Do you think of your employees as customers? Paying attention to a happy workplace pays dividends.
In the company personnel files he is also known as “Employee #6.” Mikko Pernu is Human Resources Director at HappyOrNot Ltd., where he oversees teams in Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As his number suggests he was among the first employees. Before joining the company in 2013 Mikko worked with Founder and CEO Heikki Väänänen at other organizations. He has experience in digital game development and in startup environments. As you will see, Mikko is a strong believer in creating a happy environment, not only because he’s a nice guy, but because it’s good business, too.
“CX, in the context of HR, comes into play even before an individual joins your team. It starts with their image of your company”
TOM: What is CX in the employer-employer context?
MIKKO: Customer experience in the context of human resources – the recruitment, management and development of employees – comes into play even before an individual joins your team. It starts when people have an image of the company as an employer before applying a job, and continues throughout their career. It doesn’t end until their exit interview. Along the way, supervisors, co-workers, staff, vendors, suppliers, customers – all contribute to the mood and each employee’s experience. Whether it’s during everyday encounters and routine feedback, or formal performance evaluations – all the ups and downs – all of these events feed the employee experience.
TOM: The HappyOrNot feedback system is used by 4,000 companies in 135 countries, mainly to collect customer feedback. So how does this work in the employer-employee context? Isn’t the relationship significantly different than a retail environment?
MIKKO: Yes. In the employer-employee relationship, the processes and interactions are more complicated than with the supplier-customer relationship. And an open feedback system is not necessarily right for all companies. But using our workplace as an example, other organizations might see the value of using the system to some extent and in their own way. HappyOrNot solicits input from employees on a daily basis. We will ask a simple question, like “How was your workday?” to gauge the general mood. The system also allows for follow-up questions to get more precise insights into where employees would like to see improvement.
TOM: What kind of feedback do you get?
MIKKO: Employees will share things like “too much work!” But we also see they are happy about things like the spirit of teamwork at the company. We see where they respect leadership and value our progress as a business. They will indicate whether they find meaning in their work or whether they are satisfied with our level of internal communications. The important thing is that our management discusses the results and that we foster communication.
TOM: Any examples of the company’s responses to feedback?
MIKKO: Even though we’re open with our information and have an open office layout, not everyone felt they were getting enough information about the company. We responded with more updates and more information-sharing sessions with [CEO Heikki Väänänen], who follows the metrics on his smartphone app. We also see we have room to improve our customer onboarding system, so our teams are working to make that better.
TOM: What about one-on-one use of the insights with individuals?
MIKKO: We use these insights in our OKR (objectives and key result) and CFR (Conversation, Feedback & Recognition)-discussions. Whether it’s formal or just a friendly chat, we can ask staff how they might improve an issue we’re seeing or if they can give us deeper insights.
TOM: Is it all about tackling issues?
MIKKO: There is this other side of the story. We can use our system as a way to give recognition. When employees are pressing Smileys they can leave positive comments about colleagues, too. We share the praise and recognition. It’s motivating to see your name on the big office information screen!Employee problems are made worse the longer they fester. Early warning systems and team insights can be invaluable.Click To Tweet
Why should companies care?
“Something good is going to happen when you are doing right by your employees.”
TOM: Some CEOs operate, like, “We’re here to make profits and happy shareholders. Employees are lucky to be here.” And some of those CEOs are even successful, depending on your definition of the word.
MIKKO: But more often than not, happy employees translates into happy customers and strong productivity, which in turn translates into value and profit. Something good is going to happen when you are doing right by your employees. In an article for Forbes, a business psychologist [Camille Preston, Ph.D.] cited a study which found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. Happiness has an even greater effect on salespeople, increasing sales by as much as 37%.
TOM: That’s a real impact.
MIKKO: The same article noted that the stock prices of companies on the “Best Companies to Work For” list rose 14% per year from 1998 to 2005. Companies that didn’t make the list didn’t do half as well.
TOM: How often are you taking the temperature of the place?
MIKKO: Employees can tap the Smileys at the end of the day and the next day they can see where they fit into the general mood of the organization. For remote employees they can register their mood and provide it online, too.Happy salespeople close more deals. Happiness improves sales by more than a third.Click To Tweet
Making it Work: Keys to Success
“Allow for anonymous feedback … making employees feel safe is the only way to get honest insights.”
TOM: Feedback can be about small items. Like, what group of employees anywhere in the world agrees on the perfect office temperature? Feedback can be about tactical matters, like work volumes and scheduling. Or it can be about company-wide concerns like corporate communications or even strategic issues. But some issues are sensitive.
MIKKO: Again, the system may not be appropriate for all organizations and in all circumstances. It’s up to each company to decide if they want to publicize their results. We encourage companies to share as much as they can with employees, but they have to decide what level of sharing is best for everyone and for their unique situation.
TOM: For organizations who want to use the HappyOrNot system to maintain a positive employee experience — and you’ve got some giant companies doing this — let’s talk about best practices.
MIKKO: First of all, allow for anonymous feedback. It is important that employees feel safe. For those who want to, there is an option for the employees to leave their name and ask to be contacted. But making employees feel safe is the only way to get honest insights.
TOM: Are all responses company-wide responses? Or can you pinpoint segments of an organization?
MIKKO: If a Happy Index score is really low, we can see based on timestamps and locations generally where the scores are coming from so we can address concerns with more precision.
TOM: How widely do you share feedback reports?
MIKKO: The results and specific feedback are ultimately shared with all employees. They can see the results online. Offices in Finland and the U.S. have information screens that display real-time scores on how the company is faring day to day. It’s a good practice for employees to see the results right there where they have coffee breaks.
TOM: I am thinking how people use social media to lash out. How do you control that?
MIKKO: You need ground rules. We train our people how to give feedback. For example, we don’t want flaming on there or criticism of individuals. Keeping a civil feedback loop is most beneficial for all of us. People respect and appreciate that we’re being open. As for management, we don’t want to find out about problems too late, and we want to find solutions together.
TOM: But sometimes people are going to let it fly, aren’t they?
MIKKO: Of course, you can use our Smileys as a ranting instrument to let some steam out, and while that does have some value, we encourage people to ask, ‘What is my responsibility here? Can I merely outsource the solution to someone else?’ Our terminals don’t provide magic buttons that transfer all your feelings to someone else to take care of. You bring issues up, take part in a discussion, and then become part of the solution. It’s an effect tool for getting constructive feedback. Employees appreciate the opportunity. And professionals respect one another. If they forget, we address it. But if you respect the forum then all is well.
TOM: Does the company feel responsible for addressing all feedback and in a certain amount of time?
MIKKO: Once you start measuring employee happiness you are creating the expectation that things will get better, so action needs to follow. When you have instant feedback, but not instant problem-solving, there can be tension. People must realize solutions take time, but it’s on us to be open with the feedback and the solutions, and engaging employees in finding them. It’s a process.Allow for anonymous feedback. It is important that employees feel safe. Without that, you forfeit candor.Click To Tweet
Mikko Pernu is Human Resources Director at HappyOrNot Ltd., where he oversees teams in Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Tom Hagy is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and business owner.