Claire Schmidt
CEO and Founder AllVoices

Claire Schmidt is the CEO and Founder of AllVoices: A technology platform that enables employees to anonymously report bias, discrimination or sexual harassment to their company's leadership. By equipping companies with transparent data, leadership teams can actively work to improve their culture and move towards a more equal and just workplace.

Prior to founding AllVoices, Claire served as Vice President of Technology and Innovation at Fox, the Senior Director of Giving at Thrive Market, as well as the Director of Programs at Thorn.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Claire Schmidt from AllVoices to share how to build trust with employees to get honest feedback in 2022.

Some conversation highlights:

How have we failed in the past in building trust with employees?

First of all, every employee is different, and every company is different, so we can’t claim to know what every employee is thinking and feeling, or how every company operates. But what I will say is historically I think employees have been an afterthought in terms of companies developing their processes and systems around reporting issues and feedback. And what I mean by that is that many of the tools out there were really designed with the buyer in mind, the company, the HR leader.

What are some of the trust breakdowns?

I think there’s this idea in an employee’s mind that if I bring up an issue, someone should listen to me, someone should try to help me work through it, or take action, someone should try to help me resolve it. And where I think the trust breaks down is that that does not always happen. And we actually did a survey recently about employee feedback and employee reporting, and we found that actually 37% of employees have left a job because they reported an issue to their company and it wasn’t taken seriously.

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 32 minutes

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William Tincup:
Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup, and you’re listening to the recruiting daily podcast. Today we have Claire on from AllVoices, who we talk to about how to build trust with employees to get honest feedback in 2022, so we’re looking a little ahead, which is nice. It’s not that far ahead, but we are looking a little bit ahead, looking at the double deuce, so let’s just jump right into it. Claire, would you introduce both yourself and AllVoices?

Claire Shmidt:
Yes. Hello, my name is Claire Shmidt, and I’m the founder and CEO of a company called AllVoices. And AllVoices is an employee feedback management platform. We were founded back in 2017, really with the intention of giving employees a voice in the workplace and helping them speak up about all different kinds of issues, ranging from positive culture feedback, to sexual harass, and everything in between. And so we are growing quickly, we’re working with a number of really progressive companies who care a lot about hearing from their employees, and with a lot of companies who are seeing the benefits that providing a psychologically safe workplace provides to their bottom line, their retention, and so on. So really excited to be here, and thank you for having me.

William Tincup:
100%. So in our title we have trust and honest, so let’s just unpack both of those, I’m sure that they’re linked in some ways. So let’s just start with that, how have we not built trust in the past? So some of the things that AllVoices reconciled, how have we failed in the past in building trust with employees?

Claire Shmidt:
Well I think, first of all, every employee is different, and every company is different, so we can’t claim to know what every employee is thinking and feeling, or how every company operates. But what I will say is historically I think employees have been an afterthought in terms of companies developing their processes and systems around reporting issues and feedback. And what I mean by that is that many of the tools out there were really designed with the buyer in mind, the company, the HR leader.

William Tincup:
Right.

Claire Shmidt:
And that makes sense, in a way, because obviously the buyer’s the decision maker, and these companies were formed to provide value to those people in part. But where I think we got it wrong is that ultimately the employee is the user of these products, and if we’re not designing and building with them in mind, then we are really missing an opportunity, an opportunity to hear from employees, to get honest feedback from them, to hear transparently what is going on with them, and that will only happen if they have trust in the products or the systems that they’re using. So from a tech perspective, I think that’s where we have historically failed employees.

Claire Shmidt:
And then from a societal perspective, I think we have failed employees because many HR leaders historically either have not been empowered to handle employee relations issues responsibly and fairly, or just haven’t done so. And so I think employees go from company to company carrying the baggage of bad experiences they’ve had in the past with HR, which then builds a deep, deep distrust of HR over time, even if it’s unwarranted, and even if at their current company they have a fantastic HR team, there’s that baggage that they’re carrying around which makes it harder for them to trust their current company.

William Tincup:
So what are some of the trust breakdowns? What have y’all seen just in the work you’ve done since ’17, and maybe even the work that you’ve done before. Where does it typically breakdown with trust? I’m assuming some of this leads to disengagement, or poor performance, and possibility even retention issues, but there’s got to be something, kernel of something that breaks that trust.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s this idea in an employee’s mind that if I bring up an issue, someone should listen to me, someone should try to help me work through it, or take action, someone should try to help me resolve it. And where I think the trust breaks down is that that does not always happen. And we actually did a survey recently about employee feedback and employee reporting, and we found that actually 37% of employees have left a job because they reported an issue to their company and it wasn’t taken seriously.

William Tincup:
Well, I can validate that from a sexual harassment investigations claim perspective, and again, we can take sexual out of it and just say harassment, keep it simple. But people make claim and say this happened, and then it goes into the cone of silence.

Claire Shmidt:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

William Tincup:
And meanwhile in the back HR is investigating, legal’s investigating, and they’re doing things, but then there’s no resolution. Either there’s no resolution because they just ended the investigation, or they didn’t communicate back to the person, which is horrible on a whole lot of levels. Intellectually it’s just, you’ve been harassed, you’re vulnerable. You tell someone, and the wheels of justice don’t move in any way, shape, or form, and you’re not communicated to. It’s like you’ve been victimized twice.

Claire Shmidt:
Exactly, so why would you ever report it again? And actually, 75% of people who have been sexually harassed in the workplace said that they never reported it to their company.

William Tincup:
Really?

Claire Shmidt:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

William Tincup:
That’s the first time, that’s just the initial time, that’s just first time, that’s not even dealing with repeat exactly issues.

Claire Shmidt:
Exactly.

William Tincup:
Wow.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah.

William Tincup:
That number’s much higher than I thought it was.

Claire Shmidt:
And I would imagine it would increase if this happens multiple times, to your point.

William Tincup:
Oh yeah, oh yeah. No, you give up. I mean, again, I think you’re right, I think it’s part of the human condition is to want people, when you need help, for people then to be there to help you, and I think it’s just part of all of us. And then when it’s not up there, that fractures that trust both in HR, which I think you did a great job of explaining, but also leadership. This goes across, it’s like, yes, yes, I’ll blame HR because I told Jim or Jenny in HR, but I’m going to blame the CEO just as much, if I’ve been victimized in that way.

Claire Shmidt:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), exactly.

William Tincup:
So let me ask your take on feedback, and we’ll go back and forth on trust and feedback probably simultaneously, but at least 100 years ago we looked at feedback in one of two ways, anonymous feedback where you get the fire hose of everything, but in there is the truth, or feedback in the form of tethered to a profile. So you’re going to get some good stuff, but you might not get all the truth because people are either unwilling or unable, or they don’t trust the system to then put their neck out on the line and put their name next to something. And again, no value judgment on either framework, or anything in between. What’s been y’all’s experience with your customers in dealing with how they consume feedback?

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, well, just to piggyback on your point, we did a survey recently, and surveyed thousands of employees across these two surveys. One was about feedback and one was about harassment. So 74% of people that we surveyed said they would be more likely to share feedback if it could be anonymous, and 85% said they would be more likely to report harassment if it could be anonymous. So we know that giving people the option of being anonymous can encourage honest feedback, and that echoes what we’re hearing from of our customers and what we’re seeing in working with our customers, which is that our customers provide an option for employees to report anonymously, or not anonymously, because not everyone feels the need to be anonymous.

William Tincup:
Right.

Claire Shmidt:
And then with each company it’s different, but the vast majority of the feedback they’re receiving is anonymous. So I think that echoes what we’re hearing in our survey and seeing in that data, which is if companies want honest feedback, there at least needs to be an option for someone to be anonymous. And yes, I think historically there’s been this binary choice, which is attributed to your identity and probably not totally transparent or honest, versus anonymous but possibly messy. And I think we’re creating a third option, which is the option to be anonymous, the ability to come forward incrementally through the process, and the ability to have two-way communication between the employee and their company over time, so basically something can start as anonymous and evolve into not anonymous.

William Tincup:
So give me the incrementally, just break that down for the audience real quick. Yeah, I just want to make sure that they understand.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, so an employee will come into our platform, we don’t ask them to create an account or share an email address, or anything like that, so they are truly anonymous to us and to their company. All their information is encrypted, it’s super secure, and we share this with employees when we roll out at a new company, that this is why we built this product, was so that we could protect their anonymity if that’s what they chose. Then they share feedback or a report about something more serious. So it could be, “I don’t understand the new bonus plan, and can someone explain this to me a little bit better?” It could be, “I was sexually harassed.”

Claire Shmidt:
And once that report or feedback is submitted to the company, we open up a two-way communication channel between the company and the employee. So the employee can say, “Hey, I had this experience, I’m not sure if it was harassment, can you provide a definition of harassment?” Maybe the company responds. The employee is engaged in a back and forth two-way dialogue while they remain anonymous with the company. But if they feel like the situation is being handled well, if they’re being treated well, if they get a chance to ask some questions about what the process might be for investigating, then they can always say, “You know what? I’m finally comfortable, and I’d like to make an appointment to come talk to you,” or, “This is my name, and this is my information.” So it allows you to create an alternative process for employees who have historically seen their options as very binary. If they don’t feel comfortable stating their name and identity right away it’s been basically stay quiet about it, and if they do, it’s come forward 100% from minute one.

William Tincup:
Well, what I love about that is you’re creating a safe space, and then you’re allowing people to be vulnerable and then opt in if they see movement. At the end if they don’t see movement then, again, that’s going to affect engagement and performance and retention, so the company still suffers. But they see movement, they choose. What love about that is the company’s not choosing, they get to choose, at any given point they want to opt into something that’s a bit more formal, and again, around giving their information, et cetera, great. If not, the company still has enough information anonymously to then investigate and to look into things.

Claire Shmidt:
Yes.

William Tincup:
They’ve got the things that they need to then still create movement. How do your clients, how do they close the loop? And again, we had focused some of the conversation, at least, on the negative side of feedback, there’s obviously a whole world of positive feedback that happens on the other side of that, but we’ll get to that, I’m sure. But how do they close the loop in terms of when someone takes that initiative, and then HR does something, or management does something, leadership does something, and then they want to get back with that person and say, we heard you, we understand, we did this, here’s what’s going on, here’s where we’re at in the process, et cetera, however they close the loop.

Claire Shmidt:
Yep. So that communication channel that I mentioned, that two-way conversation, that doesn’t close, that’s open. So at any time they can use that same channel to give the employee updates, to share any roadblocks, to ask for additional witnesses, or additional information. So they can actually use that communication channel with the employee to keep the process moving forward, and ultimately to share with them what the resolution may have been. And then on top of that, we, AllVoices, send the employee a survey after the case or the topic is closed, and we say, “Are you aware of your company taking steps to address the issue that you raised, and how satisfied are you with how things have turned out?”

William Tincup:
That’s nice, like a rating.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah.

William Tincup:
Oh, that’s nice.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, so we can provide that back to the company, and the employee gets an additional voice in whether something was resolved well. And then if they said no, it wasn’t resolved well, then the company can open up that communication channel again and follow back up with them.

William Tincup:
Can some of this lead into support groups, or ERGs, or SIGs, or things like that? Again, people that have, we’ll use sexual harassment just because I think it’s an easy example, if there’s been people that have been through this in a particular company and the company’s doing a good job now, maybe not historically, but doing a good job now of resolving those things, is there a way to connect, or do you think there’s a way in the future to connect folks that have been through those experiences of either EAPs and therapists, or even internally with other folks that have had a similar experience?

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, so we do provide some resources for employees who are using our platform, so a peer counseling service is one example of that, which I think is great. And then we do work closely with companies to help them in the process of creating ERGs, and down the road we’ll have toolkits for them around that, and stuff, so that it doesn’t all have to be reactive after the fact, it can be proactive, help people connect with one another who may be having a similar experience.

William Tincup:
That’s very progressive, and it’s smart.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah.

William Tincup:
And it’s also, again, getting by to engagement, productivity, and retention.

Claire Shmidt:
Yep.

William Tincup:
150 years ago I built my own framework for feedback, which is a Boston Consulting Group two by two, which feedback either comes in a form of positive or negative, and it either comes in a form of solicited or unsolicited.

Claire Shmidt:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

William Tincup:
And I’m one of these people that I thrive with negative feedback that I’ve solicited, so I ask for negative feedback. Someone tells me something positive I’m like, eh, whatever. But I thrive on, I want negative, not unsolicited negative feedback, mind you, solicited.

Claire Shmidt:
Right.

William Tincup:
If I care enough to ask you, then I want the unvarnished version. And again, that’s just a model that I created. What do companies, your clients, what do they want? What are you starting to see? And I don’t know every company’s different, I get that, but in general, what do they want? Do they want the positive? Here we’re doing this well and employees are happy, and et cetera, or do they want to know the dark crevices of where things potentially are with their firm?

Claire Shmidt:
So I think it’s a really, first of all I love a two by two, I’m a former consultant, so I’m a fan of the two by two.

William Tincup:
That’s just scratched an inch right there.

Claire Shmidt:
Yes, exactly. So neat and tidy. But I think to use your framework, which I think is great, historically companies have really, I would say, leaned into solicited positive feedback.

William Tincup:
Yeah.

Claire Shmidt:
How likely are you to encourage a friend to work here, and how likely are you to stay here for a long time? This is positive framing, so trying to tease out-

William Tincup:
You’re leading the witness at this point.

Claire Shmidt:
Yes, totally. And that’s what they’ve wanted, because understandably they want to believe that their workforce is happy and engaged and productive in all of these things.

William Tincup:
Right.

Claire Shmidt:
And I think what they actually need to be leaning into is unsolicited positive and negative feedback.

William Tincup:
Right, right.

Claire Shmidt:
Because that’s where the-

William Tincup:
That’s the experience.

Claire Shmidt:
The breakthroughs come. Yeah, I mean, that’s where you’re going to hear something you’re not expecting

William Tincup:
On both sides.

Claire Shmidt:
On both sides.

William Tincup:
Janet is amazing, I can’t imagine not working for a person like Janet. Great. I mean, that’s fantastic. Or there’s the other things that could possibly come up. In 2022, so we’re still not technically out of COVID, at one point maybe we will be, maybe not. Where do you see feedback, again, it’s not that far away, so we don’t have to do flying car stuff, but where do you see your clients taking your feedback and trust in 2022?

Claire Shmidt:
Well, I think that we’re in a really interesting and unique time. And we’ve all thought about this and talked about this a lot, so I know this is not rocket science or flying cars, like you said, but I think that the labor market looks very different today than it did a year and a half ago, and employees have a lot more power. Their unemployment is very low, and I think employees have an opportunity to demand, ask for and even demand what they need from their companies, and their companies are, in many cases, in a very unique position, which is really more than ever not wanting to lose their employees, because it’s hard out there hiring. We see it ourselves, we will make offers to candidates that have three other offers, and that’s the first time that things have been like this in the history of our company’s existence.

Claire Shmidt:
So I think employees have a really unique opportunity to ask for what they need and to provide that unsolicited feedback, and maybe even feel more comfortable doing so. And then I also think HR leaders, we surveyed HR leaders, actually, about their top priorities right now, and they said their top priority right now is building trust with employees. So there’s a huge opportunity here to show employees that you care about them, that you want to hear from them, that you’re open to this unsolicited feedback, and that you’ll invest the time in taking action and responding to that feedback. And I think that’s a great way to build trust with employees, to keep them happy and engaged, and to not have them leave their jobs.

William Tincup:
So two things on trust, one, you’ve just mishandled COVID and right now your company’s in a bit of a shambles, and so now you’ve got Pikes Peak or Mount Everest to rebuild trust with folks, either those that are existing, or even new folks that are going to find out. So strategy for those folks that just are going to have to climb a mountain to rebuild trust. And the second part of that is aspirational. We’re not quite here, but we want to get there and we need your help. How do they communicate that to everyone, both employees and candidates?

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, I mean, I really believe, and of course I’m biased because this is what we do, but I really believe that in both cases it starts with listening. So if you have broken trust with employees, I would say it’s so important to take the time to listen to them, to hear where they are, to hear what they need, to understand their experience and how it differs from the experience they would like to have ideally. So starts with listening, and only then, once you listen, only then can you take action. You can’t take action. And if you don’t know where to go first. And anyone who says, “Oh, I know what we need to do,” without taking at least the time to listen in some way or through some forum is going to miss the mark.

William Tincup:
Yeah, that’s just arrogance.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah. And then the same thing for aspirational, how do you know what your employees want and need for your company to evolve into a better version of itself if you’re not finding opportunities for them to share honestly with you what they would like to see. And so once you get the information, then there’s a ton of different, I think, ways to take action, and solutions, and policy changes, and communication, and additional tools, and there’s so much that you can do. But I firmly believe that the first step is to listen and to make it easy for all different types of employees to speak up in a way that feels comfortable to them.

William Tincup:
Right, we want to be vulnerable. We need to be vulnerable on the HR side, we want people to be vulnerable, but a lot of that, as you said, starts with listing. Occasionally you’re going to run into things, or your clients are going to run into things that either can’t be fixed, won’t be fixed, et cetera. It’s an immovable object, the company puts profits above people, and they’re not going to change. That’s just the shareholders have spoken, stock market show, that just not going to change, no amount of feedback will change that. Now that’s an obtuse example, but the idea is that there are things that we will give feedback for that just won’t change. How do you guide clients through those murky waters?

Claire Shmidt:
So I think the most important thing, to your point, is to be honest. You don’t need to hide the reality from employees, they know how companies work. If anything they’re probably more jaded than you think at this point.

William Tincup:
100%, 100%.

Claire Shmidt:
So treat them like adults and tell them the truth, “This is what we’re hearing from all of you, here’s the feedback we’re getting, and then here’s what we can and can’t do,” and lay it all out. And this can be announced at an all hands meeting where you can say, “Hey, 100 of you shared feedback about this strategic action for our company, and here’s what we heard from you, and here’s how we’re translating that into action, and here’s some of the things that we can’t translate into action, and here’s why.” And that can come from HR, that can also come from the CEO, or someone else. I mean, I think the people that use our platform are always really extra engaged when they know that the CEO, or someone in a very senior leadership position, is going to be looking at the data that’s coming in.

William Tincup:
Right. Well again, it’s listening. If it’s siloed off and two or three people are listening, that’s great, but if the board, C-Suite, it becomes a part of the core of what a business does is it listens to its customers, its partners, its employees, its candidates, just becomes a part of the ethos. Last thing before we roll out is your favorite story around how feedback has changed the business, and without names, of course, anonymously, following the lead, just your favorite story of where you’ve seen this work. And it can be your most recent story. I mean, I know it could be a bunch of them that you have to pull from, so don’t make it too hard on yourself.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, I mean, one of my favorites is actually not so recent, but I heard about it a couple years ago, and it was a really interesting anecdote for me because it showed that action and anonymity are not at odds, which I think has been a historic question mark from some of the customers that we are trying to sell into is, well, if it’s anonymous, how can I take action? And so I’ve given them this example in the past that a customer shared with me, which is this company had a Halloween costume contest, and someone in the… Yes, many opportunities for things to go wrong.

William Tincup:
Oh boy, my mind went to it a very dark place. All right, I’m back now.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah, but also it’s a fun, it’s a team building event. You can see the benefits and also the potential, the pitfalls, perhaps. But someone dressed as a religious figure, and I’m not even sure what religious figure, they didn’t share, but whoever it was actually won the contest. There was a prize, then people were making jokes about the religious figure on Slack, and the costume. Essentially it became this joke of the day, or this humorous thing, and someone of that religion was actually very deeply offended by that. And now I’m sure there were lots of people of that religion at this company, and not all of them were offended, but one was, and they submitted an AllVoices report to our customer, who was the person I spoke with, who received it and said, “Wow,” upon receiving it, “Wow, I had no idea, this is such a great heads up for me to get.”

Claire Shmidt:
And they were able to talk about it with other people on their team, figure out the right course of action, respond to this person and say, “Thank you so much for sharing, we’re talking about the next best steps on this,” and they actually decided to change their costume contest policy for the next year, and dressing as a religious figure was not an option in the future, would not be an option in the future. Now it wasn’t about punishing the person who dressed up, it wasn’t about making that person bad or wrong, it was about creating awareness by listening, and then making a change, and then closing the feedback loop and letting that person know, “Hey, want to let you know we’re going to be announcing a change to the costume contest going forward,” and expressing to the group that some people may have found this offensive.

Claire Shmidt:
And they were able to tell the rest of the company, “Hey, this is something that we weren’t aware of, and we were made aware of it, and it’s going to change in the future.” And so I really liked that-

William Tincup:
Oh, go ahead.

Claire Shmidt:
Oh, go ahead. I was just going to say, I really like that example because nobody had to come forward and raise their hand and be the snitch, or the person who wasn’t having fun, or to be looked at differently in any way, and there was no pointing fingers or blame, it was just like, we’re aware of something we didn’t know before, we’re changing things for the future, our company is going to feel more inclusive going forward.

William Tincup:
I love it. Well, one person feeling uncomfortable is one too many.

Claire Shmidt:
Yeah.

William Tincup:
And again, I love that it wasn’t punitive, and again, some people could find it funny, some people didn’t find it funny, but if there’s one person that it impacted, it affected, this is a great learning, again, great tool to then learn from, listen from, and then do something with it. So Claire, thank you so much for coming on the RecruitingDaily podcast. I know you’re busy, I just appreciate the time and the wisdom.

Claire Shmidt:
Thank you so much, it was great chatting with you today.

William Tincup:
Awesome. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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