Diana Bentz is CHRO of Bi-State Development, the organization that manages the Gateway Arch Riverfront, Metro (St. Louis’ public transportation system), the St. Louis Downtown Airport, and the St. Louis Regional Freightway. Prior to joining Bi-State Development in 2017, Diana was VP, Manager Talent Development at Commerce Bank for nearly 17 years. Here, she describes how BSD is enhancing the development and benefits programs for its frontline-centric employee population.
What are new initiatives you’re focused on in 2023?
- Communications – getting our non-desk team members on email which will also give them access to the intranet and leveraging Bonfyre org-wide so we can directly engage everyone regardless of location or role. Up until now, our non-desk communications has been reliant on digital and physical signage and managers catching people when they can before, during, or after shifts.
- Attraction and retention – by investing in development, new benefits, recognition and rewards, and improving our post-survey action planning process.
- Development: Up until this year we didn’t have a formal mentorship program and are already seeing some great results – one of our Bus Operators, for example, has 49 years of experience and now we are creating infrastructure to tap into their experience. We’re also kicking off our first internal career fair to enable career mobility for team members.
- New benefits: paid parental leave, bringing back tuition reimbursement (gone since 2009), subsidies for student loans, child care, and elder care, and transit passes for family members.
- Recognition and rewards: We are exploring options beyond the standard catalog for service anniversaries while leveraging Bonfyre to drive more frequent recognition and celebrations – birthdays, work anniversaries, living values, personal and professional accomplishments, and more.
We are exploring options beyond the standard catalog for service anniversaries while leveraging Bonfyre to drive more frequent recognition and celebrations – birthdays, work anniversaries, living values, personal and professional accomplishments, and more.
What’s your organization’s remote work policy?
Most of our team members are not eligible for remote work, although we have approximately 250 HQ team members who are. Right now, the practice is very fluid. During the pandemic, managers were empowered to develop remote work policies for their individual work groups. We have seen a spectrum of practices — from fully remote to fully back in the office. Most chose hybrid. We are now finalizing an overall policy and considering a variety of different options — 4 day work week (10 hr days), 3 days in office with 2 days remote, and 100% remote for a small number of positions. While this is yet to be decided, we know and understand the value of flexibility, and are considering various options.
We know the benefits of remote work. What are your top 3 challenges with it so far?
People are losing connection with each other – and this has gotten worse. Zoom was okay in the beginning but now there is fatigue – team members don’t go on camera and/or are multi-tasking. This most likely would not be happening during an in-person meeting. You can setup ground rules but they can be awkward to enforce.
Haven’t experienced it myself, but many managers have felt like their team members are taking advantage of the dynamic and not working the way they are supposed to. This observation is not just based on productivity, but there is a lack of returning calls or taking calls and generally not on task. How do managers deal with this?
It’s also difficult getting team members to return to the office. When you have mixed virtual and in-person attendance, it can make the flow and outcomes of any meeting more challenging. In some instances the technology doesn’t work properly due to internet bandwidth and other issues but, even when the technology works properly it’s hard to get virtual participants to feel fully included when others are in-person.
And finally there is the “haves and have nots” dynamic remote work creates.
What are you doing to address these challenges?
We provide managers a variety of resources, including even classes designed to help managers to be better leaders, including driving success in a more virtual environment.
We have resources on how to manage remotely, conduct virtual meetings, and even stay connected remotely, for instance through virtual games or happy hours, etc. We’re excited to leverage Bonfyre’s Culture Coach solution to help us bring these recommendations to managers in the flow of work, as well as complementing resources we’ve invested in and are available to our leadership team. We’re going to create more structure around this training and perhaps require managers who have remote team members to attend these training sessions.
Does remote create a “have” and “have nots” dynamic? How are you addressing this?
Yes. We are working to better understand how we can focus on more modern ways of working while the majority of our workforce can’t take advantage of remote work options. Also, we are looking into things outside of location that can provide flexibility for our frontline. In other words, we’re looking at ways to broaden how we define flexibility beyond the location where you work.
We’re still working through this, but here some of the items we are working on:
● PTO and making the program between corporate and frontline employees more similar.
● We’re also working to leverage technology, like Bonfyre, to create digital connectivity across our entire workforce regardless of location or role.
● We’re creating a Wellness Advocacy Center. This Center will be located in one of our facilities and easily accessible for all team members as a key point of contact for assistance and for information about benefits available to them as well as resources to help with health and wellbeing, and even financial health.
What’s the feedback from these team members and what other things could help them feel more connected? Bonfyre is one of these. What else? How do we inspire that shared sense of purpose? A lot of it is through communication, inclusion, and a sense of belonging. We are also starting with some small quick hits. For example, Bus Operators have been requesting seat cushions. Easy thing to do! We don’t want our team members getting back pain. We are also focusing on leadership spending more time with our frontline workers. For example, we’ve had ride-alongs with Paratransit and Bus Operators, and with our Security team. We have our leaders going more frequently to each facility for each of our enterprises.
What’s different about Employee Experience in 2023?
The main thing is more team members are in the office. Last year, we only had a few in-person meetings, now there are many more from strategic planning to recurring team meetings being held in-person. We’ve also brought back some team member events to create opportunities for our team to reconnect. We recently hosted an event at HQ to welcome Spring and the Cardinals’ home opener. We have our Annual Safety Banquet and many others happening in the near future too … almost feels like we are back to normal!
What’s different with our frontline is that the impact of significant turnover over the past three years has created challenges with getting our service out. Our team members are working hard, and they are engaged in helping to recruit talent.
We’re also taking the opportunity to create our team member value proposition. How can we focus on the “whole person” – our team members are not just employees…they belong to communities and have families and interests outside of work.
How do we focus on them as a whole person and make sure we’re investing in their wellbeing? We have a counselor that comes onsite (this is new in 2023) which has been going over really well. We are not just focused on flexibility and finding a way to make work location somewhat equitable, but it’s really about the whole person.
How is BSD using engagement surveys today?
Our first ever engagement survey was in 2020 — it was very lengthy and focused on engagement, culture, and team. In 2021, we did a shortened pulse survey. And in 2022, we pared it down more to focus on questions comparable to Gallup Q12. We also included a couple of DEI questions and NPS. In 2023, we are moving to the Gallup Q12 survey. These surveys help us identify key themes and focus areas for culture.
We saw big improvement in 2022 which we’re excited to build on. One of the issues we have is post-survey action and team members feeling like we are taking actions. Sometimes this is because their manager or leadership needs to do a better job of taking action. Other times, team members don’t see what we’re doing.
What does post-survey action planning look like today at BSD?
This is a big area of focus for us in 2023 and this is one of the reasons we’re excited to leverage the Bonfyre Culture Coach solution together with the Gallup survey analysis.
With Culture Coach, we can automatically send managers pre-built best practice actions they can take, in a few clicks, to help improve upon their specific survey scores received from the Gallup Q12 survey.
This is a great supplement to our manager’s toolkit, which is currently under development. The key thing I’m seeing is it can’t become “another thing” for managers… making sure we cannot just create the resources for managers, but the resources need to be delivered them at the right time and in the flow of work to make it easy to execute.
What role does AI have in the employee experience?
Currently, AI does not have a role in our employee experience but that could always change in the future.