35 min 26 sec

Stephanie Denino: On moving EX from boardroom to office floor

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Stephanie Denino: On moving EX from boardroom to office floor

Welcome to Season 2 of EXtra! EXtra!

We begin a brand new season with a brand new plan.

It's 2024 and we are done pontificating on Employee Experience and why it matters.

Because we all know it does.

So in Season 2 we are asking the people who live and breathe EX and workplace culture to give us a peek into their playbook - the How-to guide to EX if you will.

The first episode is with the incredible Stephanie Denino, Managing Director of TI People – an employee experience consultancy (EX). Before joining TI People, Stephanie spent 6 years building the Global Employee Experience team at Accenture.

Listen in to Stephanie as she speaks to Tydy's Kiran and Debkanya about the findings of the State of EX report, and applying agile principles towards shipping EX ideas out of the boardroom and onto the office floor.

You can find the State of EX report here:

And you can connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephaniedenino/

0:02Welcome to season two of Extra Extra, the podcast where we dig deep into how businesses can prioritize their most valuable asset, their people. Last season we cracked open the EX playbook and this time we are rewriting the rules. Join us for candid conversations where there are no rules. Cliche is no jargon and no one size fits all solutions. Just real talk about what's reshaping the employee experience landscape. So if you want to get to the heart of what makes workplaces steak, just hit that subscribe button and let's get started.Kiran: 0:42

this time we have Sebastian who's joining us from Germany. And Sebastian, it is such an amazing honor and an opportunity to hear from you because I think I mentioned this before we are very excited by CX and everything that happens on the CX side of things and learning from there and implementing it on the EX side. And I'm really hoping that we can actually get to some tidbits through this conversation where we can guide teams to learn and build their EX from that perspective. So having said that, Sebastian would be great if you could just introduce yourself very quickly.

Sebastian: 1:22

Thanks for having me. I'm very excited about this conversation. To myself, I'm a people minded leader and HR generalist. I'm head of people experience at Deutsche Telekom in Germany. And since 2021, I have been inspiring our employees and executives with our HR products. With my MBA, my certification design thinking, agile project management, and people analytics, I develop HR solutions and optimizations that create real value and support business objectives. I combine HR technology, data, and IT into holistic experience for our telecom colleagues. And the very popular formula we use for this is people experience is customer experience is value.

Kiran: 2:12

Yeah, no, absolutely. I hear you. So do you say, would you say Sebastian is in HR or is in, is Sebastian in another function? Given that you do so much.

Sebastian: 2:23

I joined HR as a customer of HR and I perceived HR always as a function, which is very important. And I reached one point in my career 20 years ago where I was really unhappy with HR and I came to a turning point for myself. So, okay, I can complain about that or I can go there myself and try to fix it. And here we are, I'm trying to fix.

Kiran: 2:49

Oh, that's amazing. I mean that I haven't heard too many people who do that. Those who love to hate HR just continue to love to hate HR and don't actually go out and do something about it. So that's refreshing to hear. And given that we're in March, 2024 Is it a good time to be in HR?

Sebastian: 3:08

I think it's always a good time to be in HR. So I love working with people. And I deeply believe that especially in times like these, in times of digitization, the human factor, the people are getting more and more important than ever. If you just consider the required skills and the education which is needed to successfully develop new technologies and then to implement and utilize these. Shortages on the labor market are making the situation even worse and more challenging. So focusing on people has always been at heart for me. And right now I believe that we are at a turning point and the big challenge of our time is to bring people, technology, and work together in a way which contributes to people, companies, and societies. So it's always good to be in HR and to be part of this journey.

Soumya: 3:58

Sebastian, uh, you spoke about how you imagine bringing people experience at par with customer experience. While it's, it sounds really great as an opportunity and as bringing the two functions together at the same level, how do you see that, pan out in reality right now? To, you know, kind of get employee experience to that level of customer experience?

Sebastian: 4:23

Yeah, from my experience, I would say that the customer experience colleagues are always a few steps ahead in terms of methods, in terms of technology, in terms of budget and resources, of course. And in a shareholder value driven company, this makes totally sense. So when you consider that the company, the economy has been a buyer's market over the last few decades developing either by quality, price or service have been valid options to stay in the market and to be competitive. And when your USP is best service, then of course investments in customer experience are your choice. So right now I would say from my perception employee experience is not having this kind of big backup yet But it is worth fighting for it. The labor market has been turning around. Labor shortages are represented not only in highly skilled IT jobs but everywhere. And that leads us to a situation where companies apply to new employees and not the other way around like it used to be 20 years ago. So the answer for this It could be for companies who want to grow and stay in business to be, or how to develop a greater employee brand, to go for lower retention rates, to have competitive compensation benefits, fair wages and more. And these things are all focusing on the same person, the employee. So the employees are getting more and more attention, not any longer as exploitable resources, but as a capital, as an asset to the company. And every asset needs good treatment and care to flourish and grow. And here we have the employee experience, or as we call it, people experience. And this will mean more attention and hopefully more resources and discussions around this topic in the future.

Kiran: 6:15

So you touched upon something very important, right? The budgetary constraints. And I speak to HR leaders globally, and I think one of the problems I keep hearing is, our sales and marketing, they got unlimited budgets, but HR is seen as a cost center. And so there's limited amount of opportunity for us to reinvent EX or to invest in EX, right? So how have you seen that? And what's really interesting for me is you weren't in HR, but now you've moved into HR. How do you deal with that? Don't you see that budgetary constraint as a problem?

Sebastian: 6:54

Not necessarily. Simply waiting for a budget is like waiting for Godot, right? And every other investment in a company needs to have good arguments for resources and budget. So does EX. That means you need to bring compelling arguments and data to the table, which show the positive effects of EX initiatives. This can be small projects, but starting is the very first and most important step with regards to getting more and more attention and more and more resources and budgets. But the starting point is start and then prove the concept and show in small project that you can create an RE in this topic. It's always difficult with HR folks to talk about RE. Of course, HR is a cost center. And at the end of the day, we have the duty to use our resources, our budgets in the most efficient way. And that means that discussing about where to use resources is something we need to do and be in a competition about budgets with every other company function. So that is an enormous struggle. You've faced but it's worth fighting for it. Absolutely.

Kiran: 8:04

Do you have an example of how you've probably done that? That would be amazing to hear for everyone.

Sebastian: 8:09

Yeah, maybe just a short example. We had a use case. We had last year, we we had we have my company, Deutsche Telekom, very popular employee app. It's been around for years, homemade, totally homemade from scratch, totally integrated in our workflows. And every employee and manager in Deutsche Telekom is having a company phone, smartphone. So everybody's having access to this employee app. And this has been very successful and the idea came up, okay, we need a dedicated leaders or managers app in addition to that. And the guy responsible for that app business approached me and asked me, Sebastian, you just created this people experience laboratory approach. And I heard about your UX designers you have in there. Can you help designing this app? I said, yeah, that sounds great, but maybe let's go a step back and ask the actual users, the future customers of this solution, what they think about a leaders app. And overwhelming answer from this crowd was, please, not another app. Then we said, okay, but we thought this app would be a good idea to ease the pain of HR admin stuff you need to do as a manager on a daily Like acknowledging sick leaves, vacations, or giving permission to trainings and all that stuff. We say, okay, how can we support you and do this HR admin stuff you need to do as a manager with a technical solution on your smartphone? And the idea we came up in a co creation space, we created together with actual managers. We said, okay, why don't we take this idea and make a feature into the environment of the employee app? Because we are all employees ourselves, we know the environment, we know the app. So why can't we integrate the manager functionality as a feature into the existing employee app?

Kiran: 10:09

And only the managers see that section when they come in.

Sebastian: 10:13

Yeah, only the managers see that section in the app when they open it in the morning. And then we said, okay, and then we start designing with them mock ups and design ideas and work together with them And then we asked, okay, what kind of features do you need the most to help you with these HR admin stuff? And we came up with a list, made a feasibility, integrated all these ideas. So like easy ideas. They said, okay, I need to have a reminder on birthdays and anniversaries of my team two or three days ahead. But I can take care of celebration. And we put this in this feature design that, implement that. We didn't invent a new app that saved us initially a 100, 000 euros by not programming a single standalone app. We save around 50, 000 euros in maintenance and forthcoming years for not having a separate app. And we calculated very conservative that the managers with the features we now implemented and the features we asked them what we should implement three hours a year in taking into consideration the average salary of our managers in Germany. Put this all together with 150, 000. Roughly 1 million euros a year savings by not doing a single standalone app. But integrating it and co create it with the actual users.

Kiran: 11:35

That's amazing. I think um, you know, also the concept of this super app is something that's coming on as well, right? What's it about this consolidation of employee experience that's building into this super app thought process that's going on now?

Sebastian: 11:51

The whole world is looking at your phone, right? Service found out that people look at their phone 50 to 100 times a day. Yeah. And we are all used to these highly sophisticated and very well designed apps and workflow for banking and such.

Kiran: 12:06


Sebastian: 12:07

And this is not only valid for the younger generations, but we also do this. Yeah, and we all have these kinds of digital expectations created by our private smartphones environment. And this private interaction with smartphones creates a certain high expectation towards digital experience in a company. So everybody in our company, as I said, is having this company mobile phone and on that and we pay high attention to the fact that people have high expectations. So we are very careful in designing, implementing new features. And therefore the features and the things behind need to be automated and digitized so that people can really enjoy doing HR admin, and not being being stopped from focusing on their job by some kind of friction in the workflows. And this app or this mobile phone access is very popular in our company. It also provides us the opportunity to give access to HR services and HR products, not only for white collar, but also for blue collar workers. Which is very important for us, our frontline workers who are in the trenches, doing the landlines, that they have also an access to HR services. Even things like booking in working hours, they can do now in the phone, yeah, on the fly. Yeah. So things which seem or sound easy, but it's really easing the burden of doing HR admin stuff, because they can do it somewhere in the break or somewhere else in order to get back into the office to book an hour as well to take or book vacation or days off in the system. They all can also can put in sick leaves and all that stuff it's getting better and more and more services are integrated but they That's our north star for designing our services that we want them end to end being on the app, on the phone. So everybody's having access everywhere.

Soumya: 14:03

I think Sebastian, like you mentioned the whole idea of having so many different apps and software to deal with on the HR side, on the admin side of things, and even for employees, to be having to log into different platforms, to be doing their thing. And I think something people are not enjoying much anymore. So given the example that you said if people are building out that kind of a super app, what would you say would be those few functions, few HR things that should be a part of an app like that would make life of both HR and employees easier,

Kiran: 14:37

Yeah, what are the services? Exactly. What are the services that would be a part?

Sebastian: 14:40

Yeah, let's start when you start the day. We can book company building access on the app. So getting access to any of other building of Deutsche Telekom in Germany, you can now ask for access as an employee with your app. That's the first thing. Then you can book your office table, the office space, yeah, your desk, yeah, also with the app. We then started to the payslip is on the app as well, very important. Now it's the 15th, mid of the month, a payday, Deutsche Telekom. So everybody is today looking in the app, looking at the payslip, right? Very important to have that. Doesn't only save tons of paper to be sent around. So in terms of sustainability, it's important, but also it's, you can directly see how your paid slip looks like, for this month. Booking hours in is something which is a day to day job for most of the workforce. So this is something saves time. Yeah. Time, which could be used for more, be more productive. Sick leaves is something we have in there. Travel expenses, which is quite popular that you don't need to get you to your desktop PC to a laptop, but also can do this at the airport, at the train station with your smartphone. Yeah. Literally on the fly. And as I said. When we're talking about the leaders functionality within the employee app, also this sounds easy things like anniversary dates, meetings, calendar. This all, and of course your mails on the phone is so important because it makes it just more efficient and has managers and leaders also to focus on people and not forgetting about dates and meetings and stuff. So this is all something which contributes to being efficient, but also to being a good leader.

Kiran: 16:26

Since you're consolidating everything into one place, Do you see that over a period of time, if more and more companies go down this path of EX and building this super app that the vendors, the individual vendors will start retaliating? Do you see that happening because everyone's looking to consolidate, but then you also want the best in class service for performance and for benefits and for rewards and recognition and, what have you. The big guys are all trying to consolidate everything into one place and then you have Sebastian at Deutsch Telekom trying to consolidate all these various services in one place. How do you think that would play out over the next few years from a vendor versus experience perspective?

Sebastian: 17:09

I think for the vendors it's an opportunity here. So we made this stuff five, six, seven years ago, the idea came up. In a time when I was not around. And it came from the experience of our HR IT legacy systems. So everything, every big company around the globe is. So it's hard to go through end to end processes, not only with the HR, but also procurement and finance end to end fully without changing systems and using different logins and stuff, which is really annoying and which is totally counterintuitive. Then we said, okay, we cannot change the legacy systems because there's licenses behind and there's legal stuff behind. We need to have those systems separated in some way. Of course you can consolidate, but that's long term projects, like 10 years projects. We won't, don't want to wait for this. And back in those days, there was no vendor able to provide this kind of it's like a tiramisu, yeah, the nice chocolate crust on top of it, yeah, that's our app, yeah. And then when you start digging into the tiramisu, you see the mess underneath, but you don't want to see that, right? It doesn't sell, yeah, you need that chocolate crust on top of it, that's the app, and it was hard for the vendors to be able to provide a solution which is adaptive to all the legacy systems in the backend. And therefore we did it ourself or our own developers. And it's hard I think for vendors to, to give a standard solution, which is scalable to being that adaptive to the legacy systems you will find in any big company. That's hard. So maybe there's vendors. We were working on that and the the systems also supported with artificial intelligence will be able to put all this data together and consolidate in one place to provide the end to end experience. But I haven't seen that so far.

Kiran: 19:10

Yeah. Yeah. Do you think that you would continue to use best in class services for each service? Or if one person, one vendor came and said, Hey, we'll do everything for you. You don't have to go anywhere else. What would your immediate choice be?

Sebastian: 19:27

My intuitive reaction would be I don't believe you because that's what I'm telling you like all over the place, right?

Kiran: 19:33

Yeah, exactly

Sebastian: 19:34

One of the big fairs in the world, HR technology fairs. They're all telling you this is the one solution for everything And we all know there's no silver bullet, right? Yeah there is good approaches and I think considering your individual situation in your company, your legacy systems, and your also your legislative environment, which is also important when it comes to data usage in, in and we haven't touched it so far. Then you could take pieces here and pieces there and try to put them all together. Yeah, but what the one solution, which will solve everything. I don't see that.

Soumya: 20:10

Interesting. I think that, Sebastian, you touched upon data. Maybe we could dig in a little deeper there, right? Maybe also in comparison to customer experience, where are we with data when it comes to employee experience? And, where can we go with it?

Sebastian: 20:23

Yeah, it's the biggest gap when you compare employee experience and customer experience. That is the access to data and the possibility to use data. When you, a customer of a company and you buy a service or a newsletter or whatsoever, there's always a checkbox you need to tick and then, you more or less allow the company or the provider to use your customer data. Yeah. And nobody ever reads the small print. Yeah. I just learned about a survey last week. That's if you consider the common smartphone user and all the apps, which on average on a smartphone, if you would start reading all the small prints of all the apps you're using daily on your smartphone, it would take 250 days straight.

Kiran: 21:14

Oh, wow.

Sebastian: 21:16

Nobody does that, right? And that's the reason why all your data, you're more or less handing over to the provider, can be used to create custom experience for you. That is not possible when it comes to employee data. There's different laws in different countries, but especially in the European Union, we have very strict data privacy for good reasons. So it is not that easy to just take-the employee data is there, they are right. So I know so much about our employees, but I'm not allowed to use that to the full extent. In comparison, like the CX guys can use customer data to a full extent. And that makes it a bit harder, but it's should not stop us from thriving to, to create a customer graded employee experience as well for employees. But it's difficult. It's the biggest challenge and people need to consider this. When you always, I always hear this, yeah, we do this and this CX initiative. Let's just flip that over and do the same thing for employees. No, you can't do that. Because there is data privacy legislation around that. You're not allowed to do that. And that's for a good reason, and this will remain the same. So need to find workarounds around that, which are still compliant and which most importantly are beneficial for the employees and managers.

Kiran: 22:37

Have you seen any good examples of where data is used to automate the entire workflow from a CX perspective? Have you seen any good examples of that? Or maybe at Deutsche Telecom or maybe somewhere else where, you, you really use the data that you have? It may be limited, but still able to automate processes, which would otherwise probably be manual or less personalized.

Sebastian: 23:00

When you, when you have certain preferences as a customer and you are classified as a certain type of customer, you get certain offers, which might fit your certain

Kiran: 23:12

Yeah. Cause they're bucketing you into personas, they're putting you in personas.

Sebastian: 23:16

And we took that persona approach, yeah, also for employees and managers and try to find out. We have more than 200,000 employees in Germany, more than 18,000 in Cologne. So of course you need to somehow make buckets of people and try to find attributes within those buckets. And then derive ideas and how to process and automate workflows. The most important and popular one with the highest volume is this working hour stuff. We said, just ticket it in your phone and that's it and the acknowledgement by the manager also goes by the same workflow automated. And it's popping up in the managers and only when you get so many over hours there's a threshold and the manager gets notified. Hey, there's somebody working late or working so many extra hours Would you consider to give him a day off? Yeah Yeah, that is something. So taking this persona approach which helps the EX folks to think about solutions for a certain bucket of people you're trying to target.

Kiran: 24:17

Right. Yeah because those personas could be contractors, could be permanent employees could be straight out of college, could be people with 20 years of experience, could be, so many different buckets that you could drop people into, right? And then building completely personalized experience around that, yeah. And, so if I were to think about that, and I were to talk about, Deutsch Telekom and how you were taking EX from the buzzword into actual action. What are some of the things that you're doing that maybe others could learn from?

Sebastian: 24:52

When I took over this job a few years ago, that was very important to me. That, employee or people experience is not any of those buzzwords and never made any impact. So it was very important to find a solution to take this from the buzzwords shelf down to real life, really made it tangible for people, for the employees. So my approach was to start an initiative, which was called what is called People Experience laboratory and we started from scratch one and a half years ago, and it meant I first put our resources and skills in my team I was having at that time together and then filled the skill gaps with other skills and got new colleagues to the team. And at the end of the day, we put together methods and competencies, which now can be used as a standard tool set. When it comes to designing, and very important to me, co creating employee experience in HR, and this co creation part, this is for me the most important one. We constantly survey our HR services and products. And with the feedback of our HR customers we have that quantity for analysis and to find white spots or broken processes. And our HR product managers are very open to this data and they're working with us to find ways to improve constantly. Next step, which is more important, which is data for action. In addition to that, we invite employees and managers also to be an integrated part of the design process and testing of development of our HR products and services by default now. And that helps us to implement designs and services which are appealing to the HR customers. And which are really asked by most of our employees and managers. That was very important. In the team, we brought together different competencies and skills, which was quite unusual. So I had, of course, HR people, finance guy. To prove the concept on the figures of our point of view. UX designers, so people coming solely from a design perspective. IT and process experts. So all these people need to be sitting around the table and thinking about together with the product manager how to create a great HR product or create a great HR service. And then don't forget to take into consideration the employees and managers and invite them over to co create and design together with you. That was a key for us.

Kiran: 27:20

No, I think that's super important. And as as we reach time now, I think, uh, it's a great way to end also, because very often when we go into an organization and we talk to the folk who are trying to reimagine and rethink processes, very often it's done in isolation, right? And you don't actually bring in your managers, you don't bring in your employees, you don't bring in your IT or, your admin team, if that's what's going to get affected. And you start building things in isolation. So this point of co creation, I think, is extremely, extremely relevant in today's work environment, where also, it's mostly project teams coming in and out. It's not just, specific functions, right? I think with that, Sebastian, that's super amazing insight for us. And I'm sure for everyone who's listening. Just as a parting thought What excites you over the next 12, 15 months personally from a job perspective, from, where the market's going, where the industry is going, from an EX perspective.

Sebastian: 28:23

I'm looking really forward to exploits the possibilities AI is giving us. So we're just setting up a new consulting approach in our PX laboratory approach that we say, okay, how can AI support the product experience in the future and how can we integrate AI solutions into the product experience for employees. And there's something that we're looking forward to that we get the technology opportunities and the chance that we have the technology make it very beneficial in terms of every experience as well.

Kiran: 28:56

Now you've made me a little curious. So just my last question is. What in AI are you most excited about? Because AI is everywhere. Everyone's talking about it, but what are you most excited about implementing in the next 12 months?

Sebastian: 29:10

I would say AI would help us a lot and we're trying this out right now to get a kind of be a support function. When you start an HR process on HR service and you need information on where to start service or what is the legal foundation of it, or where can I find the form or where is somebody I could talk to you? This typically nowadays puts on some kind of webpage. For all the employees and they need to find their service, their product, whatever they want to have, but we won't have a solution, which is like a chat bot put on top of it. Just type in what you want to do. Like I need to go part time. I want to do part time and then it's looking in the backend for the information and putting this together for you that you can either plot directly a process or read some background information about that, or talk to a person who's an expert on that. But all that search and navigate through websites should be gone hopefully in two years or something. And the chatbot is helping you navigating through all these processes and all the information you need to have if you want to use any kind of HR service or product.

Kiran: 30:21

Yeah, so it's using Gen AI for summarization to a large extent, right? And building that. That's excellent. On that note, I think we are definitely out of time. So thank you once again, Sebastian for spending time with us and, giving us a lot of valuable insights, which I have really enjoyed talking to you about. So thank you so much.

Sebastian: 30:43

Has been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Soumya: 30:45

Thanks so much. It was really fun listening to you.

Sebastian: 30:48

Thanks to you guys.