We are back with our Webinar Series – Experts on Employee Experience! 🎉 It is a monthly webinar series where Jade Choy, Epoch's CEO, has conversations with leaders and innovators in the employee experience and engagement space.
In case you missed it, here are some key learnings and takeaways from our first webinar of the year featuring Heidi Newiger, Senior Manager, People Experience & Enablement at Harness! View the full recording here. Scroll on for notes! 👇
Meet Heidi Newiger, Senior Manager, People Experience & Enablement at Harness. Heidi brings over 10 years of experience in recruitment, talent, and employee experience. She focuses on creating an intentionally engaged, inclusive, values-driven culture for employees globally. Heidi resides in Oakland, California, and began her career in talent acquisition as a recruiting coordinator, building out university programs and being more intentional around diversity hiring. Now at Harness in EX, with only had a month under her belt before Covid, Heidi loves the challenge of finding ways to connect with people and build culture within her company.
Heidi got into EX from her love of bringing people together in her personal life, like hosting dinner parties, so it was very natural for her to do that in the workplace. She thinks of EX as an employee’s stickiness or loyalty to their company. Engaged employees want to do a good job, are more invested in their role, and care about the outcome of the business. Heidi strives to create an environment where people are excited, feel they belong and are being challenged to grow and develop in and outside their roles.
Culture is a collection of every single person in an organization. It’s how things get done, how things are communicated, and how we celebrate things. It’s what makes us “us” as an organization. The coolest part is that it’s living and breathing - every employee can contribute to creating a culture and environment where employees feel safe, enabled, and empowered. It’s creating opportunities for surprise and delight, so people want to be at work and do their best work.
With all the uncertainty and pivots in the last 3 years, it’s been a wild ride. The core part of Heidi’s job is enablement. She onboards people to the company. This involves planning what their first week, month, and three months will look like. More broadly, it includes how the organization recognizes accomplishments, celebrates moments that matter, and how they communicate to employees that they’re appreciated. A big part of providing a positive people experience is collecting employee feedback. Feedback on onboarding, exit surveys, and check-ins provide data to make decisions on what parts of employee experience need to be improved.
The ultimate goal of the space is to create somewhere people want to do their best work. This requires psychological safety. This means, there should be no microaggressions, you can disagree openly, people listen, and you can debate nicely. Creating this space can be done through different programming. These programs should be intentional, and you should keep people updated so they feel the effects of the work.
For example, Harness hosted a Martin Luther King event for US-based employees, but it was on the global calendar for everyone to see. When hosting events, Heidi suggests finding a bunch of different mediums for people to engage. Remember there’s not one silver bullet that will be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have touch points that speak to all these different personas throughout the year.
Getting the buy-in of executive leaders or culture ambassadors and asking for their help. At Harness, they have a group called the Culture Canaries. The Culture Canaries is a mix of people from all offices and they give input on programming. It’s not just about having people from different locations and teams, but making sure there’s a representation of people who are introverts or extroverts, parents or not parents, new employees or not, etc. By brainstorming with them and crowdsourcing ideas, you can come up with programs you would’ve never thought to create.
One of Harness’ most successful events was a virtual poker game. Heidi says she would’ve never thought of the game on her own. The event tapped into a whole different segment of people who wouldn’t have shown up for jeopardy or a cooking class. That wouldn’t have happened if the idea wasn’t crowdsourced.
Heidi also suggests experimenting with programming. “There’s not a lot of risk in trying an event one time and don’t be afraid to build more nuanced events for different categories of people. If you have an event where 20 people show up for, that’s a win.”
The proper cadence will be different for every organization. However, the cadence should always depend on how busy the organization is. For example, if Harness has a huge product release coming up or end of the quarter, they will plan an asynchronous event that needs less engagement from employees. Heidi suggests looking at your company’s product release schedule, the quarter ends, or big rocks (large events that will affect everyone and their time). You don’t want to inundate people with a ton of meetings when they have a lot to do.
Heidi tries to have at least 2-3 events per month. In terms of communications, Heidi generally drives them and works with employees to promote them on her behalf.
Hybrid work is the hardest work option because you need to plan three different experiences for the same event (in-person, remote, hybrid). After Covid, people have proven they can do their job from anyone in the world and so hybrid work is here to stay. This can make it more challenging to get people in the office for events. Food and drinks can be good motivators to get people into the office. You should also have executives show up, and encourage their team to come too.
Broadcasting events to other offices where people are coming in and having watch parties is a great way to get global participation. In addition, Harness has given people the option to dial in remotely or attend a recording of a live watch party with other coworkers. All of these different things require planning, making the hybrid environment more difficult.
Heidi is a big believer in checklists. She uses Asana to track all of her tasks and lays out everything that needs to be done. From there, she loops in her team and trusts that everyone will accomplish their tasks leading up to the event. After the event, she makes sure to look at feedback to find ways to improve. At Harness, they always ask the same 5 questions:
When reviewing the feedback, what’s working stays, and what could be improved gets played with.
It can be really overwhelming to look through feedback, especially in more formal feedback mechanisms like doing an employee engagement survey (the full one has 60 questions) so you can end up with thousands of comments. In general, open-text comments should be taken with a grain of salt. They provide more context, but it’s only one person's experience and opinion so give yourself and the event team grace. Some feedback will be for things that are out of your control, and there isn’t a lot you can do. When it comes to things such as people not being informed about an event, that’s something you can fix. In this case, you should try to improve your event promotion.
Harness is in a position where the executives believe in employee experience and don’t need convincing for buy-in. They understand the impact of events and this works in Heidi’s favor. For those who don’t have this kind of buy-in, Heidi recommends building the buy-in organically. This starts by finding people who are excited. Heidi suggests working closely with the new hires. They have fresh perspectives in the company and their engagement score tends to be higher. “Leverage those people. Make yourself available so you know what their priorities are and how you can help.” In addition, make sure executives will help you. Put events on their calendar and talk to them. Putting the onus on them to promote events to their team can have a big impact.
Heidi says to find feet on the ground who will help you. If they’re helping you, give them the respect of meeting in their time zone. For example, Heidi has worked with the Harness team in India.She leverages them to help make the programs successful in India. She advises you to “not just bank on whatever you do in the home office working in another office”. She was humbled at a previous company where she organized women-led initiatives and built a strong USA program. She was going to roll it out in India and went in too confidently. After giving her presentation to find a local lead, someone said she liked the idea but it would be really great if they could organize a self-defense course instead. This was because leaving the office after work at night in that location can be dangerous for women. She was shocked and this shows that you can’t copy and paste the same programs in multiple locations.
Heidi says to give yourself more grace. There are things in and out of your control. Make sure that if it’s a bad day, it’s not a reflection of you. If things don’t work out, tomorrow you can be better. It’s also important to remember that if you had only good days you wouldn’t realize you had those good days. It’s important to be grateful. Heidi is so excited by the opportunity and support she has from the leadership team and can’t believe that she has this job. She’s grateful to create experiences that will surprise and delight others. If someone leaves Harness saying that it was the best onboarding experience and feels valued and seen, that’s something that gets Heidi excited and passionate about because there’s so much opportunity to create joy love and understanding in the world.
If you struggle to get buy-in from others, you should celebrate the engagement that does happen. For example, at Harness, they planned a huge donation drive during the holiday season. They planned to have 200 donations from the company. They were off to a slow start and only had around 19 donations. They celebrated these donations, the employees who made them, and shared the impact that the donations were having. After this, the number grew to over 240 donations. People love being recognized for what they do and that can improve participation.
Heidi says that pre-writing messages to send from leadership’s Slack account is a great way to get more engagement.
Connect with Heidi on LinkedIn if you want to chat about creating an intentionally engaged, inclusive, values-driven culture for employees globally. Sign up for Epoch’s newsletter to be in the know for our next Experts in Employee Experience webinar and other Employee Experience events!
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