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Users at Qualtrics X4 Summit share a common philosophy on role of HR

Two Qualtrics customers talk about how they've successfully measured employee experience, and how doing so has effectively changed how the business operates.

Users describing their HR implementations at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City had one significant thing in common: They all had HR managers who wanted to know what their employees were thinking.

Qualtrics, an experience management technology vendor in Provo, Utah, claims its XM platform gives HR departments the instrumentation they need to keep business from failing. Its tools measure employee, brand, customer and product experience. The firm was recently acquired by SAP for $8 billion and that helped to raise the profile of the company, but it's also carved out a niche for itself with the idea of measuring "experience."

The HR managers presenting at the Qualtrics X4 Summit were primed for such a product. They came to Qualtrics wanting to know what their employees think; they already see retention and engagement as important and regard their roles as something other than administrators.

Their approach appears to have paid off. Qualtrics is credited with helping BlackRock offer better benefits to its customers and preventing a school district in Iowa from making layoffs.

More informed people decisions

Take BlackRock, for instance. The investment management firm has long believed in a "human-centric" approach, according to Tom Osmond, managing director of HR. BlackRock employs about 15,000 people, and the firm's HR operations "leverage technology and data to try to help us make more informed people decisions," Osmond said.

BlackRock moved to Qualtrics because the platform and the annual engagement survey questions were better than what the firm had been using, Osmond said. When Osmond and his team wanted to understand which benefits employees appreciated, they turned to Qualtrics to create a survey they could customize based on where employees were located. The results were better than expected. Osmond and his team got back some "very rich data," and a response rate of 60%, he said. The data led them to introduce new offerings, including flexible time off and on-site medical care for routine needs, such as flu shots.

Osmond said they also learned from the survey that their HR communications needed improvement. Messages to employees about benefits tended to be "legalistic," he said. He and his team swapped out the legal-ese for plain and engaging language, a change they "would have never stumbled across if they didn't have the data to do this," he said.

But Osmond said they don't know yet whether the changes to benefits will impact engagement or turnover or some other metric. That's something they plan to look at more closely.

[Qualtrics is] sort of building in all directions at once and [has] not necessarily gone as deep as we like them to do.
Tom OsmondManaging director of HR, BlackRock

Osmond said he and his team are pushing Qualtrics to improve reporting, dashboards and analytics. He believes there is a lot more the firm can do in these areas. "[Qualtrics is] sort of building in all directions at once and [has] not necessarily gone as deep as we like them to do," he said.

BlackRock is taking a lot of the employee experience data out of Qualtrics and combining it with data sets in other tools that provide useful dashboards and visualizations, such as Tableau, said Osmond, in an interview at the Qualtrics X4 Summit. He would like to see Qualtrics provide more of that kind of functionality.

Facing a major layoff

Chace Ramey, the chief HR officer for the Iowa City Community School District, is another Qualtrics user. He said the district is striving to improve its HR measures in part because of the challenges in the labor market.

The school district has about 2,125 employees, of which 1,143 are teachers. But the current labor market for teachers nationally is at the smallest it has been in a long time, and Ramey and his HR staff wanted to improve their understanding of employee experience.

In its recent move to Qualtrics, it replaced its annual survey with targeted questions "on matters in real time, as they come up," Ramey said. Doing so saved the school district about $50,000.

It also helped to change employee engagement. Instead of an annual survey with the message, "you have to do this," the district's new approach was to present smaller surveys with more of a "this impacts you" kind of message, Ramey said. Participation rates increased.

But the real Qualtrics test came when Ramey was recently informed by the CFO that the district had to trim $6 million from its budget, which meant the possibility of 70 to 80 layoffs. One piece of information the district needed to know was who planned to retire or resign by early spring rather than June, when the district was typically informed. So Ramey and his staff did a simple survey, and they got a high rate of response.

The school district also targeted employees eligible for early retirement and offered them an opportunity to meet with a retirement consultant to see if they were in a position to retire. The district offered 30-minute slots with online reservations, and demand was high.

The upshot was 54 teachers signed up for early retirement, more than the 21 or 22 who would normally retire early in any given year, Ramey said. He credits the change in approach to better employee communication and surveys. The increases in early retirement, along with some budget changes and resignations, meant that the school district was able to avoid layoffs.

The individualized retirement planning was met with positive feedback from staff, Ramey said. He believed the offer sent an important message to younger employees about the district's commitment to their well-being.

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