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Success from Anywhere Podcast | ALL Aboard, with Kate Clifford



Karen Mangia

Today on Success from Anywhere, we'll discover how a chemistry major applies the Scientific Method to experiment with the world of work, and we'll explore the elements to combine to create a chain reaction that improves employee engagement and experience. Meet Kate Clifford, Chief HR officer of Accenture, North America. Welcome to the show, Kate.


Kate Clifford

Thank you, Karen. Glad to be here.


Karen Mangia

I feel a sense of Zen with the photo behind you. We might all need one of these in our backgrounds to help everyone feel calm and centered at work.


Kate Clifford

I love it. I love peaceful paintings.


Karen Mangia

Because we're talking about work. I like to ask each guest the opening question of what was your first paying job? And how did that job inform or inspire your career trajectory?


Kate Clifford

I had a number of jobs that I would consider to be my first paying job, everything from a paper route, to mowing lawns. I was a babysitter; I worked retail and served as a lifeguard. So I think it taught me a couple of things, one is to be agile, two, try a variety of things, and three, my own career path has been extremely windy and not a straight line. And I think that random collection of first paying jobs was a good insight into where I would go.


Karen Mangia

You and I shared the babysitting experience when you mentioned that I had a flashback of going through my neighborhood with little fliers and I'd written kind of a jingle. I would hand them out to people. And I'm actually still in touch with several of those babysitting families, one of whom is a young man who now works at Salesforce. I babysat him, and then became kind of his career coach. And I thought, wow, I guess that informed my career trajectory to some degree, but his, probably an even larger one. That's a lifelong impact. Well, how does a chemistry major I referenced your field of study chemistry and math major ends up in the people business? I mean, it strikes me you have a very right brain, left brain, career path and fields of interest.


Kate Clifford

I have received this question before. I think about it this way…Accenture is our people serving our clients which is our business. And so I consider my job to be as much of a business focus as well as a people focus, because we're really in the business of helping people have vibrant careers, so that they can go on and serve our clients in our communities. I started my career in the consulting field. And I've taken so many different polls before landing, the job that I'm in right now. And I consider my job at Accenture, and the people of Accenture are my clients. So I like to say my degrees in chemistry and math really taught me how to think and to think analytically and to think thoughtfully and that's what helps me day to day in my role.


Karen Mangia

You highlighted an important inflection point there of defining your stakeholder. I mean, in a business that's based on client engagement and billing, you've adapted that mindset to what you're doing and to your approach, and I think about how many employees or looking in the direction of defining their purpose I mean, how do you scale that mindset approach that you're taking to the now 84,000 employees that you're serving in your role?


Kate Clifford

We are very aware of the shift of employee engagement and how our people are feeling. We know that it takes deep listening to really understand what's on the minds of our people. And at Accenture, we have a listening framework, a relatively sophisticated listening framework to do that, and really understand what's top of mind. So we use tools. We have a transformation GPS tool, we have a survey around conduct counts, which is how our people are experiencing culture. We use team engagement surveys to connect and engage with our people, really where they're working, where it matters most. And we don't fully rely on just data, right? Although I love data being the math major that I was, we don't fully rely on that. We conduct focus groups, and we really lean on our employee resource groups to provide us with feedback. I'll give you a data point, Karen, in 2021, we collected over 900,000 pieces of feedback from our people. But we know we can look at that just at the highest level. So of course, we review it in aggregate. So actions can be tailored. Swift, impactful.


Karen Mangia

Leadership is listening. You and I both work with organizations and leaders that are extremely focused in new ways on employee engagement and experience. I mean, it's the topic of our time when you think about it. And speaking of surveys, the newest Gallup employee engagement survey reveals a declining trend. Now with only 32% of us employees, describing themselves as engaged at work, what's your take on that trend?


Kate Clifford

It's a shift we're very aware of at Accenture, and well, organizations have figured out the foundation of technology to keep people connected. We're experiencing that today, we have a ways to go when it comes to human connection. We recently published some research that found while our devices might always be on, only one in six people feel highly connected. So even lower than that 32%, one in six people feel highly connected in a human sense at work. So not just about connecting to the organization, but to the people they work with and for. We know this disconnection comes at a cost, as lack of connection can impact a company's culture, and ultimately, the bottom line of the organization,


Karen Mangia

We all feel more engaged and feel like we're having a great experience when we're surrounded by a community of people we feel like we know, and what you highlighted there was important, solving for employee engagement or connection in the workplace isn't as simple as just roll out an app, I'll just get on our devices and make some new networking connections inside of organizations. And poof, we're good. The other end of the spectrum, I hear a lot of leaders carrying around a belief that says, well, we'll just bring everybody back to the office, because that's the solution to the employee engagement challenge we face. Is it and then in a business where you have people in, out on client sites, and then offices, I mean, how are you thinking about this is returning to office the solution to employee engagement?


Kate Clifford

It's a great question, Karen. And I think many might think it's a quick fix. Simply bring everybody back to the office, let's go back to 2019. And if we do, that human connection will just happen. And I think you and I both know that it's just not that simple. I spoke already about our extensive research, but 42% of our survey respondents who work on site reported being less connected or less connected than those that are working in a hybrid model, or fully remote, which was so surprising and certainly really surprising to me. I know, I personally thrive off of seeing people in person. And so we dug into why that is. And it turns out, they lack the flexibility and the tools to be most productive and connected, and they experienced a greater sense of inequality. And so it's clear that it's not just about the space or the place that creates culture. It's about people and leadership that I know you're equally passionate about, we talk a lot about it's beyond spaces and places.


Karen Mangia

That's well said beyond spaces and places. And as you were talking, it made me think we've almost made the office magic. And so we've romanticized it. But it used to be this wonderful place where we all love to go. And we were productive and connected and collaborative. And what you highlighted is important. When we provide people with flexibility, autonomy and choice, people find reasons to come together to do work. And they find reasons that maybe they need quiet time, or space or flexibility. And when you and I first met, and we were on the innovation moment podcast together, I appreciated your thought process of taking an iterative approach and experimentation approach. And I mean, you lead an organization, with over 80,000 employees. How are you not only understanding these expectations? But what are you piloting? What are you trying? How do you separate the signal from the noise and those pilots?


Kate Clifford

I talked a bit about how we deeply listen. What we've learned from that is, there isn't a one size fits all, or even a one size fits many definition around the future of work. There isn't going to be an up everybody needs to be in two days a week, because we really believe the opportunity lies in reimagined experiences. And so I'll give you a couple of examples. We just ran an Innovation Day with our summer interns. We call them summer analysts at Accenture, where our future joiners and leaders were able to see firsthand how we innovate for our clients and have meaningful interaction with our leaders as well as analysts that were in their shoes just a couple of years ago. And so in addition to a time of learning, they were able to network and socialize. And to be honest, we talked about experimentation, we evolved our thinking and actually added this innovation day in the middle of the program that had already been designed. Because we heard from our interns, they really wanted to get together and they really wanted to see each other. And so we were able to course correct, right then right there. We also have work in the metaverse, and work on what we call the Nth Floor. And that has been a tremendous experiment for us. So within the Nth floor, which is we have a virtual campus called one central park. And One Central Park is a way that people can connect personally with our culture and plant seeds of both personal and professional development or relationships. And with our new hire, all of our new hires get an Oculus,they go through orientation this way. And it's been really incredible to see their feedback even though they may have been at home or in an office or in a different location. They were able to connect standing next to each other on the floor in the metaverse.


Karen Mangia

How did you think about designing the end floor? Because this topic of the metaverse and web three and this new kind of experience we can have for some organizations feels very Star Trek. And for others, it feels like why not? Let's do this. I mean, how did you design that in a thoughtful way? And what are you discovering? I mean, I can't believe it worked perfectly the first time you tried it, and you didn't even need to make any adjustments. So how did you start on the design work? Personally, when I hear it, I feel kind of motion sick. I'm like, oh my goodness, can I handle a whole day in the metaverse? And maybe I'm not the only one.


Kate Clifford

How did we design it? We wanted it to be an immersive experience that really enabled our new hires to experience I'll call it old school orientation, and a more personal way. But as you say, of course, we've learned this past year 150,000 new hires are working from the metaverse on their first day of extension 150 does. You brought up a good point, that not everybody experiences the metaverse the same way. I know I struggled with vertigo. And so I put on the Oculus, and I have to take it very slow and take it very carefully. And so we've also introduced a two way or a two D way to interact, so you don't have to have the headset on but yet you can still experience and interact with people the same way. We've also learned what time needs to be content. So how do we create social time, even in the metaverse? We held one of our team parties in the metaverse and we had plenty of time to throw snowballs at each other, even before getting into content. So it's really been about balancing not only the technology side of it, but crafting the right agenda in order to have both social and content time.


Karen Mangia

Critics of the Metaverse might say this is all a bunch of hype, and that there's no real business value. What are you discovering? I mean, how are you measuring the experience or the ROI of this kind of investment?


Kate Clifford

I think it's still early days. It's still early days, especially when I think about orientation. We are deeply listening. We want to hear from our people. They're experienced, did it work, did it not? I also think Metaverse is part of Accenture's future. And I think it helps our people really gain an understanding of what it can be like in the Metaverse. And so it starts to build those skills even from day one.



Kate Clifford

It's really important to have the opportunity for people to give feedback even on things like avatars. And so we've partnered our disability employee resource group with MCC, with Microsoft to give that feedback. So for example,we had an individual who didn't have an arm. She didn't have a limb. And when she went to create her avatar, there wasn't an avatar that was like her. It was either two arms or an arm and a prosthetic and she was able to give feedback. That's not how I want to show up every day. And so we have provided that feedback so we can continue to make the Metaverse a very inclusive place.


Karen Mangia

Maybe the metaverse is our collective best opportunity to bring your whole self to work and inclusion of reality. I had never thought about that until you just said it. And when I think about what's possible in the Metaverse, we get to design from scratch, I mean, we get that elusive and rare moment inside of an organization where the sheet really is blank. And while putting people at the center of that design experience, it illuminates some things we might miss as leaders, which happens when you and I were on the innovation moment podcast together, you said something that stuck with me about designing for all these different employee needs. We all want to get the employee experience, I think most organizations acknowledge employee expectations have shifted, employer expectations have shifted. And then people get lost in the overwhelm of so many employees, so many requirements. I mean, how do we make this make sense? And you shared what I thought was an insightful design concept about organizing around moments of meaning, rather than mandates. Tell us more about that, how do you think about designing an employee experience or an employee journey around moments? And how do you discern which moments matter in any given time?


Kate Clifford

It's about creating human connection. That is really what's at the core. And going back to, what I talked about in our research and what we call Omni connected experiences. It's this idea that it's not about spaces and places, but how you're connecting and being deliberate about how you lead. It's not about being in the office just to be in the office. It's about being there for purpose. And so, I gave an example of Innovation Day, we created an experience that would earn the commute of not only our interns, but of the people who were going to join our interns. Another example is what we call our season of service. People at Accenture believe in serving not only our clients but in the communities in which we live. And so we've instituted a season of service from September 11 to Martin Luther King Day, where our offices decide on which events and programs are most impactful in their communities and bring people together to serve. So again, purpose, connection, and earning a commute. We also have hosted informal networking by neighborhood. So having people connect closer to where they live, versus coming into an office with their families, we've had different teams get together and invite spouses, partners, children, roommates, to have people come together with those that they, not only work with, but those who they share their lives with. And so the most important thing is about how people feel and creating those moments that will engage people at their core, whether or not they're in the office. So we try to move away from talking about being in the office or not being in the office, to focus on people and the purpose and why we're getting together,


Karen Mangia

I think about what that mindset of earning a commute could do to close the gap between employers and employees in this in-office debate. Because it says, how would we commit to gathering with a purpose? That's significant enough that someone says, I'd be willing to commute for that, that's compelling. And the experience is designed in a way that they would make that choice, even if they weren't required to do so, I laughed, because it brought to mind, oftentimes, I will look at a plate of food, and LSS, when I'd be willing to go to the gym for that. So I guess this is the word. And I hadn't thought about it in those terms. But the next time we think about bringing people in for a gathering, are you earning a commute? That's such a vivid and relatable principle. We talk about, we measure what matters, and you have introduced a new measurement. That is a little bit of a mindset adjustment as we think about employee experience called net better off. Tell us more about that. And is this something that listeners could launch inside of their own teams or organizations?


Kate Clifford

So, we ask a very simple question, are people better off, because they work for our company? Leaders are taking FAR more responsibility for the holistic well being of their people and actively seeking to earn their trust. And we know that employees expect far more from employers, particularly as they anticipate, ideally, leaving COVID behind in a post pandemic world. And so, this idea of net better off is based on research that we've done, about meeting the six fundamental human needs through work. And by doing that, companies can unlock people's full potential. And so the framework we've coined is this net better off and it has six dimensions to it. And those six are, excuse me, emotional and mental. So feeling positive emotions, and maintaining mental wellness, relational, so feeling a strong sense of belonging and inclusion and having personal relationships, that human connection, physical being in good health and equipped to take on the normal daily stresses deciding whether or not if, what you ate was worth the trip to the gym. Financial, being financially secure without what we call undue economic stress, equitable opportunities for stability and advancement. I talked a little bit about that already. But feeling like you're making a positive difference, not only in your day to day work, but to the world, and that life has meaning beyond oneself. And then finally, employable. And we think about that, whether you work here or somewhere else. So the six dimensions, emotional and mental, relational, physical, financial, purposeful, and employable. And what our research found was that 64% of a person's potential, and potential define is their ability to use their skills and strengths at work is influenced by whether they feel better across those dimensions. And it's not just about how people feel. As employers boost these different dimensions and create meaning and create trust, they see an impact a positive impact to business provide


Karen Mangia

Your pivots and your framework of net better off reminds me of another guest we had on the show, an executive at the design firm Cushman and Wakefield, and they do a lot with workplace design and not just offices. But how does an experience transcend your physical location? And how do you create space? And she talked about her aspiration for the future of work, the design principle that she holds in her mind is the vision is making it possible for people to feel better when they leave work than when they arrived. And it strikes me that your net better off framework is a really practical way to measure. Are you getting closer to or further from that kind of vision of what the workplace really could be? Well, let's put on your consulting hat for a moment. You are in a large consulting organization. After all, how would you consult with leaders who are struggling to improve what we think of face to face experiences in this distributed world of work? And you talked a little bit already about onboarding new employees and thinking differently about not just what you learn, but who you meet and how you meet them? Talk to us and give us some advice about how to improve performance feedback and reviews in this distributed world of work.


Kate Clifford

Such a timely question, as that is the season that is upon us, at least within Accenture. Accenture's performance management approach is what we call performance achievement. Because we don't just want to manage people's performance, we want them to achieve performance that allows them to complete all of their own input, and the input from those that work with and for them virtually wherever they are around the world. And so the tool that technology allows us to keep track of real time performance, people can recognize each other, provide real time feedback, set their priorities, get input on their priorities, all through technology that allows for visibility between an individual with their supervisor, and their career coaches and mentors. We really work on a culture of continual real time feedback, but it's really about a way that an individual can be clear about what's expected of them, and have input on that all real time with transparency.


Karen Mangia

Along those lines, do we talk about, thinking in a location independent kind of way, and sometimes what gets in our way, our limiting beliefs are past playbooks that we hold about work and something I hear a lot, and I'm guessing you do too, is, well, for knowledge sharing to really happen inside of the organization, you have to be in the office so people can listen over the proverbial cubicle wall or connect around the watercooler. How do you think about knowledge sharing in a more effective way that scales in this distributed environment? Do you have to be in physical proximity for that to be effective?


Kate Clifford

This is something that I feel like Accenture was in a good place about because we have a long history of remote work, We have globally distributed teams that have been in place for decades, And we're one of the largest users of Microsoft Teams. And so Accenture has intentionally led a digital Worker Program, really to equip our people with the leading capabilities to be efficient and productive, wherever they are. So creating content, collaborating, we use a lot of virtual whiteboards, virtual brainstorming technology. And of course, we talked about some of the experiments we're doing with virtual reality, to allow our people to contribute and feel like they belong with, regardless of where they are, and I think it's not only about the innovation or the brainstorming, but it's also about how do we use this technology in a virtual way to take care of each other, We have things like Thrive moments or resets. We use things like Team chats to celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries or key successes. It's important to think about it's not just about the knowledge sharing and the content and of course, that there's technology that can support that. But not to forget about those personal moments and still recognizing those in a virtual way.


Karen Mangia

Because you are in the knowledge working business, like a lot of our listeners, and we've got lots of people who are in sales and customer facing people as well, within those roles are people who tend to like to be in person and on site with customers, and they get energy, right from those connections, or they think that that's how they can do their best work. How are you navigating that shift? People are thinking about the well, I want to get back to traveling on the road all the time, we also have a responsibility around keeping people safe. I mean, have you thought about the customer connection aspect of this when just because your organization lets people come into the office doesn't mean they're gonna let your employees come to their offices. It's business dependent, we still have to sell, we still have to connect.


Kate Clifford

It's a journey we've been on with our clients. And so we have a framework that we've used with our clients, really to understand what is very important to them? When did they need us there with them? And actually, what are some of the benefits that they've seen of actually not having to have everybody on site all the time. And so we think about the future of work. And certainly this idea of one size doesn't fit all or one size doesn't doesn't fit many, if you will, a key input into that is our clients, And how best they want to work with and interact with us. And so as we are shaping for each team, what makes sense of when they do get together, what work can be done, more distributed, or more remotely, we co create that together with our clients to ensure that we are still providing the service that they need and creating those deep relationships.


Karen Mangia

What came to my mind immediately when you said that was, if I earn a commute? Is the mindset for bringing employees to the office, maybe earning a conference room is the customer equivalent? I mean, what's the moment that matters to your customer? Not necessarily to you, but understanding on their terms? When are they willing to make the commute and commit to being in a conference room? Because it's a moment they see as vital in the development or sustaining of that relationship? Well, I'm not a marketer. So that might not go mainstream. But talking about gathering, I'd love to change gears and think about having our own virtual water cooler chat. So picture that you and I spontaneously bumped into each other in the hallway. That's kind of the feel of this part of the podcast. I have five quick water cooler questions. First of all, when you were a kid, I mean, you had all these interests when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?


Kate Clifford

A pediatrician, not informed by all those jobs I mentioned. Really wanted to be a pediatrician


Karen Mangia

Fascinating. Yes, you're like a multi-potential life. You could be in every category. What is your favorite guilty pleasure office snack? Or as we were discussing earlier, what office snack would you go to the gym for?


Kate Clifford

Oh, or Yes. Oh, yes. And I would say we have really upped our game in office snacks. I think as a part of this idea of earning, can you 've actually learned that food is a big draw.


Karen Mangia

What is the most creative reason you've ever heard someone offer for missing a meeting?


Kate Clifford

I'll have to try to surface one. But generally they are around some child or animal that has destroyed their computer. And so they've got to work through getting it fixed. But I think that's part of being home for so long.


Karen Mangia

I'll never forget the time an employee said to me, I have a Goose on the Loose in my house and I have to go home and rescue my wife and kids because they are trapped in our coat closet and no joke. A goose had come down their chimney and came out into their family room. His wife was home with their two small children and he's getting these frantic calls that a goose is on the loose. I mean, you don't hear that every day.


Karen Mangia

What do you keep on your desk that inspires you?


Kate Clifford

Pictures of my family I make every year a picture calendar of my kids and I, make it as a Christmas present for my mom. But I always make one for me too, because I love it. And I feel like I get to plan things as I'm looking at a calendar but I'm doing it while looking at pictures of my two children.


Karen Mangia

That's fabulous. And to whom are you most grateful for investing in your career?


Kate Clifford

That’s another tough one. alignment. I feel like I have been really blessed, Karen, I have one that really took a lot of different moves in my career. And in each of those moves, I felt like people continued to pull me through to the next one. But I'll say, just before I stepped into this role, the person I was working with, the leader I was working with, really invested in me as her successor and took the time to bring me along, keep me in the tent. So that one day when I stepped into her role, it would be seamless. And it was such a strong demonstration of stewardship, probably the strongest I've ever seen in my career that I'm very grateful for that.


Karen Mangia

Thank you for sharing so much wisdom today, when I step back and think about our conversation, there are so many principles you offered, that are helpful for every organization, first, earn a commute, design with that mindset of if you bring people together, what would make them delighted to commute maybe the customer principal we talked about or in a conference room. But mostly in both of those cases, understand and design around moments that matter most to the people you serve. Your concept of net better off is a great framing and a way to measure our people feeling net better off from being a part of your team or your organization that is a critical talent attraction and retention tool, and then looking in the direction of experimentation, and perhaps that the Metaverse is our chance to create a truly inclusive workspace from scratch. Before we close out today, I wanted to ask you a closing question before we finish up the show. What would it take to make every place a best place to work?


Kate Clifford

Great question. And I guess I have to start by sharing that I'm so proud that Accenture ranked number six in Fortune's best 100 Companies to Work For, because 90% of our people said Accenture is a great place to work. So I'm extremely proud of that. But in thinking about what makes every place the best place to work, circling back to the net better off work, culture has become way more than just about work. And so leaders really need to think about what matters most to their people, to help them thrive in advance in an equitable workplace, no small task. But by doing that, when leaders really prioritize psychological safety, they can enable this inclusive environment where people feel valued, seen, heard, or more likely to speak up and give their opinion, which leads to more innovation. And so putting care and compassion at the heart of the work experience, building trust through transparency, people's potential can truly be unlocked. So it's about leadership and human connection.


Karen Mangia

And within that, the core principle of to work well is to live well. And to live well is to work well. Thank you to Kate Clifford, Chief HR Officer of Accenture, North America for joining us today on Success From Anywhere because success is not a destination. Success is not a location. Success is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere.



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