Insights from Cassandra Babilya, Head of Employee Experience Strategy at Amazon Web Services
In an exclusive interview with Jason Lavender, CEO and Co-Founder of Electives, Cassandra Babilya, the Head of Employee Experience Strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS), provides valuable insights into creating a positive and engaging employee experience.
With a background that includes eight years as a spy for the CIA, Cassandra brings a unique perspective to her role. She highlights the importance of connection, learning opportunities and data-driven approaches in shaping a thriving work environment. Through her experiences at Amazon and her passion for employee well-being, Cassandra offers practical advice for leaders looking to enhance their employee experience strategies.
Key topics during the interview included:
- The importance of treating employees as individuals.
- Why employee connections need nurturing.
- How you can help employees find time for learning and development.
- Why the employee lifecycle should be viewed from the employee perspective.
- The future of the employee experience function.
Treat your people as humans.
Cassandra emphasizes the value of investing in employees as individuals, recognizing that your one-on-one conversations should not solely focus on work projects and goals.
"Sometimes, whatever is on someone's mind is much more important [than project updates] to discuss and build a relationship,” shared Cassandra. “You earn their trust and at the same time, show how emotionally intelligent you can be."
Cassandra encourages leaders to take the time to show that they care about their employees' personal experiences and challenges. This investment fosters a stronger connection, and that connection will lead to improved performance and engagement.
Emphasizing the growing significance of hybrid and remote work, Cassandra promotes embracing flexibility to create environments that support diverse employee experiences. “We really need to learn to work with flexible work rather than against it,” she said.
Evaluate your employee lifecycle from the employee perspective.
The default, Cassandra believes, is to think about the employee lifecycle from the company point of view: onboarding, retention and so on. But Cassandra prefers to think about the employee lifecycle from the employee perspective.
“We really need to look at what the goals are of our people and what they need at each stage,” explained Cassandra. Whether it’s long-term growth plans or temporary transitions, employees typically have objectives in mind.
For example, during what Cassandra calls the “grow stage” she says employees are looking to excel, build roots, get more scope or get promoted. Understanding their goals and what they need for their personal and professional development is key to supporting them.
“I think the most surprising thing is,” continued Cassandra, “We are pretty aligned on what employees need and what companies need throughout the job life cycle.”
During the recruitment process, Cassandra emphasizes the need to make it a good experience. That positive experience should not end there. Throughout the employee lifecycle, recognition, growth opportunities, development time and inclusion amplify the employee experience.
Employee connections need nurturing.
Cassandra underscores the importance of employee connection, especially in remote and hybrid work arrangements. She advocates for building a sense of community and fostering engagement through inclusive environments, asynchronous collaboration tools and purposeful team interactions.
Cassandra also emphasizes the need to teach managers and employees effective communication strategies, empowering them to have meaningful conversations and build strong relationships.
“There’s no college course that I recall taking that taught me how to tell my manager what I want out of my day,” commented Cassandra. “We really need to teach employees how to advocate for their personal and professional goals.”
Likewise, Cassandra believes new managers need particular support in learning how to give human-centered feedback and respond when employees are struggling at work or home.
“We actually built our employee experience strategy around the theme of connection,” shared Cassandra. “We found that when employees feel connected to one another, they’re more likely to support one another. They are more likely to share recognition of one another. They’re more likely to collaborate on ideas. They’re more likely to trust the person that they’re sending that email to or that report to. And they’re more likely to succeed and meet and reach their goals.”
Employees need help finding time to prioritize their growth.
Addressing the challenge of finding time for learning and development, Cassandra advises leaders to create a roadmap for the year, identifying essential skills and development opportunities for individual contributors and managers.
Believing “you can’t afford to not make time for [learning and development],” Cassandra highlights the importance of providing dedicated time for employees to focus on their personal and professional growth, suggesting practices such as meeting-free days or designated development afternoons.
According to Cassandra, meeting free Fridays, can be very successful. To make it work, employees are encouraged to not schedule or attend internal meetings. Instead, they’re asked to use their Fridays to do deep work for themselves, including learning and development.
Employee experience is just getting started.
Reflecting on her seven years as an employee experience leader, Cassandra draws parallels between the current state of the employee experience field and the early days of employee communications.
Cassandra explained, "There are leaders who understand the value of an engaged workforce, and they understand that they need to invest in building an engaged workforce. But, they're not quite sure how to go about it."
Cassandra predicts that, in the coming years, employee experience will be recognized as a critical business objective, leading to increased investment and resources dedicated to building a strong employee experience.
Cassandra believes a positive employee experience creates a virtuous cycle. Just like “food made with love tastes better,” Cassandra explained, “Employees who are happy in their jobs… are more creative… more innovative… more productive… And they’re more likely to rave about their experience with a company and draw in and attract more top talent.”
Building an employee experience function requires gathering and leveraging employee experience data to drive positive change. Cassandra envisions the potential of generative AI tools to analyze employee feedback and provide valuable insights. She wants to know the top themes of what employees care about and what employees believe companies should change. “The gold mine of employee experience data is in the contextual text responses,” said Cassandra. “It’s in employee focus groups. It’s in those one-on-one conversations we have. Being able to tap into that data set is really going to help companies change the game for employee experience.”
Hear more from Cassandra Babilya:
- Flexible work opened up opportunities for more people: Cassandra talks about the power of hybrid and remote work for giving opportunities to people who need flexibility.
- We need to understand what employees want at each stage of their careers: Cassandra talks about why its important to understand what employees want and need at each stage of their careers.
- Connection is key in an employee experience strategy: Cassandra talks about why connection is an essential component of an employee experience strategy.
- We need to teach employees to advocate for their personal development: Cassandra discusses why we need to teach employees to advocate for their personal and professional development and wellbeing.
- Employees who are happy perpetuate a positive employee experience: Cassandra talks about how positive employee experiences are beneficial to all employees.
About Cassandra Babilya
Cassandra Babilya is an accomplished corporate culture leader, mother, lifelong learner and coach who is passionate about transforming the workplace into an environment where people thrive. With a diverse background that spans teaching, espionage and leadership roles, Cassandra brings a unique perspective to her work. Her mission is to make work more enjoyable and fulfilling for individuals and organizations.
Since 2016, Cassandra has been an integral part of Amazon Web Services (AWS), where she is the Head of Employee Experience Strategy for the Global Services organization. In this role, she leads the development and implementation of strategies that enhance employee engagement, foster a positive work culture and drive organizational success. Cassandra's expertise lies in creating inclusive cultures, coaching individuals to reach their full potential and elevating the overall employee experience.
Recognizing the alarming statistics that indicate high levels of burnout among employees, Cassandra is determined to tackle the systemic issues that contribute to this widespread problem. Cassandra believes organizations can create environments where employees thrive by transforming workplace cultures and addressing underlying systemic challenges, leading to increased productivity, engagement and wellbeing.
Cassandra is a sought-after speaker and thought leader on career coaching, inclusive culture and employee experience. As an advocate for positive change, Cassandra's unwavering commitment to making work more fulfilling and joyful sets her apart.
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