Putting Employees First with Anthony Vaughan

Summary

In this episode, Anthony (AJ) Vaughan host of the E1B2 podcast joined us to talk about why not putting people first is a mistake and how we can learn from employees and the power of scaling your feedback process.

Resources

The E1B2 Podcast

Transcript

Kyla:

Good morning and welcome. I’m Kyla Sims

Adam:

I’m Adam Bradford, and you’re watching the Bananatag morning show. So you must be very intelligent

Kyla:

But depending on where you’re tuning in from. This might not be your morning. It might be your lunch. It might be your happy hour. Regardless, you will find us here every Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 AM. Pacific 12:00 PM Eastern, and we’ll be here interviewing incredible communicators and thought leaders from around the world about what it’s like navigating the COVID-19 crisis. Getting some tips and tricks for making sure that you’re connecting and we’ll also be having some laughs as well.

Adam:

Absolutely. Now we are so glad that you’re tuned in. We see you in the chat. We’re glad that you like the elevator music that we’ve got during the countdown, we couldn’t really decide if we’d liked it or it was making us nervous, but-

Kyla:

It’s a little controversial. Actually, again, it’s a little controversial. Some people like it, some people hate it.

Adam:

Natasha thinks it’s reminiscent of the 70s, Tiki bar. I like it. So thank you for tuning in. We’ve got Amy from Minnesota. We’ve got people from all over. So say hi, tell us where you’re from and send us your questions throughout today’s show. Meanwhile, you may have noticed we have an amazing guest with us today. Anthony Vaughn, who prefers AJ is an out of the box. rappel hybrid, obsessed with all things, entrepreneurship and employee experience. He’s a former two time founder, advisor, executive and proud son. His rise in the world of HR is one that is definitely not typical, but his focus and dedication to putting employees first drives him to help forever change the world of work. Today he joins us from his home in Baltimore. Please. Welcome AJ Vaughn.

AJ:

How are you guys doing? I love the intro. So I love it. Anyway.

Adam:

Now use it on your show reel.

AJ:

As I was listening, I was like, “This does sound pretty good. I like this.” So I appreciate it.

Kyla:

I love it. So before we get started AJ, do you have a cup of tea today?

AJ:

I do.

Kyla:

What is in that cup?

AJ:

In front of it, it looks like it’s a 1965, maybe Camaro here or something like that. And then there’s some in here. So it looks pretty good.

Kyla:

What kind of tea? What kind of tea are you rocking?

AJ:

Just some classic green tea.

Kyla:

Nice green tea. We haven’t had green tea on the show yet.

AJ:

Okay, cool. Just a classic.

Kyla:

We’ve had lots of British tea, but no green tea.

AJ:

Okay. So I’m enjoying it.

Kyla:

So today we are going to chat about the internal communicators role in getting executive buy-in. We’re going to talk about ensuring that employee feedback is put to good use. We’re going to be talking about putting the human back into internal comms. But first we’re going to get to know AJ just a little bit better.

Adam:

That’s right. It’s our favorite segment of the day. It’s getting to know you. The rules are pretty simple. You got 30 seconds on the clock. We’ve got a bunch of questions you’ve not been prepared and you have to do is sit back and say the first thing that comes to mind. Sound good.

AJ:

I’m ready. I’m ready.

Adam:

All right. Let’s dive in. What’s your go to delivery food during isolation?

AJ:

Ooh. Chipotle

Kyla:

What’s the last show that you binged.?

AJ:

I binged a lot of shows. Entourage. That’s out of the box.

Adam:

It’s such a good show. Favorite place in the world?

AJ:

Exactly where I am right now.

Kyla:

Oh, what did you want to be when you were little?

AJ:

A sports agent?

Adam:

Can you pronounce Elon Musk and Grimes baby name?

AJ:

I don’t even know what their baby names are.

Kyla:

It’s A weird, it’s just a bunch of Roman numerals.

AJ:

That’s interesting.

Kyla:

Who inspires you most?

AJ:

Oh my mom. Yeah.

Adam:

And a very important question. What is the best dinosaur?

AJ:

Don’t know too many dinosaurs. What’s the smallest one. Let’s go there. A little out of the box.

Adam:

No, that’s good.

Kyla:

I don’t even know.

Adam:

That is out of the box. Good choice.

AJ:

The one that’s underrated.

Kyla:

That one. I like it. Perfect.

Adam:

Well, now that we are acquainted, let’s get down to it, shall we. Fantastic. So trying to find the right graphic here. So we can do you justice. AJ you host a podcast which is called E1B2, can you tell us a little bit about it?

AJ:

Yeah. So about eight months ago, I decided to start the E1B2 podcast employees first business second. It really stemmed from just, we don’t have to get too much into it, but it stemmed from a really tough situation I went through my own entrepreneurial career where I did not put an employee first. That was really the reason of why the business does not exist today. So I really wanted to try to create the podcast to kind of just bring a lot of thought leaders together, learn from them first and foremost, because I don’t directly traditionally come from this world.

                So I wanted to learn a lot. And then also wanted to kind of test out a lot of my out of the box perspectives in real time and see how the listeners and subscribers would gravitate to it. And then inevitably see how the guests would gravitate to it. My approach to this E1B2 philosophy is a very practical, but it tends to be a little out of the box. So I don’t know. I just try to put out some content to the world that I think it needs to be heard a little bit more and implemented in business. So it’s something I’m passionate about.

Adam:

I have to admit it’s really embarrassing. I only realized in this moment E1B2 to employees first business second. It takes a bit of time.

AJ:

Yeah, it’s okay. It’s okay.

Adam:

What you’re saying resonates though, our CEO, Corey, has a story kind of similar to that from the early years of Bananatag, where he’s walking in the office and ask the employee how they were doing and just for real feedback and their experience. They said, “It’s great. I love the work, but I feel I’m a number.” That really resonated with him and since then, the focus on culture at the company is huge and employee experience. So you can’t underestimate how that transforms your workers’ lives.

AJ:

100%

Kyla:

I’m curious why you chose podcasting for this particular venture?

AJ:

So this is actually interesting. So I suffer from severe ADD. I have throughout my entire life, I took medicine for 15 years, so I’m not great writer. I’m not a great writer, not a traditionally great reader. So I tried a lot of different forms of communication and I’ve just been told throughout my life that I was great at communicating. Great at just kind of resonating with people, making people feel comfortable. Yeah, just decided that podcasting would be the go to move and I’m enjoying it. Yeah. It’s creating a lot of opportunities that I didn’t expect.

Kyla:

What are some of the things that you’ve learned from doing the podcasting?

AJ:

Huh? What are some things that I’ve learned? That building up an audience actually through podcasting is a lot harder than a lot of people make it seem. There’s a lot of different tactics and nuances that you have to get involved with to really grow that listenership, if you don’t have a lot of ancillary dollars laying around to generate ads and such. So that’s probably one thing I’ve learned. And then on the podcasts itself, I’ve actually learned that a lot of my out of the box perspectives are not as foreign as I thought they were, which is nice to hear, to know that I’m on the right track, so.

Adam:

Well, hopefully we have a multiplication of audience that will come out of today. We’ve got some viewers tuning in from all over the US and the world. Hi Kristen, in Indianapolis. I know, you know Kristin Hancock.

AJ:

Yeah. She’s on the podcast.

Kyla:

She’s amazing.

Adam:

[crosstalk 00:10:22].

Kyla:

[inaudible 00:10:27.

Adam:

Dangerous.

Kyla:

So AJ why is the human element so central to the work that you do? You speak about it a lot.

AJ:

Yeah. I’ll give a very brief story. I’ll try not to cry. So my very first business I started when I was actually 19. So I was still a kid I’m just now maturing. My mom tried to tell me. So long story short, had a business doing very well. And then inevitably one of my top employees said, “Look, I want a little bit more of a role here. I want some equity in the brand.” Me being in a very arrogant 19 year old kid, former D one athlete, just being an idiot just completely said, “No, you’re crazy. That will never happen.” All he really wanted was a nice long steak dinner, a few drinks, and just really talk about his future and really wanted to just explain to me why he felt he deserved that.

                And now that I’m looking back on it hindsight 2020, he was the linchpin of every single contract that we had within the organization. Now from a business perspective, that was a horrible way of building the organization. But let’s put that to the side at the human element. I could have at least had that conversation. I could have at least showed some empathy and some compassion for what he wanted and would have been interested in it. I didn’t do that. So why I’m so interested in the human element is that was the exact reason the business ended. He walked away from the brand a little under six months later brand literally went to zero because of a few different factors, but that was the main factor. And ever since then, I really care a lot about this. It’s more important at a very emotional level for me than I think a lot of other practitioners in the space. So it’s really close to my heart.

Kyla:

Well, you’ve experienced it firsthand. It’s interesting because big brands, I feel in the last couple of years are finally realizing that this is a thing and actually talking about professional development of their people. Or giving them the proper balance and actually addressing that human element. But a lot of people never really thought of that or put any importance on it because they didn’t have the experience of the true one-to-one like, “Oh, we lost this person and it was a big deal. We could have done things differently.” So I think that even on a small scale, that’s such an important lesson broadly for organizations. So that’s really great. I’m curious, when you think about internal communications, so employee communication, and we’re thinking about the human element, how do practitioners really weave that in a bigger setting?

AJ:

So in a bigger setting I think… And look, I’m probably the wrong person to talk to as it pertains to scaling that human element, right? Because for me, I like to try to scale the unscalable, right? For example, I’ll give you a very practical example. The company that I was with recently before we got shut down due to COVID, we were looking at almost 200 employees. And again, that’s not big on the scale of, there are companies that have thousands of employees, but at that scale, I had my CEO tell me it’s impossible for you to try to conduct one-on-one conversations and new career mapping at the individual level. Let’s try to figure out other avenues, right? Surveys, things of that nature to kind of understand and get a pulse on what people wanted and what people would never want to do.

                I accepted that, but I still went ahead and went throughout my process over a two month period of time, I would have thoughtful one-on-one conversations that are 30 minute, 45 minute clip until 9:00, 10:00 in evening at sometimes because again, throughout my personal situations, I really wanted to get a true sense. I wanted to see their eyes. I want it to feel the energy in the room. I want it to actually know what was happening and at a macro level, again if you’re a company of 500, 600 people, it may take you eight months. I don’t know. But I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth it. I’ve heard Claude Silver of Vaynermedia talk about this. That’s a perfect example. They have a very big brand. I think they’re maybe 1,000, maybe 1,500 people now. She said over the course of eight months, she conducted 15, 20 minute meetings with every single employee. And that’s a direct, direct internal communication that I think is important. That is a version of scaling unscalable that I really appreciate.

Adam:

Here’s the thing in the world right now, which is mostly digital. It’s easier than ever. I think we have all of these constraints in our minds about, “Oh, well, maybe I’ll go to the other office when I can travel there.” And three months, there’s no reason you can’t have the CEO doing breakfast with the CEO every week and after COVID as well.

AJ:

100%, at the very least in person and via platforms like there’s Zoom or other platforms, you can do a company wide fireside chat, you can get really creative that way. You can have 70, 80, 100, 500 of your employees sitting on a chat here and just listening and have someone, kind of keeping track of what’s being said and answering questions in real time, as the person that’s kind of going through the information. So there’s different ways to do it. But I really liked that one to one or one to small group setting. Because I can just feel… You get more out of it, you get the truth out of it. So that’s just my personal perspective of it.

Kyla:

Well, I think that you’re right on the money. Because a couple of weeks ago, we were talking to Angela Sinickas she’s been in internal communications doing measurement stuff before it was cool. We were talking a little bit to her about, how do you start measuring your internal communications? She said, “Sit down with people and talk to them.” That’s the first step. Talk to people, get a pulse on what’s going on, have focus group, ask questions. Put things out there and see how people respond and have your little circle of people that you trust to try things on and then go wider.

                So I think there is some difficulties with scaling one-to-one conversations, but the sentiment is still true that we still want to get that feedback and that feedback is so important. There is something to be said about creating that personal environment, the kind of things that you might get out of a one-on-one are not necessarily the things that people would say in a bigger group. So it’s really important. Of course, everybody loves to feel they’re cared about. Having someone actually sit down with you and talk to you it’s a big deal that they’re taking time out of their day to do that. I think it’s really great.

Adam:

There is a great conversation going on in the chat right now. People have been very inspired by you sharing some of your earlier perhaps learning experiences in your career. Michael Blackburn, who we’d seen on the show before, it’s in our mistakes and stumbles that we find the most growth. So lots of inspiration in the conversation. So keep the questions.

AJ:

Appreciate it.

Adam:

Yeah. Keep the questions coming in the chat. Meanwhile, speaking of feedback, Bananatag, we’re big on measurement naturally. Our customers, these are our pulse survey tool to gather feedback from their employees every week, every day. But gathering feedback is just one part of the equation. Can you talk to us about the biggest mistake you see brands making once they ask their employees for input.

AJ:

This is something you probably heard a million times, but I’m still seeing brands made this mistake, not implementing what they receive, right? Again, at a macro level and a micro level, my little small world and the people that I’ve talked to, they are collecting the data just to check the box, right? It’s part of their job description to put out these surveys and collect data and so they’re doing it right. I don’t want to get in this whole conversation actually of a… I was actually going to say something, but I don’t want to be too controversial here of the mindsets of why certain people just check the box. So let’s go beyond that, but they just check the box, right? They check the box and then there’s no executive meeting. There’s no thoughtful process or conversation at the high level between those executives.

                Okay. Let’s look at this data. Let’s go through this thoughtfully, let’s set a three, four hour meeting. Let’s really skim through here and pull some silver linings. And then let’s say, you’re not even going to pull any silver linings. Let’s say you’re not even going to implement anything that came back. You can at least reach out to those employees, those buckets, those categories of the feedback you got and let them know that they’re being heard. That you guys are going to consider some things or that you guys are going to try to find a way in the future to implement it. But right now, maybe it’s not the right time.

                I think there’s something to be said there, but from what I’ve been saying, and again, I don’t want to speak at a broad level. A lot of people just checking the box because it’s part of the job description. It’s a part of the deliverable. They don’t want to lose their job. They don’t want to get in trouble. So they do what they need to do to get by. The best way I can put it, that irritates me. Let’s just leave it there.

Kyla:

Well, and it’s interesting because what you’re saying or what I’m hearing is a non-response is a response. When you don’t reply to people or you don’t tell them that you’ve heard them, that in itself is a response. I think Priya said that in the chat here, she said, “You’re just telling them we don’t care. We don’t care.” It’s interesting though, because I know that a lot of… We’ve seen this on the measurement side. So Bananatag does all of these metrics with emails. So you get overnights and all this other stuff, we definitely see with some communicators. This is not to put them down, but some people are afraid of getting that feedback. They’re afraid of getting those numbers because they don’t want to see the bad stuff.

                They don’t want to see that they might not be doing the best job or that there’s room for improvement. But our CMO, Chris Wagner, he always calls it. He always explained it as like, you’re afraid of the bad poop, but it’s a golden opportunity, right? You can only go up, even if the feedback is bad, even if the numbers are abysmal. What a great opportunity you can only go up, you can only improve. So it takes a little bit of coaxing, I think.

AJ:

I didn’t mean to cut you off, but you know, what’s interesting about that. I’m always curious of why. Again, I get really deep into psychology. I’m always curious of why a CEO or CMO or COO or one of the executives, or even a manager. Why wouldn’t you want to unpack the negative? For me, I get excited about the negative. I get excited when I get a call from, I wont disclose the name. I get a call, this is a real story, I get a call from someone that is completely stressed out to the point where there may be tears coming. I get excited about that moment to go into that one-on-one, having thoughtful conversation. Or have a dialogue over email, or have a dialogue via Zoom, whatever the case is going to be. I get excited about that because now I know that I built enough of a safe place for them to at least come to me with that information. Because here’s the other thing that I’ve been noticing too, is that you’re putting out these surveys, you’re utilizing these tools, right?

                That you guys have and a lot of other brands have as well, right? But you guys don’t even have, unless you guys, the brands don’t even have enough of that emotional glue to actually get true empathetic feedback, actual insights, right? You’re getting, I like to call PR fluff responses that in some cases may not actually bring value. So I don’t know. Again, from a psychological perspective, I would to kind of unpack at some point in my own mind, why certain people kind of shy away from the negative. I want to lean into it. I’m excited about. I want that stuff.

Kyla:

I think that’s something that we all in, no matter what our profession or realm, definitely we could all lean into it a little bit more and see how we can improve. But AJ, I wanted to talk a little bit about buy-in, you’ve talked about it a lot, and there’s a reason for that. One of the things I want to know from your perspective, is internal comms really less sexy than an external comms? Is that why we don’t get as much buy-in?

AJ:

It may be less sexy. I will agree with that. It may be a little less sexy, but I would say it’s… Let me throw it back to you guys. Actually, what do you think is more important? If you ask what you really put your finger on it, what do you say was more important? And then I’ll give you my answer.

Adam:

Well, I’ll completely steal the answer from Priya Bates who is watching today and we see her in the chat and I’ll paraphrase her badly. She wrote a post that was comparing your relationship with your internal audience versus external to marriage versus dating. So when you think about it, that way, the internal is more important because that’s the relationship that is harder to get right, because you can’t take them for granted they’re going to be there forever. If you don’t get that right, that can become an external problem.

AJ:

Bingo. Yep. I couldn’t agree more. Internal is more, it’s definitely less sexy because there’s a lot more scary stuff there. Again, going back to what we talked about before, there’s a lot of bad, there’s a lot of good, there’s a lot of gray, there’s a lot of things to unpack. It gets a little cluttered there, but I guess a little emotional at times, but the internal definitely is much more important. From a buy-in perspective, I see this a lot in the internal comms community, as well as the traditional HR community. A lot of practitioners… I have a little bit of advantage of my career is the two brands that I started, the advising that I’m doing. I’m happy I started those two brands and now I’m purposely doing the advising on marketing, branding, operations and other aspects of entrepreneurship.

                Because I think that’s part of the issue, right? A lot of internal comms or traditional HR practitioners, they may not know a lot of those things like the back of their hand. And executives at the highest level, may subconsciously look to them as stay in your lane here, stay in a little box, do what you do best, any other data, any other information you have, I really don’t want to hear it. Or I’m not going to lie to come to this table and talk about it. So for me, I’ve always said this, if you’re a 55, 60, or if you’re 30 or if you’re 20, just jumping into the space, try to find different ways to volunteer, raise your hand. And to have two week shadowing opportunities for hour, two hours a day in other buckets of the company and start to get to know those individuals and start to gain their trust and gain their respect. That’s the way for me, how it’s worked well. I’ve seen other people use that tactic as well.

Adam:

I love it. Now time is flying. So we’re going to come back to this in just a minute, but we’re down to our last five minutes. Don’t know how that happened and we all know what that means. It’s time for the Bananatag tool tip of the day. AJ you’ve been like full of insight today. It’s been awesome. What tip would you share with the audience today?

AJ:

I want to go back to the surveys, actually. I know we kind of already talked about that, but I really want to hit home on a tactic before the actual tool of the survey, right? You have to have that emotional glue in that buy-in. You have to have that relationship. Again, if you’re running the department here or if you’re running the department of HR, if you’re an executive at the highest level, leverage the lower level managers. Leverage the other advisors, the other support in that brand. So build the internal relationships at a lower level and allow that to scale up.

                If internally people don’t have a… If they don’t feel you actually care about them and pardon my French, but just give a shit, then that’s an issue, right? That’s a problem. Because again, if there’s not that emotional glue there, then when you actually go to implement the amazing pool of these surveys and other avenues, that’ll be problematic. And then I’ll just slide one more in there. Internal podcasting, it’s a real thing guys. A lot of brands are finally starting to think about it. I see you clapping there. What’s what’s going on?

Adam:

I think we talk about it less than any communication channel internally. I think it’s such a great idea.

AJ:

Internal podcasting guys, entertainment and education blended in one, find it doesn’t always have to be the CEO or the person that is the best at the role, it can be a very entertaining employee paired with someone at the highest level that can bring a lot of the tactics and the information. And then a very entertaining employee that just brings a lot of energy, has great relationships internally within the community of the culture. You kind of want it to be a podcast that people are literally looking forward to, to get some good laughs on the ride home. And then also to get that good information that you want to drive home as well.

Adam:

I love it. Honestly, AJ, I think we should have you back just to talk about that specifically. It’s such a good topic. I’m going to give a few announcements and then come back. Next week on the show, we’re delighted to have a few dynamic guests on the show from London, UK, Kathryn Kneller. I think I said that wrong executive coach and founder of Internal Comms Mastery. And from Ottawa, Canada, Andrea Greenhous, founder, author, and chief internal communication strategist at Vision2Voice Communications. And we’re very excited that as of today, you never have to miss a show again. You can sign up to get access to our previously recorded episodes, morning show, expert content and upcoming guest info and reminders. So Emily from Bananatag from our team will post a link to that in the chat so that you can sign up.

Kyla:

Awesome. If you’re communicating to employees and wondering if anyone is reading your emails or you want to get that feedback that were talking about with AJ today, without having to launch a huge survey, Bananatag actually offers embedded pulse surveys. So you can put them right in your emails. There are one question surveys they’re fully customizable. So you can track anything from sentiment to whether people understood things, star ratings, really anything, and you can also enable commenting. So you can get that qualitative feedback as well, giving people the opportunity to actually make your internal channels a little bit more, two way. If you’re interested in seeing these features in action, check out the demo, link in the chat and we can show you all of that cool stuff and more. So AJ you’ve been great. This has been an absolute delight. What a treat. Thank you so much for coming on.

AJ:

I appreciate it. Yeah.

Kyla:

Do you have any parting words for our audience today?

AJ:

Any parting words? I actually don’t. I think I said a lot. I think I said a lot. I’ve done a little bit of a deep dive into what you guys are doing. I’m actually going to get really excited about using your product. There’s a lot of cool things there on the pulse side of things. Yeah just guys, just try to find a way, I think the internal podcasting is something that really is there, that a lot of people are not taking advantage of. And then that emotional glue, I’m a big fan of it. I talk a lot about it on my podcast. Just try your best to really build those true relationships, because I think you’re going to get a lot out of the surveys and you’ll be able to actually implement the data that you get from those surveys and know that it’s true because you have real relationships.

Kyla:

Fantastic. Great advice. Great episode guys, if I might say so myself. Thank you, everyone for joining us. We’ll be back here on Wednesday. Have a great weekend. Take care of yourself, have a break this weekend. And remember we’re all in this together. You got this and we’ll see you next week. Bye.

Adam:

Bye.

Kyla:

See you.

Adam:

Side note, the vote is in and it seems people are hoping the smallest dinosaur would be the little baby Raptors.

Kyla:

Baby Raptors.

AJ:

Baby raptors. Okay. That’s super cool.

Adam:

I kind of want one.

Kyla:

What? No, have you not seen Jurassic park? You won’t want a raptor.

AJ:

Oh God. Oh gosh.