We recently had the pleasure to sit down with Ben Francis from Xexec, our parent company to get his insights on why you should reward jobs not people. We also spoke to him about how to best tackle recognition and reward issues in your company, in order to retain your most productive employees.
Tell us a bit about your job within Xexec.
I'm Director of Operations and I am also director of HR, meaning I look after how we manage and deliver all of the services that we offer. Our company has about 250 clients at Xexec, mostly large public companies, such as clients in defence, accounting, law and financial services. Almost all of them are household names and we help them with reward and recognition. My role is to support all of our colleagues of which we have about 60 now across the business in our UK office and also in our New York office.
Can you tell us how Staff Treats and Xexec are partnered? And what exactly Xexec, as a parent company of Staff Treats, does?
Xexec was founded about 20 years ago and we have been one of the first companies in our space, building reward and recognition solutions. We've acquired, as I said about 250 companies, now large, massive multinationals often and we've been helping them engage, reward and motivate their employees. To give an example, as you may know engagement isn't really that tangible. Thus, if we take a client of ours like Goldman Sachs or General Electric as an example, we give them an ability to roll out to all of their employees software that they can use to get discounts and additional benefits on anything that they might buy.
We also have concierge and lifestyle support services. They can call our team and we will support them with things which they need to get done, like bookings for restaurants. We also have a travel booking team, where they can use us to take care of the details of things which they would normally be doing. For example booking a holiday or hotel. We give their employees these tools to help them be more effective and to save time but more importantly to save money. Obviously it's a really important element of what we do and a typical kind of employee can save between £1,000 - 3,000 a year by using our software.
This gives you a bit of a flavour of what exactly we do at Xexec and what we're delivering to all of these companies. However, we have realised while working with all of these large major brands that smaller enterprises have different needs. If you're a 10-person company you obviously still want to recognise and reward all of your employees but you might not have a huge team of people whose job is just dedicated to figuring out how best to do that. Which, obviously, a lot of our major international, multinational clients do have. We have created this turnkey offering for those types of companies which has become Staff Treats. It's a way for a small company to actually reward, motivate and engage their employees through software using our portal. They can buy it and we've thought everything through from all the learnings that we've taken from having all of these experiences with our larger clients and we've distilled it down into what a small company really needs and what their employees are really going to benefit from.
Do you personally think in these modern times that SMEs and/or larger companies are doing better for their staff? Who is providing better morale for their staff and actually showing them the recognition that they deserve? Would it be SMEs or those larger corporate companies?
I would say typically the PLC's, the larger companies have more headspace for this type of thinking. They have dedicated reward people within their organisations, often whose only job is to think about how this is done. From what we've seen typically larger companies have better provisions for this type of activity, certainly for rewarding and motivating. In SMEs it's not that they don't care as much, I mean it's more of a family environment - you've got a smaller team.
If you have 10 people and everybody's in one room it's a different environment. You're not necessarily having formal programs for your reward and recognition structures. It might be more like a family and you'd get rewarded and recognised in different ways than at a large company. Typically larger companies don’t necessarily do this better but they do it in a more structured way that probably includes more benefits and things like what we offer with our platform.
In your opinion, Ben, what three things would companies need to do more of in order to motivate their current personnel?
Being a good employer is the main thing and obviously that's different depending on what kind of company you are and what you do. Having said that, I think the most important thing on how you can be effective as a business is to get the right people in the right roles. If you can do that, then motivating them will have a massive effect. Hence, hiring is a critical and important step in motivating them.
There is a massive element which is rewarding them properly and appropriately for what they do. Everybody understands when they're not being rewarded properly and I think a lot of businesses don't necessarily have the ability to take the person out of the role and reward the role. For example, a lot of the time you will see people who are hired into a business in a more junior role and they might progress dramatically and get more and more senior over time. But that improvement is only visible to the outside, not inside. Once you're in a business, it's really easy to just take that person for granted over time.
If there's one thing that I would say and I'll just put it back to one thing, as opposed to your three, which is that if they could separate the individual and their experience of that person. If you hired somebody in a junior salary and they've progressed over time into a more senior role, to be able to actually say, “That person potentially deserves a huge increase compared to where they started.'' A lot of companies take a time based approach to reward - if we take salary as the main function of how we reward people, they don't stop to consider the actual individual’s role that they've now taken on. You might actually have to completely change the compensation expectations that you had around that individual if you promote somebody beyond a certain level and a lot of companies can't get their head around that.
Where they leave themselves, is having a person that has to leave in order to be able to obtain a proper assessment of their current skill set and an appropriate market value. This is crazy because there's actually a lot of investment in that individual - there's a lot of things which they know. If they are progressing well within the business, they are being promoted and they are seeing potentially more seniority or improvements - you should try and retain that person. The easiest thing to do to actually retain and motivate all of your employees is to reward the ones that are doing a great job.
Is there anything that you've seen a business maybe a large business, a corporate business or a smaller SME do that's out of the box? Something you wouldn't usually expect businesses to do, but that is actually working for them?
There are so many, we're in a really interesting time. There is so much experimentation happening out there now. There are a few that spring off the top of my head. Transparency is becoming a major thing and it's becoming pretty obvious that the more transparent and open you are with people - the more responsibility they take and the better they operate. If you know exactly how you're moving the needle for a business, then you can really take charge of that. If you're the right type of person, which pulls back to our hiring, if you hire the right people then they'll really respond well to this.
There's an example of a company which is doing this, at what some might call a crazy level, which is Buffer. They're a social media marketing company that publishes the salaries of all of their employees on the internet. You can just go and have a look at what everybody in the entire company right from the CEO to the most junior person earns. You can Google it and it will be the first link - Buffer Salaries. That is an example of absolute radical transparency. This whole thing started quite a number of years ago and probably one of the most famous examples is a guy called Ray Dalio, who founded a firm called Bridgewater.
Bridgewater is one of the largest hedge funds in the world. His book Principles - a fantastic book - is all about open book management styles and philosophies. They video all the meetings and share those with the whole company - imagine the transparency. That's an example of something that some people might think is crazy but it's really worked for them.
There are some interesting things happening across a lot of different businesses. Thinking of just a couple more, while we're on the subject. There is one which I am fascinated by as an experiment because they've basically taken salary and reward and completely turned it on its head. They pay everybody the same. It’s a company called Gravity Payments and their CEO - one day after having a conversation with a junior employee decided, do you know what, we're going to pay everybody the same. The junior employee was complaining that they weren't earning enough, as pretty much I think everybody has experienced at some point in their careers. And the outcome of that conversation, after a lot of reflection from the management team was - we're gonna raise everybody's salary to $70,000. Everybody in the whole company will earn $70,000.
There are some really interesting experiments happening. The markets response to that, has been crazy - they've increased profits and growth. These types of things can absolutely be massive drivers for success for a company. However, I do think not everybody wants to take on such crazy steps but certainly being more open and transparent are definitely great ideas. Rewarding people appropriately and making sure that you've got rewards and that you're really thinking about that - is obviously also a massive one. There are certain lessons that you can take even if you're not going to video every meeting or give everybody exactly the same salary. There are definitely lessons to be learned from those types of philosophies.
Another major trend which I'm really thinking has a huge potential - one that will come in over the next say 20 years - is remote working. Some businesses are now looking at a way that they will allow their employees half a day a week to work from home. Or if they've got an appointment they can dial into the office from the house. But there are some companies that are taking the absolute end of that sort of thought process. Instead of just having the local kind of candidate pool that we've got for a specific role - they're going global. They're saying we'll hire anybody and will reward them as we would somebody in the local market and they could be working from Azerbaijan to Alaska to anywhere in the world. Allowing them to have this massive talent pool and a great example of this is GitHub- a fully remote team.
There are lots of great companies now experimenting with this idea. Stripe is another one, it's a big international company that probably many people have heard of and they're upping the bar for hiring by making it global. They are saying we'll take anybody from anywhere and we've got the processes, systems and the infrastructure in place to be able to measure those people by what they do and what value they're delivering. As opposed to how often they're at their desk, which is often the measure that, say historically, was used to judge how effective you are. There are so many things I think that companies now could do, but I guess it can become quite confusing for a lot of people to decide what to do exactly.
Now looking back at the companies you work for and the people that you work with at Xexec and Staff Treats, what would you say is the best thing that you have implemented within the business for staff morale and that all-important work-life balance?
We've got lots of case study examples on xexec.com - we've got quite a few good case studies from the larger companies - and also on stafftreats.com. But to mention one of them that springs to mind is our concierge service and the lifestyle support that we give. I think this can be really very valuable, certainly if people are time poor and they need help with doing things. I mean it takes a bit of an adjustment about learning how to use something like that - so how do you actually use it? For example an on-demand personal system, which is effectively what we provide. If you can work it into your life - it's a really powerful thing.
Some of those things like trying to book a holiday for a family of four with multiple different destinations, can be very complex and can take a long time. It could be days maybe even weeks of figuring out and research and if you could work with us and our specialist we can simplify that whole process. Even better we can get you a deal on the end cost of it all, so you'll pay less and somebody else will deal with all of the specifics for you. That's a great example of how we're helping work-life balance because we're freeing people up to do more with their time by not having to focus on things like that.
That is brilliant! I'm signing up to that immediately! Is there anything else that you would advise the staff you work with to do, to free up more of their time? And, what do you like to do in your free time and how do you establish your better work-life balance?
It's an interesting question, I guess I would call it more of a continuum and I think it's not work if you classify it differently in your mind. I do spend a lot of time thinking about things that relate to work and I suppose when you're a director - certainly in my role - it's a complicated thing. You spend a lot of time thinking about those things but I do enjoy doing a lot of physical activities as well. I think doing something physical every day, whatever it is, whether it be taking a brisk walk or as I'm doing now, a lot of in the gym prep for a ski holiday. Doing something where you are physical, can definitely set you up for a good and successful productive day. I certainly find that if I don't do anything, if I don't allocate that half an hour at least to actually do something physical - certainly in the mornings - then that's something which can affect me and my productivity in the day. I would advise anyone who I work with to try and do that.
In fact, one of the things that we've done as a recent company initiative is we've rolled out Fitbits to the entire company. We have a sort of informal competition going on - who can do the most steps and who can do the most activity. It has been really interesting, especially for some of the people who previously didn't monitor how much activity they were doing. There's a brilliant quote by Peter Drucker "What gets measured, gets managed." It sounds like management speak but it's absolutely true, if you start monitoring something, you start looking at how much of something you do. It's really going to be something that improves almost invariably because you're aware of it now. That's one of the things that we've been trying to do as a company - to get more physical - get more active. We've seen a lot of success in the last few weeks of rolling out a 2020 initiative to give everybody a Fitbit.
We've been hearing a lot recently about companies that are allowing staff to work remotely from home. Do you think that they should be paid as much as people that have to go into an office every day, have to attend meetings etc. What are your feelings on this?
Well it's really interesting and it's one of those areas where you probably have to take a case-by-case view depending on the company. There's a lot of history that you have to factor in because people are already within these businesses and you have to kind of maintain the status quo to a point. It has to be a transition, it can't just be tomorrow we're going to change everything. That's obviously not going to go down very well with everyone. That being said, it's up there with one of those issues that you might look at like, for example, holiday.
Some companies are saying - let's just allow people to have as much holiday as they want - and the thing I guess it all boils back to is if you've got a robust set of processes and you can measure the outputs. You can measure things such as KPI achievements and objectives. There's a fantastic set of frameworks around objectives and key results pioneered by a guy called John Doerr from Intel. They took it to Google - it came out of Silicon Valley - and it's a brilliant way of looking at how you deliver value in an organisation and how you ensure that everybody's constantly pushing.
If you've got really clear guidelines and you understand exactly what everybody's delivering, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't pay them in line with what you were paying other people who deliver the same value. I think that's the crux of it, if companies can get clear on what value is being derived from everybody's roles then they're absolutely able to then pay based on that value. Opposed to based on how many hours you do in an office because ultimately that isn't what the company's trying to get out of an employee. They're not trying to have you sitting at a desk. In an ideal world it actually shouldn't matter - it wouldn't matter whether you were sitting at home or whether you were sitting in an office - it's not really relevant to the conversation if you're super clear about what that person does. That being said, some roles - like for example if you're front-of-house reception - it obviously does matter that you sit at the reception to greet everybody.
In the end, it just depends on the roles I suppose. I do think the most important thing is being clear about what value that person is going to deliver for them in that role and for that business. If you can do that well, then you can be open to experimenting with a lot of these different things. And I think a lot of that comes down to trust as well as being a trustworthy employee and trusting your employees.
That was a great answer, thank you so much for that. Is there anything that companies and SMEs aren't already doing that they should be doing in further to reward and engage with their staff? And of course, utilise them to the best of their abilities?
Yes, if there was one thing which I think a lot of companies could do better or something which they could change - it would be the way they can improve rewards specifically but also the recognition of employees. It would be to actually value the roles rather than looking at the history that somebody's had with the business. Instead, to actually look at the role they're doing and the value which the business obtains from them doing that effectively and to value that and to reward that.
It's really difficult I think for people to separate themselves out, to actually take the people element out of that decision-making but it's really important because otherwise you will really struggle to retain the top performers. If you're lucky as a business and you recruit somebody that's on a rapid trajectory and they're really quickly improving, they're either gaining professional qualifications or they're getting real, meaningful, tangible, commercially valuable skills. Businesses often struggle to value that properly and then you are left as an employee in a world where they have to go to the external job market in order to be able to have that recognition. If companies can notice that, understand that that sort of bias which they have - which is to not see change - because they're so close to it.
If something changes every single day you don't see it as well as somebody who's seeing it for the first time. If they cannot do that, then they will manage to reward, recognise and retain those top performers much more than if they don't. That's something that I've seen a lot of times that is actually such an easy fix, but you do have to be consciously aware of your biases and that is one of the major things which holds a lot of companies back I think.
If you’d like to improve the way you reward, recognise and retain your employees, visit Staff Treats to find out how our employee benefits program can help your business achieve that.