PR’s Top Pros Talk… Enhancing the Customer and Employee Experience for Frontline Workers
Sara Whitman, Chief People Officer at Hot Paper Lantern, shares insightful data from The 2023 War for Frontline Talent report. Sara explains how HR and other communications professionals can work together to re-recruit employees. Sara discusses why the C-suite should utilize LinkedIn to highlight employee achievement. Sara also shares her excitement for the future of work.
Download the full report here: https://hpl.hplcreative.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/The-2023-War-For-Frontline-Talent.pdf
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DOUG: Sarah, I’ve been reading your report, The War on Frontline Talent. There’s a lot there. Is there one thing in particular that stood out to you?
SARAH: There are so many things, but I’m going to give you one thing that I think is really important for communications professionals to think about. What the report does is it takes a look at two big areas, one being business changes that are happening at work for frontline employees and the other is around communications. And the reason why we did that is because it’s really important for communicators to understand the business issues so that they can be the right partner and the strategic partner that they want to be for HR professionals, for the leadership of an organization. So, first and foremost, the report is designed to help communications professionals understand the issues so that they can use their influence at the table and help make smart decisions for the business.
DOUG: Yeah, it seems communication to employees is even more critical now, and especially since the start of COVID than it’s ever been. Yet in the report think there was a stat that more than 90% of employees were thinking about other opportunities. How do you keep employees committed and engaged? What are some of the key factors?
SARAH: What a crazy time this is. Because when I read that statistic for the first time, I thought, this cannot be right, but it’s right. You know, the more organizations that I talk to, the more communications professionals I talked to. It’s such a wonky labor market. And as much as we feel like, okay, recession, economic factors, downturn, etcetera, are going to maybe level things out a little bit, it’s still a really serious employee market at businesses are struggling to find talent and to find the right talent at the right time. So, I think one of the things that we tried to do with the report was to help businesses understand the importance of their employer brand and how they can start to articulate that in different ways, demonstrate that in different ways, and really connect with employees around the things that they really care about.
DOUG: Yeah, and you talk about connection. How do you connect internal communications to the employee experience?
SARAH: Several years ago at HPL, we were talking a lot about the customer experience and the employee experience and how the best companies were going to really make sure that they were strong on both fronts. At that time, though, we weren’t seeing a lot of organizations do that. It’s only been in the last maybe year, 18 months or so that I’ve seen companies start to say, let’s think about both of them and think of them as two sides of the same coin. We always spent time thinking about the customer experience. The employee experience, though, on the inside with internal communications was oftentimes lagging or lacking and not meeting the needs of the employee. And what we’re seeing now is so exciting because that opportunity to have both sides of that coin be really strong is going to provide exponential power and growth for organizations I think and maintain employees, help them feel connected to the business, help them understand the business. I had a client say to me the other day, it was like music to my ears. He said, “if you wouldn’t put it in front of your customer, why would you put it in front of your employee?” And it made me so happy to hear that because that changes the employee experience, right? If you’re going to covet your customer and you treat your employees the way that you would treat your customers, then you’re coveting your employees. If I feel like I’m coveted, I’m not looking at other opportunities. I’m happy where I am, I’m valued where I am, and I know it because of the interactions that I’m happening with happening within the organization. The way I’m prioritized communications and decision-making, it makes all the difference.
DOUG: Yeah, especially with frontline employees being the face to your clients, to your customers. I can remember years back when United Airlines employees are just famously ticked off, for lack of a better expression, at management and the way they were being treated. And you felt that like they would even talk about it on flights, you’d say like, how are you doing? And they were just not happy. And that really shows it, affects the experience. What are some of the keys to turning that around?
SARAH: Well, I think first we have to acknowledge that that’s a real thing right? And so, in this report, we do talk about manufacturing, retail, we talk about call centers and we talk about hospitality. And I remember reading an article in theNew York Post not too long ago about retail environments and some of what was happening with employees who were disgruntled or feeling like they were not valued, right? Giving away massive discounts on products and customers would come up like great day for the customer, but when that’s happening consistently on the employee side, that has a gigantic economic impact on the business, right? And so, if you can change that, if you can minimize that, what an effect that has on you financially and then in turn for your employees, right? I only just share that with you because it was such a stark picture of what’s happening on the frontline and the importance of that employee to the bottom line of the business. So, when you think about how you can help employees feel really good about the way that they’re being treated, about the way that they’re supported, you know, that has a lot of it comes down to the manager experience at that local level and then linking back up at the corporate level to the global themes and the global brand that organizations have. If you can connect the two of them, I think you’re in a really good spot because you’ve got that consistency at the top and you’ve got that local relevance on the ground. I think that’s one of the things that companies really need to spend a lot of time thinking about. Another thing that I thought was so interesting in the report was this concept, it’s not a new concept, but it’s kind of coming back again is this idea of re-recruiting and how much money is spent to acquire talent. And it moves into, you know, onboarding. And then you do a 30, 60, 90-day check in and you have a lot of onslaught of communications, you feel really good about being there. But if you can identify the points where an employee is starting to question or they need another reason to believe, why did I come here in the first place and re-recruit those employees? You can pull money out of talent acquisition and put it into re-recruiting and as a communicator, to understand that, to be that partner to the talent acquisition team and say, okay, this is a point for re-recruitment. How do we interact and engage with the employee in a positive way to help them remember why they chose this organization?
DOUG: Can re-recruitment be used? If you’ve got an employee that seems to have become less engaged, which does happen with an ebb and flow, is re-recruitment a key tool for that?
SARAH: I think it could be and think it, but it also can’t just be an HR thing. You know, these are opportunities for communications professionals to say, hey, let’s partner together. I’m not here to just service you as a function within the business, but I’m a strategic business partner to you and I understand what’s happening here. Let me work with you so we can tackle this together.
DOUG: Yeah, any suggestions for smaller businesses?
SARAH: Every conversation that we had, even if these organizations are big, giant organizations, so much happens at the local level. It happens in a store, it happens in a facility, happens in a call center. And so, you have a small group of people. You know, it could be ten people who are working together. I mentioned this before about the manager, the role of the manager. That is the key linchpin to everything, everywhere. That role, the manager and that person is just swamped with running the business the day-to-day things that have to happen. All the people work that has to happen. Sales, you name it, they’re responsible for taking everything that’s coming and passing it on to the local employee. Giving that person support is critical. Making sure that communications is a core competency at that level is critical. If they don’t believe that the employee is important, if they don’t believe that communications is important, they can’t follow through on these things. And so, you’re going to see lots of churn. So just honestly, being a good person in terms of communication and talking, treating people like people and understanding what they need, what they want, how to understand the cues that they’re giving you, are they with you or are they not with you? You know, basic communications skills that I think is communicators we sometimes take for granted because if we chose this profession, it comes a little bit more naturally to us.
DOUG: Yeah, no, that makes sense. And I’m intrigued by some of the ways that you feel that LinkedIn can actually be used for internal communications. How would you approach that?
SARAH: We recently were part of or were able to see some survey data that came from an organization that was asking its employees, How do you like to receive information and how would you like to receive information from the company? And I was really happy to see that employees chose number one. If you were to add one thing into the internal communications mix, we’d love you to use LinkedIn. And that was something that really validated what I see with my clients and what I’m seeing in the industry. People are going to LinkedIn as a place to get information about their organizations. They’re going there to meet and to connect with people within their companies, especially large companies, dispersed companies, lots of locations, and they’re going there for recognition. And I’ve seen CEOs that we work with use LinkedIn in a really powerful way to amplify the voices of their employees to recognize them. We have one CEO who has a very strong intern program in their organization and those interns are not necessarily going to have face time with the CEO. They’re not going to bump into the CEO in the hallway if they are not with you.
But to get a shout-out on LinkedIn as that intern class is starting from the CEO, what a point of pride, right? You want again being coveted, feeling like you’re wanted, like you’re part of the team. And when executives are doing that. Think there’s a really powerful effect there.
DOUG: If you could leave us with one last thought and has been such a great discussion with the possibility that the economy might not be as strong for employees as it’s been in the last couple of years, what some advice for both businesses and for employees themselves to make the most out of their job experience.
SARAH: So, for employers, I would say there’s an anticipation that you’re going to see some things level off. You’re going to have more quality candidates in the market to tap into, even if it’s maybe less quantity. They’re looking at salaries, maybe stabilizing a little bit because it’s been out of control. Right. I would like to caution employers to just pay attention to the changes that are going to happen that have happened. We’re not going to return to something that was before. Things have fundamentally changed.
And so I really encourage employers to embrace that change and to look at this time as a time to experiment and trial and really think about how to prepare themselves for the future of work and the future of engagement with employees.
DOUG: Which also ties I was going to say that also ties in with the whole hybrid nature for those who don’t have to be on location to do their jobs.
SARAH: And for organizations that have front-line employees thinking about how do they bring some of that flexibility into the experience for their front-line workers, that’s one of the number one things front line workers are looking for. So, we can’t really say, oh, the economy is going to turn. And so, I can slow down my transformation efforts or I could slow down the evolution of this employee’s experience. It’s going to happen anyway. So, let’s be prepared. Let’s really think about in creative ways how we can prepare ourselves for that future because it’s going to happen.
DOUG: Appreciate the exciting work being done at Hot Paper Lantern. Thanks so much for your time.
SARAH: No problem. Thank you so much.