Episode 6: Results Will Come, But Everything Begins With Employee Engagement With Rod Lacey

Everything begins with engagement. You have to make sure your employees are passionate about the work they do. You have to make sure that they believe in the brand and in the organization. Results will come later, but you need to engage first. Set up meetings for new hires, be open to listening to your employee's problems, or help them in their career. Just engage first. Talking about this in this episode is simPRO’s Chief People Operations Officer, Rod Lacey. Learn how simPRO develops its employees with in-person meetings. Discover how they are creating an open environment for people to be themselves. Find out why engagement is the key to everything that Rod does with the company. Start engaging with your employees today.

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Results Will Come, But Everything Begins With Employee Engagement With Rod Lacey

We're so glad to be back with another episode of the show. We are blessed to be joined by Rod Lacey here. Rod, how are you?

I'm good, Megan. Thank you very much. It's an honor to be a part of this.

We're so glad to have you. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I am a career HR person. A bit of a confession, I've been in HR for many years, progressively growing my career experience in a lot of different things gratefully, for the most part, with growing organizations. Most companies had to hit the reset button on occasion and make some hard decisions. I am the Chief People Officer at simPRO Software, an Australia-based organization looking to grow certainly globally and in the US, which is where I'm based.

Sometimes people give HR a bad name. We don't want you to be Toby. Being the Chief People Officer, we typically think of HR. What are some of the other things that come with your role besides just HR?

It's such a fun stigma. The office did wonders with Toby and his reputation. I do introduce myself sometimes in a sarcastic way, that I'm the Toby of the organization. For me, that's the HR that I don't want to be. That persona that is policy driven is focused on order, handbooks, and things like that. The people side of the organization that's most fun and engaging is the engagement and diversity and inclusion side. Those are areas of HR that truly make a difference and drag business results.

I call it eyes-up HR, meaning we're interacting with people and making a difference. Eyes-down HR is when you're looking in the policy book or the handbook to make a decision. That's not the nature of a people department. In addition to the essentials, compliance will always be there. I am looking at engagement, growing an organization globally, working with our sales teams on compensation structures, working to explore new markets for expansion, and monitoring and measuring the output, the input, and the experience each of our employees is having.

Employee Engagement: "Eyes up HR" is interacting and engaging with people to really make a difference. Whereas, "Eyes down HR" is making every decision by the handbook. That's not the nature of a people's department.

I don't think most people would put the people department in a growth strategy type of mindset. That is critical to the growth, especially if it's an Australian-based company breaking into the US or North America region. Talk a little bit about that. Where does your role fit into the organizational structure? How does community play into that?

I'm on the executive team. Our executive team is dispersed between three different countries. We meet six days a week, making decisions for the organization. We are all equal parts of running the organization. As far as a sense of community, it's probably the funnest and the most open and embracing executive team I've ever been a part of. I've been a part of a few executive teams. This is a group that's very close, open, candid, and has a lot of fun, which is amazing.

Going to sweat together, growing a company, and laughing together every once in a while is an important things to have. As far as the sense of community, there's this equality where all markets are treated equally. All employees globally feel like they care for each in their own way. That's very important to us that everyone is respected for who they are, where they're located, and what they represent.

If you're going to sweat and grow a company together,laughing together every once in a while is a really important thing to have.

That's awesome, especially if you're meeting six days a week. I would hope you can have a little bit of fun with it. When you're talking about a community with the people department, which is what you run, and you guys also have a chief customer officer, which is an external facing community, how do you guys work together in that space and build inclusivity?

It comes down to the values of the organization as a foundation. One of our values is we are one team, and that is almost a familial value that we've got. We approach our employees that way, meaning that we will work together with everybody across the world, whatever market they're in, whoever they are at the best self, we're going to work with them. Our customers are considered the same way. Meaning that their business is important to the organization. They are important to the organization. We treat our customers with the same familial type of respect, where we want to partner with them in the growth of their business in the same way that we want to partner with our employees in the growth of their careers.

As you're helping them grow in their careers within your organization, how does that fit into the growth strategy of your organization?

It's hand in hand. If you think about the value of an experienced employee on your team, they've been trained. They know the team. They know the product. They know the customers. If you can allow them to grow in their influence, train them, upskill them, and create a career path for them, their ability to serve and grow the business is much greater than if you churn and burn and bring in new people all the time. It's a better investment to keep your people, grow your people, and create those avenues. Your business benefits as a result of that increased tenure of your employees that are experiencing career growth.

What are some of the ways that you develop that? What are some of the supports or resources that you're able to give in this career development you're doing?

We're trying to make sure that simPRO as a company works for people. We've got a business to grow, but there are lots of ways to grow a business. We focused our employee experience around allowing employees to be adults, creating flexibility for how they get their work done, and turning a lot of information over to them to share with us so we can understand what they need. There are ways that we're focusing on growing their careers in the spirit of making central work for them. We have a four-day workweek. They're paid for 40 hours. They work 32, which allows many people to flex and adjust their schedule so they can leave early every day to pick their children up from school.

Employee Engagement: When it comes to employee experience, allow your employees to be adults. Create flexibility for how they can get work done. Understand what they really need so they can grow in their careers.

They could start late every day if they chose to play pickleball with their friends at the park. They could take every Monday off or every Friday off, which most of our employees will have a three day weekend every weekend. We're encouraging them to do things they wouldn't normally do, check off something from a bucket list, learn a new skill, and enjoy their hobbies. We're seeing great engagement and retention from that. People are able to serve, worship, and do many things that are important to them as individuals with a schedule.

We also rolled out for the US a market-leading paid paternity program or parental leave. It's 24 weeks of paid parental leave for the primary caregiver. We want our employees to know that they are welcome back. We also want them to know that we want to provide the opportunity to bond with that newborn or newly adopted child. No disrespect to the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it's unpaid. Most states don't impose paid leave on employers. We wanted to make sure that bonding time was comfortable and that when they're ready to return, they know they can return to the same great company they left.

We've also created some clarity around career pathing for us as a growing organization. If you think about it, most of our supervisors are first-time supervisors, so we're training them on how to be supervisors. We've created some clarity around the next steps in most job families at this point, and still growing, but helping employees understand what's next for them and what they need to achieve and accomplish to grow their careers. I know I'm rambling a little bit. Part of it is to get the employee's mindset around, "What can I do for myself? How can I grow me? How can I take care of me so that they're not looking at the uncertainties of the market, wondering what can I do?" They have a clear vision of what they can do for themselves.

You guys clearly are a global company. We're talking about headquarters in Australia, branching out into North America. All employees can't be together in such a global organization. What are some of the ways you're using technology and bringing in digital spaces to create that community?

Listening to the employees and keeping them informed is very important to us in the spirit of one team. They need to know what's going on. They need to understand how their roles contribute to greater success. We meet regularly with the employees in a town hall, which is largely a presentation where we give them an update globally on the state of the business and keeping in mind that we've got people in many times around the world.

For some people, it's early in the morning. For some, it's late at night. We do that every quarter, this town hall meeting where it's a business update that's very important for people. We hold more regularly a fireside chat, which is an employee-directed question and answer session. We do that by each market, so the time zone works for each employee group. What's been so fun to see is the trust the employees have in that forum. They know that they can be candid and open and ask hard questions.

They're given that opportunity in a forum with their peers, whether they're sitting in a conference room or the other half sitting remotely, to learn the state of the business and ask questions about whatever comes to mind. As leaders, we answer on the fly. That's one of the things we're doing. We're also creating global communities for people of special interests. For example, we launched an employee resource group for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. It is a global based group where people that have that interest, focus, and affinity can join with a monthly meeting run by the employee leadership that's been chosen and meet, gather globally, and discuss those important topics.

I want to dissect your fireside chat a little bit because that's a cool concept. It's one thing to invite everyone to the table, "Come to the fireside chat." You said that your employees know that it is a place for them to ask hard questions and come to the table ready to ask each other and the leadership the hard questions.

How did you create that environment where an employee feels comfortable to raise their hand and maybe say, "This isn't working for me. Why did you make that business decision?" How are you able to not just create the space? Everyone can be invited to the party, but that doesn't always mean I feel like I'm part of the party. I would want to speak up. How did you frame that to where employees feel like it's a safe space to say things that maybe are unpopular?

There's a year-round effort that goes into that. One is, as an executive team, we do everything we can to be approachable, meaning we gather each employee group at least once a year, all in person. We infuse ourselves in the middle of meetings, conversations, and impromptu. We laugh, joke, and make fun of ourselves. We want to get to know every employee personally. At 500-ish employees, that's hard, especially with the global workforce. When we're given the opportunity, we are socialites, like in the middle of everything.

Given the opportunity, when we interact with every employee, we do a lot of one on one sessions for whatever reason. This open door is sometimes not a physical open door anymore. It's a virtual open door. We make sure that when we have those exchanges, we gain advocates and partners in the organization who know that, "I had a good experience meeting with the executive." That opens some of the doors too.

Beyond that, those employees who have been through a couple of firesides truly see that it is a safe forum. There is no retaliation. There is no awkward silence there. If they're concerned, they can submit a question in advance because some people have much greater comfort in being candid than others. We love hard questions. It makes us accountable. There have been recurring themes. We have an equity program. We're rolling out Q4 this 2022, and that's been a recurring, "What's the status on the equity theme?" For a few of these firesides, we have to give an update, and it's moved slower than we would've liked. We're held accountable for that by the wonderful employees that have the courage to speak up and ask those hard questions.

Be open to hard questions because it makes you accountable.

There's something you said that is inclusive because not everybody is necessarily comfortable raising their hand and speaking. I love that you guys give people the option to submit questions in advance. I'm a very thoughtful person. I'm not so much an on-the-fly person. For me, that would make me feel much more comfortable coming into a fireside chat, knowing that I don't have to save the question and then go in front of my peers. It's like walking into a conference, standing at the microphone, and asking a question. You're like, "What if it's a dumb question? I don't want to be embarrassed." I love that you approach that. Talk to me a little bit about this equity project. If you're allowed to share, I'd love to know more and how that plays into your community strategy.

We believe that we've got a great thing going. We want employees to be excited about the brand. We've got a great product. We're investing in our employees to convince them this is the place to be. Because they believe in the product and the company's future, they've been asking for an opportunity to be shareholders. There are not that many that are shareholders at this point. We have designed a scheme. We've designed a plan that would allow employees to become shareholders of a phantom stock plan so that they could further invest in the organization if they chose, become shareholders, and enjoy an element of success as the company continues to grow globally.

The other piece that you've talked about in this community that you've created is that you get your resource groups together at least once a year in person. What do you do between those meetings since you probably aren't getting all of them together in person, maybe once a year or more? What activities do you do for the employee resource groups or in general to keep morale high and engagement up? What are some of the tactics you guys use year-round?

We get our global employees in total together at least once a year. The UK will be twice this year. We make sure the executives are there for those gatherings the best we can, either the full team, which is seven of us, or as many of us as can be there. The employee resource groups, those groups meet monthly virtually. We try to provide them with the budget to do fundraising, service opportunities, and things like that. They have a much more frequent gathering than all of the employee bases. However, we encourage teams to get together. Our new hire training is largely in person for many groups and customer service groups that come and spend weeks at one of our office buildings.

We have one office building per country. Half the employees work in the office half of the time, and then half of the employees are fully remote. We provide opportunities, especially for new hires, to come in and get acclimated to the company, embrace the culture, understand the values, and meet a lot of the broader peer network before they start. That's a big important part for us in setting the stage for the new hire's success.

Outside of that, teams do a lot of things on their own, whether it's virtual coffee chats. There are a lot of fun forms we even do on our instant messages and channels. People are posting pictures of their children's first day of kindergarten and things like that. There are opportunities to get to know each other at a much deeper level throughout the year.

You mentioned that there's a DE&I resource group. How does that diversity piece play into your inclusion or community strategy? We're talking a lot about inclusion. We've got family groups and paid family leave. I'm sure there are dog lovers and cat lover groups and all the different topic areas that could go. How does diversity play into that? How do you make sure that everyone is represented in those groups if they want to be?

That's something that's central to everything we do. We are at our best when we're a diverse group. I've been in business for a long time. I can be one of the biggest advocates for saying diversity wins. The times when my teams have been most diverse are when decisions are better, the questions that are asked are more thoughtful, and the outcome is greater. I can say from my own experience, and I know statistics support that, but I can say personally that diversity wins. It needs to be part of our DNA and every organization's DNA. What I love about this new era of business is the fact that an organization can expand to any state and country. They choose for any talent the opportunities for a diverse workforce are greater than ever before.

Many of us are no longer bound to the demographics of those that live within 30 miles of the office. We can look for top talent in any corner of the world. It's an amazing experience. It's been great in terms of diversity. One of the important things for organizations is to make sure that part of our expression to these new hires is you can be who you are. That's what we hired you to be, be your best self. No compromises, no hiding behind. You were hired for who you are, and so be you. Even our onboarding is a message about the importance of your true self and being that because that's who we hired. We didn't hire a clone of somebody else. We hired you for who you are.

You were hired to be your best self. You were hired for who you are so be you.

We've talked about inclusion and how you approach diversity in these communities. Let's think there's a startup company that's starting its growth strategy or emerging into a new market. They want to do more engagement for their employees or even their customers. What are some of the hurdles that you had to overcome early on in developing this culture that you could share with us so that you could help others avoid them?

Let's start at the top. Not all executives are ready to buy into some of the more progressive approaches to the new workforce. The pandemic reset many people's minds about what they value and what they're willing to do. Even as I interviewed for this role, there were some outreaches to me. My question was, "Is this a home-based opportunity?" If it wasn't, I was out because that's what I do now. It's great that I cannot have to relocate my family. When I grew up, I moved seven times by the time I was fourteen years old because of my father's job. I didn't want that for my family. I've got five kids. I've got to make sure that the stability for them is amazing.

Some executives are not ready to buy that digital can be productive. The pandemic convinced us that we almost became too productive being remote employees when we all had to be. In so many jobs, you figured out how to do that for the first time. I would've even argued that my job needed to be in the office as an HR professional pre-pandemic, but we figured it out. We got good at it.

Executives need to recognize there are different ways of doing things, and they can be very effective. During our four-day workweek, we've been trying. It's a little bit leading there. What's happened to our business? Engagement's up, retention's up, and mental health has improved. Physical health has improved. Stress and burnout have been reduced, and productivity has remained the same.

If you think about all of that, the fact that we have the same productivity minus a day a week worth of work, it works. For the executive that might be hesitant, give it a little pilot. Try it and see if you get the same results we've had. For some of the others looking at the engagement of this global workforce, listening would be my biggest piece of advice.

Get to know the people. Create that comfort zone where they come to you and recognize that you are ready to receive the message to truly listen. It's amazing how many challenges can be solved with a good listening ear. Sometimes it's not even with any action beyond just listening. Being a good receiver of information is an amazing skill for a leader to have and for any manager to have as they manage their team.

Employee Engagement: Get to know your people and listen to them. Create that comfort zone where they can come to you. It's amazing how many challenges can be solved with a good listening ear.

It's the age-old relationship saying like, "I don't want you to solve the problem. I just want you to hear me." We could say that to our spouses and friend groups. That's human to human nature sometimes. You want someone to hear you. You don't want anyone to fix it or do anything about it. You want to know that you were heard and that someone acknowledges and empathizes with you. That's a common theme coming out of a lot of the episodes we've done.

Where we focus, especially here at JUNO, is technology's great, all of that, but at the end of the day, it's that human-to-human connection. That drives everything. As we're wrapping up here, I did poke around your LinkedIn profile a little bit and found something very interesting there. It was your LinkedIn profile had four words. Intentionally, I love that the first word in your LinkedIn profile was engagement. Results are also one of those words. It's last. I feel like that was intentional.

Long ago, I tried to simplify what it takes to grow a business. I've been in the HR space for a long time. I consulted for a while. It begins with engagement. You have to have employees that are passionate about the work they do. They and you are giving the extra effort. They believe in the brand. They believe in the organization. Engagement is being first, but then results are last. Results happen. When the employees are bought in and are working hard, you'll grow. You'll have the results you need. Everything begins with engagement. You've got to have people's minds in the right place, excited about what they're doing. The rest pretty much takes care of itself.

Everything begins with engagement.

I would imagine your customer officer counterpart would probably say the same thing about customer retention and that if you have engaged customers. If you're engaging with them and not just them engaging with you, they probably would see similar results.

It's 100%. You want a fan base. Whatever forum you're in, whether you're on the employees' side of the business, you want your employees to be advocates and fans of the brand and their employer. It's the same thing with the customers. You have to have that fan base. They have to be so excited about your product. That's how you grow.

I can tell that you're not a Toby HR people person based on this conversation and your LinkedIn. As we wrap up here, any final thoughts? If you had one piece of advice for someone wanting to increase engagement and customer employee retention with their communities, what would that be?

I would go back to the importance of listening and getting to understand your people at a personal level. Whatever the size of your organization, that communication you have at the moment face to face is the most important communication you've got on your calendar. Get everything you can out of it. Show that you care, understand, and build those relationships. As you understand your people, you can craft the organization that works for them. Allows them to be their best self, and your company will succeed.

I love it. We'll leave it right there. Thank you, Rod, for joining us. Make sure you guys are subscribing. We'll see you next episode. Thanks, everyone.

I appreciate your time.

Thanks, Rod.

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About Rod Lacey

BIDC Rod | Employee Engagement

As simPRO’s Chief People Operations Officer, Rod leads all aspects of simPRO’s global human resources, aligning the people strategy with the company’s aggressive business and customer goals. Rod has nearly three decades of HR experience, having led and transformed the human resource experience with highly successful companies in the technology and online ordering industries.

If more is needed, here is a bit more on credentials and personal:

Rod earned an MBA and went on to also complete the University of Michigan's prestigious Advanced Human Resource Executive program. He is SPHR and SHRM-SCP certified.

Rod is married with five children and four grandchildren (his favorites) and enjoys just about anything outdoors - favoring golfing and cycling when time allows.