Q&A with Benefex CEO, Matt Macri-Waller

Gethin Nadin

30/11/2016

On Tuesday 22nd November 2016 Benefex proudly sponsored REBA’s Innovation Day. The industry gathered at the spectacular St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel in London. The day looked to examine the exponential growth in data analytics and technology, and how that is affecting the way the HR industry manages reward and benefits.

The event was well attended by senior HR and reward managers from across all sectors. Delegates benefited from sharing experience with their peers, and listening to expert speakers, one of whom was of course our very own Founder & CEO Matt Macri-Waller. 

The day provided an excellent opportunity for reward practitioners to examine emerging technology market user trends, and uncover a wide range of digital innovations available. It offered employers a glimpse into the cutting edge of today, alongside what the future holds for the industry.

Matt Macri-Waller took centre stage for an interview with REBA’s Maggie Williams to discuss how recognition, feedback and engagement is changing due to digital innovation. Here are the highlights of what Matt had to say:

When it comes to measuring employee engagement; is it all about the metrics of engagement?

Over the last 5 years we have seen lot of providers, platforms and technology claim to drive employee engagement. I have sat in on countless presentations about how this or that technology drives the engagement of employees, some believable, some less so. However, none of the metrics across these platforms actually prove that what they do affects engagement, or, in most instances, that engagement affects performance.

When I see innovation in employee engagement being discussed in the market, it tends to focus on feedback. Roughly $100 million of investment has been put into feedback platforms in the last 24 months. But, for most of these platforms, the focus has been on increasing the frequency with which you ask employees for their feedback. The idea being to move away from annual feedback cycles and into something more real-time. This is not an inherently bad thing; however, this type of feedback can be manipulated based on when the questions are asked, how they are phrased, timing, weather etc. to lead to biased answers. Most organisations still run annual cycles for business planning, so in order to be really effective, you need to become a ‘listening organisation’ which has the capability to change strategy based on real-time or more frequent feedback. I do believe more feedback is a good thing, but unless we help the organisations we work with/for to change strategy more quickly, we could end up frustrating people with a lack of action.

Benefex conducted a study called ‘I know 12 things about you’. We highlighted how you can use a person’s personality to frame a question to them favourably. For example, you know that people have a need for others to like and admire them, so you flatter them to get the response you’re looking for. My concern is that we continue to look for a single measure, and I think that misses the point. Engagement, like many business metrics, has a multitude of factors, influences and impacts. For me it is also that feedback is only one part of the engagement story, and, when it comes to measuring feedback, what people let us know – and the sentiment behind this – are important, but should not be viewed in isolation as the only metrics worth using.

Advanced Analytics

I have seen people tackling this issue in all sorts of ways; some very creative. There is a business called VoloMetrix which was acquired by Microsoft last year. They measure employee engagement via activity, sentiment, and your network within the organisation. They do this largely by analysing your emails and calendar entries to create what they call “measurable behavioural profiles around your company’s everyday processes.” They leverage these detailed analytics to drive business change by demonstrating what your workforce spends their time doing, with whom, and whether people are engaged based on the sentiment of what they are writing.

… Or is there another way?

The parallels between designing a great Customer Experience and a great Employee Experience are significant; they are not mutually exclusive. If you look at it simply, there is substantial evidence to show that if you create great experiences that drive engagement for your employees, they will in turn deliver great experiences for your customers:

Great Employee Experiences = Engaged People = Better Customer Service = Better Business Performance

We can see, therefore, that the reverse is also true: A poor employee experience will result in an unfavourable customer experience. Richard Branson sums it up when he says;

 “If You Look After Your Staff, They'll Look After Your Customers. It's That Simple.”

There is no longer a disconnect between what ‘we’ as consumers expect vs. what ‘we’ as employees want from our place of work. Ultimately, retailers like Amazon have honed in on the micro-interactions that their customers have with them, and perfected them. That type of precise formula, personalised to that individual, is what keeps you going back for more. Companies need to match that.

By perfecting each interaction, to what we call ‘moments of truth’, you build loyalty. This loyalty then permits trust. Trust consequently allows a greater level of acceptance when it comes to automation, because we as consumers trust that the organisation has invested in us as a person, albeit through complex algorithms and technology. Think how easy it is to buy from Amazon; one click and you’re done.  This attention to detail will be replicated within our industry, and those who choose not to embrace it now should be prepared to face the consequences.

What are the pros and cons of treating employees like consumers?

I believe there is still work to do here. As a provider, we were the first to launch an employee benefit management platform that reflected a shopping experience, and we have been a big proponent of the move to enable employees to be more like consumers at work and make their own decisions. However, we need to think carefully as we do this…

Research has shown that:

-    Only 25% of Millennials understand the benefits decisions they’re making
-    80% of employees say that they understand their benefits well, but only 32% could answer five questions about them
-    28% admit it’s more of a guessing game than an educated decision
-    Employers aren’t quite so optimistic; only 62% say they believe employees have a strong understanding of how their benefits work
-    Only 17% say their employees understand the monetary value of the benefits they get

So, while I am still a massive advocate of choice and flexibility at work, the whole industry needs to do more to explain, simplify, and educate employees as to their choices. Let’s not forget that the average reading age of the UK is still just 9 years old. That seems like a shocking number, but there is a danger that you may be alienating a large part of your workforce without realising.

How do we use ‘Moments of Truth’ to build great experiences and loyalty to you as an employer?

We all have the opportunity to create exceptional experiences for employees. If I look at our most successful clients, they obsess about every single little point of their employee experience. There are specific moments which, as an employer you may not consider to be a big deal, however for the employee it could make-or-break their relationship with you over time:
-    The period between signing your contract and joining
-    How they join the team they are working in 
-    Day One
-    Significant events or milestones in their own lives
-    Response to a tragedy or life event

As wonderful as technology is, exceptional experiences aren’t one-offs. They’re part of the everyday. They come from thoughtfully designing how this works for an employee, in the same way that we all do for our customers.

And finally...

As an industry we must continue to obsess over how we communicate and educate our rapidly evolving workforces. We need to consider the process of reaching employee engagement as designing great employee experiences. It’s not just down to how we match the ‘Amazon effect’, but create and deliver beyond employees' expectations.

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