It can be very challenging to quantify the results of efforts in human capital management (HCM). This is of course one of the contributing factors to the unfortunate but common view of human resources (HR) departments as cost centers, when in fact they are assets- when allowed to function properly and in pursuit of their potential. Given the necessary resources, a good HR team, or even a single HR manager, can transform an entire business's employee experience and, therefore, its workforce.
Every workplace has a culture. There is no such thing as a lack thereof. Like an individual's health, an organization's culture exists by default; it does not need to be introduced through effort. There is, however, such a thing as poor culture, just as there is such a thing as poor health. What requires effort, then, is not generating the culture but nurturing it, shaping it into a strong, effective version of itself- one that is capable of achieving its goals. And it does take a strong employee culture for an organization to achieve its goals. This is why HR is so critical. No other team has the know-how to shape employee experience, or the expertise to promote engagement. Yes, they need buy-in and support from organizational leadership, managers, and staff, but HR teams wield much power to mold an organization's culture into one that can attract, retain, and empower top talent, and to align an entire workforce with a business's strategy.
Valet Living is a United States-based company providing amenity services such as package delivery, waste removal, and dog walking to the residential communities with which it partners. The company operates in more than 40 states, serves 1.8 million homes, and employs approximately 10,000 associates (the term Valet Living uses for employees). The vast majority of this workforce, around 8,500 people in total, comprises W-2 part-time workers. Much like independent contractors participating in the gig economy, many Valet Living associates work for the company on an as-needed basis. Their hours may differ from one week to the next, and they tend not to see their managers in person over the course of day-to-day work. In fact, many associates report to managers who live in other states.
3Sixty Insights spoke with Nicole Davies, Valet Living's vice president of talent optimization. As head of this department, Davies oversees the company's learning, talent, and performance management functions, what she calls "the really fun and exciting side of HR,"- i.e., in the 3Sixty Insights parlance, the empathic, abstract side of HR.
Davies joined Valet Living in July 2017 with a mandate to focus on learning, talent, and performance. At this time, there was no infrastructure in place to support these functions: the company was not using a learning management system (LMS) at all, and performance management was handled, as it at so many organizations, through an annual review process which Davies says " was dreaded by all managers. They hated the experience." Reflective of this, at least in part, engagement scores for Valet Living's field managers, a very large contingent of the company's workforce, were at an all-time low, and year-over-year turnover for these employees was at an all-time high.
Nicole Davies, vice president of talent optimization at Valet Living, joined the company in July 2017 with a mandate to focus on learning, talent and performance. At that time, there was no infrastructure in place to support these functions.
On top of the discontent, misalignment, and undue friction these conversations generated, Davies observes that there was also a substantial opportunity cost to relying on a once-a-year meeting. In the absence of regular check-ins, managers were not getting up-to-date information about their associates' needs. There was just no outlet for even simple things to surface, such as evolving circumstances that might impact availability. "It was forcing our managers to be really reactive, in the moment, instead of being able to be proactive to the needs and wants of their team."
Senior leaders realized that the low levels of engagement and high degree of turnover were dramatically impacting the business. The timing was right to focus instead on open communication and a culture of recognition. And Nicole pivoted to provide positive, constructive, engaging feedback. After just one cycle, fewer than six months into her new role, Davies had resolved to overhaul the program for reviewing employees' performance. "I said, 'No more. We need a different way of doing things,'" she recalls.
Valet Living's Business Model, Related Workforce Challenges
Valet Living's business model makes for an atypical employee experience. Working on-site and as needed, associates are geographically siloed, and they may never see their managers or colleagues in person. All this poses obvious logistical challenges for employee engagement. Valet Living managers rely on technology to communicate not only instructions and clients needs, but also anything else they might need to share with their teams. In the absence of a solution that supported and prioritized engagement , interactions were less meaningful, more superficial and transactional in nature. "We needed a more consistent way to be able to connect those folks and create that trusting relationship," says Davies.
Valet Living's unorthodox, unconventional work hours for employees posed attrition-related challenges as well: Davies reports that Valet Living was seeing more than 150 Percent turnover among part-time associates. Davies notes that employers with similar-scale opportunities that might be less physically strenuous or involve less time out in the elements all constitute competition for Valet Living, which, she says " makes it really tricky for us, and therefore even heightens the need for engagement-related focus." Valet Living's reporting concluded that associates who reach the 90-day mark tend to remain with the company for significant tenures, but that getting them to that point was a challenge.
Davies calls Quantum Workplace "our epicenter of talent." Valet Living is now using Quantum Workplace for nearly every element of talent optimization.
Davies hypothesizes that the uncertainty one might encounter at the start of any part-time role ("How much work are they actually going to have? Will I like working in the building I'm going to go to?") was compounded for new Valet Living associates because they might also feel less connected to the company, having never met their managers.
Because they do not meet with leadership or travel to company premises, Valet Living associates also do not necessarily have an accurate picture of the larger organization, particularly when they are new. Davies notes that many of these part-time workers likely are not aware of the size of the business or even where it is headquartered. “We used to joke that they probably just thought we traveled by pickup truck, because on day one, somebody would show up with all the HR paperwork in hand and say, ‘fill this form out.’ And so that was the extent of what people knew about us.” In an effort to address this, Davies worked with the marketing team to initiate an internal branding campaign aimed at helping associates feel like a part of the larger organization—and be aware that there is plenty of opportunity to grow within the company.
At the time when Davies signed on, Valet Living typically filled its district manager roles with outside hires. “It was a hard hire for us,” she says, adding that the “split shift” nature of the role made it difficult to fill.
It was also challenging to provide those part-time associates, operating as relatively solitary individuals, a sense of their place in the organization. Valet Living functions as a service, not a product, and places its people squarely at the center. But conveying that to the people who might never actually meet their manager, let alone see the company’s headquarters, was a real problem. “Culturally, we’re trying to indoctrinate these people that may only work for us three hours a week or five hours a week,” says Davies. Instilling the understanding that “they are Valet Living, they are the person that represents our company,” was difficult in the circumstances.
The gaps between the company’s and the employees’ sense of the culture were clear from the survey responses that Valet Living received from its part-time associates. “We felt like we were doing some really cool stuff around diversity, equity, and inclusion, but our part-time people had no idea,” says Davies. That is, the part-time people who responded to the survey. Participation was limited among employees who were not assigned a Valet Living domain email address, due to the simple fact that it was difficult to tell real surveys from spam.
Davies calls Quantum Workplace “our epicenter of talent.” Valet Living is now using Quantum Workplace for nearly every element of talent optimization.
Quantum Workplace represented a solution to every one of the challenges Davies and her team sought to address. Valet Living needed a tool that could help connect employees to their teams and to the business, transcending their geographically scattered nature with true engagement and empowerment. The vendor fit the bill and was also able to provide a vastly improved pipeline for employee feedback.
Quantum Workplace represented a solution to every one of the challenges Davies and her team sought to address. First, Valet Living needed a tool that could help connect employees to their teams and to the business, transcending their geographically scattered nature with true engagement and empowerment. Quantum Workplace fit the bill in that it “could reach everybody where they are across the country, even though they physically may not be seeing each other or even talking to each other in person.”
Quantum Workplace was also able to provide a vastly improved pipeline for employee feedback. Where before, Valet Living was “not getting a lot of voice from the part-time associate,” Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work-qualified engagement survey offered a way to invite and encourage participation from the 8,000 or more workers. Valet Living can send a survey notification via text message, so that employees know the survey is open and can respond during their work hours rather than having to wait and catch an email at their personal computers later, on their own time. Davies notes that she appreciated the ability to “curate rather than create” the questions: “That was a big win for us.” She also likes that the Quantum Workplace tool provides automated insights based on the survey responses. “It almost multiplies our HR workforce,” she says, providing self-service opportunities for improvement to some 500 managers automatically, something her small HR team does not have the capacity to do.
The annual performance review process was a substantial pain point for both managers and associates. To create a more engaging process, and to eliminate that pain point, Davies and her team decided “we’re going to have monthly performance-based conversations; they’re going to be future-focused, instead of looking backwards; they’re obviously going to be informed by the present; and they’re going to be all qualitative.”
Davies reports that she is quite pleased with the way Quantum Workplace’s Talent Reviews, which present all the information related to talent management at Valet Living in one spot for her easy viewing, calling it “some of the coolest stuff that they’ve got.” She adds, “It’s not the reason people tend to come to Quantum [Workplace], but it might be one of the reasons that they stay.” Davies can get a holistic, easily accessible look at associates to understand, for example, what their last five performance conversations looked like or how their managers rated them in terms of potential and retention risk. “It’s a one-stop shop, where managers can click in and see all those things in one place, which I just love about it.” And, critically, she says it allows her to “have really strategic conversations with our leaders around where we’ve got gaps and opportunities.” The system has afforded leadership a new perspective on Valet Living’s talent.
Quantum Workplace did prove to be the hoped-for cure for what ailed Valet Living’s HCM. Addressing the logistical challenges enabled Davies and her team to realize new potential in their own roles and for the company’s workforce.
Quantum Workplace did prove to be the hoped-for cure for what ailed Valet Living’s HCM. Addressing the logistical challenges enabled Davies and her team to realize new potential in their own roles and for the company’s workforce.
Engaging, Employee-Driven Culture and Brand
With Quantum’s support on surveys, response rates have increased exponentially, and Valet Living is now able to use employee sentiment to shape the employer culture. “We bottom-up build,” says Davies, by asking associates for their feedback every year and taking the results to the senior leadership team. Themes that emerge from these surveys and from monthly and year-end conversations are then built into the organization’s goals and brand. “The two really walk hand-in-hand: associate culture and employer brand.”
Previously, goals were cascaded downward, and employees did their best to align. “It worked,” says Davies, “in terms of helping people understand what was in the minds and hearts of our senior leaders.” Now, though, goal setting works in the opposite direction. With access to their associates’ input thanks to Quantum, Valet Living leadership is able to leverage the insight of the team members who work directly with the clients. Organizational goals are aligned with those of the workforce, and associates feel like an important part of the process.
Davies and her team are also now able to identify and adapt when their messaging is missing the mark, “just by inviting their voices,” and adapt accordingly. “That was another huge win for us.”
Engaging Performance Management
Valet Living has conducted performance conversations every month since implementing Quantum Workplace in December of 2017. Davies says she’s found that managers appreciated the opportunity to reach beyond the next 30- or 90-day period and investigate the associate’s thoughts around their long-term goals within the company. She notes that these discussions also double as a basic sort of succession planning tool, and they provide managers critical insight into associates’ lives, allowing them to be proactive rather than reactive in adapting schedules according to changing circumstances, for example.
These monthly conversations have successfully eliminated the pain points that used to accompany annual performance evaluations. Davies no longer has to spend any time tracking reluctant participants down, and Valet Living sees a participation rate of 88 to 90 percent each month. “People see the value in using the Quantum Workplace tool,” she says, and actively engage in the process. “I get asked all the time, ‘How did you do that? How did you convince the 450 managers spread across 40 states that this was a good use of their time?’ I think I just eliminated the pain.”
Because employees are participating in performance conversations on a monthly basis, the annual summation is now a breeze, according to Davies. By the time December rolls around, managers and associates have collaborated, each providing written notes in advance, on 12 conversations
Because employees are participating in performance conversations monthly, the annual summation is now a breeze, according to Davies. By the time December rolls around, managers and associates have collaborated, each providing written notes in advance, on 12 conversations. Managers and associates have two investments of time each month:
The first investment of time is to draft their written responses to the monthly performance discussion questions. Since each monthly topic is current or future-focused, the answers are usually top-of- mind and take only a few minutes to compose.
In certain ways, in other words, managers spend more time, but it is time much better spent, according to Davies. “It is hard to estimate time saved. That said, I would say that it is a better investment of time since the process is designed to create a more open and trusting relationship between the associate and their manager and maximize performance.” Meanwhile, however, responding to a single question each month is hardly burdensome, and it has solved for the problem of blindsiding as well. A recent survey showed that 74 percent of Valet Living associates “clearly understand how [their] performance is measured.” Davies says that with the new process in place, participants in these conversations are “able to stay focused on the future, and it just feels nicer for people.” The process results in what she calls “a storybook of performance.”
Internal Recruiting and Mobility
With Quantum Workplace implemented, Davies says Valet Living has seen “a tremendous ramp-up” in employees growing within the company. Today more than one-third of the organization’s job openings are filled by internal candidates, and more than 97 percent of Valet Living’s people leaders have at least one high-potential associate identified in the company’s talent mobility tracking tool. Case in point, where District Manager positions primarily used to go to outside hires, more than 50 percent are now filled by former members of Valet Living’s part-time workforce. “We never had that experience before,” says Davies. “We weren’t talking to them about a future within the company, really getting a sense of what they wanted or needed, and so we just weren’t tapping them.” Plus, it’s a substantial savings. It costs Valet Living $2,500 per external hire for full- time hires for recruiting advertising and, “when factoring in soft costs, that goes up substantially,” says Davies.
With Quantum Workplace implemented, more than one-third of Valet Living’s job openings are now filled by internal candidates. Additionally, where District Manager positions primarily used to go to outside hires, more than 50 percent are now filled by former members of Valet Living’s part-time workforce.
With this “robust internal pipeline” in place, leadership has discovered that District Managers hired from within the company tend to come to the role with a strong sense of the expectations they will need to meet. Retention has also improved around this previously high- attrition, “hard-hire” role.
It’s not just the District Manager position that has shifted. From 2019 to 2021, in fact, Valet Living also saw a 10 percent reduction in turnover among part-time employees. Among the factors driving this, Quantum Workplace’s talent components support internal mobility across the board.
Davies shares an eye-opening story from Accelerate, a year-long program for high performers which culminates in a meeting with senior leadership. In 2018, Valet Living’s CEO commented to Davies that a particular employee he’d met through the program seemed super sharp. “And I thought to myself, ‘what a disservice we’ve done,’” she says, “because this exceptional employee would not have been on senior leadership’s radar without the program, and surely there were others who weren’t a part of the small Accelerate cohort.”
From 2019 to 2021, Valet Living saw a 10 percent reduction in turnover among part-time employees. Among the factors driving this, Quantum Workplace’s talent components support internal mobility across the board.
Quantum Workplace has helped her solve for that lack of visibility with a tool for collecting both “Valet Living vitals” and manager sentiment regarding top performers. Twice a year, Davies compiles that information into a book for senior management listing every employee in the organization who seems to have strong potential. “It’s a huge win to just know who’s out there,” she says.
Asked how much administrative work Quantum Workplace has eliminated around performance reviews, Davies replies, “All of it.” She clarifies that she does still spend time on this important aspect of talent optimization. Now that they see willing participation in the process, however, “the magic just happens. So, there is no administrative process, really.” Instead, the time she spends on performance conversations is now creative, and it feels like an investment rather than a waste. “There’s this call, now, for me to come up with these fun, interesting performance-based conversation questions” for each month. She devotes time to developing questions that will help align associates with the organization’s larger goals and priorities, rather than chasing people down just to get them to complete the evaluations.
Asked how much administrative work Quantum Workplace has eliminated around performance reviews, Davies replies, “All of it.” She clarifies that she does still spend time on this important aspect of talent optimization, but the work around performance conversations is now creative, and it feels like an investment rather than a waste.
“The time I’m now investing is much more interesting to me as a talent professional, because I’m starting conversations in the business we never had before.” In other words, now that the administrative burden has been lifted, Davies is able to be more strategic, living up to HR’s potential to add value to the organization rather than dedicating all her time to ensuring the necessary boxes are checked.
It’s a recurring theme. Newfound efficiencies in HR administration are so massive, that to measure the value in terms of time saved misses the point. The productivity gain is real, but the real value in the productivity gain is in the ultimate outcome. For Davies, at Valet Living, this value has been in her ability to help the HR department become more strategic and intentional in driving employee engagement and providing counsel to organizational leadership. When HR has a vision, this is the outcome when administrative time savings approach 100 percent.
Moving forward, Davies hopes to further integrate Quantum Workplace into Valet Living’s talent-acquisition process. She notes that Valet Living is currently hiring for a few senior positions and is leveraging Quantum Workplace as a selling point, letting candidates know that they will have these tools available to support them as leaders. But, she says, “I don’t think we do enough to really highlight it or celebrate it with our entry-level folks.”
The employer is still seeing higher attrition than it would like to among associates in their first 90 days. Engaging that particular segment of the workforce is a top area of focus at the moment, and Davies says that she and her team are “trying to do all kinds of innovative and creative things to try and bridge that gap” and usher new associates through to the other side of their initial three months. They will no doubt investigate further usages of Quantum Workplace in the process.
On a recent retreat, the senior leadership team spent two days discussing the future of the company’s talent. The focus was entirely forward-facing. “I would not be able to have those conversations if I were stuck in that reactive HR cycle,” says Davies. With Quantum Workplace, fortunately, that is no longer the case at Valet Living.
On a recent retreat, Valet Living’s senior leadership team spent two days discussing the future of the company’s talent. The focus was entirely forward- facing: “What do we think the client needs next? And does Valet Living have the competencies, the talents, and abilities in place now to be able to take them to the next level?”
That is the ideal. As Davies says, “We should always be living in that state of the abstract or the empathetic.” And implementing Quantum Workplace has enabled Valet Living’s talent optimization to ascend to that state. With Quantum’s tools in place, Davies and her team can focus on the higher purpose of performance conversations rather than on the base necessity of simply checking the box. They can promote employee development and help managers do so as well. They can seek out employee feedback and act on it. In short, they are able to function proactively with Quantum Workplace’s support underpinning talent operations. “I would not be able to have those conversations if I were stuck in that reactive HR cycle,” says Davies. With Quantum Workplace, fortunately, that is no longer the case at Valet Living.
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