“My first job sucked”. Most people who tell you that simply start looking for a new job. Andy Golding isn’t most people. Instead, she set out on a mission to prove that workplaces could be fun, interesting, and engaging. Places, in other words where you’d want to spend time.
So passionate is Golding about that mission that she founded Strive, a company that helps businesses create amazing employee experiences.
We recently got the chance to sit down with Golding and talk about Strive’s journey, what companies get wrong when it comes to employee experience, and why leadership is so important to culture.
From awful to awesome via Missing Link
Before Golding started Strive, however, she had to realise that things didn’t have to be the way they were in her first job.
“I just couldn’t reconcile that this was it, you know, that this was ‘adulting’, as we say,” she told us.
Fortunately, things were about to take a major turn for the better.
Within a very short period of time, Golding knew she had found what she was looking for:
“This company was purported to have a great company culture and just be a great place to work all round and immediately something inside me went ‘I have to work there. I just have to experience it’”.
She duly applied for, and got, a job at the company.
“And while I was there I proved my theory that work doesn’t have to suck,” she told us.
Over time, Golding started to notice that Missing Link’s clients seemed to enjoy being in its offices more than their own.
“I grew quite fascinated with what we were doing that they weren’t,” she said. “What were we getting right?”
That led Golding to start researching what she calls “companies behaving awesomely”. As she got deeper into the research, she also started to notice the impact that great employee experiences have on company bottom lines.
Sitting down one day, she Googled “my job makes me…”. The results were, to put it mildly, depressing.
Drawing on her own experiences, Golding realised she could help companies create amazing experiences for their employees and make these kinds of search results less common. And so, after a short sabbatical in Spain, Strive was born.
Understanding employee experience
One of the most important things to know about Golding is that she doesn’t go around encouraging companies to install ball pits and slides between floors. Those, she points out, are perks.
“What employee experience really is,” she told us, “is the core workplace practices. So, the computer that I’m working on every single day, does it help me do my job? Is it slowing me down? Is it efficient? The environment that we work in, is it noisy? Does it smell horrendous?”
Even the bathrooms are a major part of the employee experience. What your bathroom looks like, Golding told us, “says a lot about how much you really give a damn about your employees”.
But how should companies go about building great employee experiences?
Well, according to the Strive founder, they should take the same approach as they would when building a great user experience.
“If your company is a brand,” the Strive founder told us, “employees are kind of responsible for delivering on that brand”.
All too often though, she pointed out, “companies try and build employee experience, or what they think should be employee experience, without actually including their employees”.
In other words, before you introduce free lunches, ask your employees what could actually make their experience of working for you better.
Another important part of employee experience is ensuring that people understand what role they play in the company as a whole.
“People are no longer looking for careers as a static progression,” Golding told us. “We’re looking for our careers as an experience, and a huge part of that is wanting to know how my role impacts the organisation I work in”.
“The minute people truly feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, she added, “the impact is unbelievable”.
Read more: 4 Employee health trends you should be aware of
One of Golding’s favourite stories around this comes from Wharton Business School. Its call centre, charged with raising fund from alumni for scholarships, had an incredibly high employee turnover rate.
In a bid to turn that around, a researcher allowed one group of call centre employees to spend five minutes each with a student who’d benefited from the funding. The result: the employees spent more time on each call and raised much more money than their colleagues who didn’t.
“If we know we’re part of something bigger and having a good experience while we contribute to this bigger picture, everybody wins,” Golding told us.
Don’t be Ralph
While that kind of thinking seems obvious, Golding admits there are still companies – and people within companies – which simply don’t get it.
A lot of these companies, she says, are “getting by operating the way that they’ve always operated”.
Over time, however, these companies will start to notice that they aren’t attracting and retaining the talent they once did.
As Golding explains, it’s often the top people within a company that are the problem here:
“A lot of the time what gets in the way is leadership; very old school management principles, the idea that you’ve got a job, you’re earning a salary, you should be happy”.
At Strive, any person who has this kind of attitude is labelled a Ralph, after someone Golding met a conference.
“I’ve never met such a closed-off, shut down individual in my life,” she told us. “He just refused to accept that any of this actually matters”.
And so Ralph got memed and now features in Strive presentations. “Don’t be Ralph”, is something the people at Strive frequently tell their clients.
Why leaders matter for culture
Of course, as a leader within an organisation, it’s vital that you not only acknowledge the importance of employee experience and culture but also that you embody the kind of culture you’d like your company to have.
As Golding explains, a company culture is defined far more by what leaders do than what they say:
“We used to do a really interesting exercise where we would get the people in the business to explain, describe, or personalise the culture, and what was really interesting is nine and a half times out of 10, the personality they described was exactly that of the founding member”.
One interesting pattern that Golding’s noticed is that younger leaders aren’t as interested in their own success as they are in building successful teams.
They’re also willing to be a lot more experimental with their companies. The idea, she says, is to build workplaces “where people can go try, experiment, come up with new things, not where they’re working on a rigid production line the whole time”.
Thing is, it’s not always easy to maintain that kind of atmosphere as a company grows. In that kind of scenario, hiring for culture becomes incredibly important.
“If you know the culture you have, then you have to go one step further and go okay what does this culture look like in lived behaviours?” Golding told us. “It’s all good and well to say we want a high-performing really fun work place…what does that look like in lived behaviour? What type of people exhibit those behaviours? These are the types of people that we would look to hire”.
Even if you do manage that, however, you will occasionally get employees who don’t conform the kind of culture you’re trying build.
According to Golding, in those instances, it’s more important to understand why than simply root them out and get them to leave the business.
“A lot of the time,” she told us, “it turns into a recognition thing. They’re actually not feeling recognised for their work”.
That said, Golding does point out that the “contagion effect is a real thing” and if you don’t rein it in, “it can be very damaging”.
In some instances, limiting that damage means removing the person causing it. Ideally, you can do that amicably, but sometimes you have to do things the hard way.
It’s something Strive helps its clients through, although Golding does admit it’s not always pleasant:
“It’s the less fun side of what we do, but what can we do? These are the hard conversations that sometimes we have to have”.
It is, perhaps, a scenario that’ll become less common in the future as companies come to realise the importance of employee experience.
In fact, one of the biggest trends Golding sees going forward is the increasing number of employee experience officers.
Thing is, because it’s still emerging, a lot of the people being put into these positions aren’t really sure what to do.
Golding therefore thinks that “the training around employee experience is going to become huge”.
At the same time, she says, this training is going to change the face of HR.
“HR is going to become a lot less transactional and much more transformational and experiential,” she told us.
The bottom line
Ultimately though, none of this would be worthwhile if it didn’t make business sense. Fortunately, it does.
“My favourite stat when comes to employee experience comes from Watermark Consulting,” Golding told us. “And they looked at employee experience leaders versus the overall S&P. They found that employee experience leaders annualised return is nearly double that of the overall S&P”.
If Strive can get similar results for its clients over a sustained period of time, expect to hear much more from it and Golding.