Global e-signature pioneer DocuSign is on a mission to eliminate manual, slow, expensive and error-prone paper-based processes. So it’s no surprise to discover chief people officer Joan Burke taking that mission into employee experience using real time feedback technology. She shares her lessons with The People Space’s Siân Harrington
The annual formal employee survey: a cookie cutter approach with question after question that takes employees ages to fill in and HR departments even longer to administer and compile results – and all with no outcome at the end. Yes, we all remember those days. In fact, the chances are we are still suffering survey fatigue as, according to research firm Gartner, 74% of organisations used formal, large-scale surveys to gauge how their employees felt about their roles and organisations in 2019.
But times they are a-changing, as new technology enables better real time analysis of employee sentiment. And for Joan Burke, chief people officer at agreement cloud company DocuSign (pictured centre above), this change is to be wholeheartedly welcomed. “I feel strongly about this,” she tells me from the company’s head office in San Francisco. “We need to be taking the pulse of employees on an ongoing basis. The whole notion of employee surveys where you just do it once a year and you ask a ton of questions, that is very old fashioned. And frankly, the data was always so overwhelming you didn't even know what to do with it.”
When Burke joined 3,700 employee-strong, NASDAQ-quoted DocuSign in 2018 she ditched the traditional annual survey and implemented a survey platform as part of a strategy to give a greater voice to employees and to better develop managers. The company was expanding and many people had been moved into management positions, resulting in a large number of managers with fewer than two years’ experience.
“HR, and best HR, is about helping managers become great,” she says. “How people feel and interact with DocuSign on a daily basis is all about their teams and managers. So we are using the platform to track how our people managers are feeling in terms of getting organisational support to become great.”
Burke had experience with survey platforms in her previous role at marketing automation software firm Marketo and it was while working there that she learnt some valuable lessons as to what to look for in a vendor partner. “We had a platform that was clunky and the dashboard wasn’t easy. It wasn’t intuitive for managers and my team had to do a lot of hand holding to make it work. We gave the company a chance to wow us but I knew we needed to step out from that and find another partner,” she explains.
Following extensive testing and due diligence she chose Glint and has continued the relationship in her role at DocuSign, where she has implemented twice-yearly surveys.
“We're able to swap out certain questions where we know the needle doesn't move in six months and add in some different questions. At DocuSign we have a CEO who is very committed to listening to employees and in the last survey we had 7,000 comments and he and I read every single comment. So he can get in front of the employees and say, ‘I've totally heard you, thank you, this helps me get really close to the issues that are really important to you and, as a result, here are the actions we're going to take’.”
According to Burke, the most powerful element of the survey is the ability to provide local management with tools and insights that are directly related to their teams. This is another lesson from her experience at Marketo. “I made a mistake there when we first rolled it out. It was new to the company and Glint was a pretty new tool anyway – I was customer number 14. So I fell back on pushing the results down to local level. I kept it high level, at VP level. And here’s what I learned: it wasn’t until the third survey when I said we are bringing it down to as low a level as we can that managers for the first time believed that they owned the survey. Until then it was HR’s survey, it was Joan’s survey, because I didn’t give them the data.”
Of course, implementing any new technology can be scary for employees and more so if managers think it will uncover issues related to them. “I just said to managers, I realise this can be scary depending on the score that you get, but wouldn't you rather know if you've got some issues and areas so that you can correct them rather than waiting an entire year to be able to address things when it might be too late?”
Why this is important is that engagement is mostly driven at local level, believes Burke. So while corporate initiatives are important to overall engagement – the ‘how happy are you at DocuSign’ score – it is in the different functions, teams and geographies that the biggest difference can be made.
“What matters in our finance team is different from what matters to our sales team or to customer success. There are so many ways to look at the data. In Brazil our scores are off the charts but then our remote employees on the East coast may not feel as engaged, probably as a result of not feeling connected to a team. The point is, there is no one-size corporate solution, everyone has different reasons for their score. So we can’t fix it, instead we say as a company we care about this issue. Now, department heads and local managers, go figure out what it is you need to do and the actions you need to take that will work for your team.”
While Burke thinks there is more work to do to connect the dots between survey scores and business outcomes, DocuSign’s CEO Dan Springer produces a quarterly scorecard rating product innovation, customer success, financial performance and employee success. The latter index includes measures such as attrition rate against benchmark data, the Glint scores, Glassdoor ratings and employee referral rate.
So how can Burke and her team get an ‘A’ grade when it comes to employee engagement? Here are seven lessons for a successful engagement approach:
- It’s not about frequency, it’s about data
“The key is the quality of the data and the fact it is much easier to digest. This makes it far easier to take action at a corporate level as well as a local level.
- Rip the band aid off immediately
Only by including line managers will you see a significant improvement in engagement. “Do not wait for a few surveys before getting managers involved. If they have the opportunity to see these results and go into the dashboard right out of the gate they feel more ownership and can take impactful action.”
- Partner with managers to help them effect change
“The dashboard is easy to use. What is harder is to know what to do with the results, especially if it’s a first-time manager. This is where my HR business partners play a strong role, working with managers to share the scores with their team, come up with one thing to work on – not boil the ocean – but one thing they think is going to move the needle. And to be open and vocal with their teams about what that is.
- Make sure you tie your survey questions in with the wider strategy
“We wanted to see how managers were responding to training. Often when you are measuring training programmes you use what I call ‘smile sheets’ where the manager rates on a scale of one to five. They say it’s a great experience then go back to the day job and nothing changes. Through the survey we are able to really see the impact of the initiatives that we're doing.”
- Choose a partner who is really committed to your success
Check out what other customers say. Will you get your call answered, is there an easy way to figure out a technology issue?
- Is the platform flexible?
Can you look at data in different ways? Make sure you can slice the data to provide the insights you need today, and tomorrow
- Is the platform easy for the user?
To get the best usage and results, the tool needs to be easy for both the employee taking the survey and the manager who is going to interpret the data and feedback. “One of the reasons we get a high response rate, 85%, is that it is just so simple. We ask 12 questions; you can do it on your phone, and it'll take you five minutes. Compare that to the burden of 62 questions, which just turns people off. When you're asking people to give you open feedback, you’d better make it easy.”
It wasn’t until I said we are bringing it down to as low a level as we can that managers for the first time believed that they owned the survey. Until then it was HR’s survey, it was Joan’s survey, because I didn’t give them the data