272: Unleashing the Power of Employee Experience, With Christi Gilhoi

July 25, 2023

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Dr. Pelè: 

Hello happy people. Welcome to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Hello everyone, this is Dr Pelè with the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Today, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Christi Gilhoi, who is an employee experience executive. She is someone who has done it all, from designing the data responsive people first programs at huge companies like Qualcomm, and even now in the work that she's doing on her own as a consultant. But there's one thing that Christi has shared with me that has me all giggly. As you can see, Christi is a musician. She's a bass player, she's a musician and singer, and her family is all about music. So I'm so excited to hear how you fuse the worlds of music and, of course, employee experience and engagement and so on. Christi, how are you doing today?

Christi Gilhoi: 

I'm great, Dr Palay. Thanks for having me excited to be here and excited to share stories of engagement and experience and music and happiness. Yeah, I'm thrilled.

Dr. Pelè: 

Oh, awesome. And you know what, since you've already kind of gone to that topic of happiness and engagement and so on, you know, tell us what this is about. You know, so many people in organizations, especially leaders, are focused on making sure that there is the bottom line we got the profits, we got the sales, we got the results, all these things coming in and then it seems like you're proposing there's this thing called employee happiness and engagement. What is that all about?

Christi Gilhoi: 

Yeah, I mean I've always seen especially as a creative and a storyteller and someone who comes from a world where we're looking to make things and create things and feel purpose and feel connection with people. And so in the workplace I see this all the time that we need to think about the entire employee. Who are they outside of work? What drives them? What gets them excited? How can we support them? How can we delight employees who work for us? Because if they feel delighted and connected, if they feel like they have a purpose, if they feel like their work is meaningful, they will do better for the bottom line. They'll be better workers, They'll stay with the company longer, They'll do discretionary work after hours because they're filled up and they're not depleted. So I love the space of employee engagement, employee experience. How can we find those friction points in the employee life cycle, those moments where people feel like it's not working for them and make it better, make a better process, or have an inflection point where they have an opportunity for coaching or just call them out for great work? So just really thinking across that full journey from a candidate to being someone who is an alumni, who's talking about how great the company is how can we make that better along the way? And that's what really gets me up in the morning and drives me and, yeah, I'm excited about employees. Employees are my customers.

Dr. Pelè: 

I love that and it's interesting that you are talking about the question of how can we make that better. For 30 years, I think, gallup has had a poll that says what? 70% disengagement in organizations meaning some are engaged 30% but most people are just making things not happen. And you wonder why is it that after 30 years of measuring things, that particular metric 70% disengaged is still happening, like why is this still a problem? Tell us a little bit about the idea of engagement versus the idea of experience, because I think there's a distinction and you are an expert in that distinction. So give us a sense of what those two things are and how can we make them better.

Christi Gilhoi: 

Yeah, I think, as we look at survey and data as a company, from the company level, we're trying to figure out how engaged are our employees? What are the metrics? Do they feel good about work life balance? Do they feel like they have purpose? Do they feel connected to their manager? So engagement is really what the company wants. We want engaged employees so that we're not on the wrong side of that gallop pool. But employee experience is really what's happening to me as Christy, what's happening to me as Dr Pillay? How am I feeling every day when I come to work? And so if I was sold, hey, this is a big, innovative company where you can change the world. And then I come in and sit in a cubicle farm and I have no friends and my manager doesn't check in with me and I don't feel like my family is benefiting from all of that time away. That engagement is going to drop because of my experience. So I really like to think about engagement as the company lens and experiences, that personal experience that every employee has on their small team, in their company and in the work that they do.

Dr. Pelè: 

I have to say that's a masterclass definition. It's probably the easiest, best definition I've seen Like you've made it crystal clear. You know one is coming from the employer and one is coming from the employee and they are different in that way and it's important to understand the two. You know, Christy, I'm interested in your background. Tell us a little bit about your story, like what got you to be the employee experience and engagement expert that you are today.

Christi Gilhoi: 

Well, it's a winding path, as many people have. I like to call myself sort of the Willy Wonka. I like to help bring joy as people come into whatever environment they're in. But I actually started an education. I worked for the University of California for 10 years and I worked with international students, international faculty and really smart people who were getting ready to go into the workforce. So I was really fortunate to see how that early incubation happens. And all of them, as students, wanted, they wanted music, concerts, they wanted ways to connect with each other, they wanted interesting events and speakers and thought provoking experiences in their education. And then as they got into the workforce, that changed and it was just a grind. So when I came into the workforce I saw that they were saying, well, we have free food or we have pool tables or something like that, but that's not the deep kind of meaningful happiness that people are looking for. They're looking for can you support me when I become a parent? Do you understand that I need to go out and take a run every day? Can you help me develop skills that are important? Do you care about me as a person? And so I think I hit the high tech career in employee engagement right when it was moving from kind of a perks and benefits and fun thing, and I think I love to have fun. But it's not just about fun. It's about deep meaning and purpose and feeling valued and feeling seen and heard and recognized, and that's how I moved into that field. And then I've been working in high tech for the last 12 years trying to put those things into practice, whether it's benefits or recognition programs or fun contests or campaigns or opportunities for growth or courses in L&D to really support that mission.

Dr. Pelè: 

I have to say you and I might be brother and sister from another mother, because you have just explained another great difference that so many people need to hear, which is the difference between sort of the pleasure seeking fun happiness, or hedonic happiness as we like to call it, and the more meaningful, engagement, focused happiness, called eudaimonic happiness, right which, by the way, I renamed that to profitable happiness. That's what this is all about?

Christi Gilhoi: 

Oh, very nice yeah.

Dr. Pelè: 

So the eudaimonic happiness is really a thing and a lot of people need to hear that there is that difference which you've just called out a couple of times right now. But before we go into the question of how this all plays out and how we solve some of these challenges when you lack happiness and you lack engagement and so on, how did you bring music into the world of work? Your music, your fun love, the thing that you do with your family? How did that influence you work for you. How did music come into play for you?

Christi Gilhoi: 

Oh, that's such a great question. I mean I think it's always with me, dr Poulet it's like I know what it's like to be in that flow space. So you pick up a guitar and maybe you don't understand it and then you learn a little and you get feedback and you get better, and you learn some more and you get better, then maybe you start singing and then eventually, hopefully, you get the nerves up to be on stage. So I know what that feels like as a creative and as a musician and so part of it is transposing that into the workplace in terms of how you grow people and have them expand and give them feedback and have them succeed. But partly I also brought music a lot into the companies. So I would hire bands and we would do choreographed dances and we would have clubs where people could get together and jam after work. At Qualcomm in North Carolina we had a room where people had a music club and they would play rock and roll after work every day. So and I have to say, I have one admission and I did abuse my job a little bit once and we were looking for bands for our summer concert programs and I did book my band Grotus, but we did play too. I think it's important to show those hobbies and those things that are joyful right back to that happiness piece and have people see the whole, all of you, so that brought it into programs brought it into things that we funded actually, and then did a little singing myself on the side, which was fun.

Dr. Pelè: 

Well, I have to tell you that you and I are probably the people who may not have become Michael Jackson or Madonna. Ok, so we're like gosh Darnit, we're going to take it to work. So it's all good. And I have to say, if I learn anything from music, it's really the idea of the practice of music, which is something that's so important to you. You understand that people have to actually practice and struggle to build that muscle memory, not just with music, but really with anything, and that includes employee engagement and employee experience and all the things that involve empowering people in the culture of an organization. Tell us what that link is for you the idea of, as you say, building that, the muscle of good leadership and good employees and all that good stuff. How do you do that?

Christi Gilhoi: 

Well, I think in guitar you have to do the scales Not always the most fun, but you need to know the scales. You need to know those fundamental pieces to make this song, and I think what I've seen very successfully in terms of manager enablement and training is that some managers try to come on stage and just sing without knowing the scale or having any practice, and so I think it's just about getting some framework and even some scripts. I see you, I see what you did. Here's why it was important, here's how it made me feel and here's how it connects to the company. If you can codify that in terms of how managers are starting to interact with their team, I think that that becomes the scale in which you build high-performing teams. And then I think there's also a little peer pressure. You get the battle of the bands going, where one manager is doing really well and people want to know what's her secret sauce. Well, bring her on, have her talk about how she manages her team, how she motivates her employees, what she does to really build the culture of an organization, and then see if that can start to bring new managers along, to let them know that this is how we manage here. This is how we build culture here. So really it's behavioral. It's that behavior and that muscle to make sure that you're putting people first instead of the workforce, because if you take care of the people, you'll get the business results. And I do think sometimes generationally as those of us who came up as baby boomers and Gen Xers, I think sometimes we fall back on some of those old habits. It should just be good enough to have a good job and get a paycheck, but I think the lessons that the millennials and the Gen Z have taught us is it's also really important to have balance and have constant feedback and recognition and crowdsourcing and community, and I think we need to work across those generations. To translate a little bit about this isn't about giving everybody trophies, but it's about seeing good work, responding and then connecting that to who you are and who I am as a person.

Dr. Pelè: 

Oh my goodness, I'm just sitting here going. Oh my goodness, because what you're saying in fact I think that's a keynote speech because can you imagine? You're in front of an audience and you're letting them know listen, when you see a great musician, you might think this is magic. It's not. It's a framework that they have labored over for years repetitions, struggling over these scales. And guess what? If you do that too, if you have a framework and then you get really good at that framework, that framework can be what delivers great employee experience, great employee engagement and so on and so forth. I just love the way you position that. And I have to say one more thing. I'm going to be selfish about this. I'm very proud of you because guess what? You and I probably went to the University of Minnesota at the same time. Where did you go? Golden Gophers? I am totally. I got my bachelor's in architecture from the U of M and you got your bachelor of arts, and we won't go into when this all happened. We'll leave that for people to wonder.

Christi Gilhoi: 

Oh, we definitely need to talk about those cold winters. It's good for practicing music when you're stuck in doors all winter.

Dr. Pelè: 

That's why I'm in Texas and you're in San Diego, right? So I just really love just the juxtaposition of music and the practice of music and possibly the practice of frameworks that deliver the success that you are looking for today. Tell us a little bit more about how a person might build some of these, as you say, muscles. How do you get a culture to have more engaged people or people who feel that they are having a positive experience? How do we go from here to there? How do we get that done tangibly?

Christi Gilhoi: 

It's a great question. I think it has to have a lot of modalities, and so where I've seen it be the most successful is where you can define the culture. How do we want to treat each other, how do we want to behave? You can name those behaviors and those cultures. Those pillars are building blocks of culture, and then how do you continually reinforce them? So if you say that we are a transparent culture or a culture of learning, well, are you telling stories that are transparent to support that? And are you a culture of learning? Are you giving people time away to take some courses and to really learn and to take some creative time? So I think it's really about building the culture at that level and then rewarding people who demonstrate those behaviors. So if people are culture leaders, if they are demonstrating the culture to call that out, what gets recognized gets repeated. My friend, dr Bob Nelson always says that. So really trying to steer away from maybe some of the negative and the detractors because they're in every company, the EORs and really focus on those core leaders that are doing it right, amplify them, talk to them, find out what their secret sauce is and then start to put it into either videos or soundbites or scripts or learning courses so that other people can take from that learning, and then it becomes kind of a cultural feedback loop.

Dr. Pelè: 

That's so awesome, and you mentioned our friend, bob Nelson. Dr Bob, I've done some work with him and just an awesome guy. He's a great storyteller, as you are. And on the topic of stories, do you have any favorite stories that you like to share? You don't have to mention the name of the company or anything, but stories that talk about what it looks like when a culture is being developed in the right direction, when employees are feeling like this is a place they want to be and it's beyond just the ping-pong table in the foyer. It's a real, deep, meaningful happiness and engagement. What are your favorite stories about how that comes to be in the world?

Christi Gilhoi: 

Yeah, I think one of the things that was really, really fun was doing at a big company, tech company doing a lot of focus groups and meeting with those frontline engineers, those 23 year olds who are a brand new and career and talking about what would make their work life meaningful. And some of them said there were such simple things. If only my VP, my vice president, could see the work I'm doing, if only he or she would call me or stop by my office or, as we had an online program put a thumbs up on something that I did, if I could be seen, that would be so impactful to me. So I met with them on one side. Then I went to the C-suite and those VP's and I said to them you know, you really need to walk around more and talk to people about what they're doing and engage and give people recognition. And they said, oh, that's not that, you know, that's not that meaningful. And then I started to tell the story about this is this is what your frontline engineers say, this is what your data says, this is what people are saying would change their feeling about work. And so really being the translator between those two groups, because those high-end business leaders are focused on running the business and they're focused on the bottom line and they're focused on the market and they don't always understand how much power that muscle, that daily just doing your scales, every day, five minutes if they would call someone or walk around or say something or shout out to someone can be so impactful with early career professionals.

Dr. Pelè: 

Wow, the idea of a daily practice. How amazing is that? Like, isn't that a crazy thing? Why don't we? Let's have a daily practice about something good. Let's do small things and the small things will somehow become big. You know, I always marvel at how such simple wisdom is sometimes lost on some of the most successful people in the world. In the world of work, it's like just make some people around you happy and maybe everything works right. But you're right, if you could encourage people and you're the translator to do that, things just happen and they're successful. I love that story and I think that's something everyone should sort of remember. Let me ask you if you were to give people just maybe one. Let's say you were on a desert island. You had one piece of advice that you needed to give the world and they said give us this one piece of advice regarding employee experience, employee engagement and the business results that must accompany employee experience and engagement. What would that one big piece of advice be? And then we'll have to make sure they can make it a daily practice down the road.

Christi Gilhoi: 

I think it would be in the area of multiplier effect. You, Dr. Pelè, can talk to people and do podcasts. I, Christi, can meet with people, but I'm limited right, I'm limited but bandwidth or maybe if there's a presentation. So the most successful programs I have had have involved a group of ambassadors or culture bearers or a group of other people who have that same energy and that same love. So if you can find those people in an organization, they could be a security guard, they could be an engineer, they could be a VP Really weaving that network and finding those hundred people in a 10,000 person company who can be your ambassadors and empowering them. It's like that multiplier effect. So I can affect those hundred people and those hundred people can affect those 10,000. So I've had great experience in my last two companies of really nurturing people who have that natural ability to bring that happiness and joy to people and trying to put that into actual programs where they are recognizing people and maybe they're in Japan or maybe they're in Sweden, so you also get that international impact where it's much harder to do that from San Diego. So I think intentionally building that kind of positive army of engagement folks can really help with your programs and strategy.

Dr. Pelè: 

I think, that's just genius because I mean, come on, it's one thing, as you said, it's one thing for you and I to talk about this, but how about we motivate and inspire so many other people to be our voice on this topic and, I think, shifting a little bit about the question of happiness at work and employees well-being and things like that? I wonder, in my experience I'll start with this in my experience, a lot of leaders mean well, but they don't get this very simple thing I think you're talking about. Is there a way to help people understand the importance of employee happiness? I mean, look, I'll tell you, I once worked for a leader. She said to me one day hey, listen, all this emotional stuff you're talking about, dr Pillai, we don't need that here. We just want people to get this stuff done. And I'm just wondering someone like you might just know a good way to help leaders connect at this level. What would you share about that?

Christi Gilhoi: 

Two things, I think. One you need someone leading the charge who's totally determined and totally positive. It's hard work trying to bring happiness and satisfaction to an employee base, so you have to have a true believer. So your energy is incredible. I brought in Dr Bob and had great ambassadors. But you have to be a true believer If whoever's leading the charge needs to really believe that. I would often say I'm putting on my Iron man suit when I went into some of those meetings because a lot of people don't believe it. You've got a lot of detractors and a lot of skepticism. So determination, positivity, and then it's interesting because one of the things, the stories I've been able to tell, is a lot of time these leaders who are further along in their career have forgotten what it's like to be 23, 25, new company and they don't think it's important, like you said. But if you tie it back, sometimes their kids or their niece or their nephew are struggling with this in their life. If you can get that personal story, they're like oh, I get it. That's what my son or daughter or niece or nephew talk about. Making it more personal and I think, seeing people as individual humans versus sort of the employees right and seeing them as having complex selves and trying to address some of the needs that we all have as complex humans.

Dr. Pelè: 

Oh, that is just so true, and I think what you're really saying is some empathy is required. You know, leaders need to recognize that, yes, you're focused this way on getting these results, but these employees also kind of want to feel a certain way, and it's when those two sometimes opposing approaches come together that we get the best organizations. Christy, I want to ask you what are you excited about right now? What are you working on? What do you want to share and where can people find you online to connect with you?

Christi Gilhoi: 

Sure, I'm excited about putting together programs for companies that are trying to figure this out, trying to crack this nut. So I'm interested in helping people put together recognition programs where great work is called out. I'm interested in putting together successful onboarding programs where people feel like when they come on board they understand the culture and where they're working and they feel fired up. I'm interested in helping companies talk about their culture and tell the stories and have the right language and have that one levity, part of that stickiness of a company. So doing a lot of consulting in that area for small companies and also for large institutions where I can come in and really help them solve a problem I think post-pandemic. We're all trying to figure it out. Nobody has all the exact answers and I think it's a great time to experiment, to try things, and so as a consultant it's easy for me to come in, try something, see if it works and then build on that, measure the data and then see where to go from there. So confine me. I'm linked in Christie Guilfoy and happy to share best practices, stories, case studies, examples etc to help anyone out there who's trying to figure out the next steps for their employment strategy.

Dr. Pelè: 

Quick question you betcha, yeah sure, I was going to say how many Minnesota things can we talk into this conversation there? There was three right there Uftah, you betcha, and yeah sure.

Christi Gilhoi: 

That's amazing.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, so, Christie, I just have to say that, when it comes to the idea of building a practice, as you said, best practices, building these muscles, these habits of employees getting what they want and leaders also getting what they want. I want to wish you the very best in everything you do and thank you for bringing just such a lively viewpoint about the whole thing to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. I really appreciate meeting you.

Christi Gilhoi: 

Oh, dr Pillay, I mean you know, when you come away from something where you feel energized and excited, that it's been a good interaction. So, thank you, it's been lovely to see you and your audience and I'd love to talk about happiness and employees. That's my favorite thing.

Dr. Pelè: 

Thanks for tuning in to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. For more episodes, visit drpillaycom. And remember get happy first and success will follow.