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Apr 20, 2021
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16. Senior Director, Glassdoor
16. Senior Director, Glassdoor
Jeff’s guest Brian Conner is the Senior Director for total rewards and operations at Glassdoor. He is an innovative, forward-focused, and goal-centric leader with a diverse 20-year career driving total rewards programs for international and domestic workforces. Jeff goes deep on Brian’s deep expertise in both developing and implementing key strategies to improve employee experience, benefits, compensation, operational effectiveness. Brian shares with Jeff about his path to become the leader that he is today and what key leadership disciplines are critical to becoming a company that is not only highly valued but highly rated on Glassdoor. Jeff and Brian discuss compensation and rewards, what radical transparency is, and how it benefits organizations. Brian shares how intentional core values lived out in the workplace can influence both perception and behavior. He talks about how the data on work-life balance is not what most people expect. Jeff and Brian talk about the importance of finding a job that fits your life, what the core areas are among the highest-rated companies on Glassdoor, and how small companies can effectively compete against larger wealthier organizations for talent. Brian shares some exciting data points about what employees believe is most important and he reveals the secret of why most employees leave organizations. Jeff and Brian also discuss how to improve the levels of trust within organizations and how this affects engagement and productivity.

Transcript

Intro: Duration: (02:04)

Opening music jingle & sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Hi everyone, I'm Jeff Hunt and this is Human Capital, a GoalSpan podcast. On Human Capital, I get to interview top business thought leaders to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. I'm excited to talk today about what attributes make up the most desirable companies. These include things like, work-life balance career opportunities, culture and values, compensation, and benefits, and senior management.

My guest today is Brian Conner, who is the Senior Director for Total Rewards and Operations at Glassdoor. Glassdoor of course is ubiquitous, but for those that are less familiar, they are the bellwether of company rating sites. Glassdoor was founded back in 2007, has over 50 million unique monthly visitors and over 600,000 company reviews.

My guest, Brian is innovative. He's forward-thinking, he's goal-focused. He has a diverse 20-year career driving total rewards programs for international and domestic workforces. He's excellent at developing and implementing a key-strategies to improve employee experience, benefits, compensation, operational effectiveness.

And I can tell you from knowing Brian for a long time, he's very good at building and leveraging strategic relationships to improve outcomes, by the way, that is a leadership lesson on its own. Right? Brian knows benefits, HR comp, retirement, equity, M&A, compliance, I would say like the back of his hand.

So, it's a pleasure to welcome Brian on the show today. Welcome, Brian!

Brian Conner:

Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for having me here. I appreciate the conversation with you and your viewers.

Topic 1. Who or what inspired you to go into business? (02:05)

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah, it's just a great opportunity to not only talk to you today about some of these leadership principles, but also I'm excited because of your work at Glassdoor. And before we get into Glassdoor and some of those rating metrics that people use to rate companies out there, I want to just go back to the beginning, take us to the beginning of your career, and share with our listeners. Who or what inspired you to go into business originally and ultimately into leadership?

Brian Conner:

Sure. So for me, I probably took a different route than most individuals. I started out actually in business school, um, working full-time as a paramedic. And so I was working full-time as a paramedic. I was in business school and I didn't really know which major I wanted to complete in business school.

And I had a professor who basically pulled me aside, his name's Mark Kepler. We're still friends to this day. But super passionate and pulled me aside and said, hey, if you aren't in, what's called people team now, which is used to be HR. And when I was in college, it was referred to as personnel and industrial relations.

And he told me if you're not in this, you're kind of missing the boat because there are so many opportunities. There are so many functional areas that you can have a direct impact on individuals in their lives and their livelihoods. Not to mention kind of the whole collective bargaining agreement, the ability to deal with unions, and a non-union environment.

So it just seemed fascinating to me to be a part of something that was so diverse. And from there, I'm one of the few people who probably have a degree in something that I've pursued as a profession but absolutely loved it. And then found in the different roles that I took, I found really that the total rewards is where I can have the biggest impact.

It was an opportunity where you could literally help people with a claim and healthcare, which we all know is very difficult to navigate these days and has been for years. Somebody has a sick child in the hospital, they don't have coverage, whatever the case may be, we get it resolved for them.

So there's a little tangible aspect to the total rewards function. And I think that's what has driven me to it my entire career.

Jeff Hunt:

Sure. It's really cool hearing you say that because it's almost like you've had the ability to have the greatest impact at the individual level, but it's also transformative corporately because if you do that for a lot of people, you're really going to change. People's perception of how they treat their employees and the company culture. Wouldn't you say?

Brian Conner:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think that's kind of hits the nail on the head and that's exactly one of the things that we strive for at Glassdoor is the ability to be radically transparent with your teammates.

Topic 2. Radical transparency. (05:24)

Jeff Hunt:

Right. I love that radical transparency. It sort of speaks to also vulnerability-based leadership, which we talk a lot about on this show is the ability to actually speak the truth, even though it's difficult, and also admit when you're wrong about something, it's that level of transparency.

Brian Conner:

Yeah. I think it's that level of transparency. And I think it also, we believe, if you can imagine, a world where anyone can find the right job at the right company, the perfect fit for people. One that they love where everyone is treated fairly and equitably and paid fairly. A world that we're, people are held accountable to strive to become better employees and in turn a better employer.

With that radical transparency that I mentioned, we believe that something, we feel passionate about something that we believe we can really take steps towards in this world of making it in actual reality.

And as we're talking about total rewards today, I think salary in regards to that, that's probably one of the biggest areas that you can be radically transparent about. Very few companies share their comp information. We share it in the external environment. We show our min and max ranges for every role, including our executive team. And a lot of companies look at that as being kind of taboo.

But I think if people know who we are and what we're striving for, we're one of the first companies that I know of employee orientation, where we actually teach an employee. What is a comp ratio and when I go look at my salary band how does that play out for me being paid fairly to the market and to my peers. Right?

So it seems a little uncomfortable at first, I think for most organizations, but you quickly can see that it's better for everyone when you have that level of transparency, and it empowers every job seeker and employer to ensure that everybody's paid fairly and pay equity is something that we're incredibly passionate about.

And it's something that we've taken steps to ensure that our teammates understand exactly where they fall in terms of career paths, I should say, and how they compare internally to their own peers, with the same knowledge, skills, abilities, and education, it's completely transparent.

Jeff Hunt:

It sounds like you're really trying to drink your own Kool-Aid, but I mean, internally, so that that's really a breath of fresh air, because if you're not doing that, then we're probably all in trouble, but you're espousing transparency in a way externally with your product and your reviews that democratizes information.

So that people can make better decisions about their careers and which job really fits them. And you're also being a model citizen internally with that level of transparency. So would you say that's correct?

Brian Conner:

Yeah. I would say that that's spot on Jeff because it's one of the things that we have to do it right internally, in order to show an example externally to all of the other organizations in different industries. And so for me, it's kind of exciting to be a part of not only that trend but also to have the ability to fine-tune it internally and then help other employers with their brand and how they bring transparency.

And it's not always a hundred percent total rewards. It's also transparency around diversity, and equity, being inclusive from your benefit programs to the payment systems that you have with a quest.

Topic 3. Find the job that fits your life. Core areas among the highest-rated companies. (09:47)

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah, it's very comprehensive. Well, let's get into the weeds a little bit. So Glassdoor's motto, you kind of mentioned this, but is to find the job that fits your life.

And like I said, most people are very familiar with Glassdoor, but for those that aren't the review metrics that they have set up. They not only allow employees to be discerning in their search, but they allow and really inspire companies to be better in these core rating areas. So these are some of the things that I want to talk with you Brian today about.

And so if you break down these core areas and really think about what are the common attributes you start seeing. So the common themes. In the highest-rated companies in each of these key areas, what are they? So if we start with, you mentioned compensation and benefits, so you've talked about transparency, but say a little bit more about comp programs and what are the cream of the crop?

What are the top-tier companies doing in terms of compensation and benefits that differentiate themselves from others?

Brian Conner:

So I would say Jeff, that the top organizations obviously bring a level of transparency. That's not only one in which people look at their base salary, but including the bonus and or equities, the total direct compensation that an individual would receive.

And the level of transparency around those attributes is also making an illustrative example when you're hired, I'm going to be hired at year one, but what does it look like in your five years, you know, six, seven, eight. Understanding that there are obvious differences that can take place because of promotions and other nuances around merit increases and so forth.

But that kind of transparency really helps drive some of the strongest predictors to employee satisfaction, right? So, for our teammates to go into a little more detail around those attributes. We surveyed several different industries, not only here in the U.S. but internationally. And we found that employee satisfaction is very similar in most industries.

And it's the ones that are a little bit of outliers are typically government, nonprofit, and education. They had less emphasis on comp and benefits, and that may be because they have a collective bargaining agreement or pension programs, but that's less of a interest to them in terms of satisfaction.

Their focus is more on the quality of the senior leaders, along with the culture and the values of the organization. That's what drives their satisfaction. But if you look outside of all of those industries, most organizations believe that comp and benefits and work-life balance are typically the top two.

What we found though, is that it's not, it's not, they're very important. It's certainly one of the top five or six categories. But what we found is that the actual culture, mission-driven cultures, and senior leadership round out almost the top 50% in terms of employee satisfaction. What comes in at a close third is career opportunities internally in an organization, both internal training, learning and development, external training opportunities.

The business outlook then comes work-life balance. And last but not least is compliment fits.

Jeff Hunt:

Interesting. Very interesting. So just a comment on that. It's fascinating to me because what you're saying is that if you have the right culture, you have the right leadership, you have the right, team, and people on board that is exhibiting the right behaviors.

Then even if you're a startup, that's extremely resource-constrained and you can't afford to pay your people that much money. If you have that clear and compelling vision, you're still going to be able to attract top talent. Right?

Brian Conner:

Absolutely. Yeah. The way that I look at is the ones that are typically the best in their core tile, the best functioning organizations they typically have. Mission-driven cultures that everybody's rowing in the same direction. They have a lot of transparency with their senior leadership. It's a very transparent communication style that there are career growth opportunities within the organization to keep those teammates as sticky as possible and develop them throughout their career path.

And it really what's new in 2021 too is also what's very important to most teammates in any organization is a commitment to the employees, health, and safety, along with wellbeing. Now, obviously, that probably came about with COVID and tested a lot of CEOs and executive team members on how to do that and do it gracefully, but in a very transparent way where their safety, was the first priority.

And then going back and looking at other priorities as needed to keep the organization running. So I see that as the big factor and that's what we see in the surveys that come out from everybody who participates on our platform. And it helps, I think for organizations to take, take a step back and relook at their culture.

Look at the values and how transparent your senior leadership is. And then from there, look at what are your objectives and your mission. How do you complete that mission? That helps build out your total rewards profile. And sometimes it's the culture and the value. If we're trying to recruit a AI engineer or a data scientist engineer from Google. Well, not necessarily can be probably everybody's peer group when it comes to the rewards package.

But if you have a strong mission and a strong culture and values with that senior transparency, there's a lot of the opportunity there for folks to migrate to an organization that they will actually love. It's not necessarily driven by the comp and benefits.

Topic 4. Can small companies compete for talent with big companies? (17:01)

Jeff Hunt:

Sure. And the cool thing about it is that it gives hope to less-resourced companies. So if I'm competing against Google, I can still hire that person provided that I'm executing well, those other disciplines. I'm also reflecting as you were sharing that, Brian, that culture and leadership, these things that you're describing, are really the core differentiators that organizations have, right?

Because you can copy pricing strategy, marketing strategy, you can copy all sorts of things from a competitor, but you cannot copy culture. It's extremely difficult to do that. So. If you do that well, you're going to still attract top talent, even though you may not be paying top tier compared to those competitors, right?

Brian Conner:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think it's a competitive advantage if you have those first two workplace attributes running well, I think it's definitely a competitive advantage. I think when you look at the total rewards side of the house as well, the other thing too, is not only being transparent around pay and benefits but also ensuring that you're doing the right thing all the time.

And as businesses move and you get to different points in time of the year of your budget and you're a leader, and you're hiring individuals into the organization. I think it's also important from a total rewards standpoint to ensure that you're doing a paycheck up each year.

At Glassdoor, we call it our annual pay checkup. And we look for gender bias, we look internally for race and ethnicity and ensure that we don't have that in our organization. And if there was somebody, whoever was hired below a particular minimum, or a midpoint that we feel is important, then obviously you make those changes immediately.

And inform folks. As a matter of fact, for the last four or five years, we've not only performed that exercise internally, but then we also posted our results to the website as well.

Jeff Hunt:

That's interesting too because it's, it's making me realize or remind our listeners that these practices have to be intentional and regular. So for instance, you just described, you go through that exercise annually. And if you reflect back on what we were just talking about with culture and values, they're like a muscle. If you don't flex them and exercise them, then they atrophy, right? So, you have to continually keep up.

Brian Conner:

Absolutely. I think that being deliberate in it and then also sharing the results year over year also drives that employee satisfaction in terms of culture and our values. That's one of the things that we can kind of uphold in terms of total rewards playing a part of that role.

Topic 5. What to do to improve career opportunities? (20:10)

Jeff Hunt:

Yep. That makes sense. So let's move down the ladder a little bit on some of these others. How about career opportunities? If I want to do extremely well in this area? What do I need to be doing in terms of career opportunities? Internally?

Brian Conner:

I think one is obviously transparency and creating for each role in the organization, making sure that you have the correct job family, the correct jobs, that you've got the correct job description, especially as you price it to the external market data sets. I think that that's really critical. But as an individual, having the ability to sit down with your manager and look at either.

You can hear different approaches of the career ladder or career matrix because there are opportunities where people may not just necessarily take one step after another. In order to be the COO, I may need to be on different organizations in order to get there, Right? So. We, we like to build a career matrix and let people determine what that career path would look like for them and where they want to be.

Jeff Hunt:

Sure. So lateral moves can truly be developmental.

Brian Conner:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Topic 6. What does a healthy work-life balance look like today? (21:29)

Jeff Hunt:

Okay. That's great. You said work-life balance is actually lower, which is such a contrarian viewpoint. Which I love because it's helping people to sort of think that through, but what would a healthy work-life balance look like? And I would just add one more footnote. It's interesting that there's so much talk about burnout today, especially with COVID and remote work.

It appears there are higher levels of burnout, but what does a healthy work-life balance look like?

Brian Conner:

Yeah, I think that the remote world of work is still the jury's out a little on that in terms of what's the best practice. Some of the things that we employ to avoid the zoom burnout and the zoom fatigue that people talk about pretty regularly. We've added one additional day per month as an additional holiday.

So that we can allow for our teammates to have some downtime, to catch up on work-life balance with their family and get away from the computer screens for a period of time, and have that appropriate downtime to get refreshed and recharged and back to the workplace. The other tools that we employ too are.

We also have a no meeting Wednesday, the second Wednesday of every month. That way people can plan around, you know, some project-based work and not feel like if you're in back-to-back meetings each day that you're now rather than having to have your commute, then rush home and make dinner. You know, folks are having to stay on the computer and then rush away from there, right into the kitchen. So, it's trying to make that transition to a healthy balance with our employees, and what we've done is continually survey our teammates to see what's working and what isn't to try to help develop these practices.

But I think overall, what's kind of interesting is when you look at employee satisfaction in the U.S. overall, and you look at those attributes. The one area that people say, hey, maybe the work-life balance is different for men versus women. And broadly speaking, we don't see that in our results. What we do see is very small differences in that the females rated slightly higher, the work-life balance, but it was just slight, it was a percentage of men rated slightly higher, the career opportunities, but the difference is so small and broadly speaking men and women largely have the same goals and the same attributes and values of creating work-life balance internally and looking for those attributes to be very satisfied in any organization.

But the path I think we need to take is to continue to survey the teammates. And test what works and what doesn't work, and then refine that recipe, if you will, to help us. Because I think that the virtual world is not going to go away anytime soon. And I think it's going to be a big part of our, our life, even as we get back into the office for collaboration and more face-to-face time, I still believe where we're going to have to refine the model.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah. That makes sense. And I also think your surveying is such a great example for companies because they really should be taking their own temperature on these things. Work-life balance employee experience, but isn't the caveat for them that they really must be communicating and acting on the survey results, or they run the risk of. A potential counter effect and reduction in morale, people have contributed to a survey and then they never hear anything, right?

Brian Conner:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that plays into the transparency in terms of what we are hoping to accomplish in every organization. So, you're absolutely correct. If you're gonna ask me questions and survey me, I want to know the results, and then based on those results, what actions is the company specifically going to take?

In order to mitigate a concern that the teammates may have, whether it be physical, a concern in the workplace or you know, around a COVID contraction or something along those lines, or if people are just concerned or want to know more information about something, you have to have that transparency.

So you're absolutely right Jeff you have to be prepared as a leader. I think that if you're going to survey folks, you have to share that and you have to share with, how you're going to resolve it.

Topic 7. Senior leadership, culture, core values, and top performance. (26:38)

Jeff Hunt:

Sure. Can't be the next shiny object. So let's talk briefly about senior management and culture. So we already talked a little bit about the culture, but maybe more specifically core values. So how do those two things play in and the top performers?

Brian Conner:

Around core values for the organization and senior leaders?

Jeff Hunt:

Well, I guess practices. So there are, two things I'm referring to distinctly, so you don't have to combine them, but senior leadership, what are the traits or behaviors that we're seeing in the very highest rated companies?

The senior leaders that represent those companies. And then what are the actions or activities and as I said, we already talked briefly about this regarding core values or internal culture that lead to the highest-rated companies.

Brian Conner:

Sure. So I think going back to where we were a low earlier in the conversation around a mission-driven culture where people feel empowered, where individuals have a voice in the process and you're getting everybody to row in the same direction. I think those are key core attributes that the senior leaders need to drive and that people can really see a connection between the overall company objectives, and how those trickle down into the total rewards team. There's gotta be a direct correlation there. And so we rely on internally not only our senior team but also our middle management team.

To ensure that those goals are aligned correctly with their teammates and can drive those particular objectives. I think the other strong one and I can't emphasize more is just the transparency around senior leadership. The ability for them to not only be transparent with communication but also those senior leaders that have empathy.

And can show up where that person is at the time, or where the organization is at the time, do really well, compared to other organizations that don't have those attributes, I think that's key. And then career growth opportunities. So, knowing that when you hire somebody, if they have ambitions that you're going to be able to create those opportunities internally for them.

I kinda think back to Jack Welch, which some of the listeners may not remember who that is, but he's a pretty dynamic CEO, one of the quotes that I always remember from him is: "Treat your people so well that they don't want to leave, but train them so well that they can leave". And that's something that's always resonated with me. So I think those career growth opportunities, learning, and development internally are very key. And when you look at each generation, it's more important even for the new millennial generation to have those opportunities, not only for growth in a career path but personal development as well.

Jeff Hunt:

Well, and I really appreciate what you said to Brian about empathy, because if you look at leaders that demonstrate empathy and compassion toward their employees and they teach others how to do that internally, what they're doing without realizing it is really increasing engagement levels right? Because it speaks to me as a leader, caring about you personally, rather than just as a producer. And so you're going to be a lot more likely to perform at a higher level and we're going to have higher trust levels internally, right?

Brian Conner:

Yeah, absolutely, I think that when you show that level of empathy, you're looking at them as an individual and not somebody who's clocking in and clocking out in an employee ID assigned to them, right? It becomes more personable. And I think that it makes senior leaders real and real people and like most people in the world, you're typically not going to buy a product or service from somebody, unless you like them. And you need to have some shared value. I think that that goes a long way with senior leadership. If they feel that people have compassion and empathy for their particular situation, I think it goes a long way in building trust and minimizing intrusion.

Topic 8. Lightning round questions. (31:35)

Jeff Hunt:

Exactly. All right. Let's shift into some lightning round questions. You ready? They're easy. The first one is what are you most grateful for?

Brian Conner:

Most grateful for? Probably my family.

Jeff Hunt:

And that's what most people say by the way. Yeah, I've interviewed a lot of people on this podcast and I would say predominantly the answer is family. So that's a good reminder of really what's most important in life, right?

Brian Conner:

Right. And I think COVID kinda helped us all realize that again, as a, you know, as a nation. But it's funny that we say that because when you think about the work-life balance attribute, it's not number one. But it is when you're outside of work.

Jeff Hunt:

Very true. What's the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career?

Brian Conner:

Probably being real for me personally. When you first come out of college, you're taught in a way that you should probably know all the answers and have the ability to get to the answer pretty quickly. Having more empathy for teammates in situations that they're in.

I think for me, the hardest lesson probably was just sit back and relax and be yourself, trust your team to do the right thing. I think for me that was probably the biggest lesson is just kind of getting across that finish line of that. You're not going to have all the answers. That's why you have a team.

Jeff Hunt:

That's a great piece of wisdom. And it goes back to what you were saying earlier about truth and transparency, which build trust. So I appreciate that. Who is one person you would interview if you could living or not?

Brian Conner:

I think that Jon Bon Jovi is somebody who I would love to interview was a big influence on me when I was a teenager. And never lived a rock and roll lifestyle. So would love to meet him.

Jeff Hunt:

What's a top book recommendation. Do you have one on any good books you've been reading?

Brian Conner:

The most recent book that I've read was Barack Obama's book that just recently came out and a great book in terms of his lack of skill. So to speak in terms of actual experience in having the ability to get into the role and realize having the right team with him really drove a lot of his successes through his presidency. A great book. Great book.

Jeff Hunt:

Okay. So Brian if you had to kind of summarize it, what is the single most important thing that you would like our Human Capital listeners to take away from the show today?

Brian Conner:

Sure. I would love for folks to think through your strategy around culture and value. Being transparent as leaders and having that empathy and passion for your teammates. Driving a successful organization takes more than comp and benefits. And typically when people leave an organization, it's not related to benefits, it's not related to compensation.

It's usually related to how they're being treated, who their manager is, and the type of environment that you've built. So I would hope that they would go away and look at that and understand that not only work-life balance is important and comp and benefits are critical, but the more important pieces that keep people satisfied and coming back and performing at their best are those attributes around culture, value, and the senior leadership, transparency.

Jeff Hunt:

You've shared some fantastic wisdom today. I really appreciate you coming on the show. I think you've given us food for thought to really think about how we can make our organizations better and become better leaders. So, Brian, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Brian Conner:

Thank you, Jeff. Appreciate it.


Outro (35:58)

Jeff Hunt:

Thanks for listening to the show this week. We release a new episode of Human Capital on the first and third Tuesday of each month, I would really like to know what you thought of this episode, send your comments to humancapital@goalspan.com. Human Capital is produced by GoalSpan, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends, thanks for being human kind.

Human Capital — 16. Senior Director, Glassdoor
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