I’ve known Stéphanie Duchemin for seven years now, ever since she gave me my first shot as a consultant. So getting her on the show to talk about the employee experience has been a long time coming!
Stéphanie is head of human capital at The House of Marketing, a fast-growing agency with a team of 90 people. As the group’s been evolving, she’s helped across different entities, including recruitment and talent development planning – all in all, making sure they have the right people and that they’re happy and perform at a high standard.
“That’s actually what makes me satisfied in my job,” says Stéphanie. “I realised that [cultivating an excellent employee experience] has an impact on people, on their development and therefore on the company as well. So it’s really a win-win.”
But why else is focusing on company culture so good for business?
Stéphanie adds: “I often hear, ‘Oh yeah. But if you’re an employee-centric company, then maybe you’re not a customer-centric company”. And my brain kind of bends. Why should it be one and not the other? In most cases, if you have employees who are happy and can thrive in their job, there’s a 99% chance that your clients will also be happy.”
It’s really about all of these little steps, all of these little decisions that you make that build up to a company culture, Stéphanie says. “And therefore, I think it’s very important to be mindful of what message you send when you decide on something; how you communicate.”
Convinced? Here’s how to do the employee experience, The House of Marketing style.
Be very mindful about how an employee is going through the different steps of their work journey, says Stéphanie, who believes it starts early on with the recruitment process. She advises us to keep these questions in mind when taking on new staff:
“Candidates invest time and effort in applying, so the least you can do is give them feedback,” says Stéphanie. “And if I do a contract proposal, I spend almost one hour with the candidate explaining all of the ins and outs to make sure that they can make a decision with as much information as possible. Because we want it to be a right choice for them, and that will make it right for us as well.”
It’s also very important to gauge whether your processes as a company make sense for your employees, says Stéphanie.
“Is the process for the sake of having a process, or is it really adding value to the company, to the employees?”, she asks.
To give you a concrete example, years ago The House of Marketing moved away from annual performance reviews – setting objectives in January, having a mid-year review and then year-end feedback in December. After all, projects typically don’t run from January to December, and employees typically don’t join companies in January.
“[Changing from this set review period] was a very drastic shift for us as a company,” Stéphanie says. “We do still have milestones for everybody, but we let the employee choose the content of their agenda, what they want to discuss and what’s important for them.”
You want to make sure that your employees are engaged and set up to perform, but you still have to keep in mind that you have a company to run and need a system in place that works towards the bigger business objectives, says Stéphanie.
You can’t always agree to everything your employee wants – “the company is not a travel agency or holiday club”, she points out. “But sometimes in the little bits, where it can help, you can make a huge impact and difference to your staff.”
The House of Marketing promotes a company culture where no topic is off-limits.
“It’s not that we will then say yes to everything,” Stéphanie explains, “but at least it’s put on the table and you don’t feel like you’ll be judged for asking questions or for support.”
She continues: “It’s a team effort for sure. If you know how to build trust and build the company culture, does everybody else in the company?”
The House of Marketing makes sure that its consultants are well connected with each other by organising informal, sporty and fun activities. The team also tries to make sure any training offered is face-to-face because they know that the more people get to know each other, the lower the barrier is to ask for support and help.
“One thing to take into account is that this is something that you really have to reconfirm again and again, so you can never take it for granted that everybody’s in that same mindset and everybody’s going in the same direction,” says Stéphanie.
The whole management team has to be very much convinced of the importance of promoting a positive company culture to make it work, Stéphanie explains.
“That’s the only way to make it happen,” she says. “And we also recruit people who are in this mindset, so it’s self-fulfilling in a way. But there are still moments of stress and work where it’s more difficult and we have to really go the extra mile.”
There’s also a bottom-up role to be played. Stéphanie points out that it’s important to listen to employees, understand what they have to say and ask for feedback. “When we want to change something, when we want to improve something, we try to involve employees as much as possible,” she says.
“It can give you a good grasp on what’s going on and whether you have any blind spots about the idea.”
After all, your employees are the experts. Opening up a discussion with them has a lot of value.
How do you know if your shift to a better company culture has been a success? There are a few indicators, Stéphanie says. Can you keep attracting talent to the company? When people leave the company, why do they leave? Do they leave because they’re frustrated or have another great opportunity? Do employees sometimes come back?
Go outside of the building you work in and see what’s happening in other businesses. This can be inspirational because then you can decide for yourself what’s of interest and how you can adapt it to your environment and reality, Stéphanie says.
The role of human capital manager is to propose a context; to facilitate a framework. But then it’s also very important to keep in mind that the way people react to that is really up to them and you can’t always control this, Stéphanie explains.
“That’s why I really don’t like the ‘chief happiness officer’ type of title, because it makes you responsible for the result. But in this case you’re not, right? Everybody’s free to choose how they want to react. It was a lot of pressure off my shoulders when I realised that,” she says.
The House of Marketing has a training plan with different options, depending on your level of seniority, and it’s very much focused on soft skills. You really want to make sure that all of your consultants are equipped to thrive and develop, Stéphanie points out.
“Everything that is more marketing related or linked to technical skills or individual needs, we give much more freedom. We organise regular sessions. We have e-learning. We say, ‘you decide what you want to learn,’” she explains. “We make sure that the material is available and that you find it when you want. We also have a budget for individual needs, so if you want to take a specific course or get certified in a marketing automation tool, or attend a conference, it’s possible (within the budget).”
According to Stéphanie, it’s about finding the right balance between a framework – something that The House of Marketing wants to train all of its people in, for example communication and leadership skills – and giving a lot of freedom but also a sense of responsibility to employees by saying, “you set the direction. Where is it that you want to go and what do you need to get there?”
Voila – that’s what Head of Capital Stéphanie Duchemin has to say about making sure the employee experience is up to scratch at your company. To hear more advice from her, listen to the podcast we recorded together.
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