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In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights video, Amanda Razani speaks with Ross Wainwright, CEO of Alida, about empathy in the workplace and how it affects employee retention and customer satisfaction.



Amanda Razani: Hello. I’m Amanda Razani with Digital CxO, and I’m here today speaking with Ross Wainwright, who is the CEO of Alida. How are you doing?

Ross Wainwright: I’m terrific, Amanda. Thanks for the time today. It’s nice to meet you.

Amanda Razani: Nice to meet you, as well. I wanted to delve a little bit into a survey you released, earlier this month, about empathy in the workplace. You surveyed over 200 customer experience consultants, and the findings were very interesting. There were a lot of disparities and gaps between empathy in the workplace versus the customer experience itself. There seemed to be a divide between that.

Ross Wainwright: Sure.

Amanda Razani: I’d like to delve into that a little deeper. But first, can you share what made you decide to do this survey? And a little bit more about what you found from it.

Ross Wainwright: Sure. Well, first of all, we are in the business of customer experience. So, we leverage our software to understand what our customers’ customers, what’s in their hearts and minds, so that we can help them make better business decisions. And in parallel, we’ve always been very interested in employee experience, and it’s a big part of our culture here at Alida, because inspired employees actually do great things to take care of their customers. So I was very curious on this intersection between employee experience and customer experience, and I was curious on whether there’s actually – there are some dependencies. And what’s interesting, what we learned – so the short answer is: without question, it is a priority.

And there is a – I think that there’s a convergence going on in the industry, because many CEOs are very – actually, 72 percent, they say, of CEOs recognize that customer empathy and customer insights will help you run a better business. But only 30 percent of those same customers that we spoke to saw employee experience, and really, driving empathy in the eyes of your employees was really a priority. Now, why is this so important? To your first part of your question. At the end of the day, in the middle of what they call, what, the Great Resignation, right? A tightening economy, you know, with interest rates and inflation, you know, with macro global activity that is causing no shortage of chaos, whether it be the war in Europe or supply chain challenges around the world, there is a lot of stress.

There’s a lot of mental health stress. And my theory is that, if our employees are incredibly satisfied, if they’ve got good work-life balance, they will actually inspire their customers. And happy customers do great things: they’re loyal, they invest in your products. To get that, though, we need to make sure that we create an environment where people can have good work-life balance and, you know, they can take care of their family and their kids and their partners and spouses, in addition to being great employees at Alida. So, I don’t know if that answers your question, but there’s a whole bunch of things to unpack, there. But the short answer is: we need to serve the hearts and minds of our employees.

And the best way to start, if you don’t really know what to do, the best place to start is start with listening, start with empathy as a priority. And they’ll tell ya. If they trust you, they’ll tell ya.

Amanda Razani: Absolutely. Do you think, to that regard, do you think the past two years and the current global pandemic circumstances have influenced this position of empathy in the workplace, and made it even more important?

Ross Wainwright: Without question. I think that there’s been a shift, certainly accelerated over the last two years, Amanda, where the employee voice is stronger than ever. Whether it be Black Lives Matter or George Floyd or return to the office or a hybrid work environment, all of these have been parts of this, I think, shift to really a very empowered employee base that are ultimately gonna tell you how best to serve them. And the employees don’t work for me, I work for them, and that’s a good place to start. We need to acknowledge, as senior executives, as CEOs, that we need to put the employee at the center of what we do, and drive empowerment. And if we can do that and they trust us, I think great things will happen, and we’re seeing some of those results in our company today.

Amanda Razani: Most definitely. So I wanna delve into the survey results. There was a gap between empathy and day-to-day work, in the role as a broader tool in organizations, to drive action and deliver business outcomes. Why do you think there’s a gap between those?

Ross Wainwright: Well, listen, I think, from my perspective, we’ve gotta kind of walk in their shoes, for a minute. I live in Toronto, it’s an expensive city. We’ve got lots of employees that have, you know, two kids, a dog, in an 800-square-foot or a 600-square-foot condo. And you’ve got two professionals trying to do their job, they’re trying to raise kids and they’re trying to do their best to build their careers. I do think there’s a lot of – I think there’s a lot of mental stress that has happened, that continues to linger on the backend of the pandemic. So, I think the first thing we need to do is we need to acknowledge that it’s there, and we have to, as an executive team, as a CEO, I think I have a moral responsibility to help make sure my employees are in a healthy place; both their health and their mental health. And I think once, if your employees do trust you and you’re willing to lead with empathy, which means you’re willing to listen, and you’re willing to take action on the back of that, I think we’ll be rewarded on the backend of it.

Which brings me to the point that we were chatting about earlier, Amanda, around this intersection of customer experience and employee experience. Inspired employees inspire their customers to do great things. It drives retention, it drives incremental revenue, it drives stronger bonds and trust and relationships, it enables you to be essential in the eyes of your customer. Everybody wants to be essential in the eyes of their customer, and I think it starts – I think, in many ways, this concept of inspired employees, that you can achieve by starting with empathy, I think that’s a big part of driving that essential relationship.

Amanda Razani: Yes. So, also, in your survey you said that it’s important for businesses to understand the value of empathy, and that many who answered the survey felt that their company did not understand the value, and 65 percent said they don’t measure the value. So, my question to that was, how do you measure empathy?

Ross Wainwright: Well, our company, we do what we call an Employee Pulse Survey, once a quarter. We measure a net promoter score; will you recommend our company to your friends and colleagues and family? We look at diversity, we look at a number of the ERG groups, we look at feedback on some of those priorities. So the first thing we do is we go get the data, and we ask our employees to lean in and really give us their reflection. And one of the things that I find very exciting is we look at what we call the happiness score: “Are you happy or very happy working for Alida?” And we’re fortunate that well over 90 percent of our employees consistently tell us that they’re happy or very happy.

But we can’t take anything for granted. We also need to find out, those that aren’t happy or very happy, what can we do to help them. So, I think you have to develop a formula, a program, you have to go get the data, you have to leverage some technology to go and – ’cause it’s not just a point in time. It’s also interesting looking at how your employees feel about your company over a period of time, ’cause then you’re looking at the trendlines, aren’t ya?

Amanda Razani: Okay. So, in regards to bringing more empathy into the workplace and more understanding and measuring, are there some companies that you can give examples of that are initiating programs to help? Or is this a challenge companies face, and what do you suggest?

Ross Wainwright: Well, I think, first of all, I would start with your values as a company. Our values are to be bold, to be curious, to be authentic, and to be empathetic. So, it’s kind of a cornerstone of who we are as a company. From there, I think once you actually define those values, you’ve gotta make it a priority. And it’s interesting when you were talking about how do you measure it, ’cause if you can’t measure it, it’s hard to inspect whether you’re getting better, right? And how do you establish a baseline?

So, we measure empathy based on the happiness score that I mentioned: would you recommend our company to your friends and family as a place to work? Do you believe in the strategy? Do you believe in the executive team? Do you believe in the CEO? And we looked at that data and we trended, over time.

One of the things that we rolled out in our company, that we’re working through, to be candid with you, Amanda, but it was the right thing to do, coming from the feedback on one of these surveys around mental stress and a lack of work-life balance, we’ve rolled out a four-day workweek. We’re doing it for the month of July and August, we’re doing it as a pilot, and we’re not cutting the compensation back, so we’re not dropping salaries by 20 percent. Nor would we expect that the employees are gonna do 20 percent less work. We’re providing the empowerment to allow the employees to get it done, what’s best for their schedules. And if we can find a way to get eight long weekends, eight three-day weekends over the summer, I think that would be just an amazing outcome.

So, how do you measure success? Well, are the employees feeling happier? More balanced? Is work-life balance in a better place? I think we’ll probably achieve that. But then we have to look at, also, the KPIs that run the business. You know, the revenue or the bookings or the profit we generate, all those things also have to continue to collect _____.

So, if we can get that balance right, I think this will be a really, an amazing outcome. And the one thing I would suggest to anyone that’s considering kind of some flexibility on work hours, the four-day workweek, we think we got it right, is it doesn’t have to be perfect, at the end of the day. We might have to color outside of the lines; maybe you gotta work on a Saturday morning to get your work done. But what I was surprised by was the empowerment. It was the empowerment that gave the employees the greatest lift, which I thought was pretty cool, at the end of the day.

Amanda Razani: That’s so neat. I hear a lot about the four-day workweek; it’s even come up in some of our schools here locally, they are voting on four-day school weeks, both for students and staff. And I would be very interested to hear the outcome, how that goes for you all, because I’m hearing that a lot. And I personally think you’re correct, it’s gonna be a good outcome.

Ross Wainwright: I think the world’s moving in that direction, too, Amanda. I think, you know, at the end of the day, you know, your career, your work, your family, your children, these are all priorities that all have to coexist, and you’ve gotta get the right balance. And, you know, I had one employee saying, “You know, think we’d ever go to a three-day workweek?” And I said, “Well, let’s start with the four-day workweek and see if we can make that successful, and we’ll see where we go from there.”

Amanda Razani: Yes, finding that work-life balance, it’s so important. And here at Digital CxO, we focus a lot on digital transformation initiatives; that’s a big topic, these days, getting digitized. And there’s a lot of stress involved with that, especially with companies that were behind the ball, and I think that empathy would play a big role in that, as far as achieving these digital transformation initiatives, don’t you agree?

Ross Wainwright: I do. And listen, empathy sounds kind of touchy-feely, right? It’s not a mathematical quantitative measurement, but you can actually define it. I think you asked the right question: how do you measure the success of a program that’s based on empathy? First of all, you can’t fake it. It’s gotta be authentic, right? But if you get it right, your employees will tell you, over time, are they happy, do they believe in the strategy, do they feel like they have work-life balance, do they support the CEO, would they recommend their company to their colleagues. And the other KPI is that, you know, your regrettable – I think the word that one of my colleagues uses is: your regrettable employee churn will go down, right? You won’t have people leaving you and surprising you, ’cause they will be loyal and committed.

Amanda Razani: Exactly.

Ross Wainwright: And there’s certainly a cost associated with that, for sure.

Amanda Razani: Oh, yes. Well, thank you so much, Ross, for speaking with us today. I think you all have made great strides in this area that needs to be focused on a bit more, so thank you.

Ross Wainwright: Nice to meet you, Amanda. Thanks for the time.

Amanda Razani: Nice to meet you, too.