Workday Podcast: Why Great Culture Leads to Greater Business Success

Why is a great work environment and a strong culture better for your employees and better for business? Michael C. Bush, CEO, Great Place to Work, has the answer. He talks with Greg Pryor, senior vice president, people and performance evangelist at Workday, and offers insights gleaned from years of employee feedback data and revealing conversations with business leaders.

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If you’re more of a reader, below you’ll find the transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity. You can find our other Workday Podcasts here.

Greg Pryor: Hi. My name is Greg Pryor, and this is the Workday Podcast.

I’m excited to talk to my very good friend Michael Bush, who is the CEO of the Great Place to Work, and we’re actually here live at Workday Rising. We want to talk to you a little bit about what’s top of mind for you. This is your first time joining us at Workday Rising and you gave the keynote presentation—and by the way, you did an amazing job, thank you so much. We laughed, we cried, we were inspired. It was just fantastic. So I’ll start by getting your impressions of your first Workday Rising. What are you thinking about?

Michael C. Bush: It’s been a mind-blowing experience. You know, I thought about a bunch of people who would be coming together for a common reason, which is how to get the most out of their Workday experience. Or to think about whether Workday is a good partner. So really, people who would be technology minded. What I didn’t expect was so many people attracted to actually trying to improve the cultures in their own company.

They’re looking at technology as the means to that end, and they’ve learned about the power of that. So I didn’t expect that and, therefore, in the sessions people are asking questions about the technology, but you could see the direct connection to information they want to get to improve the employee experience, or improve the leadership in their company. So I was super happy to hear people who were interested in culture and using technology as a way of improving their culture.

Pryor: And so let me pick up a little bit on that. Your presentation was on the culture imperative, and to your point how Workday customers, how people such as myself, are able to use our technology to support that. Maybe give us two or three of the key messages that you shared with our audience, of our new 10,000 closest friends.

Bush: Amazing, yes. The key message, which we have in common, is to create a great place to work for all. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, or where you are in the organization, it should be a great place to work. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a knowledge worker, a bricklayer, or going into mines and trying to find gold. We survey all those companies and we care about all those people equally.

So that’s the power, because that’s what a great culture does. A culture that excludes people, treats people differently, and has an inconsistently great experience is not a great place to work for all; it’s a great place to work for some. So we talked about those things, and it was great to be on the stage, look at the audience and at people taking notes or punching things into their phone, because they were showing me, “This is what I like.” Some of them might have been thinking, “I didn’t know this is what I liked, but this is what I like.” So you could just see that actually happening, and see the excitement occurring.

Then we talked about what it takes to be a great place to work, which is the experience that people have with the people they work for, as well as the people they work with. And woven through that is really the answer to the question, “How do you know what people are experiencing?” That’s the power of our work, and the work that we’re doing together. We are relying 100 percent on what employees say. It’s not what leaders think or someone’s opinion—it’s directly what employees say about what they’re experiencing. That’s the power of it.

And if you have information and you’re humble enough to look at it and not spin it, you’ll get what you need, and then you can get on your way to doing some things, which our panel today did an exceptional job of talking about—specifically, what you can do day to day to make sure that you’ve got a high-trust culture.

Pryor: One of the things that we had today was a really mixed audience. Given Workday’s diversity of technology, we had people in HR functions, we had people in IT functions, and we had people in our finance functions, and I know through our time together that you believe that being a great place to work is actually also great for business.

Can you tell me a little bit? You shared some fascinating stats today about what the relationship looks like between being a great place to work for people, and being a great place to work for business.

Bush: What we like to say is that a great place to work for all is better for business, better for people, and better for the world. We believe in getting the data so business leaders can understand that is the way to move this forward. Some business leaders are hesitant because they feel like they’re sacrificing something on the bottom line. So we shared some information today to let people know about the revenue growth, which occurs as your culture gets stronger and stronger. We compared good companies to great companies to see the superior revenue growth from those great companies.

So what we’re trying to do is show organizations that they don’t need a business case to know they should treat people great. The other thing about Workday Rising is… Typical HR conferences, which are what culture conferences typically are, have a lot of HR people, but not many CFOs, CIOs, or CTOs. They look at these types of  conferences and think, “I’m absolutely not going there.”

But they are here. They are absolutely here. And so, this myth that CTOs, CIOs, CFOs don’t care about culture—it’s absolutely not true. You just need to put together a forum that has meaning for them—they want to talk about culture and how you’re going to make it happen. Technology does that.

Pryor: We had three amazing customers today that represented all those functions. Typically, when you start to speak, those CIOs, CTOs, and CFOs will leave the room. They’ll think, Hey, Michael’s here to talk to the HR folks— but I just love the fact that our CTO, CIO, and CFO were really talking. Specifically, Robynne Sisco, who is our CFO here at Workday, said Gosh, the investment in our workforce is two-thirds the cost of our business. She said, “I pay attention when the investment is two-thirds of my cost base, that matters to me.” And that was really cool to hear her talk about.

Bush: That’s so obvious, but I was blown away when she said it. Because it’s just like any CFO who thinks they can delegate that two-thirds of their operating expenses to HR, they clearly don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just not really thinking that way. She just broke it down. She basically said, “I don’t have an option, I have to be concerned about this. I have to be involved in this.” And that is what makes her so remarkable, and other leaders like her—like CarMax CIO Shamim Mohammad telling the audience this is what he thinks about when he’s going to work every day.

And he’s doing some complicated things in terms of technology. CarMax is revolutionizing itself and that industry. But this is a guy who goes to work thinking about culture first, so you expect it from a great people leader—like Mike Malloy of Quicken Loans. Mike comes from business,and is really part of the new partnership between HR and business. It’s an exciting time for HR leaders.

Pryor: As I listened backstage to those three, I was struck by how you couldn’t tell their functional roles apart—they were business leaders first who cared about their culture, and it was just super cool.

You talked about being a great place to work for all. I know that’s the title of your recent book. What does “great place to work for all” mean to you?

Bush: Well, when I got to Great Place to Work a little over three years ago, one of the things I saw by looking at the list was that they were great places to work, but not for all. I could see pockets of people who weren’t having a great experience, but just due to the law of large numbers, the score would lean toward the largest parts of the population.

The demographic changes that are occurring—millennials coming into the workforce and transforming it in terms of that age group—mean that it needs to be a great place to work for all. So, what we saw is a huge opportunity to think about equality and equity in a different way. Because there are some areas, such as diversity and inclusion—as soon as you say the word diversity, some people feel left out.

So what we diversity and inclusion leaders are trying to do is make it a great place to work for everybody, including white men. There’s nobody left out of this equation, and it’s OK to say that different people need different things, which is what equity is all about, and that’s part of our “for all” measurement.  If you have two people who are currently having two different experiences—one at a higher level than the other—then you can’t just give them both the same benefit, because they’re already at the beginning before they get the benefit at different levels in terms of equity. So you have to make these kinds of adjustments to know that’s how you get equity and equality.

So it led us to making sure that when we ranked companies, when we scored companies, that we did demographic comparisons, just like you’re doing at Workday.

Pryor: Yep.

Bush: And demographic comparisons of different groups, because it’s consistency that matters. The odd thing is something that I mentioned earlier today—you can take a company where overall, people aren’t having that great of an experience, but if they’re all having the exact same experience they will say it is a great place to work. That’s how important fairness is compared to an experience where some people are having a great experience and others are not.

Pryor: This idea of “for all” feels inclusive for everyone, so I thank you for that. We often at Workday think about and use your phrase, because it just resonates, it just feels right, it feels good, and so I thank you for that.

Changing the topic a little bit, I know you are first and foremost perhaps a business person. You’re a business leader, and that’s why you understand why this is important. Tell me a little bit about how you think of the future of work; what is more relevant, more of an imperative today?

Bush: As I think about the future of work, we all know that leaders define the experience for the employee. But with so much data being available, it enables us to predict things, and to see signals before we have a problem. This is what’s new, this is what’s different.

Let’s say right now somebody can have a town hall meeting, and when you walk in, the CEO and everybody are sitting with their arms crossed, tight-lipped, leaning back in their chairs—you sense there’s a problem. Actually, there’s been a problem, but it’s almost too late to fix it at that point. Yet that’s what many companies are doing. And some are missing that signal.

But if they start to address it…and Robynne made a remarkable point today. She looked at statistics, she looked at our survey results, she could see something was going on, but when she thought about it, she knew that when she went into the kitchen area at Workday and some people weren’t cleaning up the kitchen, something was wrong.

So the sign appeared very early—data enables us, but [the Robynne example] is an anecdotal thing, which is just the people business, and a person being really aware, and humble at the same time. But there’s actually data that lets us know things like when a person moves, or when we ask them to go to another place to work, or we change their commute pattern. Their reaction and experience at that time can indicate—12 months ahead of time—if they are  going to leave your company.

So we have enough data now to be able to predict these things. We have enough data now to personalize benefits. We have enough data now to personalize learning and development. Because one thing we know—all the data tells us one size absolutely does not fit all.

We have enough data now to personalize these things, to make sure this is about equity, everybody gets exactly what they need. And so here’s what is different about the leader of today, and the leader of the future: The leader of the future has to be willing to get feedback often. Now for all of us leaders, it’s much easier to get feedback once a year, but we’re moving into a time where you’re going to get it once a quarter. Once a month. If you’re at Workday, you’re getting it every week. This is a whole new thing and it takes quite an adjustment—it’s a bold, courageous move.

But this is the future of work. We’ve got the data and you have to pay attention to it. You might not want to look at it, but leaders have to learn to be open—not because it’s a good thing to do, but because it’s a necessity for being able to know what your people need and to make sure that you’re getting it to them.

Pryor: I was so pleased that Robynne actually shared the story this morning that about two-and-a-half years ago we began to see the first signals that we didn’t pick up—the break room where someone had not cleaned something up, which is very, very untypical at Workday. And then thanks to you and some other sources, you gave us that feedback and said, “This is what we’re seeing in your results. We’re beginning to see a bit of a dilution in your culture.” That’s when you and I first met—when we came to you and asked, “Hey, how should we be thinking about this? We really want to be intentional and we need to be clear-minded.” That’s when we started to partner and I’m so appreciative. You enabled us to use some of the data you had, and we started to  survey our entire workforce every Friday. So every Friday is feedback Friday.

But to your point, we can now see—by gender, by generation, by geography, deep into the organization—how we can address those weak signals early on before they become problems. I couldn’t agree more that the future is really around that.

So on that topic, let me ask you a little bit about technology. How do you see technology playing a role in the employee experience, culture, and being a great place to work for all?

Bush: Technology is going to drive the employee experience. I think everybody is coming to understand it, but I don’t think most people fully understand it. We will be looking at data plots of exactly how employees are moving physically, what they’re experiencing as a result of that and looking for solutions to make it easier for them, and how a person gets to and from work is going to become more and more a part of the employer’s responsibility because they want to keep that great employee.

I think that this movement of collecting data and analyzing data will help solve some of the most vexing problems we’ve had with managing and supporting people. For example, when we talk about something like diversity—which we’ve been talking about around the world for 30 years—it has made some progress, but not nearly as much progress as all of us know we need to make. Well, some companies are now using data to determine the types of employees they can attract and the network of people these potential employees can bring to their company.

So you have an employee who is willing to share what they’re doing in social media and bring that to your company, you have a pot of gold—because great people know great people, just like lazy people know lazy people, and you don’t want to hire lazy people and bring their network. Great people know great people. And great women leaders know more great women leaders, and so on. It cascades.

Using data, which comes from social media, and having a high degree of trust where people want to bring their networks to your company need to get completely unlocked. People are paying $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 to recruiters. What they need to do is bring people in and say, “Hey, we’d like you to do this for us. We’d like to partner with you and here’s $10,000.” It’s a money saver, and that’s how the numbers can actually change. The data’s available to do that today.

And then secondly, around inclusion, which for us is for all, we can measure that. We measure it every day.If you bring in a person from an underrepresented group, depending on how they’re welcomed, we can predict whether they’ll be there three years from now. The data tells us that very clearly. So this is going to be the big shift that’s happening. People who think they can manage people without technology, good luck. It’s not going to happen. You need the data to do this, so it’s the new frontier.

The good news is that it used to be something that horrified people. But thanks to great companies like Workday, some work that we’re doing, and some other great companies, it’s now easy. The user interface has come so far and it’s a very intuitive experience.

Pryor: Let me ask you, what are you most excited about? You have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some very interesting people. If you look ahead one to three years, what are you most excited about?

Bush: What I’m really looking forward to is being able to survey a company’s employees in a very easy way—if you’ve got at least 20 employees and no matter how big the company is— and get the same high-powered analytics that Workday gets. You shouldn’t have to be a huge company, a Fortune 500 company, to get great analytics regarding your people. I look forward to that—it’s happening, and I certainly look forward to being a part of that.

The other thing is that for companies past the 1,000 mark and that are growing and scaling, they are then able to become customers of companies like Workday. For those customers, that’s a reward for their growth, for getting to that point. Taking some of our data—like you’re doing—from over 100 million employees and more than 80,000 companies, the benchmarks that come from that, and putting all that within your ecosystem where you have the benefit of metadata, Workday Prism Analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, the elite experience will be on a platform like yours—our data is there, but you’re amplifying it. You’re making it super easy as only a company like yours can do.

Pryor: Thank you, I’m going to end today with a point of gratitude to the work that you all have done.

You have been an inspiration to me, your team has been an inspiration to the work that our team has done, and we appreciate the amazing and important mission you are all on to create great places to work for all. We appreciate that, and I just want to say how grateful I am to the great work that you and your teams are doing in this space.

Bush: Greg, thanks very much. Happy to be here.

Pryor: Absolutely, well thank you to my friend Michael Bush for sharing insights with our listeners. This is Greg Pryor with another Workday Podcast, signing off for now, and thanks so much for listening. Have a great work day.