How Carman's Kitchen focus on employee experience led to a 96% employee engagement rate
In this episode, Damon sits down with Lainie Tayler the General Manager People at Carman's Kitchen & Founder of HR Squad to discuss reimagining the employee experience and how to retain your best employees. Lainie Tayler is the founder of HR Squad and an experienced Performance Coach, whose mission is to help people achieve their professional and personal goals.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Why Lainie believes in the whole person experience and not just the employee experience
- The feedback loops they’ve created to move fast and execute
- How being intentional about feedback has removed the need for a formalized performance process
- What the right amount of transparency is with your employees
- And why one of their wellbeing initiatives was recently picked up by the media, I’ll give you a hint, it’s called a doonah day and I think we could all use one of those from time to time.
If you’d like to learn more about Carman’s Kitchen onboarding program, you can watch Lainie’s session from Culture First APAC.
DAMON KLOTZ: All right. Well, today, I'm joined by Lainie Tayler, the GM of people and culture from Carman's Kitchen on the Culture First Podcast. So, Lainie, first, thank you so much for joining me today on the show.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. I'm so excited. Thank you for having me.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, before we get into, I guess, your role and your work, it'd be probably great to start off with you, the person. And I know you've spoken at our Culture First events before and you're familiar with our belonging badges and some of these intro questions, so can you share maybe one of the belonging badges that you shared with our audience that day and why it means so much to you?
LAINIE TAYLER: Lord, I can't remember what my belonging badges were. I'm sure there would've been something in there around probably extroversion. I remember we talked about one on the day, but I can't remember what it was, but one would've been avid cook. So, just a massive foodie, cook, raw ingredients, obsessed with cooking and food. And it's a big part of my life and my family's life.
DAMON KLOTZ: I think you also shared that you're a gamer and that maybe a lot of your friends-
LAINIE TAYLER: I am. Yes. Sci-fi, fantasy freak and gamer, and I'm so fortunate to have a 14 year old son who I can do this with. And so, we have the big setup, we've got gaming chairs, we have our big screens, and we have very fancy keyboards. I just love it. I've always loved it. And I've gamed from a very young age, and I've even got quite a collection of the old '80s handheld Nintendos, the little Nintendo things, which I love.
DAMON KLOTZ: Oh, wow. Yes. I just certainly feel like there's a treasure trove of things potentially at a family home somewhere, or maybe it's all gone, but I certainly had a lot of that growing up as well. You and I would both wear those badges with pride. So, the next question, it's one of my favorite questions to ask because, really, you can ask it to anyone as many times as you want and you might get a different answer. So, if I really knew you today, what would I know?
LAINIE TAYLER: If you really knew me today, what would I know? Probably that I'm a very giving person, so I tend to give a lot to my role, my family, my friends, people around me, but I'm also very driven. I like to be a human that gives. There's people you come across in your life that are giver and they help you be better humans, and I've had people like that in my life. And you don't necessarily ask for things from people, so it's nice to be a person that can just genuinely give and not ask for anything in return. And I think that would be something that people would say close to me, I hope, that that's the person I am.
DAMON KLOTZ: Adam Grant spoke at our Culture First event in AMEA this year, and he actually wrote a book called Give and Take. I'm not sure if you've read it.
LAINIE TAYLER: I haven't read Give and Take, but I am familiar with his you're a giver, a taker, or in between. Yeah.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. No, it's such a fascinating concept, and I think the world right now needs plenty of givers.
LAINIE TAYLER: 100%.
DAMON KLOTZ: I hope that doesn't change. And I guess the final question to get to know you as we transition more into your work, so I know you mentioned, I know that you have a daughter, you also mentioned they have a 14 year old son, but let's say that a curious 10 year old walks up to you and says, "Excuse me, what do you do for work?" how do you answer?
LAINIE TAYLER: It's such a tricky one, HR, isn't it? And I'm not going to say I help people because that is not what we do, but I'd probably say I like to make the people in your life, the adults in your life, their workplaces, awesome. That's probably what I'd say to a 10 year old.
DAMON KLOTZ: And I'm sure they would probably reply, "Well, I hope my parent or parents get to work at a place like that."
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. That's right.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, now let's transition into Carman's Kitchen, your current workplace. Some people might be familiar you with it, others might not be. So, can you just say, if you were to read the boil plate or maybe how it's described on a box of Muesli, what is Carman's Kitchen?
LAINIE TAYLER: So Carman's Kitchen is... Our vision is really to bring delight every day to everybody, but essentially, we are a nutritional snacks and Muesli breakfast business. And we play in two major categories, which is breakfast, and we develop and deliver products around breakfast and also nutritional snacks. So, that could be Muesli bars that could be... Got some new crackers out that are amazing. And so, all those snacking occasions that people might be familiar with throughout their day.
DAMON KLOTZ: Well, you're making me hungry and anyone listening is probably going to be grabbing for a snack themself right now. So, when it comes to these snacks and these things that you have, how many products do you currently have, and how many markets are these products found in?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. So, we're all over the world, so I think we're up to 36 countries. And product-wise, we have an enormous range of products, so we would be hitting, at the moment, with product and line extensions, probably over... I'm going to say like... No. I don't know. I'm going to have to find out that one, too.
DAMON KLOTZ: Many products.
LAINIE TAYLER: Many products. I'm trying to sit here and count and think. We have lots of ranges, so you've got... But the best way to probably explain it is you have porridge, we have Muesli, you have clusters, so that would be the breakfast, the breakfast range. And then you would move into Muesli bars, and then in Muesli bars, you would have different types of Muesli bars. You would have protein, you'd have deluxe, and then you would have other nutritional snacks like our savory biscuits. And then within those ranges, there's lots of, obviously, lots of different varieties of flavors.
DAMON KLOTZ: And I've heard this amazing fact about how many products you sell on any given minute, just to maybe give the audience a-
LAINIE TAYLER: Yes. So, remind me of what I said at the Culture Amp conference because I think I can do even better today.
DAMON KLOTZ: It was something astronomical that made me go like, "Wow. Literally, there were just people everywhere leaving Carman's kitchen right now."
LAINIE TAYLER: I think literally one every second.
DAMON KLOTZ: Wow.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah.
DAMON KLOTZ: That is amazing. So, no matter where you'll thing from this is a, what started off as a small Australian company, that is now having this huge global impact, which is just amazing, and obviously I know it's something that you are proud of and I'm also proud of as a fellow Australian to be having this conversation. But we're not here today just to talk about your product lines and to make everyone hungry and to have people having breakfast for dinner, depending on what time they're listening to, although that is always a great idea. We are here to talk about many things, including employee experience and the culture that you've been building at Carman's Kitchen, and I should say it's an award-winning culture.
DAMON KLOTZ: But before we get into, I guess, maybe that, I think it's important always to set a foundation for a conversation and maybe start at a higher level and get your take as a people and culture leader. Because, obviously, you've worked at many amazing brands, not just Carman's Kitchen. But when I say the term employee experience, it gets used a lot and can mean a lot of different things to different people, so what does it mean to you first, personally?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah, for me, personally, as I've transitioned through my career of 25 years and I think about all the different employee experiences I've had, for me an employee experience is more than just even the employee and their experience, but it's this whole person experience within an organization. So, how can we give a person the tools to be their best self at work, but also outside of work as an ambassador for our business? And also, how can we even extend the employee experience to their family and support them to be better people, as well? So, for me, being happy at work, being supported at work, is really the essence of our employee experience, and I would hope lots of organizations, to get the best out of our people. But also, then, we know that that just translates and flows through how the whole business rolls, and I think that's really super important.
DAMON KLOTZ: What I love about how you think about employee experience is that talk about it in this way where you can see the multiplier effect about when it's done well, what impact can it have? So, yes, it starts at an individual, but then that individual is part of a company, but also that individual has a family and that person has a community. And then your company also has a community. When you get that right, it just impacts so many more people, as opposed to just saying, "What is this one person's experience?" It's like, actually, no, what is this person's experience in connection to everything else that they experience? So, I love that you think about it that way.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. 100%. I mean, there's no point making someone great from 9:00 to 5:00 and not outside of that. There's no way we could get the best person and the best out of them if we were only supporting that and thinking about that and book ending, that experience. That's not going to give us the best person.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, I wanted to switch gears and talk about, I guess, employee engagement as a concept, but in particular, the four initiatives that you use to drive employee engagement, because I think it is actually a nice connection to how you think about employee experience. And I'll frame it in this way. Like goals and clarity are critical to a successful organized. It doesn't matter if you have 100,000 people or 100 people, I think we all want to know what are we working towards and if we're successful. And I know that you have four initiatives that you ask everyone to focus on to drive employee engagement. So, maybe let's just start at the top. What are those four initiatives that you focus on?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. So, the first initiative is around aligning strategic focus, so everyone in the business really understanding what their role and purpose is every year within the strategic priorities and that whole strategic vision. So, although we have a longer term vision, we're very careful about how we manage into the business, their place in that strategic priorities for the year. The second one is wellbeing, and that's simply mentally and physically the whole person and, as you say, the people around them in their communities and how we can support them to be very healthy individuals. The third one is how we integrate feedback loops into ways of working at Carman's at every intersection and every interaction that we can. And the fourth one is our, obviously, onboarding process, which is a 12 month rigorous onboarding process to get people up to speed and delivering the best they can in Carman's.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, we are going to focus a little bit on some of those so that people can learn more, but I guess when you have to choose four, that also might mean that there was some that you didn't include. And obviously you want to be really intentional with that because you want to increase clarity for your team. So, how did you choose those four? And was there ones that are important to you that you had to say, "You know what? I'm sorry, that just doesn't make the top four"?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. So, for us, strategy is super important. I think that Carman's is very good at it, and I can say that having been in some of the biggest organizations in the world. But Carman's really does a really great job of prioritizing what's important and making that clear for individuals, and it all starts with that. It all starts with the priorities of the business. Because, for me, and the business, if you don't know what is a priority in the business, and I'm not talking about just what you are doing, but our big priorities of how we're going to grow and how we're going to keep our market share and grow our market share, then people don't understand purpose. They don't know out how to prioritize because they don't understand what to prioritize or what comes first, and it makes it very hard for them to make the right decisions. So, if we just think of ways of working and how we get the best out of our people, if they know what to focus on, then they're able to do those three things a lot quicker, and then that means we can be more agile and work through.
LAINIE TAYLER: Wellbeing Is a no-brainer, and I know lots of people talk about it and do it, but we do put an enormous amount of effort into supporting our people. And I always say mentally and physically, and I know there's a big focus on mental and there's a lot support there, but also physically supporting people to be fit and healthy in how they eat and how can we provide you beautiful food at work? And how can we provide you time to exercise? And that's really important for us. And we know, then, we're going to have clear-minded people that feel good about themselves when they feel healthy and how happy.
LAINIE TAYLER: Feedback loops, again, it's the nature of our business. It's the agility. We are an Australian organization. So proud of that. But we are a little little business and our competitors are massive. They're really big. And I feel incredibly proud that we can compete against big global businesses with our little team. But for that to happen and us to stay ahead of businesses that are much larger than us and have big resources that we just don't have, we need to move fast, and the only way we can move fast is with our feedback loops and really driving a feedback culture in every single interaction and ways of working. So, that's super important and easy to choose.
LAINIE TAYLER: And onboarding, for us, really came about by, again... We're, at the moment, 55 people. It's really important that we get the most out of everybody, and to be able to do that, they need to understand our business inside and out and we need to understand them. And so, to be able to onboard and actually care for someone very closely for a 12 month period was really easy to align those four.
LAINIE TAYLER: Things that fall away. We probably don't have a lot of process here, and I like that. So, we don't talk about performance management. That's not something we talk about. There's lots of processes here that we just don't have, and in fact, I was recruiting a role in my team recently and I quickly realized that I was recruiting a people and culture person. But really, all the work we do is organizational development, and it's fun stuff. And people would ask me questions like, "What about performance management?" Oh, I don't really do that here. We don't have to do that because we're so proactive in how we manage people and the conversation we have with them. It's really easy to prioritize those things for our business. And then lots of the more, I'm not going to say stale things fall away, but the things that you might see in other organizations, we don't need here.
DAMON KLOTZ: What I heard that I think we really stands out to me is that there is just deep intention about-
LAINIE TAYLER: 100%.
DAMON KLOTZ: ... how you operate at Carman's Kitchen, and I think that probably saves you from having to not have like a list of 40 things that are priorities. Because if you nail those four things, if you get them really right, if you're really clear about those, employees, if everyone knows what the goals are, how it rolls up, what success looks like, then of course your performance management process is going to be really easy because everyone knows what they're shooting for. I think sometimes in the people and culture space, we end up having to create a huge amount of policy or things around stuff because there's not clarity at the start about what success might actually look like.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. And we do have a lot of people join and look for all these policies and procedures. Often, I think, "God, should I have more of those?" I think you're very right. You've hit the nail on the head around intent. We talk about intent a lot. If our intention in every interaction comes from a good place, because if it doesn't come from a good place, then it's just gossip and it's just yucky. So, you can always approach everything with the right intent, then a lot of the other HR processes don't need to exist.
DAMON KLOTZ: You mentioned onboarding, and I don't want to spend too much time on this, only because we've already had the session about your onboarding program that I will include a link in the description for everyone to go have a listen to. But if I was to sum it up, I think one of the things that makes your onboarding program so special, and let me know whether I got it right or wrong, is that it's very intentionally starts before the person joins, that development starts at the start. So, they get development plans and you understand how they learn and what's important to them. It's 365 day program. There's a bunch of milestones along the way. There's a six month celebration about probation. There's also a conversation that can happen about whether probation wasn't... whether that person needs more development or clarity around their role. And every single employee goes through it, and it's not cohort based.
LAINIE TAYLER: No. Yeah, that's exactly right. I don't want to sugarcoat it for everyone. It can be a hard process for some people that are new coming in, but it is genuine. It is genuinely there to support the person. And we don't let people go at the six month mark if we're unsure if we're right for each other. We keep those people and we keep working with them to make sure that we're not making a decision too early. I think the transparency of our onboarding program really helps us, again, have very authentic relationships with our employees. And if people do leave, and people have left, so that's the not sugar coating, it's with really, with a lot of care and love for that person. And if we can help them find their next job while we know that they're leaving in a month, or if they want to do some work with us for a month and then leave while they're getting their resume sorted, if I can help them with that, if I can introduce them to people, we do and we support all that.
LAINIE TAYLER: We actually have someone leaving this week who, at the seven month mark, has decided this isn't the role that she wants to be in, and that's awesome. That's great. And we part ways, and we wish them the best of luck.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. There's so much to learn here I think for people and culture leaders about just like how to do some of these things with this concept of humanity at work at the forefront. I remember maybe five years ago I was at an event in San Francisco when I heard Dawn Sharifan, the head of people at Slack, talk about like when you're... And obviously, you're hiring people, but you're at a smaller stage, and I think one of the things that people get into this trap of is if they're in a growth phase and they're adding lots of people, they spend so much time thinking about how to get people in the business and they spend no time about how to get people out of the business. And she shared that they like to...
DAMON KLOTZ: Her concept was like burying the dead with the same amount of respect as like when they entered the company, and that you need to be as mindful of about that. Because we have this huge parade during onboarding like, "Look at this person. They're going to save the day. Isn't it amazing?" And then someone leaves, you're like, "Where did that person go?" They're like, "No one knows."
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. That's right. And that's just how awful and uncomfortable for everybody to be going through that process. And yeah, it's tricky and it's hard, but I think we don't always get it right and then people don't always pick right. This is a very different type of business, and I'm sure everyone has had experiences where you think that you want something and you think you don't need policy and process and you think you can work in agile, but then you go, "Oh, actually I like working for bigger business and I like all the processes." And that happens sometimes, and that's cool.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, you mentioned wellbeing, and I want to double click on that just because I feel like mental health and burnout are some of the most important topics that are being discussed at all levels of the organization, but especially in the C-suite right now. And you've won numerous awards for your wellbeing program and you've touched on some of some of it, but maybe just to shine a lot on it, what does your program consist of?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. So, everything. Everything that's available to us. We talk about wellbeing a lot, and I feel like wellbeing is something that it's... This might resonate with people that work in businesses that have a safety culture, it's like safety first, safety, safety, safety, safety. It's drummed into you. And with wellbeing, I feel it's the same. You need to talk about it. I refer it like to a Dory moment out of Finding Nemo. Dory keeps forgetting. She hears the message, she's very excited, and then she forgets. I feel like wellbeing's a Dory moment. You need to keep it live in the conversation, in your feedback loops when you're talking to people so it stays alive for that person to access whatever they need and what wellbeing means to them.
LAINIE TAYLER: So, we offer, obviously, a whole heap of physical initiatives for people, so we've got our gym, we've got our yoga, we've got our meditation, we've got our chef who cooks and provides meals. You can get meals on site when you're in the office. And obviously that's tricky at the moment. But we also, we're delivering meals out to people at the moment, as well, through our chef, so accessing good food. And even information around what is good food and things like that. We also have lunch and learn. So, we have usually a lunch and learn every week, and that could be about any topic, but it's usually around wellbeing. And it could be about mental. We've just done a whole series around sleep and thrive, how your brain works to make you more effective, how to get an exercise mindset. So, we're constantly providing people with the opportunity to keep learning about wellbeing.
LAINIE TAYLER: And then we have the traditional things. We do have EAP that we provide all our employees, but we also provide it for their families. And a lot of these things we also provide to families along the way. Then we have lots of flexible work arrangements for people to be able to pull down on. We have Doona Day, which has been controversial lately. I've done a few radio interviews on are they good? Are they not 100% percent good? How you access them. They're there to grab at the last minute and you just call it, need a Doona Day. Be open and provide transparency in the business, and don't ring up and go, "I feel sick." Just tell us you need to stay in bed and watch some Netflix for the day. We also have flex it where you can leave at 12:00 o'clock once a quarter and do your appointments. So, maybe you need to go to the dentist or the doctor, or you want to do something with kids, or you want to start a long weekend early. But anyway you want to access your leave, we are very open to that and using that personal leave, not just for sickness and carers leave. So, that's really important to us as well.
LAINIE TAYLER: And what else? I can't think off the top of my head. There's so many things. At the moment, we are doing tools down at 2:00 PM. People are exhausted. This is unprecedented, trying to keep people mentally and physically safe at the moment in this pandemic. So, every week, we're just trying to find ways that we can keep people up, and so at the moment it's tools down at 2:00 PM and just shut off and don't book meetings and don't call people. We do get back together at 5:30 for some drinks, though, and this Friday we're doing pimp your pasta and pimp your table. So, we're sending out pasta packs, and then people will add in their ingredients, and they'll also set, their kids or their family, we'll have a table competition for the best set table. And then we upload videos and photos to a WhatsApp and have some fun there.
DAMON KLOTZ: Well, if people weren't hungry at the start of this episode, I think the idea of pimp your pasta is definitely going to get those summits rumbling. One thing that I want to just check on, because I'm in this interesting place where while I sound very Australian, I understand that still, I have spent the last six years in the Northern hemisphere and also some time in Europe, is doona a universal term? Do we need to explain what that is? I know duvet gets used a lot.
LAINIE TAYLER:Duvet. Yeah. So, doonas in Australia, like duvets, they are nice, big fluffy blankets on your bed. I do feel that they use doona days overseas. I think UK might call them duvet days. But no, I think it's universal. I'm going to say it is. Someone will tell us if it's not.
DAMON KLOTZ: And you touched on having to do some media interviews recently about people maybe pushing back on that. Maybe I'd like to ask a question about the question, like why do you think there is still pushback against this idea of supporting your employees and letting them say like, "I can't do the job today?" Why do you think that pushback exists?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. There was some, off the back of the Culture Amp conference, the doona day started a controversial web, and I got a little bit of pushback around not getting to the root cause of maybe why someone might want a doona day. And in my mind, and where I stand it is... And I think it comes from a place where people might need more support or they might actually have a mental health issue that you're not addressing and you're just sugar coating it with a doona day. But in my mind, any type of initiative that allows people to safely step away from work, that is open and an honest, is in my mind a positive thing. So, doona days by themselves, sure, that's not solving any mental health support, but doona day's in line with a whole heap of other initiatives for people.
LAINIE TAYLER: And personally, the whole intent is we all get tired, we all have bad days at work, sometimes things go wrong at work and we just need to fill our own cup and we need a break, and that's what doona days are for. And certainly if people have deeper issues, then we hope that we've got other initiatives in our business that they can access and support. And we obviously always check with someone asking for a... Are you okay? Do you need anything else? But I think providing, whether you call it a doona day, whatever you call it, providing initiatives for people to pull down on their personal leave that isn't just sick, that's 100% what you want. You want them to be able to access their 10 days or however many days in other countries in a way that isn't just about being sick. Because physically sick is not supporting mental health and wellbeing. It should be wellbeing leave. I've just made that up then. And you know what? I might just go to change our policy right now. Sick leave, calling it those types of things is not helpful for people.
DAMON KLOTZ: The other thing that I think is really important here, and people who have listened to many episodes of this show would hear me talk about this all the time, but I'm this hybrid people and culture leader on one side, marketer on the other. I always think it about like the marketing of your initiatives also matters. It's not just about whether it's a great initiative, it doesn't matter whether everything's there. It's like, "All right, this is the perfect policy, the perfect strategy." If no one remembers it, if no one knows that they can call upon it... So, if you need to call it something so that that terminology becomes a symbol inside of your organization that someone's like, "Oh, they took a doona day," that makes it okay for me, that makes it okay for someone else. So, I think that's really important as well. We might have just witnessed a rebrand live on the podcast about... And now you're here. Because words matter.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. I'm totally noting that one down, and I'm going to have go back and have a think about that and see how I can make that more meaningful for people. And I think being able to access all your sick leave is really important for people in this... where work just doesn't stop, and especially in the pandemic, is just... We don't know how to start and stop our days and things like that.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, one thing that I'm very conscious of through all of our conversations, our talk at Culture First this year, as well as this one, is that we could do a whole episode just about one of these little themes that I've written about. So, I'm conscious that we could spend a whole session on this next one, which is mentioned feedback just being so critical to how you operate and that it's a part of your culture, it's a part of your priorities. And I guess the main question that people usually want to know from Culture Amp customers is like, what type of employee experience data are you collecting? And I just said data to an Australian, so I apologize. What type of data are you collecting, and how often are you collecting?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. So, we have a lot of feedback loops in our business, so we have quite a strong operating rhythm. So, firstly, every day we get on a huddle 9:30, so that's our first feedback loop. And it's just sharing the big things for the day anyone needs to know, but also any feedback of anything that's going on. And it's not just about the business, but with our customers, our consumers, and things like that. And then we obviously have whips and sprints in our teams, and within that, there is also opportunity for feedback. And then, obviously, we have the very traditional ways, so we do pulse checks, we do health checks, and we do our surveys throughout the year into the business to make sure that we're hearing everyone voice. We also do the same process with our suppliers so that we know that the way that we're showing up with all our external partnerships is the same as our internal way of showing up.
LAINIE TAYLER: I think the thing about feedback that's the most important is actually providing people with the skills and tools to know how to give feedback. No one wakes up in the morning and says, "I can't wait to get to work to tell Damon something that didn't go well yesterday. Cannot wait. Yay," running out the door. It's hard. It's easy to give praise and give good feedback, but when you need to do something constructive or you want a better process or an interaction, then it's actually not very natural to be able to do that. So, that's where we do talk intent a lot. And if you can get your intent right around giving feedback, then it's always safe and should be received well. So, the front-ending of people understanding and practicing and knowing how to give feedback is really important. So, we have a model that we use here, and that's worked really, really well.
LAINIE TAYLER: And also, I think the other important thing is, is just the mediums of how people feel most comfortable to give feedback. So, some people are good at face to face, people prefer to do it through the surveys, or more traditionally, and that's okay as well, as long as you've got a lot of different mediums that people can subscribe to to give the feedback.
DAMON KLOTZ: And then I guess the second question that people usually ask is around results sharing, so how do you share results? At what level do you go full transparency? Does everyone in the company get access to engagement results, or is it just managers? How do you think about rolling that out?
LAINIE TAYLER: 100%. 100% full transparency. We're really open. There is nothing wrong with sharing when we get bad feedback because then we can fix it. And I'm often shouting from the rafters: I can't fix or change something I don't know about, and that's on you. You need to be able to share the feedback so that we can fix it. It's a safe place to share feedback. It's not about what people did wrong, but if we don't learn from it and we don't do something different the next time, that really, if you want to hit a sore spot, that's one of them for me. I do get frustrated if I feel that people are scared to give feedback sometimes when there's no repercussions. We just don't want to do it again. We don't want to make the same mistake. And so, bringing that in with new people and making sure they feel comfortable, that's really important.
LAINIE TAYLER: And role modeling it, so other people role modeling it. And often, I'll help people scribe and put it together because it's, it's hard to get the intent and the flow of how you want to give feedback. And it's okay if it's clunky, so we talk about it's okay if it's clunky and you want to say to someone, "I'm practicing giving feedback to you. I've got some notes in front of me. Bear with me." So, if you set it up that way... When we were really driving our feedback culture, we actually had a theme each quarter.
LAINIE TAYLER: One quarter was get Your Courageous On, so if you've got something difficult to say, let's do that. We also then would recognize that in huddle and someone would say, "I got some feedback yesterday from someone. I really appreciated it. Thank you." We don't have to talk about what it was, but just saying thanks for the feedback. Get Your Positive On, that was one quarter. That was obviously very easy. Get Your Development On, so is there development conversations and feedback that you want to have with people? So, theming and being able to pull it through that way is a good way to do it if people are thinking about really driving that feedback culture.
LAINIE TAYLER: And practicing. So, we'll get on... I'm actually about to roll out some more sprints because we've got new people sprint training, where we get on a Zoom, we go through our process, but then I'll break them into rooms and they have to practice giving feedback to each other, a real live example. And then plan whatever feedback they're going to give that week and go out into the business and do it.
DAMON KLOTZ: I think frameworks are so important for people to be able to just build that muscle. I truly believe giving and receiving great feedback is a muscle. It's something that you have to do often and work on and stuff. So, whether it's having themes for certain quarters or whether it's giving people examples... Like I know when I had to feedback probably maybe earlier on in my career, I never would've felt comfortable with. The only reason I felt comfortable giving it was I had a really clear framework for how to have a conversation about that. And I'm like, "Hey, here's what it is here. It's called like a clearing conversation. We're going to clear up the murkiness. We're going to get the blur words out of the way. We're going to make sure that we're talking about the same thing," and then I'll be able to go out to provide that feedback.
DAMON KLOTZ: Now, I probably wouldn't have had that conversation if I didn't have a great framework for giving that feedback, and every time I do it, I feel more comfortable wanting to do that again.. So, I truly believe that creating that muscle inside of a company is critical.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. 100%. As I said, it's not natural. It's hard to do. You can get online, there's heaps of different models, and all of them work. But I do think pivoting around the intent's really important. Often when I'm coaching people, what's the intent? Well, I need to let them know they annoyed me yesterday. Okay. Let's try again. What's the intent? The intent, next time we have an interaction, I want them to listen more. It's really getting to that what are you actually wanting to change or shift in the behavior of the interaction or the process? It's really easy to do.
LAINIE TAYLER: The other thing I would say about feedback for managers or more senior people is that you have to ask for feedback. You can't expect... Just by the very nature of your position, you're scary. It doesn't matter how nice you are. There's a hierarchy and it exists, and hence, you're scary. And that's just the way it is. So, being open and always asking for feedback from people or putting feedback loops in the end of your meeting like, "How did that meeting feel? Did everyone feel listened to?" And asking is really, really important.
DAMON KLOTZ:We're going to do it live right now. We're not live. Whenever you're listening to this. But we're going to make... If you're a manager who's listening to this right now and you haven't asked for feedback from one of your team members in the past month, please go do it. Reach out. Like you said, be proactive, have that conversation. There could be huge amounts of psychological safety in your team, and there could be very little. Doesn't mean that you shouldn't be proactively asking your employees for feedback, especially right now when we're all operating in these strange times, I think just getting really clear about what your employees need. Yes, do that conversation this week, whenever you listen. Set yourself a task and whatever task management process you use, because I think it's critical, and I'd love to hear the results. Reach out to me, let me know how those conversations went.
DAMON KLOTZ: I want to change gears again and talk about retaining your employees because I think one of the things that we've heard a lot about when it comes to the employee experience right now is that either due to burnout or due to just employees wanting just a completely different experience, maybe they've been rethinking their priorities or the industry they want to work in. We've heard this term called the Great Resignation. Fun fact, the professor in the United States who actually coined the Great Resignation has the same last name as me. We're not related. We just clearly think about people and culture stuff a lot. But the Great Resignation is being talked about. Everyone's talking about retention. You've already spoken a lot about being very intentional when it comes to when employees leave and that it's not a bad. So, I guess my question is, have you been impacted by this Great Resignation? Has this impacted Carman's Kitchen, or is it just like, "No, we're still having the same conversation that we would have regardless"?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. Retention. So, we never think about retention, to be honest. I've been in big talent roles before where you spend all this time on talent, pooling retention, and critical roles and blah, blah, blah, blah. Really, we are super happy for people if they want to leave and do something new. We've had a couple of people leave recently who've been here seven years, and that's awesome. We want to build you here. We want to develop you here. We want you to contribute to our brand. We always, for the rest of your life, want you to be part of our Carman's crew, our Carman's family. And if you are transitioning through us because you're early on in your career and you need to go build up muscle somewhere else, that's 100% fine with us. And if you want to stay a long time, that's also 100% fine with us.
LAINIE TAYLER: But we're also, we're really open and honest to have conversations, and I've had conversations with people and I can think of someone that's left this year that I proactively approached them and said, "Don't you want to do something else?" And that was someone that was young in their career and they were very... People get very attached to a brand, and we are an amazing place to work, but we can't provide these big complex career opportunities for people with a business of our size. So, when I see people that are a bit stuck and really should be building their career, and being a coach myself, seeing someone with great potential that we can't fulfill because we just don't have that type of work here, I fully encouraged them to go. And so, I helped that person, actually, move and move into another FMCG, and that's awesome and I'm all up for that. We don't have a retention issue, and we would be okay if we had a retention issue. I shouldn't say that. If half our business walked out tomorrow we'd be [inaudible 00:42:38].
DAMON KLOTZ: You might not be selling a product every second in that case.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah, that's right. I think our attrition is very natural, very normal. It's not something that we focus on. We have had, yeah, we had someone who traveled a lot, who, through the pandemic, has realized that they don't want to do that anymore. They were traveling from country Victoria into Melbourne. And people are making those personal decisions for themselves. But at the same time, we've also offered lots of people different flexibility for different things they might be going through. So, if people want to drop a day, we've had people actually pick up days, if people want to work a different way to be able to get that balance in their life, we're focused on those things. So, it's like come to us with what's bothering you. If it's outside of the work, maybe we can come up with a solution. If it's about the work, then that gets tricky because the jobs are the jobs. We try and develop people across the business as best we can. But if it's about other drivers and motivators, maybe we can work it out together.
DAMON KLOTZ: I think we should send this episode to the person that you helped find that new role. It's such an inspiring story to actually have a manager or a leader care so deeply about you that they're like, "Hey, I will help you go get something great. Let's talk about that." And being honest about the current situation, it's rare. I wish I wasn't rare. I know I've had some incredible leaders throughout my career, especially earlier on in my career.
DAMON KLOTZ: I've been at Culture Amp for a long time in startup years, but I know early on in my career I had to make some of those big changes and pivots and switch from a government industry into private and private into a startup. Managers help me have those conversations. Even though they were like, "We would love you to stay. We understand why this is important to you. And I will help you do that," and I just think that's such a refreshing conversation to be having with your manager. So, I really hope that that employee that you helped will do that for someone else and that we can create a bit of a ripple effect, because I just think it's such a beautiful thing.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. And I think having those... And it doesn't always work the way that I would love it to work, but a lot of the time it has, I think. I'm really big on, if someone came to me and said, "Look, I reckon I've got a year left in me, and then I'm thinking about this," that is utopia for me. That's like, "Awesome. That's great. And let me give you some free coaching, as well. I reckon you need a bit of experience here. I reckon you need to bolster this. And also, I think you need to make sure when you're looking for your next business, you've got this, this, and this." If everyone did that, then we would have this beautiful shared resource pool of talent that would just rock through the business, from business to business, and we would develop people much quicker.
LAINIE TAYLER: And I think the other thing is we're really open here, and Carolyn Creswell, our [fan 00:45:41], does amazing. I sit in this role and I feel very privileged to do that, but I also have a coaching business, and she's fine with that. Just very open about how we can satisfy people's drives and their motivations to be able to do the things they want to do. And we do that with all people here, and I wish more businesses did do it. We can't keep good talent forever. We do feel like we do have lots of good talent here, and we certainly have lots of people trying to poach them all the time. People make the right decisions for themselves, and everyone's driven and motivated by different things at different times in their lives. And that's okay.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, we just touched on, I guess, managers and why they're so important. I guess maybe one thing that the audience would be asking themselves to ask me to ask you, because that's how this works, they send me these questions, they land in my head: What does manager development look like at Carman's Kitchen? Managers have such a important role. There's the age old debate. Do people leave companies? Do they leave managers? I think great managers can make that debate irrelevant because... Anyways, that's a story for another day.
LAINIE TAYLER: 100%.
DAMON KLOTZ: What does it look like?
LAINIE TAYLER: Leader-led. Yeah. It's all about the leader, leader-led. I can be here to help coach everyone in the business, but for the most part, I spend my time coaching our managers. Because everyone wants to have a direct conversation with their manager. No one wants to be talking to their HR person. Sorry, HR people. So, the biggest focus should always be on a leader-led culture and the leaders being really strong at what they do. To be honest and say in the last 12 months we haven't done a lot because we've been so focused on wellbeing and keeping people safe mentally and physically, but we do have a big coaching culture. I do a lot of coaching into the business, and I think as a senior leader, another free advice for me is go do a coaching qualification. I have a double coaching qualification. Even try and get a globally recognized coaching qualification. Knowing how to coach in a business is so important, beyond anything else. Being able to coach your CEO, being able to coach your leadership team, being able to coach anyone around you. So, big coaching culture here.
LAINIE TAYLER: And the other thing we are big on is innovation and brand, the brand internally, innovation internally, but also externally for a business like ours. We have strong want plans for all our people, but probably we're very specific around very targeted coaching for our leaders. I just can't say that enough. You can go and do lots of different courses for all the things that you might want to build and the muscles you want to build around capability, whether you're a good presenter or you're trying to bolster some other muscles around influencing and things like that, but really having something within your business that is accelerated coaching for an individual because it's very targeted, everyone's different, and you're just able to build that capability within a leader a lot quicker.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. Especially for... I know there's some very famous large companies that have actually got in-house coaches and these people who can play that role, but whether you're budget constrained or whether you're just a small organization, actually just building that coaching mindset and training your managers to be better coaches, I ,is actually really important. Because it also helps them be able to separate our conversations from like, "Hey, this is about the task," to, "This is about your development," to, "This is about you as a human," and saying, "How can I know when to have the right conversation at the right time?" as opposed to trying to just be like, "I'm just your manager, here's just the task, and just be focused on that"? I think when you have that kind of coaching ability, you know what conversation to have at the right time, and that can be critical to someone's employee experience.
LAINIE TAYLER: 100%. Yes. Yep. Everyone, go get coaching calls.
DAMON KLOTZ: And ask [inaudible 00:50:08] direct reports of feedback. We're giving you lots of tasks on today's episode.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah, that's right.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, we've spoken about your four initiatives and your laser focus and having a lot of intent behind them. You've been developing your people, you have this amazing 365 day onboarding program. This has led to some great results. You currently have a 96% employee engagement rate, and someone who's going to be listening is going, "Oh my God, what are the secrets?" But I think the thing that you also wanted to know is I know for a fact that your goal is actually to reach 100%.
LAINIE TAYLER: 100. 100. We're going to be the first. It's going to be tricky. I'm not going to lie.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, we've talked about your current employee experience. Obviously, there's 4% chance to improve. What do you think you need to reimagine when it comes to your employee experience to reach that goal?
LAINIE TAYLER: I don't think we need to change much around our employee experience, apart from probably... I would probably say it's still the consistency of our four laser focus things that we pivot around: strategy, wellbeing, feedback, and onboarding. It's just getting better at them. We will get feedback that, "My manager's great, great, great, great," then they didn't live up to expectation. It's the consistency of our delivery that I think we need to just keep focusing on. And as I said when we last spoke, very open and honest that we had a dip. We really started deciding to go on this journey at 88% engagement, and we've slowly moved up and we got to 95. And then we had a dip, we went back to 93. And so, that was the time to go, "Okay, what's happening here?" And again, we didn't actually really change our focus. It was just, we needed a laser on it and we needed to keep the Dory moments going and keep focused on it.
LAINIE TAYLER: One thing that we are probably more focused on is really tightening up our brand and our organizational values to live and breathe more easily in our employee life cycle that might help people pull them along to that 100% engaged. It's tricky. I might be very controversial now. There's probably, I'm not going to say which one, but one engagement question that I feel isn't really with the times anymore, and I feel that will hold us back to get to 100, and that is... It's around careers and things like that. I think if I was in this space, I would be reconsidering how you measure engagement and maybe changing one of those questions. Because I don't think that it's a true reflection of what engagement is. So, that's controversial. Give that to your people scientists.
DAMON KLOTZ: No, I think you raise a good point-
LAINIE TAYLER: They haven't changed for a long time. Lots of engagement surveys. They haven't changed for a long time. I just wonder if there's anyone ever... I've never looked into it. I don't know if anyone's looking at it. Yeah, I feel like it could have a switch up. But we will try our very, very best to hit that. I mean, I'm terrified, terrified that we're at 96%. In February I'm going to do another survey, and I hope we can hold it. And I'd be really pleased if we could just hold it or if we even just went up 1%, but we are going for the 100.
DAMON KLOTZ: Well, I know you take your feedback strategy and you use the Culture Amp very seriously, and I love that you said that, there's maybe some questions that you should be thinking about and changing. From a template perspective, I think one thing that whenever I speak to customers is to encourage them to make sure that the language and the questions serves the purpose and the strategy that you have and that you should be making sure that you're only asking the questions that you want to be taking action on, that you focusing on the areas that are important to you. And I know there's this debate between using questions for benchmarks versus using them for actually what matters to your employees, and I think that's a trade off that a lot of people and cultural leaders have to make, is do we want the benchmark data on this question? Or do we actually want to be asking something that matters more to our employee experience right now?
LAINIE TAYLER: Exactly. 100%. Benchmark shmenchmarks, whatever.
DAMON KLOTZ: So, I know that the media is always contacting you to learn about Carman's Kitchen and that I've got your time here, but the community has been sending in some questions after our session at Culture First this year, as well as some other questions that people have sent through. So, are you okay to do some rapid fire community questions with me?
LAINIE TAYLER: Let's do it.
DAMON KLOTZ: All right. So, this first one said, "You run so many initiatives for a company that has less than 100 people. How big is your HR team?"
LAINIE TAYLER: So, in HR-speak, there is me and a people and culture coordinator. That is it. But a lot of our initiatives are also driven through, which I think I talked about last time, what we call our concierge. So, there's a person in my team that is a person you can go to to solve all your problems right down to your [sewing 00:56:07]. So, that's part of my team, although she does other things. So, you could probably say two and a half.
DAMON KLOTZ: And is one of those people responsible for driving the onboarding program, or is that more of a holistic company thing?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. No, it's holistic. It definitely sits with my people and culture coordinator as a process, but the actual delivery of it all requires all our leaders to be involved. We're trying to use technology, as well, to fill some gaps there instead of it being everything one on one. But yeah, no, it's definitely a leader-led initiative.
DAMON KLOTZ: Which ties into another question that our community sent through. They said that, "There's such a big drive to knowing what your team is doing and the operations to reach your goals. How do you make sure that your leaders have time for everything else as opposed to just what is the task at hand?"
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. Well, I'm very much of the belief that leaders should be leading and their teams should be doing. And leaders should be solving problems, removing roadblocks, and keeping their teams agile and shouldn't really be on the tools too much, maybe a couple of initiatives. But that's the role of our leaders here, is to very much do that. But I think if you get your operating rhythm right... I can't stress this enough. I'm still so surprised how people can't keep their operating rhythm in play. But if you have a really good operating rhythm, and an operating rhythm, if that is not a familiar term to people, is how you're communicating with your business on a cyclical basis, daily, weekly, monthly, half year, full year, if that's not clear and adhered to and you're moving things and... You can't do it. It's impossible. The operating rhythm sits as the foundation for you to be able to do all these things and be agile.
LAINIE TAYLER: That operating rhythm and all the meetings that sit within that also need to be under the microscope all the time, so we often would start a meeting with, "Does everyone need to be here? Do you really, really, really need to be here? Could someone update you?" Turning up to meetings isn't... You're not going to get a big tick star for that. But that operating rhythm, and certainly our operating rhythm within our business, it does not change. We book it in a year in advance. Everything's in the diary. Nothing gets moved. Every one of those meetings has the purpose, and that's how you're able to drive the initiatives, but also the communication and the feedback loops, everything. That's the key, and that's something we do very well. And I can, from my own experience, know how it's worked in other organizations. It's like, "Push that out. We'll move that here. We don't need that today." You just got to keep that rhythm.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. No, I think it's critical, especially with a... You have less than 100 people with this huge global footprint. You can't afford to kind of do that. Yeah. I wasn't expecting a different answer, but I'm glad that that is exactly how you think about things. This one's a little bit more of the times question. I know you celebrate milestones a lot at Carman's Kitchen. How do you celebrate milestones right now with remote working?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. So, we have huddle every day, and I've had few people say, "Well, how do we do that in a really big business?" Well, we do huddle with the whole business, but you do huddle with your team or you do huddle with a broader team. Sometimes it's seven minutes, sometimes it's six minutes, sometimes it's 14 minutes. It's never more than 15. We can celebrate every milestone every day. And we had a big one yesterday. Can't share it with you. Don't want any competitors to be listening. But we're able to share those every day and celebrate those every day, and whether that's about an individual, a person, or a thank you, or it's a bigger milestone. We have the Love Awards, so every quarter we love our people and we celebrate milestones there. We're all Zooming like everybody else. You can make that fun and interactive. And then we have a big bang day where we have Love What You Do Day, which is every year, and that's where we celebrate the whole year's priority milestones.
DAMON KLOTZ: Again, intention is the, I think, the number one word from this episode so far. Even if the setting changes, the intention behind what you're celebrating should still be there, which I think is critical. This one's a really interesting question. You have this 365 day onboarding program. You needed to take its course and work its magic. How do you balance the need of a manager saying, "I need this person to be hitting the ground running now. I need them... Everything's critical. I need to ship something," how do you balance that between saying, "For them to be successful in the long term, we need them to be on this path," versus, getting those small wins or getting them straight onto a project?
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. Look, I think it's all about frontending the process and educating your managers on where you're going to get to in the end. Obviously we do try and do as much before they start, so get all the boring stuff out of the way that you need to do with an employee before they even begin, and also share with them and induct as much as you can around the business and who's in the business and where to go. But we really do pivot back to purpose. If people don't understand their purpose or the purpose of others in the business and our strategy, then they're never going to be able to deliver, and task orientation day to day is not going to get us where we need to get to. We keep them clear of any work for the first two weeks. You're not allowed to do anything. You can go to meetings, you can witness, but you are not on the tools for two weeks. That's just how it is. You should have relationships with your managers that you can explain, with data, the benefits of being able to onboard someone.
LAINIE TAYLER: Every time we bring someone new in, and we've got two people at the moment who are three weeks in, they're just blown away by our onboarding process. They just can't believe it. They just feel so empowered. They feel that they'll be up and running really quickly. We've got a great example of someone who's at the seven month mark who is smashing it. She is just really delivering. And she very openly puts it down to being able to take the time to onboard into the business and really understand what her role is. And so, I think if you can get some good wins under your belt around the onboarding process, that your managers can see the benefit at the end, especially if you've got some already data on a manager. I'm going to assume that sometimes those managers may already have some feedback that they need to develop how they people, so it's a good coaching conversation, as well, for the manager, that you're going to get the best out of someone if we give them the best and set them up for success.
DAMON KLOTZ: Well, I think that is a very poignant thing to, I guess, leave with our audience. I just want to share with you, as we wrap up our conversation, I truly believe one of my highlights of this interesting challenging year that we've all been through has been learning so much about you and Carman's Kitchen and how you think about things. And why I love it so much is, I think, one of the things I'm really proud of from my time at Culture Amp is like the company allowed me to do a lot of things that don't scale early on, and that that's okay because they're important. And building the community, going out to different events, running people, geek ups, having conversations with people, maybe a more traditional company or a larger company would say, "No, you can't flood all these places or do all these things or run an event for 10 people. It's not enough." And I'm like, "Well, does it matter to us? Is it important? Is building to community important to us? If it is, then I believe this is something that maybe it is too important to try to does it scale?" And I think one of the things that...
DAMON KLOTZ: It's a more common conversation in marketing worlds than it is in the people and cultural space. And one thing I've learned from you and your business is that there's a lot of things that is very important to how you run your business that maybe they don't scale to 10,000 people and that's okay. This is why we do them. And we're just going to do it that way. And I think it's really refreshing, and I think a lot of people... I've learned a lot from it. I really hope a lot of people have also learned that that mindset can also be something that's true in the people and culture space, so I just wanted to say thank you for letting me behind the scenes. I've learned so much from our conversations this year.
LAINIE TAYLER: Yeah. Awesome. I've really enjoyed them and very thankful to be able to share and hope people got something out of it. But yeah, really enjoyed the conversation.
DAMON KLOTZ: I have a feeling people's notepads are going to be very full, or if they were driving while listening to this episode, they might have had to pull over. So, yeah. So, for everyone listening, like I said, there's some other resources that we'll be sharing from previous conversations that I've had. So, make sure you check out the episode notes. And Lainie, just want to say a big thank you for joining me today on the Culture First Podcast.
LAINIE TAYLER: Thank you very much.