Would you invest more in employee experience if it meant the difference between landing a major account and losing it to your closest competitor?

I’ve always been a believer in engagement driving performance, but a new lens on employee engagement became very apparent to me last year when my team bought a new HR Technology System and had to then choose a company to implement it. Once we looked at the landscape of available options, negotiated on price, and did our due diligence, we found two really similar looking companies with similar price points. The question was, which to choose?

My colleague Melissa came up with an unexpected solution when she suggested checking Glassdoor to see what each company’s employees were saying about them. She thought the reviews would help indicate which team we should work with. Sounds obvious, right?

It wasn’t to me.

I’d always thought of Glassdoor as a tool to use internally — but hadn’t considered it a factor in business decisions. Upon listening to Melissa’s perspective, I realized it made a ton of sense for two reasons. First, the employees of the company we chose would become part of our culture for as long as the implementation lasted — in this case, several months. Second, companies with happy employees just tend to do better work. Silicon Valley has proved time and again that companies who focus on growth at all costs tend to lose out on business as their top talent leaves for more engaging shores. In 2014, for example, TechCrunch posted an article stating that Zenefits was hiring 1,300 people over the next 3 years. The company’s careers site boasted they were “the fastest growing SaaS company, period.” Two years later amidst massive turnover and an imploding company culture, they not only fired their first CEO, but laid off 17% of their workforce. Of course, there were other issues at stake here. Compliance, lawsuits, and investigations in both California and Washington were harming the company’s business. I’d argue that the fundamental problem, however, was the corroded company culture. David Sacks, who took over as CEO in the wake of Parker Conrad, wrote in a letter to all of Zenefits shortly after taking the job “we must make this a great place to work for employees, because we’re all in this together, and if we’re not enjoying ourselves, what’s the point?” He recognized that rebuilding the culture was integral to righting the ship.

Melissa checked the feedback and found that there was, in fact, a major split. Company One had a steady 4.1 — some ups and downs for sure, but overall the employees seemed happy and the company was responding to feedback. Company Two had a mere 2.8 — the reviews were consistent and startlingly negative. Many of them complained that there weren’t enough account managers to keep up with the clients, employees were overworked, and the culture averse to change. The sheer persistency of these comments showed a company that didn’t seem to value employee feedback. A company, in short, we wouldn’t want to work with. We too have had dips, but have always used feedback as a way to drive change.

Once we had this information, the decision was easy. We went with the first company and actually told each one how we’d made the decision.

Why does this matter? Employee experience is one of the top performance indicators in every industry. While company cultures vary and each should reflect the uniqueness of the particular business, no company can afford to ignore it completely. That said, it’s also on us to make informed business decisions based not only on price, but on who is going to do the best work. Melissa’s instincts were spot on. References and back-channelling will always be important, but employee experience is even more so, and it will be essential to running a successful business in the future.

Photo Credit: Ministirie van Buitenlandse Zaken