#92 Transforming Workplace Culture: Dr. James Killian on Employee Experience

Dr. James Killian is an expert in the field of employee experience.  He has held high-impact global leadership positions at Qualtrics, SAP, IBM, Hogan Assessment Systems, and led several startups to record growth, and he’s a professor in the Masters of Science CXM program at Michigan State University.  

From exploring the significance of breaking down organizational silos to hiring a chief experience officer, we’ll discuss how these strategies can uplift your team’s experience and ultimately benefit the customer. 

Our conversation also examines the pitfalls of disengaged leadership and the misconceptions CEOs often have about the value of HR and employee programs.

Dr. Killian and I will share personal stories, including an eye-opening experience at Starbucks, highlighting the direct link between employee satisfaction and a brand’s reputation. 

Lastly, we’ll tackle the challenges organizations face, from supply chain issues to tech problems and ineffective engagement surveys, and offer actionable advice for leaders navigating these turbulent waters.

James Killian, Ph.D. is Managing Director of Growth & Innovation at HSD Metrics, leading the category creation of Employee Experience Process Outsourcing (EXPO). He previously held high-impact global leadership positions at Qualtrics, SAP, IBM, Hogan Assessment Systems and led several startups to record growth. In his role as an employee experience leader, Killian consults with highly complex global customers to help them navigate candidate attraction, employee retention, the criticality of technology in the future of work and collaboration, the importance of addressing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at work and other drivers of employee engagement and experience. He is also a pioneer in “CrossXM” helping organizations successfully connect their EX and CX programs to make better data-driven business decisions.

Dr. Killian is also a professor in the Master of Science in Customer Experience Management (MS-CXM) program in the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, and the author of over 50 published articles, conference presentations, and book chapters on the topics of leadership, assessment, employee engagement, and employee experience. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a serious fitness fanatic, foodie, and outdoor enthusiast.


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Mark Slatin:
Well, today on the Delighted Customers podcast, I have a very special guest who’s a colleague of mine at Michigan State University on the faculty, a professor of practice there. And his name is James Killian. He is a PhD and he’s a managing director of growth and innovation at a company called HSD Metrics. And they are leading the category creation of employee experience process outsourcing or also known as EXPO. And he’s previously held high-impact global positions at Qualtrics, SAP, IBM, Hogan Assessment Systems, and led several startups to record growth. James, welcome to the show.

James Killian: My privilege to be here. Thanks for having me on, Mark.

Mark Slatin: You’re most welcome. And you’re in the employee experience space at MSU, teaching in the Customer Experience Management Masters of Science program there. Employee experience is a really interesting topic and the connection that it has to customer experience is something I also want to talk about. But I think we might end up calling this one treating your employees like their customers. And, and so say, say more about, but first of all, tell me more about what you’re doing right now, because I know you’re doing something very exciting with an exciting company.

James Killian: I am. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about that, Mark. I’ll start with maybe just for some of your listeners, because maybe not everybody even knows what the heck is an industrial organizational psychologist and what do you do. My PhD in IO psychology, as we call it, is really rooted in the fundamental research of studying human behavior in the workplace. And so I initially thought as an undergrad that I was going to go get a business degree and like everybody else, become a captain of industry, had to take an intro to psychology class. And all of a sudden I learned, wow, this stuff is fascinating. Oh, and I could combine business and psychology together. I was hooked at that point. And so over the course of the last almost 25 year career that I’ve had, has spent a number of roles actually in various capacities dealing with the measurement and improvement of human behavior and experiences at work. And that’s everything from how do we attract and hire talent? How do we appropriately onboard, train, develop and prepare that talent? How do we reward, recognize and promote that talent, how do we keep that talent engaged so that they are actually putting forth all the things that we really as business leaders want our employees to be focused on, right? Things like commitment, satisfaction with the job and company, discretionary effort, am I giving it more than just the minimum, right? And of course, intent to stay, because arguably what we want is for everybody who we invest in to stay longer and produce more and to enjoy themselves while they’re doing that. And so over the course of my career at some of the companies that you had mentioned, I actually came to HSD Metrics just about four months ago now. I spent the last six years helping to found and really lead the employee experience management business at Qualtrics. And now I see a real opportunity at HSD Metrics to focus on what you prefer to employee experience process outsourcing, much like recruitment process outsourcing or RPO did for hiring practices and that side of talent management, what we’re really focused on, not on the recruiting side, but once you’ve got the employees, how can an organization outsource the research that’s needed to understand those employees so that we can continue to upgrade the experience that those employees are having so that they are having those great experiences that are more fruitful and more enjoyable and ultimately more productive because as we know, a employee that’s more engaged is more likely to have a positive engagement with a customer as opposed to an employee who is disengaged from their work.

Mark Slatin: Yeah. Totally 100% agree with that. And so if I’m a CEO and I have a certain kind of company and I know that I need my employees more engaged so that they can deliver a more outstanding experience to the customers, I’m going to call up your team and your team’s going to outsource that function. Is, is it typical that. Like the profile of a typical, I’m just trying to not so much to do a TV commercial or a radio podcast commercial for your company. I’m just trying to understand, you know, what the application is because people listening may be in similar industries where they’re looking for a niche, they’re filling a need. there it’s really important to niche down as they say and get clear about specifically who or whom you want to serve and how you know what’s the profile or persona of that organization so what’s sort of a typical a business leader finds them in a situation they’re gonna call you your team up?

James Killian: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. I would say that there’s three target profiles that we consider in terms of the engagements that we have. The first of which would be, let’s call it enterprise. So this is your, your Nike’s, your Disney’s, your Meadows, right? And so in cases like that, you’ve got huge organizations with huge organization problems, right? I mean, that’s a lot of people to have to deal with. And in those cases, most of those organizations are at a cash flow point to where they’ve really got a team of anywhere from 25 to 100 people whose sole job is to conduct research about employee experience and or customer experience as part of their daily work habits. And that’s great. So if you’ve got a 25-person research team, Fantastic. That’s the kind of target profile where we can come in and say, we’ll provide the technology that allows your team to do that. But you’re in the driver’s seat. You do you, as they say, right? And in that case, we can provide that support if and when it is needed for those big enterprise customers. The second target profile is really what I would consider to be mid-market nudging up against enterprise. And this is a particularly interesting sweet spot because many of those organizations have the same big, huge organization problems, but less resources to throw at the problems. And so in those cases, you might only have an R&D team or a HR analytics team that’s only maybe two or three people, right? So in those cases, we’re going to augment what they’ve got in terms of the resources. We’re going to amplify. So by a factor of five, you’ve got three people, we’re going to give you the research power of 15. And that means that we’re going to help with things like bringing best practices and advisory and consulting to help create a survey to measure the use cases that are important, be it candidate experience, onboarding experience, engagement, training, exit, right, or anything in between, really. So we’re going to provide that guidance that allows us to then set up a research program and maybe provide a little more steering to help amplify those three people. So that’s the second target profile. And then the third is, you may have noticed that we’ve got some macroeconomic uncertainty going on out there in the world today. And in many cases, I mean a lot, what we’ve seen is these organizations, SMB all the way up to enterprise, frankly, they’re just laying people off left and right and doing it without a lot of thought about the downstream implications and impacts. of removing those people, because these organizations still have big, huge organization problems, and now they have exactly zero resources to actually run measurement programs, conduct analyses, uncover insights, and then action plan on what to do about the problems that they are having. So in those cases, that’s when we ask those customers to simply outsource the entire R&D program to us, and we basically provide the entire service with SLAs and all of the trimmings that come along with that so that we’re taking the burden off. And I think that’s really the crux of everything we’re pushing for as part of this Expo model, right? Because as I look at the industry, and this is something you’re familiar with as well, there’s so much investment in tech. Tech, tech, tech, tech, tech all day long. And I’m a big fan of tech. Don’t get me wrong. We are a technology company. But as I look at many of the providers out there, particularly those who are private equity owned or VC backed, In a lot of cases, you look at the pattern that’s happening out there and a technology may be very good and that technology is thereby backed or purchased or acquired as part of doing business. Well, in many of those cases, the first thing that a PE or a VC firm does is what? They fire all the people who actually knew the inner workings of that technology and knew how to set it up and how to run it properly. And the whole point there is to reduce the headcount to a skeleton crew, and then scale the business, maximize profits, and then flip the house in order to turn a slightly profit, right? And that’s great for them, and no faults towards the B or B-C firms. But that model does nothing positive for the customer of that technology. was intended to do something positive for. And so, you know, part of this outsourcing model is really to help customers maximize their investments as part of a holistic employee experience management program, in my case, but certainly that extends to customer experience management programs as well.

Mark Slatin: For any business to thrive, effective communication is key. Not just for success, but for maintaining a healthy, respectful work environment. And that’s where Service Skills comes in. A proven e-learning platform that’s transforming organizations through micro-learning modules. Think about it. Are your customer service interactions up to par? How inclusive and collaborative is your workplace? Service Skills offers hundreds of courses on everything from customer satisfaction and team building to management and respectful workplace practices. Validated by millions, these courses empower your staff to excel and communicate effectively, enhancing both personal and company-wide success. And the best part? It’s all available at your fingertips with affordable pricing and flexible options that fit your organization’s needs. Elevate your team’s skills, boost workplace respect, and foster a culture of diversity and inclusion. Join the ranks of satisfied clients who’ve seen tangible results in performance and communication. James, you mentioned a number of positive things that can happen when employee experience is going well. Everything from employee retention, employee engagement, discretionary effort, all the metrics that go in that genre. And you and I talked about treating your employees like their customers. Say more about that.

James Killian: Oh, yes. I, well, you know what? I tell you, I will say more about that. I would love to share a personal story that I think highlights, uh, why this is so important as part of the podcast here. So, um, and I’m going to start and finish with the same statement here, uh, but it’s necessary for context. So I’ll start with, I am a big fan of the Starbucks brand. I am a daily drinker. My wife and I are daily drinkers. We love this stuff and we frequent there. Okay. Um, that being said, this is a story about Starbucks. So about five years ago, pre pandemic, I had a friend fly in the San Francisco international airport. It was early. She says, Oh my gosh, I can really use a cup of coffee. And of course I said, no problem. There’s a Starbucks nearby. So we go to this Starbucks, park the car and start to walk toward the front door and a very curious thing was happening. The line out the door was about 18 people deep up to the counter. Now that’s pretty substantial, you know, in a retail environment, right? So it took us about seven or eight minutes probably to get up to the counter, which that’s a long time in retail years, right? And as we were nearing the counter, I looked over to the mobile order pickup line And what do you think I saw there? Happy customers grabbing their drinks, quickly moving out the door? Well, that’s what we would have expected. Unfortunately, in this case, that line was also about 20 to 25 people deep out the door. As I’m observing this, those people were not happy because they had an expectation that they were going to come in very quickly, get their coffee drink, food item, and then leave. But they were still standing there. It didn’t take much longer before I found out why everybody looked so agitated. So I got to the front counter and they got our coffee order wrong. Not once, not twice, but three times. Oh boy. And it took a while. And as we waited 10 minutes to get our food item that we had been waiting for, I finally inquired. where that item was, and we were informed that they had run out of that item about an hour prior. So, as a consumer, you can put Dr. Killian in the not happy customer column there. However, as an organizational psychologist who studies human behavior in the workplace, this was fascinating. So, I wanted to know what the heck was going on. And so, we sat there for about 30 minutes drinking our very cold cups of coffee and just observing. And there were a few things that were pretty evident from what happened. First off, they had supply chain issues. So, back of the house problems. So, in this case, they didn’t have all of the items that they should have had in stock to be able to deliver and meet the expectations of the customers. So that’s a problem in and of itself, right? Second, their technology was down. And so right in the, you know, in the midst of the rush hour that it was, the tools, processes, systems that they actually needed to adequately fulfill customer orders and to do that in a timely manner wasn’t allowing them to get their work done. So front of the house issues. And then to compound everything, it was very evident that the store manager was brand new to her role and so was everybody else on the team. So you had a situation where there was nobody who had been in the trenches or been there, done that, you know, and had a workaround or a suggestion about how to improve the experiences that everybody was having. Now, I’m a big believer, you know, if you think service profit chain kind of stuff, I’m a big believer that the employee holds a very critical role because every organization out there, yours, mine, Starbucks, has a brand. That brand is delivered through products and or services by the employees to the customers. That customer experience then comes back around and either has a positive or a negative impact on that brand experience. In this case, Those employees had the opportunity to be the hero, but instead they were the zero. So not only were they not able to deliver on the expectations that all of us as customers had, but they were in a state of duress. And as we all know, when you’re in a state of duress, sometimes you say, do and act in ways that, you know, aren’t really conducive to a great customer experience. So they were a little bit snarky with us because they were under stress. Again, big fan of the Starbucks brand, but it’s a really great example to share. And I tell this story frequently because if you think about all of those moments across that example that I just shared, there are critical points that needed to be addressed in order to enhance the employee’s experience. and empower them to deliver on the customer experience, right? So that store manager could have stood up on the counter and said, folks, This is not a good day for any of us. We are so sorry. We’re going to make it up to you. We’re going to give everybody a $10 gift card on us. We really apologize. Please do come back and see us. That didn’t happen, but it could have. And as I think about that experience, you know, first of all, even as a fan of the brand, what are the odds that I’m ever going back to that particular Starbucks store? Yeah. Zero. Yeah. If I had been in a position to have had multiple experiences like that, each time that I went to a different store, then I become a brand basher, not a brand ambassador. I’m like, Hey, I’m not going there ever again. And so, you know, I think about this because, um, I am a fan of Starbucks and they have been a customer of mine, uh, for quite some time, by the way. And, you know, they even told us that if you take them out that issue of the experience of having a brand new manager with all new team members as well, Starbucks has indicated that their scheduling system is a billion dollar problem that they’re trying to solve for. So the experience that these partners, as they call employees are having. Think about the experiences that they are having when they’re trying to schedule a shift. What if they have multiple jobs? What if they work in multiple stores? What if they have a long commute, or they’re in school, or they have childcare responsibilities, or they have preferences for opening versus closing, right? So understanding those issues or those moments across their own partners, employees experiences could have helped to staff up the right people in that store to make the experience for the customers a little bit better.

Mark Slatin: Yeah. Yeah. Really enjoyed that story. I mean, both feel for you having gone through that, but also like you, I’m curious, I, I, Personally, I get upset when someone’s not told me that they’ve been out of it for an hour, baked good or whatever. And on the other hand, I’m like, what’s going on here? This is not like them. You know, I want to understand this. You mentioned you, you unpacked some more things there. I want to just quickly touch on. So we didn’t, we didn’t lose anyone in the audience when we were talking about, so service profit chain. was a study done by three Harvard professors. It was a paper and then it became a book and it really, I’m going to oversimplify it for the sake of time, but it really just drew a line of connection between your corporate vision strategy that you set forth, the employees and who have to deliver that to the customers and their satisfaction levels. to the customers and their satisfaction levels and ultimately business performance. And basically it said, your customers are never going to be more happy than your employees are. So you better keep your employees happy because, and I remember one of them was like, you know, the studies were done in multiple ways, but one of them was like, I want to say state farm or all state and they looked at those offices within the same exact organization selling the same exact product in different cities and they just to just to neutralize it they took mid-sized cities and isolated them and large and small and compared peer groups and essentially it was the same is that those higher performing from an employee satisfaction level always had higher customer satisfaction and ultimately better and it was an order of magnitude better. It wasn’t just a little bit better business performance. So that’s kind of the link between at a high level. That’s a while ago. But the common sense things that you just talked about that translate from employee experience to customer experience. Share with me some misconceptions that you’ve heard that maybe CEOs or business leaders have, they go, they fly in the face of that study. Really?

James Killian: Yeah. I, you know, it’s really interesting. Um, I’ve seen, unfortunately, a lot of practices out there in the real world of business where HR is still frowned upon or, um, viewed as sitting at the kid’s table. And that’s a bad practice, a bad philosophy to have because your people are your most important asset. You can only deliver to those customers with what you empower your employees to deliver, right? And every single one of us has had a bad customer experience. Every single person listening to this podcast has had that bad experience. So, think about the impacts of that, because as I think about when I’ve had a perfectly adequate sandwich for lunch, I don’t go above and beyond to let everybody know that it was a decent sandwich. However, if I feel like I’ve been wronged in some shape, form, or fashion, I, you, and everybody listening will get on top of the mountain with a megaphone and make sure that everybody knows about it. It’s what I refer to as the Yelp effect, Y-E-L-L-P, right? You will talk to anyone and everyone who will listen about how bad that experience is. And if multiple people are having that bad experience, it becomes a compounding effect. And your people are the easiest way to actually address issues associated with product or service, right? How many of us have also been in a situation where we had to call customer support because something broke, it wasn’t working the way that it needed to, it didn’t get delivered, or it said it got delivered, but it wasn’t there. It’s those cases where that employee who you’re interacting with is an extension of the brand, right? So if you’re not empowering that employee to deliver on behalf of the brand, then they’re going to deliver a substandard experience. Let’s think about the opposite for a minute. When I think about exceptional experiences, the Ritz-Carlton comes to mind, right? And they’ve got all kinds of different practices that they have for their employees, one of which each employee has a daily budget of $2,000 that they can spend, you know, it’s discretionary spending, and they do that to delight the customer in any way that they see, there you go, in any way that they see And so, and they train their employees to do this. One of my favorite things that they do as part of the training to delight the customer, to be ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen, as they say, is they teach their people to actually look or whether the guests have a look of consternation, right? If they’re frustrated or upset or befuddled or whatever emotion they’re seeing, lean into that. Don’t run away from it. Don’t look across and see, oh, Mark looks really upset right now. I’m going to go run and hide in the corner. walk up to Mark and engage him as a customer, as a human being, it looks like you need something, how can I help? That makes all the difference in the world. So to those, you know, industry leaders out there who have businesses that aren’t investing in their people-related programs, that’s a big mess waiting to happen, right? So a couple of other things that I think about First of all, just doing a survey doesn’t fix the problem, right? As we all know, but it’s important to keep restating that and making sure that people know about it because Doing an annual engagement survey once a year is like, Hey Mark, how are the other 364 days this year? Well, hugely subject bias, right? Recency effect. What if you had an argument with your spouse the night before? Or what if your boss chewed you out because you missed the deadline the day before? You’re going to respond to that survey a little bit differently than you would have on maybe day two out of the year. So more frequency, less burden in terms of listening has become really, really important. And that will continue to be important. But still, the issue is, if you’re creating data, you have to take action and do something with that data. Now, I’m talking about this strictly from the perspective of an employee experience program, right? But the same thing is also true for a customer experience program. And by the way, the same thing is also true for rolling those up into a holistic experience management program, right, where you’re dealing with employee and customer data together, you have to actually have somebody who’s leading the charge on that. You have to have somebody who’s got the strategy and is thinking about the data that are being created and how the organization is going to take action on it. Simply doing a research program and conducting surveys does not lead to any positive business outcomes.

Mark Slatin: Yeah. And this is coming from someone who worked at Qualtrics, who sure, 99% of the audience will know who Qualtrics is. They may not be as familiar with the fact that they expanded their product offerings to include employee experience surveys, as you mentioned, engagement surveys is one example. And you’re making the case for the need, if you didn’t catch it, folks, the need for somebody to orchestrate employee and customer experience, all the data rolling up. Holistic view is a term that you used to pull it together because it’s just not going to happen by accident, right, James?

James Killian: That’s exactly right, Mark. So somebody has to be functioning as the chief experience officer, whether in title or in practice, right? Because here’s what’s really interesting is just focusing on the employee experience programs out there, even in the most mature customers who I’ve ever worked with, right? I’m reflecting on the last customer meeting that I had with a very well-known shoe brand about five weeks before the pandemic was announced as a pandemic. So this was my last customer meeting. And in meeting with all these senior HR leaders, it became very apparent that the person who owned the employee engagement survey, that person had never met or talked to the person who was responsible for the onboarding program. Neither of them had met or talked to the person responsible for the candidate experience survey, because that was talent acquisitions problem. That’s over there. None of them had interacted with the person responsible for conducting 360s for leadership assessment and development, because that’s the OD team. They’re way over there. Nobody had even thought about the importance of measuring and improving the employee technology experience. Well, with 77% of millennials saying they’d leave a company just because of a bad tech experience, that’s kind of important to actually focus on. And of course, nobody knew who owned the exit data. Why are people leaving? And so this is a pervasive problem in systems of measurement, even within employee experience, but certainly across employee experience and customer experience, right? So are you measuring things on the same scale? Can you actually correlate those? That’s geeking out a little bit and into the weeds of conducting analyses, but a chief experience officer needs to be thinking about this and needs to be building a team of really smart people who can go and start to plan for and answer some of those questions. Apart from that, I would say my biggest piece of advice is Don’t try to do it all in one fell swoop. Just start, just start somewhere and then realize that it’s just like being in the technology space or being in sales. You never get there. You’re never done. The job is never complete. It’s always going to be something else that you’ve got to do.

Mark Slatin: You mentioned, as a segue, you mentioned the Ritz-Carlton, and I just, I’m not sure when the release dates will be, but I just had Horst Schulze, who’s one of the founders and chief operating officer of Ritz-Carlton on the Delighted Customers podcast. And he was insightful and talked about the importance of employees, to your point, and the $2,000 empowerment that they have to make, you know, delight customers. And one of the strategies that they use is he has 24 principles of how to engage with clients. And the one you mentioned was one of them. But we’re going to shift over to, okay, we talked about some of the misconceptions and problems and challenges. the so what of employee experience. And now I’d like to talk about some strategies that we can use. You mentioned one about hiring a chief experience officer who has visibility. You mentioned obviously one we can take from RITS, which is give them some empowerment, whether it’s 2,000 a person or whatever it is that works. But the fact that they have 24 and the way they use it is, and they still use it RITS, Horst Schulte has got another hotel brand that he’s leading now called Capella, also very high-end, but they’re still doing this at Ritz. Every day they have like a huddle and they go over one of those at the same one every day so that in a 30-day period they’ve gone through all 24. And these real-life examples of what’s going on contemporaneously at Ritz, So I wanted to ask you to add on to that thought. What are some ideas that you teach at MSU and that you’re going to be employing where you are today that could help the audience? Maybe think about some strategies on how to lift up the employee experience.

James Killian: Yeah, that’s a great question, right? And I’ve covered a few of them, right? So just to kind of recap, first, just get started. Don’t over plan everything to the point to where you’re not taking any action and you’re not seeing any movement or momentum. Just get started. As you get started, have somebody who is accountable. So that’s that chief experience officer, if not in title, at least in practice. and invest in that practice, right? This can’t be done by itself just the same way that doing surveys doesn’t really fix anything by itself. You have to be prepared to take action on it. And so investing in those teams becomes a really important piece of the entire practice. The other thing that I think is just really important, and as I mentioned, these mature organizations who I’ve worked with, who rarely actually have connectivity across all their siloed research streams. One thing that I’ve done that is incredibly impactful is to either literally or digitally get everybody in the room together who’s part of this experience management, whether it’s EX, CX, or the whole kit and caboodle, and get everybody actually on the same side of the table. And what I mean by that is, in those siloed research streams, people are focusing pretty myopically. This is my research program, and I do it, and I do it well. It’s not my problem what somebody else’s research program is. I say that’s myopic because we know if you knock down the silos, democratize the data, connect to those research programs, you’re able to actually glean more important insights by connecting those data that allow you to take action in a more systems-wide kind of an approach. For example, we know from research that if a new employee who comes on board indicates that they thought they had an exceptional candidate experience, and they had an exceptional onboarding experience. And they viewed that they had sufficient time with his or her manager in the first 30 days of employment. Those employees are four and a half times more likely to intend to stay in the organization nine months later than those new employees who didn’t have all three of those boxes checked. So that’s a pretty important little aha moment, because if you think about it, As part of the candidate experience, you are making brand promises as part of the courting ritual. Now, if you’re lucky enough to convert that candidate into an employee, are you delivering on those brand promises as part of the onboarding and training? Or did somebody feel like they got bait and switched, right? So in that kind of a circumstance, you’re already off on the wrong foot. If you haven’t done a good job of connecting those programs and making sure that there’s continuity and delivery, continuity of measurement, continuity and the experience really that those employees are getting. So you have to actually have this kind of systems thinking approach to, again, the word holistic experience management. I just can’t stress that enough. That’s why it’s so important to have a chief experience officer who can begin to provide some framework for how to take action on that. Related to this is to get everybody, once they’re on the same side of the table, to actually focus on What are the business imperatives that we’re actually trying to solve here together? Right? It’s not about my measurement program versus your measurement program. It’s about why are we here? What are we trying to do to deliver an exceptional experience for the customer? Because if we don’t sell stuff and we don’t deliver stuff, then nobody has jobs.

Mark Slatin: Right. But then what’s the point? So lots of gems, James, you just unpacked. Get started. Get somebody to steer head this all together, preferably a CXO who’s accountable. Cross the silos and break up, break down the silos. Get people on the same side of the table. I heard you systems thinking, think holistically, enterprise-wide, because at the very least, a customer doesn’t stay in one silo when they interact with you. They’re ultimately going to engage multiple parts, if not every part of your organization in one way, shape, or form. So great advice. There was something that you said that triggered another RITS practice relative to new hires. So, or Schulte, anytime they open a new property, or they acquired a property, he would personally show up for the orientation and talk about what Ritz Carlton’s vision and mission was to those new employees. That’s how important it was for people to be marching in step and have the greater purpose. He couldn’t talk enough about, we’re not hiring people for jobs, we’re hiring people for a purpose. And hopefully that aligns with our purpose, but they understand their purpose is bigger than waiting tables, being a doorman, or working, you know, cleaning a room or whatever. It’s about delivering an experience that the customers love.

James Killian: That’s right. And I think that an important piece here that we see, we see a lot of consolidation across businesses, right? And the, the hotel and hospitality industry is no different. You see that, you know, Waldorf Astoria getting acquired into the Hilton portfolio to our point here, obviously the Ritz Carlton part of the Marriott brand. Right. But you know, what I love about it is, And Marriott’s a great brand too, right? But when you go into a Ritz Carlton, even though they’re a part of the Marriott umbrella portfolio of companies, right? You still feel the difference in there. That culture is pervasive in there and you get what you pay for, right?

Mark Slatin: Yeah. Yeah. James, really great stuff. And I know you’re sharing this. with students at MSU, I want to put that thought on pause for a minute, because I want to ask you my last question, which is what advice would you give to your 20 year old self?

James Killian: Yeah. You know, it’s, um, as we get into our fifties, we start thinking a lot about that 20 year self, 20 year old self. And I don’t think there’s one thing, but there, there’s a few things that I think, and they’re all, pretty interrelated. The first of which I would say is avoid toxic people in all facets of your life. And that includes friends, family, coworkers. So surround yourself with people who help you become the best version of yourself. So that’s the first thing that I would say. The second that’s very much related is figure out who your authentic self is as fast as possible and be unapologetically fat. Because people will love and respect that authenticity. And the third thing that I would say is focus only on what you have control over and do that exceptionally well. Everything else is just noise.

Mark Slatin: Really good stuff. Thank you folks for tuning in to the delighted customers. I have to say that you get these gems from people like Dr. Killian here. on the show, and that’s why you need to keep coming back and listening. James, if somebody wanted, well, first let’s just talk about MSU. So you’re teaching employee experience course at MSU, and the program, I think you’re two ahead of mine, I think, and sandwiched between you and I are employee engagement. But at a high level, it kind of covers the topics that we discussed today, yes?

James Killian: Yeah, exactly. If you look at the text that I use as part of the curriculum, the author, Soren Smith, he’s identified over 200 potential moments that matter across the employee life cycle from pre-hire to retire. Now, we talked about using a holistic or a systems thinking approach. That’s a whole lot of holistic, right? 200 moments that matter, that’s a lot to deal with. So what’s really important is for the students of the program to think about their own organizations, their own industries, their own unique challenges that they’re faced with as a company, and think about what are those critical moments that matter for their organization that they need to actually be focused on in order to change the game or raise the bar for employee experiences so those employees can deliver better on the customer experience.

Mark Slatin: Yeah, so a little plug for us, and if you’re listening on your iPhone or in your car, James has the Michigan State CXM shirt on today, proudly wearing the Spartan green colors. James, if somebody wanted to get ahold of you just to connect about MSU or about what you do in your profession, what would be the best way for them to reach you?

James Killian: You know, uh, thanks, Mark. LinkedIn is always good. I’m always open to networking there. Or you can just Google James Killian, Michigan state, and it’ll bring up my faculty page at the Rhode college of business. And that’ll have my contact details there.