We hit publish on the first edition of the Day1 newsletter in January this year, with a clear set of intentions:

Half a year and several rounds of finetuning later, we sent out the tenth dispatch last week.

We wanted to take a step back, see how far we’ve come, and give you a taste of our past issues. And what better way to do that, we thought, than to present a quick summary of our favorite stories from the five best-performing editions yet?

Dive in.

IBM’s cultural rebirth

In 1993, when Lou Gerstner took over as CEO of IBM, it was in financial distress; it had lost nearly $16 billion the previous two years.

IBM was a behemoth, and its size had become its liability as it struggled to keep up with the fast-evolving technology landscape. Lou had his work cut out for him.

The first thing that struck him was the company’s bureaucratic culture. Decisions were slow to be made, and were often overruled by multiple layers of management.

Lou knew he had to transform the culture to save the company. He started with a series of bold moves.

He replaced IBM’s “permanent employment” culture with a performance-based culture where employees were rewarded for their contributions. He also brought in a renewed focus on customer needs. IBM had also become too inwardly focused, and he knew the company needed to start listening to its customers more. He implemented a program called “Customer Value Management” to do this.

Lou transformed IBM’s culture from one that was resistant to change into one that embraced it.

He implemented “Values Jam,” an online forum where employees could discuss and debate the company’s values and goals. This initiative helped create a culture of open communication and collaboration, which allowed IBM to move quickly in response to changing market conditions.

Thanks to Lou Gerstner’s leadership, IBM turned itself around from losing billions to posting record profits in a few years. In the six years up to 2001, Gerstner increased IBM’s revenue by 19%, net income by 83%, and earnings per share by 250%. He also added 100,000 new employees to the payroll.

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success—along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like … I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

~ Lou Gerstner

Lou Gerstner showed that a company’s culture is just as important as its products and services. By creating a culture that embraced change and performance, he achieved one of the most remarkable turnarounds in business history.

Zoom’s benefits breakthrough

Founded in 2011, Zoom, the video communications platform, has been consistently recognized for its workplace culture and benefits – like winning Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards for Best Places to Work in 2022 and BuiltIn’s 2023 Best Places to Work.

Sheila Krueger, head of global benefits at Zoom, is a key player behind this. She transformed the company’s employee wellness and benefits program, and used it as a means to improve employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity.

Zoom’s wellness program includes everything from mental health support, fitness classes, nutrition coaching, to stress management tools. The company also offers financial wellness perks, such as student loan repayment assistance and childcare subsidies.

Sheila’s team didn’t stop there.

From employee surveys and conversations, the Zoom HR team discovered that employees were struggling with vendor fatigue and that existing programs had low engagement. To better use benefits dollars and support employees in different life stages, they launched a “wellness carousel” program.

The team transformed Zoom’s employee wellness benefits into Lifestyle Spending Accounts.

Lifestyle Spending Accounts let employees use their employer-provided funds to pay for wellness-related expenses that best suit their needs. For example, an employee who gets hired right out of college can use the benefits for student loan repayment. Someone else who’s married with kids can pay their mortgage while saving money for their kids’ college.

“The part that benefits plays in overall wellness can really make an employee’s life so much better. And providing a suite of benefits at a better-than-benchmark premium rate makes it even easier for our Talent team to recruit the best to work with us. When you start from a position of caring, happiness, and wellbeing, the candidates and employees can tell.”

~ Sheila Krueger

Unilever’s tech-driven transformation

Unilever is a multinational consumer goods company with over 155,000 employees in 190 countries. With 1,500 employees working solely on shaping their employee experience, the company leverages IT and tech innovation to transform the way their people work.

Unilever’s research discovered that employees spent a day every week on non-value-added tasks. To tackle this, they launched a digital solution that offered an integrated, single point of entry for all employees. Through this, people could easily access information, and get complex queries resolved by an AI chatbot. They then complemented the technology with a front-facing People Experience team, to ensure end-to-end support for employees.

Employees can also raise their concerns on the online platform, and if they don’t get an appropriate response within a week, it gets escalated to top management.

The technology and automation have freed up over 300,000 hours annually for HR and employees, apart from increased employee satisfaction and a quicker query resolution time.

Unilever also makes it a point to listen to employee feedback and involve them in tech decisions.

While NPS surveys and regular pulse checks allow them to gather quantitative data on overall sentiment, the team gives equal importance to qualitative feedback as well.

Unilever has a group of 1,000 employees from different teams, backgrounds, and abilities, called Digital Ninjas. They get early releases of digital solutions, test those upfront, and share feedback about accessibility and overall experience.

“As we do for our consumers, we strive to provide a great everyday experience for all our employees as well, and technology has been a critical enabler in this journey.”

~ BP Biddappa, CHRO, Global Home Care at Unilever

Google’s data odyssey

For most companies, employee engagement surveys are HR check-off boxes or last-resort damage-control tools at best.

But companies like Google are exceptions to this norm. The People Analytics and People Operations teams at the company use employee feedback to systematically and continuously optimize their employee experience.

Their data-driven approach to decision-making is deeply ingrained in Google’s engineer-driven workforce, where nearly every decision is backed by data.

Having said that, Google acknowledges that pure input/output metrics alone cannot capture the full story of employee experience. While productivity metrics are important indicators of effectiveness, they do not encompass the human aspect of HR.

To tackle this, Google integrates qualitative data alongside quantitative metrics to gain deeper insights into the dynamics of its inner culture. Two notable projects in this area are Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle.

Project Oxygen was about ascertaining the role of effective managers in their ecosystem. Through surveys, they discovered a general aversion to hierarchy among Googlers, including the co-founders. They considered flattening the company’s structure. And before implementing the change, Google’s People Analytics team was brought in to determine the real impact of managers.

The team examined managers’ performance ratings, employee surveys, and productivity metrics. To their surprise, great managers led to more productive and engaged teams. Further analysis of survey comments, performance evaluations, and double-blind interviews with highest- and lowest-rated managers identified the 10 characteristics of a great manager, which Google now uses to identify and train leaders.

In Project Aristotle, Google sought to figure out the formula for creating effective teams. They compared qualitative surveys from three major employee groups with sales data, stacked against quarterly quotas.

The findings showed that while executives emphasized productivity, employees valued team culture, and team leaders placed greater importance on ownership and goals. By combining human experience with hard data, Google identified the five essential factors to create a positive work environment.

Google’s use of People Analytics helps them gain valuable insights into employee engagement, and foster trust between the employer and employees. And through their active participation in shaping the company, Googlers also experience a sense of equality and ownership.

Hudl’s feedforward focus

As a software company that offers video analysis tools for sports teams, Hudl understands the value of performance reviews.

The company takes a unique approach to performance management, and uses a real-time feedback system and a feedforward culture as key drivers of its employee experience.

“…we realized many of those hours were eaten up by leaders’ discussions behind closed doors about the outcomes of the process. We wondered if we could somehow shift our investment of time from talking to ourselves about ratings to talking to our people about their performance and careers—from a focus on the past to a focus on the future.”

Their #RealTalk initiative has been instrumental in this change. Through this initiative, they strive to create a culture that encourages ongoing feedback and conversation between team members to improve performance and foster growth.

Instead of the traditional annual performance review, the company provides continuous feedback to its employees. This process allows for immediate improvement and engagement, as well as a more personalized approach to coaching.

According to Adam Parrish, former HR leader at Hudl, the #realtalk initiative benefits both team leaders and members alike. Employees feel valued and supported, leading to a more productive and positive work environment. Managers are also able to address issues as they arise, rather than wait for an annual review. By swapping traditional reviews and appraisals for continuous and real-time feedback, the Hudl team has seen a significant increase in employee initiative and engagement.

Furthermore, Hudl’s feedforward culture encourages team members to focus on future-oriented feedback rather than dwelling on past mistakes. By emphasizing growth and development, employees are encouraged to take ownership of their performance and proactively strive for improvement.

The stories featured across the 10 editions have shown us one thing: work as we know it is rapidly changing with the times. And organizations need to consistently renew and refine the way they shape their employee experience, to keep up.

And we will continue to help them on this journey.

As the Day1 newsletter keeps evolving, our original intention will remain the same – to provide subscribers with timely and timeless knowledge on employee experience, and the future of work in general. If this is something that matters to you too, come join us.

We’ll save a seat for you.