budgets being assigned towards EX? Are companies taking it more seriously? Is there more tech spend coming up perhaps in this space?

Marnie: 12:52

I think it's tough. If I'm honest, it's really dependent on what's going on in the respective industry of the company. So I saw in the pandemic. There was a major shift in the way that the whole world worked, and the focus on employee experience was of necessity. So you would see a lot of investment in technology, a lot of investment in time that we gave toward that employee experience. Then you fast forward to today, and we have what's called this VUCA(volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) environment, and it's been a tough world. I predominantly work with the tech industry, and one of the, I would say, One of the casualties that I've seen is really that continued investment in employee experience. And so there's this huge education opportunity. ROI is just that higher employee experience leads to higher customer experience uh, numbers. Therefore, it's one of those where I think short sighted leadership companies will reduce that spend in technology and time on the employee experience. But the really shrewd, the really intelligent leaders are really saying, no, we need to lean into this further because the one thing that we have that's a constant is people and keeping them engaged and keeping them productive. I've seen companies, almost every company that I've worked with has some sort of core value that says, yeah, we're, customers first or customer mindset or customer mentality. I love that core value. It's a very valid core value, but in order to have that, the investment in the employee experience needs to be behind it.

Kiran: 14:40

So you touched upon a really interesting thing, and I don't know if you see it the same way, but through the pandemic, there were tons of investments made into, various aspects of EX, right? So whether it be, wellness, whether it be from a better benefit structure, whether it be books, rewards, learning. There was just so much of activity happening. Are you seeing now companies struggling with just way too many services, way too many sort of apps in their ecosystem and now trying to consolidate all that? Is that also becoming a big problem from an EX and, even productivity perspective I guess?

Marnie: 15:23

I actually wrote an article a few months ago about, it being very noisy right now in the HR technology space. Whether it's survey tools, ATS, HRIS systems, all of them and they're all disparate with their experience. And, particularly when you're working in the startup space, a lot of people that go through, they have maybe investment partners that are saying, okay, here's all of the HR tools that you have available at your discretion. So then they buy them because they think this is going to make life easy. And then before you know it, you have this web of technology. Definitely, I even see it in the HR communities out there is people are talking about how do I simplify and how do I increase the efficiency and flow through all those technology stacks?

Kiran: 16:16

What's the average number of apps that you see within, the workplace? From an employee experience perspective?

Marnie: 16:23

Oh, that's a good question. You had touched on it being a very holistic, right? We have benefits and health. We have applicant tracking systems, performance, surveys, feedback, you name it. So it depends on how holistic we want to get when it comes to the employee. But let's say. Anywhere from five to six. There's coaching apps out there now, that we get daily tips and coaching. And particularly with the rise of AI. AI does this beautiful thing of personalizing the experience for individuals and looking into like, how do we customize that experience for employees. But tying all the systems that are already existing into that personalized experience seems to be a bit disjointed.

Kiran: 17:16

Also what we're seeing is a lot of companies going across borders now to find the right talent as well. Because remote has anyway become almost the norm. So it doesn't matter if it's in New York or if it's in London, hiring the right person takes predominance. So are you seeing that more and more as well from an. Employee structure perspective?

Marnie: 17:39

Oh, for sure. The walls of where you can recruit are being torn down significantly, particularly for remote and hybrid work environments. And, there's more technology that's coming out about how do we help you legally and compliantly hire in these different areas. But then there's even the considerations about how are we being inclusive of this more global workforce and culturally sensitive to different areas that we're working with and how do we communicate effectively across all of that. So, Yeah, the walls are being torn down a bit, but it also brings up a lot of opportunity to help us operate better in that world.

Debkanya: 18:22

It also brings up so many more challenges, right? Because suddenly you are scaling, but you're scaling very differently, right? Like Kiran said, it's across, it's global but now even more so. So it requires a different kind of ability to basically standardize everything, but customize everything and personalize everything. It's, it's a tough time for HR, would you say, or do you think it's fun and exciting?

Marnie: 18:49

I think it's fun and exciting. But it's also tough, but that's the tough things are also fun and exciting for the most part. Where I see that challenge though, is what type of HR person are you? What type of people operations person are you? Because I don't mean that in a slanted sense. I mean it in there's some practitioners who are able to build the systems most effectively. And that's where specialization comes into play of, okay, how are we creating systems that empower our team to work together to perform together. But a big portion of that has to tie to your human strategy as well. And I see there can be a disconnect as far as the people who are building the systems and then the people who are focusing on the human aspect and sometimes those don't talk to each other very well, particularly in a global environment.

Kiran: 19:48

Absolutely. And talking about all of this, we're almost at the end of 2023. What's where are the budgets going for'24?

Marnie: 19:58

Ooh, I wish I knew. No, where I see a lot of the budgets going for 2024 is culture and employee experience building. And what I mean by that is we have this hybrid work environment that I believe is going to be here to stay. I don't know that the workforce is going to allow, for many people to go back into the office at least full time, which I personally am happy about, but that means we have to operate differently. How do we keep people connected? How do we keep people happy, healthy, and productive? So I do see investments in that side of the business. Particularly if you think of CFOs. Those are the ones I'm always thinking about. They're like, okay, I have numbers. I have revenue numbers I need to get to, and I don't know how to make this people system work. So let's invest into technology there. I see a lot of investment into whole health and wellness, how we're taking care of our employees, the expectations are different. And so that personalization of that. But then there's the investment into... I think there's going to be AI, not heavily, but I think the progressive organizations are going to be investing into the AI as far as how do I develop personalized experiences as it pertains to employee communications and the information that they get.

Kiran: 21:24

Does the CEO even have these as his or her mandates? Ensuring EX is the best possible version of itself and therefore investing in wellness, investing in EX tools, investing in, whatever it may be. Do you think it comes from the CEO or is it a hard sell to the CEO?

Marnie: 21:45

I've seen both ways. I think it's a hard sell. You know, we had mentioned the external environment. And some of our CEOs, particularly in the technology industry are being very conservative, getting back to basics. And so that decision can be tough when it comes to investment, especially if they can't directly correlate. Their more long term strategic plans used to be what, two to three years now they're focusing on, one year, maybe even down to quarters. How am I being successful to this quarter? So in approaching the need for the investment, I think CEOs in general are curious. And I think by providing case studies and providing data and providing, how that ties to, we talked about, tying it to corporate strategy, be able to tell that story with data means all the difference in the world.

Kiran: 22:47

What you're saying is how do you convert or transform people ops from a cost center to a revenue enablement center, right? And that kind of becomes a conversation.

Marnie: 22:57

Exactly. a lot of times it's getting creative, having a really good understanding of what the company's strategy is, understanding that what is our go forward for 2024? What is the overall is it increasing new business sales? Is it, are we expanding our footprint? Okay then a people ops person, if we're expanding our footprint, then that means we're expanding our workforce. And what does that mean? And being able to tie the business case into that is, is really important.

Debkanya: 23:29

I have one question your top three predictions going forward for where the employee experience or workplace experience is going to go. You said, people are thinking quarters. Should we talk about the next three months or is that too short? Maybe for the next, in the next six months, what do you see?

Marnie: 23:47

My top predictions are leaning in to data, I see a lot of employee engagement coming up, particularly toward the end of year, right? You get to Q4, all of a sudden, we're year end, we have our year end statistics, etc. So let's really understand where we fall with employee engagement, but not just within our own organizations. How do we fall against other organizations? Are we competitive? Because now we're competing in a completely different environment than we were a few years ago, in most cases. So how are we remaining competitive, particularly in this kind of more volatile external world? So I think data is going to be a huge push, particularly for HR and people ops professionals. I think if you're in HR and people ops, you need to be leaning in on how to use that data and how to tell a story with that data. I think on top of that is the holistic health viewpoint. And what I mean by that is mental health, physical health. I predict that those are going to be benefits that we're going to be seeing into 2024. So you can see a lot of people ops and HR professionals really leaning into what that actually looks like because. employees are demanding more from their employers. They're demanding, how they're communicated with. They're demanding, the employer to take care of their entire livelihood, not just giving them a paycheck. So I think being able to focus on those more holistic employee experiences outside of even their regular work day is going to be really important.

Kiran: 25:27

I think we're right about at the end of time over here, Marnie. So thank you so much. Is there any parting comment from your side?

Debkanya: 25:35

A message for other HR professionals, perhaps.

Kiran: 25:38


Marnie: 25:39

Keep up the good work. It's a lot, it is so much. And just to know that there are support systems out there. You don't have to know everything. And keep up the good fight. It's well worth it. And here's to a good 2024.

Kiran: 25:57

Couldn't have said it better. Thank you, Marnie. Thank you so much. And again, absolute pleasure to have you with us.