BuzzFeed's Chief People Officer Chandler Bondan on Designing the Employee Experience
October 4, 2023
In this insightful episode, Chandler Bondan, the Chief People Officer at BuzzFeed, shares valuable insights into the art of crafting an exceptional employee experience. Join us as Chandler discusses the strategic use of Learning and Development (L&D) strategies, the power of engagement surveys, the significance of effective employee communication, and much more. Gain a deeper understanding of how these elements come together to create a thriving work environment at BuzzFeed, and discover the secrets to success in designing a remarkable employee experience.
Hello, everyone. I'm Felicia Shakiba. And you're listening to the CPO PLAYBOOK podcast. Join me and my guests as we feature insightful conversations with HR leaders, people scientists and executives from diverse industries and functions, offering valuable perspectives on the future of work. Discover a unique outlook on navigating the complexities of the modern day working world. Exploring innovative strategies in talent management and corporate culture from the Chief People Officers perspective. Tune in to stay ahead of the game when it comes to all things people related.
Felicia Shakiba 00:44
According to a study conducted by Deloitte, a significant number of executives, 80%, recognize the importance of employee experience, yet only 22% believe their companies excel in building a differentiated employee experience. Surprisingly, research by Alex Edmands reveals that companies listed among the 100 Best Companies to Work For in America generate 2.3% to 3.8% higher stock returns compared to their peers. This indicates that investing in employee experience can yield tangible benefits. Today, we have a special guest, who will shed light on a company that has successfully integrated and sustained an exceptional employee experience. Join us in this illuminating interview with Chandler Bonden, the Chief People Officer at BuzzFeed.
Felicia Shakiba 01:41
Chandler, thank you for being here today.
Chandler Bondan 01:43
Thank you for having me. I'm really excited.
Felicia Shakiba 01:46
There are myriad definitions of employee experience. How do you define it at Buzz Feed?
Chandler Bondan 01:52
So employee experience in general, from my perspective, is an overall journey, satisfaction, and well being of employees throughout their tenure within the organization. So it encompasses really every interaction and touchpoint an employee has within the company. So that could be from like initial recruitment process, to their day to day work, but also when we think about professional development, and even exits from the organization. So it's really the whole employee lifecycle.
Felicia Shakiba 02:22
Got it. And what's the headcount at BuzzFeed?
Chandler Bondan 02:24
We're currently full time we are around 1000, give or take.
Felicia Shakiba 02:28
And what strategies or initiatives are in place to propel employee career development and growth opportunities within the organization, knowing that professional growth and career development is really a source of engagement.
Chandler Bondan 02:43
So employee career development and growth opportunities are definitely essential, attracting retaining top talent at BuzzFeed in itself. So we do that in a myriad of different ways. We do that through a monthly offering. So we have a newsletter that goes out. And there's a topic to either what's going on in the current time. So that could be performance review season, that could be goal planning, kickoffs, things like that. So we try to offer opportunities for people to have training around what we're asking them to do. Sometimes it'll be something fun. So you might have like a personal finance month, and we might bring in some professionals to talk about those things. We try to do fun offerings, in addition to personal growth and career growth.
Chandler Bondan 03:27
In addition, we have more formal trainings that are available through programming that's normally facilitated by a leadership team member in partnership with our people experience team. Or we could bring in a facilitator to help with a certain topic or a portion of the training. And in addition to that programming, we also offer a different sort of what we call Manager Masterclass, where we have topics of, hey, you're leading a team, a function, a project, here's a topic that we can discuss as a group so people can learn from one another. And that's been really, really fun.
Chandler Bondan 04:02
And then we also have programming that's geared toward diversity, inclusion and belonging. So when we think about what would you do in this given situation, and we might bring a topic up that has happened in the organization or externally that we know is very meaningful to employees and allows them the opportunity to again, learn from one another, but also be able to keep up with what's going on in the industry and what's going on in the world, which right now is so important to employees because they want to feel that connection and that purpose. So we see that definitely add the experience to the culture and to what the company stands for.
Felicia Shakiba 04:35
I love that you shared that you look at the whole person. It's not just about professional growth, but personal growth too, and learning from each other, allowing people to take bite size learning opportunities is incredible. I mean, I can just see very clearly how this permeates to every function and have this ongoing effect. Is that what happens at BuzzFeed?
Chandler Bondan 05:01
Yes. And I think people want to feel valued and want to feel heard and want to know that the organization cares and that the leadership team cares. And the easiest way not easiest, the most important way to do that is by making sure that the content that we bring to employees, and the programming aligns to not just the company vision, but what our employees want to continue to grow as individuals.
Felicia Shakiba 05:29
That's an incredible perspective I wish every leader understood. It, I think fuels someone's values and their own morals of things that they think about. And then they deliver it in a professional way through like their world at BuzzFeed, and there's this like cyclical cycle that happens, and it makes a lot of sense. Let's talk about managers and leadership. So given the emphasis on empowering managers to positively impact the employee experience, could you elaborate on the specific methodologies or frameworks that are employed at BuzzFeed to enable managers in their pivotal role?
Chandler Bondan 06:08
Sure, I think we have done a lot of work here by empowering managers that are leading teams, but also project teams, because you have cross functional leaders that might not manage someone's day to day, but might manage the growth and trajectory of different projects and go to market strategies and business growth. So we've really tried to empower those managers to positively impact the employee experience, because it's so crucial to a healthy and productive work environment. And we've done that through leadership development programming. So we have specific programs that are for people managers around how to provide effective feedback, how to lead teams, how to motivate teams, how to recognize talent, conflict resolution, coaching, things like that, so we have that kind of more formalized programming.
Chandler Bondan 06:57
We also offer different sort of feedback tools. So whether that be 360 models, some engagement surveys, ways for leaders to get feedback from their teams to be able to again, know what the expectation of leadership is their peers, see from them, and also direct reports. So I think that that's a wonderful way to get feedback. But the most important part of getting feedback in a survey form is someone being able to talk through that and be able to action plan for changes that they may need to make in the future. And we also offer a lot of coaching and mentorship opportunities with senior level leaders and also external coaches where needed. And we see a lot of that with people that are taking on maybe larger roles that might be a stretch, or I'm leading a sales function, and I have really specific targets and goals I need to hit. So you might need someone to come in to help with salesmanship, or leading large sales teams and things like that. We obviously have a really big performance management process that happens multiple times throughout the years with check in and goal settings and checking in on objectives and those key results that we're really looking for, and then obviously building out some of the I mentioned earlier, but we also are doing a lot of Manager Dens and conversation amongst groups of people and making sure that people not only can hear from the leadership team, from the employee experience team, but also hear from one another and learn about what matters most to different teams throughout the organization.
Felicia Shakiba 08:24
It sounds like you have a very layered approach. It's not just here are learning and development programs, there's structure, there's mentorship, there's learning from each other. I think it's interesting. And I think it's a dream to have something like that at your organization. I'm curious to learn with your executive team, how did you convince them or get buy in to invest in all of these tools? Or was it difficult? Or were they supportive? Like, I'm just curious how that communication happens.
Chandler Bondan 08:55
I think that I came into BuzzFeed at the time when I was hired over five and a half years ago to really come in and look at and assess talent and help upskill where needed and help to add these opportunities for our employees to learn and grow and to really focus on engagement in a different way. And I really believe that it all starts at the top obviously with a leader who can lead a company like Jonah who really values employees and wants to foster a culture of continuous learning, growth, career development, which ultimately benefits both the employee and the organization as a whole. So we've been very lucky to kind of have a leader that leads by example. Now when you look at the world and you look at what employees are looking for, they're hungry to know what's my next move and not just up the ladder or whatever the terminology was, but also Oh, I'm doing this on this team and it's working well can I move to another team or to another function to eventually move up but be able to have another opportunity to spread best practices, to be able to engage others and train others in that kind of mentorship. We have a lot of residents programs and fellowship programs and internship programs to bring in talent that also has new perspectives that people that have been here for a long time can learn from those kinds of fresh ideas. And it gives you an opportunity to collaborate in different ways. So that's been really impactful as well. But it's a very, very fun place to where we're very busy. And we're having to be really agile as trends with the business change, you have to be able to flip on the dime to be able to do that.
Chandler Bondan 10:33
And it all starts with the employees and making sure that they feel heard, that they feel seen, and that they have opportunities at the organization.
Felicia Shakiba 10:41
Are there any notable instances that you could share that exemplify the benefits employees derived from the organization's dedication to fostering an exceptional work environment.
Chandler Bondan 10:54
So the notable instances that we've started to think about employees wanting and needing from like a benefits perspective, or just creating kind of that exceptional work environment is looking at what matters most to people. And I think we've learned a lot during the pandemic, we've learned a lot from just again, what's going on in the world today, with technology, with AI, all the things. And so for us with our workforce, we've really had to think about flexible work arrangements. So we obviously have some functions that need to be in person, if we're doing productions, we have office management teams, all those things, you know, there are certain functions that have to be on site. But we have a lot of flexibility around timing of work around where people can work. And this allows employees to better manage their work and their personal commitments to know that they have that work life balance, and they also have that support, we do have a very nice PTO plan for employees as well, that allows them more time to be able to take off, to be able to get that recharge. And we really reinforce that like when people are getting towards their cap, or if people need some sort of time off, we really really value that for people to recharge, reset, and be able to encourage employees to take those breaks when necessary for their well being.
Chandler Bondan 12:12
And then we think about mental health and counseling services and wellness programs and things like that. We have a newsroom that reports on what's going on in the world. And that really does impact sometimes people's mental health, we have writers and content creators that really become a part of the brand. So we want to make sure that we have programs in place to be able to support physical health, mental health, and those kinds of things. So we want to make sure that people know that they should get out into the world and move their bodies. And we offer health screenings and different sort of stress management programs and things like that, to make sure that again, we're thinking about the well being of employees in a different way. We do that also through parental leave, and caregiving support, and health insurance and things like that, that we're able to provide. So I think we've done a pretty good job of making sure that we hear what employees want, and we're able to support them through those services and resources that we can provide.
Felicia Shakiba 13:08
And when you say that you hear what employees want, is that simply through surveys? Are you doing any focus groups? Is there a cadence? How are you gathering or collecting that data.
Chandler Bondan 13:19
So we solicit and leverage employee feedback in a multitude of ways. We do that through an engagement survey. We also do pulse checks with different groups. And each group has a designated HR Business Partner who partners with their leadership team of that group, and also does risk assessments. We do check-ins on culture of teams, we also do different sort of development programming for teams when they're having team meetings or team events to make sure that the HR team is really ingrained with the senior level leaders of each group. So we get that in a multitude of ways.
Chandler Bondan 13:56
We also have some feedback tools that are anonymous, because we know that sometimes people don't feel comfortable speaking up in the room or answering the survey question that might be tied to their employee ID number. So we have a multitude of ways for people to provide feedback. And then we also have a wonderful way of getting feedback within slack, which is really popular at BuzzFeed. So we are able to ask questions and get very real time and very truthful feedback that way, which has been really, really nice for teams to be able to just just-in-time, give feedback and not feel like they have to sit down and take a 30 minute survey. So again, lots of different ways to get feedback. I think that we've done a pretty good job of making sure that our HR Business Partner team is really ingrained.
Felicia Shakiba 14:40
That's so interesting, because they feel like when tools or engagement tools have come out, at least in my experience I've seen Oh, Anonymous is better or not anonymous is better. There's this argument between which one is the right choice, but it doesn't seem like you made that choice you made actually the choice to have both of those. And you're making it more comfortable for people to want to give feedback. And I'm sure that there is this loop of coming back to people and making sure that the organization follows through.
Chandler Bondan 15:21
Yes. No, I really appreciate that, because we really had to think about how can people supply feedback. How can we support and hold ourselves accountable as an organization, and really integrating employee feedback into the company's decision making processes? How the Organization defines itself? How can we enhance that employee experience to ensure that it remains aligned to the evolving needs and expectation, I think that that definitely leads to higher levels of employee satisfaction, engagement, retention, which again, directly impacts the bottom line, and making sure that we are productive, and that we do care, and that we lead with transparency in a lot of ways to make sure that employees feel heard.
Chandler Bondan 16:05
So I definitely think that having a multitude of ways to get feedback, and to actually have a person, and not just email address that you can hide behind, or virtual way that you're getting feedback, we like to do discussion groups. And again, it's all about not just learning from HR, or from the leadership team, learning from one another. A manager that manages a team of 10 people is going to learn so much from another manager that might be in a similar situation. And they're just on a different team. But they wouldn't have connected unless we had these discussion groups or feedback sessions or ways for people to connect. So it's really about communication, about getting feedback, but also action planning, and make sure that you're communicating how you're making changes, and why you're making changes,
Felicia Shakiba 16:50
I love the idea of having these feedback groups together, where managers from different functions come together and talk about these things. Because we're all managing people. I mean, yes, people are engineers, and they're in marketing and so forth. But they're are people, and I think that also creates more of a bond around leadership, it sounds like it would.
Chandler Bondan 17:11
Yes, I definitely think so. A lot of leaders appreciate time to take a step back from the day to day and think about things that they may not have the opportunity to when you're heads down working on a project or you have a deadline and all those things.
Chandler Bondan 17:27
And one of the sessions that I love most that we offer to leaders across the organization and individual contributors, we just kind of break them up separately, because the conversation is different is it's called, What would you do? And it's a situation that maybe has come up in the organization or is going on in the world. And you talk through, hey, you know, this is what happened, how would you solve this as a leader? And someone on the tech team might think of it differently than someone on our content team or on a branded team.
Chandler Bondan 17:57
And so it brings people together to say, Hey, this is how I would go about having this conversation or providing feedback or finding a solution. And someone else might say, well, that's a good idea. But have you ever thought about this tool that we have available to us on the company intranet? Or did you reach out to your HR Business Partner, so it's kind of a fun way for people to learn for us to learn from mistakes or areas of opportunity, and then also allows us to bring in real life examples or real world examples to make sure that people know that we're constantly evolving with, again, what's going on out in the world today, with technology changing with the election coming up, and things that really have an impact on the content that we create, and the services that we provide.
Felicia Shakiba 18:40
I love this example, because you're solving so many problems that companies have just with this one program, because it's also diversity of thought and perspective. And so you're bringing in these ideas from all these different angles, and people are collaborating, and they're learning and they're probably doing it on a regular cadence, or of some sort. They're building trust and relationships, psychological safety must be through the roof. I'm obsessed with what you've done. I truly love this program. So yeah, I mean, I would definitely participate.
Chandler Bondan 19:12
Right, something that you don't want to offer too much of and you don't want to over program. So I think that the team has done a wonderful job of looking at our HR calendar and knowing what do we want to schedule? When do we want to schedule it? What makes the most sense for managers for individual contributors? And then for me, the senior level executive leadership. So I think that it's all about what level people are at, how can we get people to connect more and that helps build on the culture and also build on learning from one another, collaborating and again, kind of pushing the envelope in regards to people not just learning from the powers that be but getting to learn from one another.
Felicia Shakiba 19:52
Do leaders at their own level meet with other leaders at their level, or are they mixed or how do they usually come together?
Chandler Bondan 20:00
So we have like a foundational leadership program that's normally for a certain level leader, our executive leaders wouldn't necessarily be in those sessions. But when you think about discussion groups, we call them Manager Dens just to make it sound a little fun. Our Manager Dens or What Would You Do type sessions, those could be a mix of senior level leaders and mid level managers. We also have individual contributor programming. So we have another program that's called the Emerging Leader Program. And that's geared towards people that want to eventually move into a leadership role. And they've been identified as a high potential in our organization, and people can get nominated to be in that program, or they can self nominate, which allows, again, people to feel like they're a part of who's been selected into the program. And because it requires time outside of your day to day work, to be able to go to these facilitated sessions, to workshops, to dens to some outside of your day to day work, we wanted to make sure that there was ownership from the leaders across the team and to make sure that we had representation across the organization as well. So that's been something that I think has been wonderful for people to be able to feel like they're ready for that next level. And then when there is opportunities, they can then move into the next program, which would be the foundational leadership.
Felicia Shakiba 21:18
Yeah, that makes sense. I love that you guys implemented emerging leaders. I love that you guys went outside the box. It's not about the current leaders. It's also about supporting the future leaders. I think you just like take it full circle. So, how do you measure the progress of a successful employee experience?
Chandler Bondan 21:40
We do that in a multitude of ways. So this year, we're very excited, we're launching a new performance review process, along with the actual performance review itself. So we're focusing on three key areas, that would be goals that the team has set, and making sure that everybody has played a role for those goals. And it gives people an opportunity to give feedback on here's what I did in my day to day work, here are the projects that I completed to get to this team goal. The next one is around performance dimensions or qualities that the entire organization has agreed upon, of how we want to measure talent. So we're all using the same language, we're able to measure it in the same way - ratings. And then the last piece is kind of an open ended approach that we've used previously that we still wanted to include around. What are your strengths? How did you go above and beyond? What areas of opportunity do you see? And where do you want to go from here? So it allows us kind of a stamp of time. So that's what we're looking at in regards to a formal performance piece.
Chandler Bondan 22:43
As we think about employee experience as a whole and culture challenges and how we want to continue to enhance work dynamics and things like that we definitely focus on the pulse checks that we do the engagement survey that we do, we also look at talent, and we have quarterly benchmarking that we do. So we do risk assessments as part of the year to get information on- who are our HIPOs (high potentials), who are people that they if they left tomorrow, that would be detriment to the organization? And how can we make sure that we're providing the right career development opportunities and programming to those individuals? And how can we make sure that our leaders of teams know how to lead talent across their team? So I think that there's like a multitude of ways that we look at measuring that.
Chandler Bondan 23:31
We do a lot of dashboarding, the team our people operations team has done a wonderful job of building out dashboards for leaders to use within our HRIS. So they're able to go in and they can see what is my retention for my team? What are the DI&B the diversity, inclusion, belonging stats for my team? What headcount am I looking at? Where are people sitting? Are they mostly on the East Coast versus the West Coast, all the basics, but I think it provides leaders a snapshot of their teams to continue to have that information, and to be able to utilize that with the feedback that they're given. So that way, they have again, a multitude of ways to look at employee feedback.
Felicia Shakiba 24:10
Yeah, the data is incredibly diverse. You're looking at it at so many different angles, that you have plenty of data to make great decisions, it sounds like.
Chandler Bondan 24:21
Yeah, and I think it's also looking at strategies that you can use. So like you need to define a clear employee experience, vision and make sure that you have that and you have to develop those employee experience standards. Implementing company wide policies and practices that are inclusive and really owning that code of conduct and making sure that people know I know that it sounds basic, but it's making sure that people know what the expectation is of being an employee in an organization. Communication, training, feedback and continuous improvement, planning and distributing leadership and making sure that we're empowering leaders and managers in different departments and locations to really take ownership of employee experience within their teams, making sure that you have cross functional teams and committees that can represent various departments and location.
Chandler Bondan 25:09
Looking at tools and technology. I know that that sounds also pretty basic, but it also helps with process improvement and making sure that you're holistically looking at processes policies, performance management, benefits, administration, and things that are so important from an HR perspective that employees have doing all the fun, regular audits, assessments, things that maybe sound a little not as much fun as recognition and rewards and things. But all of those things matter. And they build a strong foundation for employees to really own the culture and build off of so it's a longer process. It's not something that's going to happen overnight, but with the right people in place, and with the right support from the leadership team, you're really creating an inclusive and a very, very driven organization.
Felicia Shakiba 25:56
Chandler, is there anything that we haven't talked about that you want to share?
Chandler Bondan 26:00
No. I mean, I think I've hit on a lot of it. I just think that in this day in age with how the world works, and how we want to continue to make sure that employees well beings are being thought out, we really have to be proactive and comprehensive on that approach by combining standardization, communication, training, feedback, and leadership engagement to make sure that companies can ensure that they commit to that exceptional employee experience that really permeates throughout different departments and locations and even face the challenges or variations in work dynamics. So I just think that with consistency, we can continue to build strong company culture and help attract and retain that talent that organizations need to be successful
Felicia Shakiba 26:43
That leadership support is so critical. Chandler thank you so much for being here. I am so thrilled you're on the show. This has been amazing. Thank you.
Felicia Shakiba 26:55
That's Chandler Bondan, Chief People Officer of BuzzFeed.
Felicia Shakiba 27:06
If you like today's podcast, we have more podcasts on innovative HR strategies, talent management, organizational culture and more, and how to navigate the complexities of modern day HR. Find them at CPO playbook.com/podcasts or search CPO, playbook on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. Thanks for listening to the CPO playbook podcast. We'll be back with a new episode next time.
Felicia Shakiba 27:36
If you liked today’s episode, we have more podcasts on innovative HR strategies, talent management, organizational culture, and more, and how to navigate the complexities of modern-day HR. Find them, at CPOPLAYBOOK.com/podcast or search CPO PLAYBOOK on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Thanks for listening to the CPO PLAYBOOK podcast - we’ll be back with a new episode next time. I’m Felicia Shakiba.
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