Ask the People Ops Expert: Amanda Delaney, Employee Experience at Blend.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do at Blend and what are your specialties?

Amanda: Early in my career, I was the office manager and event planner at a small hedge fund in New York City. I realized that the employee experience is one of the most important elements of happiness and productivity. My dream role of focusing just on Employee Experience opened at Blend, so I accepted and moved cross country, and I’ve never been happier at a job. Here at Blend, the Employee Experience is responsible for internal events, onboarding, employee recognition programs, engagement surveys, swag, and wellness programming. It’s an incredibly rewarding role because we get to see the impact of our programming on our employees’ day-to-day lives.

For an organization that is in the beginning stages of discovering what employee experience is for them, what steps or research do you recommend to help get them started?

Amanda: I’ve learned so much about what works and what doesn’t at People Operations networking events, like Sapling’s People Ops Collective, and Culture Club hosted by Exubrancy and LifeLabs Learning.

When establishing the employee experience at Blend, my goal was to create programming that was as inclusive as possible. I happen to be an extroverted people-person who loves attending events. But I’m just one persona out of about 350 employees. In order to better understand all the individual personas at Blend, I recently started a listening tour. One of my favorite examples of Blend’s employee-led culture are the groups that have organically formed around shared interests and hobbies. We officially and affectionately call these Blubs (Blend clubs like Blub-Burgers, Blub-Yoga, Blub-DIY, Blub-Rockclimbing)! Some blubs are about shared passions, some are about fandom, and some cultivate hobbies. What they all share, is the power to bring people together regardless of their role or place in the org. Each approved Blub receives a quarterly allowance to pursue its passion.

Monitoring employee satisfaction is one of the ways we benchmark success. Because we’re a data-driven company, we love tools that help us aggregate feedback from all over the organization in a light-touch, yet high volume way. One of these tools is called Officevibe, which allows us to do a bi-weekly pulse survey to understand what’s on our employees’ minds. We receive valuable quantitative data, but it’s in the qualitative comments where we take action. All of the anonymous (or not) comments go into a Slack channel with our leadership team so they can take action and create positive change at Blend.

How do you create an employee experience that meets the needs and expectations of so many different people?

Amanda: The listening tour I started and the information I’ve pulled from Officevibe data really helps with understanding the unique individuals that make-up Blend’s culture.

I’ve learned that even if an employee never attends a yoga class, they love knowing that we offer this type of class and that their colleagues are benefiting from the class. I love all of our programmings, but it’s the Blubs that create the most inclusive environment and meet the needs and passions of so many different types of employees.

One of Blend’s core principles is around iteration. This allows me to test different programs and events in our office to see what sticks. For example, earlier this year we rolled out Third Thursday Social Hour. They started out small but then we started offering other Blend groups to “takeover” they were a huge hit! It showed how strong our employee-led culture is. We recently hosted a Blub Fair where our Employee Resource Groups did a Third Thursday panel and ice cream social and our employees learned about the various clubs.

Why do you invest so much time in the onboarding of your new hires? How do you connect it with employee experience?

Amanda: We want our new hires to feel inspired and excited that they made the choice to join Blend.

People Operations, Facilities, IT, and Employee Experience make-up our day-one onboarding. We strive to give our new hires all of the essential day-one information and tools that allow them to focus on learning and connecting.

Since I run Employee Experience at Blend, I touch on their upcoming meetings and events, Slack, employee recognition, and engagement. I love to tell our new hires that life is short, we are working really hard here to push forward an incredible product, and my team is here to surprise, delight, and make employees’ lives a little better.

During a new hire’s first month they attend Blend University, which is a 3-day onboarding program that digs deep into each department. Ryan Giordano, Organizational Effectiveness Manager, created Blend University with the goal to further new hires’ connection to one another, expand their knowledge about Blend, and inspire them about the mission we’re all a part of.

How do you get leadership and management to care about employee satisfaction and engagement?

Amanda: Our leadership team is passionate about growth and development, internal movement, and recognizing good work. There are many ways our employees can be recognized, from daily gratitude cards to shout-outs in our #gratitude Slack channel, to the CEO award (which is a gold replica of Bailey, our CEO’s dog, considered to be the highest level award at Blend).

Additionally, we have ‘Pass the Pizza’ and ‘Pass the Blender’, which happen at our monthly All Hands. These peer-to-peer recognition awards have created a sense of pride and community at Blend. Pass the Pizza is an award for a cultural moment and Pass the Blend is for cross-collaboration. We pass a gold spray painted pizza box and a toy blender and each winner receives a hat with a pizza or blender patch. It’s a lot of fun and something that’s completely unique to the Blend culture. These peer-to-peer awards don’t require a nomination process but they do inspire heart-warming speeches and pretty cool swag.

Quarterly, we do our much-anticipated Golden Dew awards which are nomination based, endorsed by managers, and announced by our CEO at our All-Hands. We spray paint Diet Mt. Dew cans (our CEO’s beverage of choice) and award them to people whose recent work reflects our five principles.

How do you make sure remote employees feel included in the employee experience?

Amanda: Being inclusive of remote employees is always on our mind. In addition to investing a lot into making our NYC office a unique extension of our SF HQ, we send swag to our remote employees, Zoom everyone into our All-Hands and important meetings, and plan bi-coastal events when it makes sense.

What do you see as the future of employee experience?

Amanda: The human element of Employee Experience is so important, but I think survey tools and data will continue to drive change in the industry. The more we understand, the better we can address the needs of all employees. The importance of employee buy-in and employee-led culture are crucial to ensuring traditions stick. I do believe that wellness will be a bigger trend in 2019 and future years-- we’re figuring out how to trigger employee’s to live a healthy life that will, in the end, drive happiness and productivity.


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Ask the People Ops Expert: Employee Experience Initiatives