Why Companies Are Investing In EX Managers With Dr. Benjamin Granger of Qualtrics

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Dr. Benjamin Granger of Qualtrics about EX managers, and why companies are shifting their attention towards them. In this changing work landscape, it seems like there are more advantages to hiring these particular types of managers than meets the eye.

Dr. Benjamin Granger of Qualtrics discusses why companies are investing in experience (EX) managers in this episode of the RecruitingDaily podcast. EX managers focus on managing the day-to-day life that organizations have with their employees, and they help to create a symphony of experiences that are well thought through.

The conversation also touches on employee expectations, which have changed during and after the pandemic. Dr. Granger uses a personal example of how his expectations for his college’s baseball team influenced his happiness with their performance.

Listening Time: 26 minutes

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Dr. Benjamin Granger
Chief Workplace Psychologist Qualtrics

I have spent more than a decade building, running, and optimizing employee measurement and management programs across thousands of organizations, including numerous Fortune 500 companies. As Qualtrics’ Chief Workplace Psychologist, I apply my work as an organizational psychologist with original research and my advisory background to offer insight into workplace trends, employee experiences, and the future of how we work. As head of Employee Experience Advisory Services, I consult with large companies to help them identify and solve people and business challenges.


Why Companies Are Investing In EX Managers With Dr. Benjamin Granger of Qualtrics

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Ben on from Qualtrics, and our discussion today is why companies are investing in ex experience managers. So this is gonna be a lot of fun. Ben’s been on the show before. So Ben, would you do us a favor and introduce what you do at Qualtrics and what

Dr. Benjamin Granger: Qualtrics does?

Yes, sir Ben Grande, chief Workplace psychologist at Qualtrics [00:01:00] also lead our employee experience advisory practice in the Americas. And at Qualtrics we focus on experience management and that, some joke sometimes I joke, isn’t that just life? And yeah, maybe it is, but we help organizations manage day-to-day life that they have with their consumers and their employees, and.

I get to talk about and research topics like this one. Live in life these days.

William Tincup: So one of the things before we get into the manager the experience manager part is I was thinking about this last week about ex in particular. Is it, obviously it comes from CX comes from a lot of different places, but this idea of employee experience, candidate experience, employee experience, alumni experience, building a symphony of what we want them to feel and smell and, taste and understand. Like each step it’s, there’s a symphony that goes on or should go on so that their experiences, it’s it’s been thought of and well thought through. But as I was [00:02:00] thinking about that, I was thinking, ex also could stand for employee expectations.

And especially during the pandemic and after the pandemic or wherever we are now, expectations have changed. So have you ever, first of all, it could be just me in my weird mind, but have you ever thought about expectations and experience and how those are either tethered together or

Dr. Benjamin Granger: similar or different from one another?

The first thought that comes to mind. William by the way, I love your symp symphony analogy there. I think that’s a really good way to look at it and different musical parts and Right. When we look at these different groups. But the first thing that comes to mind is when I think about whether.

So I follow a really small college. And people that go there would not appreciate me saying small, but I went to Louisiana Lafayette, I know where you’re cas, right? I know

William Tincup: exactly where you’re at.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: Yeah. Yeah. And I’m a fanatic, right? I’m a true sense of the word fan [00:03:00] Oh, rag for raging cages.

But we’re, we, whether I’m happy with the season, Is usually very largely dependent on what I’m expecting going into this season. Oh, and I’ll give you an example, right? So our baseball team, we’ve had really good baseball teams in the past. And so I go into a season and I’m expecting a rebuilding year.

And you’ve

William Tincup: got lowered. You’ve got lowered expectations.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: Exactly. So hey, rebuilding year, a couple years ago we had a new coach cuz our. Our beloved coach passed away, sadly. But I was expecting, hey, it’d be nice to go 500, right? Yeah. And we did a little better than that. And so I’m pretty happy.

But if I think back to some seasons where I knew we, the talent we had coming back and I thought, Hey, we’re gonna be in a regional this year. Ah-huh.

William Tincup: Nope. You’ve set the expectations too high. Bingo.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: Bingo. [00:04:00] This is

William Tincup: my life. This is my life mantra. I always set the expectation low so that I can trip over the expectations no matter what.

And but I know your school because my Almog mater, Alabama, we lost y’all in football a couple years ago. I think it was Nick Saban’s first or second season we lost.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: Yeah. And that was our sister school. Yeah. Louisiana, Monroe. Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, it’s a similar vein. But see, the

William Tincup: thing with expectations with Alabama football is every year I say it’s a rebuild a year every year.

So I, every year, like most Alabama fanatics fan is short for fanatics, for everyone listening our nuts because they think it’s national championship or bust. It’s no.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: No,

William Tincup: let’s just get through the, let’s just get through the S e C West, but, and let’s see how that

Dr. Benjamin Granger: goes. And that Yes, and that’s a whole nother issue.

But on the Workfront William I’m actually super happy asked this because just a couple of years ago we were, [00:05:00] Re-looking at our model of employee experience, and particularly the model that we basically, the off-the-shelf model that we go into organizations with to help them measure employee attitudes and run engagement surveys, right?

As we were re-validating that model, we learned a few things. For example, one that we need to pull intention to stay. Separate from the construct of employee engagement. Another learning we had was that, hey, you can be engaged but also still leave. You can be engaged and still be burnt out. So we started to add other outcome measures to our model, like wellbeing and inclusion.

And one metric that we actually added as part of that research was a measure specifically designed to account for expectations back to the sports analogy. Oh, nice. So the item. Is a single item and it basically asks each employee, to what degree does your experience working here meet fall [00:06:00] shark or exceed your expectations?

And we use what we like to lovingly call Goldilocks. Scaling approach. So it’s not a traditional liquid scale, but it’s a Goldilocks approach that has falls way short of my expectations, falls a little short, it meets my expectations. And what we have found is that the distribution of that item looks very different from the distribution of most liquid scale items.

Giving us a lot of really fun stuff we can do with that. To answer your question in an extremely long-winded way yes, that has been a topic we have explored, and I’ve very much agree with your point that expectations have changed.

William Tincup: Let’s we’ll weave in and out of that let’s deal with what investments companies, some of your clients or customers are making in experienced managers.

What are they doing so far?

Dr. Benjamin Granger: We’ve seen this pop up and I think one of the studies that really drew attention to this was a study that LinkedIn conducted maybe a few months ago about the rise of certain jobs [00:07:00] and this employee engagement or employee experience manager emerged. And that really wasn’t surprising to me or our team because we work very closely with a lot of large organizations that operate globally, and they had been doing the same.

In fact, we at Qualtrics had implemented and started to create, our traditional HR business partner organizations started to get more specialized. Is essentially what we saw internally and we had people who still operated like a had that role of HR business partner and still had a lot of those same responsibilities.

But now we’re starting to see companies like ours other companies out there investing in this role that’s called employee engagement and employee experience manager. What it appears to be, it’s usually in the conversations when these jobs come up or when these roles come up, and we actually interacted with them quite a bit because a lot of these people are the ones who are helping with employee listening efforts, which is a big part of [00:08:00] what we support our customers with.

And so we interact with these people a lot. What appears to be happening. Is because of the massive changes and expectations we’ve seen from employees over the last three or so years because of the fact that there is still a lot, right? If the last three years haven’t taught us anything, it should have taught us that the world of work can change very quickly and it probably will continue to change and it’s gonna change.

The acceleration of that change is probably gonna be faster than it used to. We should get comfortable with that. And so in an effort to get comfortable with that and to help organizations manage through that, they’re investing in new roles like employee engagement, employee experience managers, and I’m sure we’ll talk about the differences there, but we’re very much seeing a trend in that direction.

William Tincup: Where do they invest for? Let’s deal with engagement versus experience. Where do they invest? Where does the budget come from? First?[00:09:00]

Is it easier to is it easier to I should rephrase. Is it easier to fund engagement at this particular moment in history, or is it easier to fund

Dr. Benjamin Granger: experience? I think it’d be easier. This is, I’m gonna say, I think, and I’m using that word intentionally. Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s easier to invest in experience than engagement.


William Tincup: I get the same

Dr. Benjamin Granger: sense. Yep.

William Tincup: Yeah. And so where do they start? So when they, obviously you see this on LinkedIn, you see it in Indeed, job descriptions being made, et cetera. Where do they get the basis of what that person should be doing? I’m sure this is internally across corporate America’s happening every day.

People are trying to figure out okay, what’s this person’s role? What’s their job? What are they, how do we measure what are they supposed to do, et cetera. So like, where is that? So where do you feel like that information is coming from?

Dr. Benjamin Granger: I’ve seen two, maybe I’ll simplify this into [00:10:00] two scenarios that I’ve personally witnessed in working with organizations who have invested in this role.

One is they start with the roles of a traditional HR business partner, and they’re looking at that role with This notion of we have these HR professionals, these HR generalists who are really good and valuable at what they do, but my goodness, they have a lot. Right on. It’s like they got and I’ll use a personal anecdote.

We were meeting with one of our customers just two months ago and we were onsite with them and we were in day two of our working session. And there was a new HR business partner who joined the meeting who was the HR business partner who supported this company’s basically tech incubator, right?

So there’s a tech incubator part of this enterprise. And they go, they run through they acquire companies they do startups, they incubate [00:11:00] these and then they either, move them in, move them up, or move them out, basically. And she was describing her role and I was just thinking, How do you sleep?

It’s just doing everything from talent acquisition to onboarding, to training, to employee relations, to benefits. And again we’ve dealt with caring for the caregiver issues. We’ve dealt with burnout among HR people and people in healthcare over the last few years. And so for this persona of company, they’re looking at the HR business partner role and saying, Is this, does it really make sense to have one person running this?

It’s not that these people aren’t capable it’s a time and a resource issue, a capacity issue. And so they’re breaking out some of these functions and saying, okay, maybe we can still have generalists, but we can have two kinds of generalists that could be slightly more specialized, and some of these might be focusing on.

Important employee [00:12:00] relations issues and managing benefits and talent management issues. But we’re also, now that we’re starting to rethink employee experience and employee expectations, which frankly, a lot of companies will simplify and define as moments that matter. Which I don’t necessarily agree with for the record, but let’s take it on face value for now.

Okay. We have all these moments that matter. All the moments should matter. Agreed. Yeah.

William Tincup: Who, not these inflection points, but Yeah. Got it. Yeah. They should all matter. Got it. That’s my opinion, by the

Dr. Benjamin Granger: way. And look there’s a lot of truth to what you just said, in my opinion. But who’s gonna look after these strategically, right?

And so that’s one persona of company. And then the other is, We’ve been seeing that, hey, this is, we’re not gonna just gonna take our HR business partner role and split it up as I’ve painted an overly simplistic picture of the first persona, which is not [00:13:00] totally right, but for simplicity’s sake, this second persona is looking at it.

What are we not doing that we should be doing? And they’re starting to pull out roles like a liaison with the people analytics function. Maybe even dotted line into the people, an analytics function that might exist or they’re building or they’re looking at, Hey, these are activities we, maybe we have been running surveys in the past, but we haven’t had somebody looking at it strategically to help the business determine what do we do with it.

Maybe we’ve been very ineffective in terms of how we’ve taken action on this in the past. We might have, we’ve never had. A strategy to design experiences in an intentional way, right? To build that symphony that you talked about at the beginning. That’s how they’re looking at it and, but I don’t think the two personas are [00:14:00] ending up too far off of each other.

They’re essentially aligning on what the functions or what the general activities these roles should be doing. They’re just starting from a different point. So one

William Tincup: of the things that, that you’re driving me to think about is how do managers, how do experience managers, where do we get ’em from?

So that I automatically think of can we pull people from cx? Can we pull people that are, that, that know what an experience should be before a customer and pull some of that intellect, maybe even some of the technologies or some of the processes and pull those into ex could be a bad idea.

But anyhow, so there’s that. But the larger question is, How do we train, like how do we, most managers get into a new job and that they get very little training on their job. So I’m worried that I’m, the upside of this podcast is that people are actually carrying enough to invest [00:15:00] Full stop.

The part that I’m worried about is, okay, they’re investing, but are they’re, are they training people? It to be successful in that role?

Dr. Benjamin Granger: I think that’s a critical question. What we’ve seen in these roles so far is for these employee experience manager roles, they’re essentially having to require a mix of skills, knowledge, skills, abilities that aren’t. Super normal. So for example, very high level of soft skills, communication, mentoring, coaching, influencing, then you have to add business acumen to that, right?

Pretty high degree of business acumen. Plus a high degree of data acumen, right? Cause of the amount of right data that they are [00:16:00] consuming and helping to interpret. And if you can consume and you can process data without having a super high level of data acumen or business acumen, but you can interpret it if you don’t have those things right, that’s where, and that’s where the soft skills also come into play really effectively.

So for somebody to be really effective in this role, These are probably a little harder to find if you’re thinking of it in that way, of a mix of soft skills, business acumen, and also analytical skills and data acumen. To your point about looking elsewhere, this is my hypothesis is that’s probably gonna be very healthy for the HR function.

Long term we, what we also have seen in a separate trend, There’s more and more organizations hiring CHROs who do, did not grow up in hr.

William Tincup: Ah yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: And that’s kind [00:17:00] interesting. I like it if I could just give my personal opinion Yeah. On this podcast. Yeah. Yeah. The thing is they’re not, I don’t like

William Tincup: it.

They’re not They’re not shackled to a bunch of bad things that have happened in the past. They can come in with a fresh eyes, fresh perspectives. Yeah. And fresh perspectives and say, you know what? Cuz that’s generally where innovation comes from, is where people go, if we weren’t already doing it this way, how would we do it?

And I think that mindset, I think that’s a Billy Bean quote actually. But anyhow, but I, that mindset of looking at innovation and saying, okay. How do we intentionally you use that intentionality and intentionally how do we actually build an experience that we, that is a wonderful experience for all parties involved.

So in this case, we’re talking about employees. Okay. So for the moment there, let’s say you go out into pre-boarding and onboarding, how do we think about their journey and all the different steps in their journey and making sure, just the Ritz Carlton [00:18:00] thinks about our journey. Mercedes thinks about our journey like this isn’t new, it’s new to us.

It’s new to hr, it’s new to, as ex but manufacturing or building a symphony around experiences is not new. Walter’s Disney That’s right. Is, that’s right. Is an expert at this. They’ve been doing it for you it seems like 200 years. But I think it’s that it’s people having the intentionality of sitting down and thinking, okay, what do we want this person to experience?

And, doing that at scale, doing that personal, whether it’s personalized to that person and all that stuff, it’s not easy. No, it’s not because I don’t wanna portray any of this as easy.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: That’s such an important point that this is not an, it’s it has been around. We also believe, we firmly believe at Qualtrics that experience management underpins.

I joked at the beginning about it being life, but it’s true, we’re dealing with people and how do [00:19:00] you intentionally design that? But it, it does get complicated because you don’t have unlimited resources. For one, you have to prioritize, you cannot throw unlimited money and time and people at these problems.

So that makes it difficult. It also has to be aligned with your brand and there in large companies threading the needle across. What we’re doing with our candidates and what we’re doing with our employees who are already here and what we do with our alumni and what we do with our customers and what we do with our customers across different segments and who interact with different groups of employees and our potential customers.

You’re talking about a lot of stakeholders that have to have that have to be talking, and that just doesn’t happen. In a lot of companies today it takes time and it takes effort and it takes coordination to do it. It’s complicated. It’s not impossible to locate it.

William Tincup: No, of course not. Have you, because none of this is, it’s just [00:20:00] being able to put it being thoughtful, I guess We haven’t really circled that word, but it’s the being thoughtful about what other people experience and again, managing those expectations.

What are those expectations? Having a, an understanding of what they expect and exceeding those expectations. Have you run into clients that They don’t know where to get started. Like they, they’ve, they’re, I wouldn’t say analysis paralysis, but they know they should be doing more with experience managers, but they don’t know how or where to get started.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: We’ve run into a few who are intrigued by this idea. They’ve either consumed some of our. Work. Some, maybe they’ve consumed the LinkedIn research. So we’ve had a couple of conversations here. They’ve been small, it’s small in size, but a lot of what we share with them, and we try not to be, at least myself, I’ll speak for myself.

I try not to be too preachy about it because the reality is we’re still learning. We’re [00:21:00] still learning about this role and it’s gonna iterate as it should. Should. We should iterate on this as, because it’s early days, but there’s also a lot we do know about. Again, back to, Hey, what are you gonna want to look for on a candidate pool?

C do we go and look at our current HR talent and HR bench for talent? And certainly that’s a place to start because you could absolutely have, you’re naturally gonna find people who are very strong on the soft skills. You’re also gonna find. People who are very analytically savvy within hr.

And you might even have a few people who have all three of those who have a great deal of business acumen, especially if you’re working in a company that has a history of moving people and HR out into the business and bringing them back in. And so those are places where, we are seeing the, Hey, you can look at your existing HR bench to start this.

And we start to also talk about things we’ve, things that we’ve covered actually here today. This conversation you and I are having is very similar to a [00:22:00] conversation I would have with a company who is wondering where to start. Talking about what are those skillsets that are likely gonna be, what are those activities that are gonna be valuable?

What are those activities that they should be doing with some attention behind it that they haven’t before? Given that we are in a different world of work today than we were even three years ago.

William Tincup: Last question is How do, and you probably could, ask this question daily. How do you know you’re doing this well with experience managers in particular?

It, is it one of those. Is it something that’s measurable? Like how do companies, are they asking that question? First of all but also for my curiosity, it’s just how do they know if they’re doing this well or for their industry? Or poorly. Like it’s the thing that I’ve always frustrated, it’s always frustrated me about the net promoter score, which I love.

It’s the relative nature of it. It’s okay, what. Okay, you’re a 32. That’s fantastic. Is that good? Is that great? Is that exceptional? I don’t know what that means. So [00:23:00] like I, I can see people especially going into something new, caring about experience, being thoughtful and then asking themselves, okay, at one point someone’s going to ask the question, how do we know that we’ve

Dr. Benjamin Granger: achieved.

Interestingly, it hasn’t been a question I’ve gotten asked much this, which was interesting. Good one. One reason I think that’s cool is because what it does share is that there. The organizations who are investing or considering investing do see some inherent value in this. It’s almost, because if they don’t, we would be having an ROI

William Tincup: conversation. This is a slippery slope and. Nothing necessarily comes Good. It comes from that discussion as it relates to this. This is just something you should be doing to, for the retention, if not engagement, if not performance, if not, just creating a great place to work.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: And you’re gone. And what I [00:24:00] would say, is exactly where you just took that statement. If you are right, if I think for sure, you’d have to look at exactly what are these roles doing? But theoretically speaking, once you stand up, A group or a team that is very much focused on designing and measuring these experiences that candidates and employees go through.

And let’s not boil the ocean and talk about consumers yet. Let’s just talk about, our what a HR team could have specific view over, but even just threatening the needle between talent acquisition talent attraction, onboarding. That’s a great place to start and you should start to see metrics show up, right?

You should start to see quality of higher improve, and you can measure that objectively or subjectively manager feedback. You could look at how productive they are. How quickly do they get to productivity, for example. [00:25:00] Theoretically you should start to see that because you’re getting, you should be getting people with better fit in the door into those roles.

You should be training them more efficiently, more effectively. You should start to see, look at things like turnover metrics, right? Not to say it’s hard to say whether the turnover rate would go down, but depending on the volume of the job, right? If you’re in a call center, You might get a lot outta keeping people on average 10 more days than you used to.

That’s right. That could be massively valuable. So measuring those types of things, theoretically, you should see improvements over time. We don’t yet, and I know you weren’t suggesting it, but we don’t have a comparative metric like NPS or e NPS for this. But I suspect we’ll eventually start to see things like how.

What is your new hire turnover rate or regrettable attrition rate look like in retail and call center places where there’s very high levels of retail. Very high levels of attrition, for

William Tincup: example, and just moving the needle a little bit [00:26:00] is creates a big impact.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: That’s right. At scale.

Yeah. 10 days here or there can make a huge difference. Like you could be talking multimillions of dollars,

William Tincup: ben, like always, this has been fantastic and it just flew by, so thank you so much for carving out time for us.

Dr. Benjamin Granger: Always just let me know when we’re doing it again.

William Tincup: Sounds good.

And thanks for everyone listening. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

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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