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Veli Aghdiran, regional learning and culture director for APAC at Essence

Essence: Actionable data at the heart of decisions



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As a digital-first media agency with a proud history of using technology, data and transparent media buying to advance the digital advertising industry, it is no surprise that Essence also significantly leverages on technology to manage aspects of its workforce.

When it comes to talent management, some top issues for Essence include scaling the organisational culture as it expands; and scaling its learning and development interventions and making them available, accessible and of the highest standard. Apart from that, the media agency aims to curate meaningful career paths across its teams to continue attracting and retaining top talent.

As many HR leaders can attest to, keeping employees satisfied and engaged is one of the best ways to retain them. Veli Aghdiran, regional learning and culture director for APAC at Essence, shares that while the firm has been taking a very survey-based approach to measuring employee satisfaction for more than five years, the outputs of its in-house efforts often left them with more questions than insights.

“When the insights aren’t clear, confirmation bias starts to become a more significant risk factor,” Aghdiran says.

Even though there’s no way of entirely mitigating against that, technology systems are better able to provide insights on what has a causal effect on employee satisfaction scores.

“This makes it much easier to prioritise and focus on action. When we do that, our employees see that the leadership proactively addresses the issues that come out of surveys, and they’ll probably take more time and care in responding when they’re next asked,” he says.

Turning data into actionable insights

As such, Essence has partnered with Glint to turn its six-monthly employee satisfaction surveys into insights that leave the leadership teams clear on actions and next steps. Th e media agency has also invested in HappyOrNot terminals across its offices to have a minute-by-minute pulse of how Essentials are answering the question “How are you feeling right now?” all over the world.

“From an employee engagement perspective, we’re constantly iterating how we use technology to not just collect data, but to efficiently turn it into actionable insights.”

Owned by the learning and culture team, throughout the process of the implementation the team has been very focused on articulating the “why” behind these investments, both to leadership stakeholders and to Essentials.

“Data is truly at the heart of everything we do for our clients as an agency. As a result, our people are very engaged with our efforts to collect and generate insights on employee satisfaction, and we’re relentlessly transparent and people-focused in our approach.

“As we transition from small company to not-so- small company, our senior leadership is very aligned behind the need to rigorously get a sense of what’s going for our people so that we can take meaningful and impactful action.”

Though senior leadership buy-in came fairly easily for Essence, the implementation wasn’t without bumps.

“Whenever you partner with a new supplier, there’s always a need to invest time and energy in the implementation. The two main areas of focus were stakeholder communication and data import and hygiene.”

From a people perspective, the biggest impact so far is that we’ve been able to drive incredibly productive conversations with our leadership.

When it came to the employees’ response, he notes it was mostly one of curiosity and positivity.

On the benefits of the programme, he reveals: “From a people perspective, the biggest impact so far is that we’ve been able to drive incredibly productive conversations with our leadership.

“Our investments have also enabled us to ensure accountability sits with those empowered to effect change in the organisation.”

Aghdiran adds that while the people functions play an important facilitative role, Essence relies on the engagement and leadership of senior management to drive the change that it wants to drive for its people.

“When it comes to business impact, these investments have coincided with a significant period of change and transformation at Essence, making the insights gathered even more valuable.

“Ultimately, our intention is to maintain high retention rates as we grow and scale. These investments in technology enable us to take timely, focused and impactful action, so that we can address problems quickly and effectively, and also turn up the volume on things that make our people happy.”

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