Jody Kohner is Senior Vice President of Employee Marketing & Engagement at customer relationship management software business Salesforce. Speaking in the latest Hays Journal, she discusses how the company combines values and metrics to create a unique and award-winning culture.
Have you ever got ready to complete a task, only to find it’s already been done? While it can be a nice realisation when it comes to something mundane like a household chore, you might find it slightly more worrying if it was the role you had been hired by an organisation to do. For Jody Kohner, Salesforce’s Senior Vice President of Employee Marketing & Engagement, however, it was a source of inspiration.
“I started at Salesforce seven years ago in a product marketing role, heading up our competitive team,” she explains. “In that capacity, my job was to train the sales team to differentiate our product from everyone else.
“What was interesting to me was how passionate our people were about our brand. Salesforce pumped through their veins. They didn’t need help to be competitive because when they sat at a table with a customer, their passion and sense of belief in our company mission virtually made our competitors null and void. Customers didn’t really care who else was out there, they wanted the energy of our people brought to their company.”
In a climate where some jobs are simply ceasing to exist, you could be forgiven for seeing this as a cause for concern. Kohner, however, saw it as an opportunity to grow that passion throughout the entire organisation. It led her to wonder: while it’s always important as a business to keep improving, developing and scaling up products, can engagement and passion among employees be scaled up in the same way?
“I thought that if you could build an army of people who love to sing from the tops of the mountains about how fabulous your company is and the opportunity that it is providing to your customers, that would be a far more attractive and magnetic thing to customers.”
This led her to move into her first engagement role in 2014 before she took on her current role last year. But how do you go about creating a culture that breeds impassioned and positive employees? Kohner approached it by looking at employees in a different way.
‘The customer is always right’ is a mantra that many businesses still live by. But applying it outside of customer-facing roles can be challenging. For Kohner, finding a way to do so was second nature.
“Coming from a marketing background, the first thing I asked was: ‘Who is my customer?’ The answer was my Salesforce employees,” she explains.
“My next question was: ‘How can I build a great experience for them at every stage of their journey?’ For example, someone who is interviewing for the company should have a totally different experience to someone who has been here 15 years.
“That’s how we started to build the strategy of the team, by mapping out the full employee life cycle before building out the programmes, teams and metrics to be sure we are providing an incredible experience at every stage of the cycle.”
Kohner believes this starts with a great employer brand that can attract the best talent. While many people may know Salesforce as a leading technology company, it is as important for people to also see employees as a community they would like to join. This expectation is then reflected in the candidate experience, followed by a solid onboarding process. Kohner believes it’s vital to get things right first time during both processes.
“From there, we consider what we are doing to engage employees and drive their success, whether that comes from internal communications, programmes that drive more meaning into their world or driving our values that allow them to become more involved and to give more back to their communities. If we get that combination right, you find yourself back at the start of the cycle and find employees are your biggest advocates.”
The company is clearly behind this vision too. In three years, Kohner’s team has grown into a global team and an important pillar of the HR organisation. “We have dedicated groups thinking about each of these stages. I love that when I have a new hire, the on-boarding processes we have set up are what they are going through. That’s immediate feedback for my team!”
When you consider that many of the products and services Salesforce creates allow other companies to track success rates with customers, it’s unsurprising that measurement is important inside the business as well. Luckily, it’s an attitude shared by Kohner.
“Metrics are something I’m pretty passionate about. When I was trying to decide if I would focus on culture, I spoke with my boss at the time. His caution to me was that I would not have any metrics and that if I didn’t create them, I wouldn’t be successful.
“That advice was a real gift. Data is the language of business and that has to translate into HR. If you don’t have the data-backed validation, everything you do becomes a soft, fuzzy ‘nice-to-have’.”
For Kohner, the answer is aligning individual and company goals. She is very clear that it’s not her or the wider HR team who own the culture. “It’s owned by our 30,000 employees who live our values every day, but in order to make those values work, you have to put goals out there and ensure everyone is aligned to them.”
To make this happen, the overarching goals of Salesforce are extremely transparent using a business plan they call V2MOM, which stands for Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Metrics. A company V2MOM is set by CEO Marc Benioff and the executive management for the year, which in turn influences the goals set by all staff.
“Every single employee has one,” explains Kohner. “Vision is the aspirational thing you want to do that year, the values underline that vision, the methods are hard actions that the employee will take to drive that vision, the obstacles are the areas you know you’ll need help from colleagues on and the metrics are there to show when they have been successful. Not only does everyone have one, it’s public. Any employee can see another’s goals and see what percentage of completion they have reached.”
And while numbers measure success, culture is earmarked as the most important method for reaching all goals at Salesforce. The company refers to this as Ohana, a Hawaiian word meaning family.
“Choosing that as the first method by which we reach our goals changed everything,” says Kohner. “Every manager knew their first priority was to their people, their teams and the experience we’re creating.”
She says it was this formalised push to put culture first that allowed her and her team to really measure their engagement. While a lot of companies will run an employee survey, Salesforce performs two a year. The data is uploaded to their Waves Analytics app, which allows every single employee across the globe to see the results and check the scores within their team.
“Each manager is accountable for them and if scores are low, they work collaboratively with their teams and HR to turn them around,” Kohner explains. “They need to do that, firstly, because it’s on their V2MOM and they will be held accountable for it.
“Secondly, because they need to retain their people. If you work here, you get calls from recruiters all day long. Managers need to make sure that the job of their life is here.
“Thirdly, we want to attract talent from elsewhere in the company. If they see your scores and see people aren’t happy, that will influence a manager’s ability to grow their team.
“You can’t game culture. You can’t make it up. Sites like Glassdoor, along with social media platforms, make this a transparent world. If you’re not really intentional in your culture, working in an aligned fashion and in an authentic way, people will know.”
The idea of Ohana is one of the most important in Salesforce, and Kohner says the ties it creates throughout the community that makes up the company are what allow staff to progress.
“Enabling everyone is so important,” she says. “Our founders have been very intentional about the culture they wanted to create and the products they wanted to build.
“There are a lot of Hawaiian roots in this company but Ohana has really stuck. It means family, but it’s more than your blood relations. It’s really about the people that you are locking arms and taking the hill with. The people you are bound to and that are moving towards the same place.
“When we think about Ohana, our employees are the centre of that, but so are our customers, partners and the communities we live in and give back to. They’re all stakeholders.”
Giving back to communities is a huge priority for the company. Every employee is given 56 hours a year to give back to an organisation of their choice, explains Kohner.
“I do a lot of work in my kids’ schools, other people might go to Costa Rica and clean a beach for a week. What’s important is that we track milestones using an app and celebrate them as a company.
“We make it easy for staff to find a volunteer activity in an area and sign up to it and log hours through this app. We count all the hours globally, and last year we hit 2 million hours. We celebrated in Salesforce fashion by giving everyone a new shirt for when they’re next volunteering.
“The technology brings the value of giving back to life and the data allows us to celebrate it and make it real and meaningful for employees.”
However you look at it, the Salesforce approach seems to be working. The company was named Best Company to Work For by Fortune this year, and Kohner says avoiding complacency is key.
“The secret to our success is being intentional about our culture. We don’t take it for granted. We write it down, we prioritise it, measure it and hold ourselves accountable for it. We’ve found if everyone is aligned, we have 30,000 champions of this culture and it fuels itself.”
Equality, a core value for Salesforce, has also been embedded throughout the company. Kohner lists her current boss, Chief People Officer Cindy Robbins, as one of her biggest inspirations, in part because of her active role in achieving pay equality across the business.
“She was at the helm of equal pay efforts at Salesforce and we’ve made tremendous leaps forward both for our industry and for the world at large to take notice of and see how we do that. Equal pay is now part of our DNA.
“That journey started back in 2015 when Cindy and Leyla Seka raised the issue to our CEO. That conversation led to an all-company equal pay assessment. We spent $3 million to eliminate statistical differences in pay. That action was mind-blowing, but we didn’t stop there.
“The next year we had record growth, acquiring 14 new companies, adding 7,000 staff to our workforce. As we brought them in we completed another equal pay assessment to bridge differences in pay. To date we have spent $6 million ensuring everyone is paid equally.
“Actions speak louder than words and it gives me so much pride to know the company has my back that way.”
Furthermore, Kohner believes these efforts affect more than her own colleagues. She believes that making a difference to the lives of your employees has a far-reaching impact that should not be underestimated.
“If you love your job and fundamentally enjoy coming into a workplace where you feel like you are growing, learning and inspired to do better, at the end of the day you go home happy.
“I really believe that has a profound impact on our communities at large. When people who love their jobs in this company go home, they are better parents, better spouses and are more involved in their communities. They go to work and are inspired and energised.
“To me that’s an incredibly rewarding mission; to try to make 30,000 people do the best work of their lives and love coming in every day. I sleep very well at night knowing I am contributing to make this world the place I want it to be.”
Based in London, Sandra is the Group Head and UK/I Director of People and Culture for Hays. Prior to this Sandra held a similar role for Hays in the Asia Pacific region, based in Sydney. Sandra is passionate about organisational culture and its role in driving every aspect of business results.
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