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Jill Campbell of Cox Enterprises: Five Things Business Leaders Can Do To Create A Fantastic Work Culture

Listening to employee and leader feedback across the businesses. — This seems so obvious but is often overlooked. You may think things are going great, but people around the company may be having a different experience. We hosted many inclusion, diversity and equity forums in 2020 to hear from our employees and we learned a lot that helped inform our goals for the future.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Campbell, executive vice president and chief people and operations officer for Cox Enterprises, a private, family-owned company based in Atlanta, Georgia, with nearly $20 billion in annual revenues and nearly 50,000 employees. In her role, she leads the people solutions, real estate, aviation, facilities, security and corporate affairs departments.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I owe much of my career to a mentor who saw something in me that I didn’t see. Curt Hockemeier was my supervisor when I took my first job at Cox Communications right out of college. Curt told me I should move into operations where there were virtually no women. He also encouraged me to get my MBA and little by little, he gave me more operations responsibilities. He went on to Harvard for an Executive MBA and let me run the system, and I never looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your leadership role at your company?

When I moved from Cox Communications to Cox Enterprises, our President and CEO Alex Taylor asked me to completely reevaluate our employee experience. Where are we strong? What areas need to be improved?

This led to the launch of EXLab, our team dedicated to reimagining the employee experience at Cox. Through EXLab, we’re building on our great culture and creating consistent experiences for our employees that help them grow their careers, provide them with exceptional benefits and improve their overall work/life balance.

No company can do everything for everyone, but when you say you care about your people, you need to take it a step further and ask them what they care about — then see if you have a way to support them. We’ve made many additions to our benefits based on what we’ve heard from our employees. Great examples of this include gender confirmation surgery, fertility assistance and an option for pet insurance. We’ve also changed how we think about paid time off. We’ve moved away from a specific set of days and created a flexible option that empowers our people to work with their managers to determine what works for their teams.

This is how we’re approaching these areas today, but finding ways to continue to deliver an exceptional experience for our employees is something we will always invest in.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Something we’re all excited about at Cox is our Flex Forward program. While we were already creating a more flexible work experience prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 forced us to accelerate many of the plans we already had in place.

As we prepare for our post-pandemic life, we know the way we work has changed forever. Now our approach has been to empower our teams to find the best ways to get the work done for them. They do this by meeting and having open conversations about what works and what doesn’t. The result is a team agreement that guides how they work toward their goals. For some that means more time working from home, for others it means specific days when they’re in the office. We know some roles have more flexibility options than others, but we let our teams decide what works for them.

This is something that sets us apart from other companies and is another way we’re attracting top talent to Cox. Combined with being a purpose driven company and the ability to move between not only different fields, but also different industries, Cox is an excellent place for someone to make a difference and grow their career.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the U.S. workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Recent studies have shown that job satisfaction did not decline despite the pandemic, and the shift to remote work did not hurt job satisfaction either. However, employees are leaving current employers at the highest levels in two decades. There are many reasons people are unsatisfied with their current careers, so many are looking elsewhere for something better.

The demand for talent is greater than the supply, and most candidates are entertaining offers from multiple employers. People are looking to join a company that cares about their employees. One that’s constantly working to better understand what helps them in their roles and create a better work/life balance.

At Cox, we’ve expanded on what has always been an attractive work experience. We added flexible time off, new benefits and a flexible work environment where employees and their leaders are empowered to decide how, when and where work is conducted. According to our internal surveys, it’s working. People are happy working for Cox because they know we care about them and will continue to help them build a career and life they can enjoy.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and well-being?

It’s not a secret that an unhappy employee is more often than not an underperforming employee. They may be doing their job every day, but they’re not dedicating 100% of themselves to their role if they’re unhappy. That’s just human nature.

This unhappiness can breed stress, anxiety and a number of other factors that limit their potential. In the end, it impacts their health and the bottom line of the company.

It’s been my experience that engaged employees are the ones who challenge themselves to think innovatively. They’re open to change and pushing the envelope — no matter what field or industry they’re in. This is why companies should ask their employees questions about what they think about working there and really listen to the answers. That’s how you learn what you need to evolve your work culture and continue building one that appeals to potential employees of the future.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Listening to employee and leader feedback across the businesses.
    This seems so obvious but is often overlooked. You may think things are going great, but people around the company may be having a different experience. We hosted many inclusion, diversity and equity forums in 2020 to hear from our employees and we learned a lot that helped inform our goals for the future.
  2. Looking outside of your company at what other businesses are doing.
    A good idea or approach can come from anywhere. Benchmarking with other companies can provide new perspectives that you may not have thought of before.
  3. Providing tools to support candid conversations between leaders and their teams.
    Listening via surveys and forums is one thing but having those one-on-one conversations between a manager and employee is another source of information. Especially if a manager and employee have established a level of trust between them that encourages more a real and open conversation. That’s vital to having a real understanding of what a person’s work experience is like on a daily basis.
  4. Keep employees informed with business and industry news.
    People in a large organization need to know what’s happening within the company, as well as in their industry. That’s how they inform their thinking, approach and understanding of what they need to do to be successful. We have many internal websites dedicated to keeping our people in the know when it comes to many of these topics. It engages our people in many ways, from general messaging about benefits to employee spotlights that focus on different roles and the work they’re doing around the company.
  5. Make sure employees know the purpose of your company.
    Why do people show up to work every day? To earn a paycheck, sure, but there needs to be more than that. At Cox, our purpose is the Empower People Today to Build a Better Future for the Next Generation. We want to be a force for good in the world and our businesses are what help fuel that goal. A few years ago, our CEO Alex Taylor worked with Simon Sinek and Cox’s leadership team to develop our purpose, which informs so much of who we are and plays a key role in the decisions we make.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture.” What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the U.S. workforce’s work culture?

I think it’s happening. It’s been happening all along and will continue to happen into the future. Business, technology, society, all these things continue to evolve. While the idea of change may not be what everyone likes, it happens regardless. People are always asking “what’s next” and that applies to so many parts of our world. Look how far we’ve come in technology in the last 10–20 years, or even in the past year during the pandemic.

When it comes to work culture specifically, companies are hearing what employees are looking for in their careers and adjusting as it makes sense. You need to make your goals of course, but if people can still do that and work in a flexible way, then it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

Every leader has their own style, approach and goals. For me, I’ve found that earning the respect of your team is a key ingredient. You do that in many ways. Honesty and transparency are one. Another is letting your leaders lead in times of uncertainty. It shows you have confidence in them and builds trust between you.

Your people are the ones who will take the company where it needs to go, and that should never be forgotten. It’s part of your role to give them the tools and resources they need to do their jobs effectively. Sometimes that’s technology but more often than not it comes in the form of guidance. Empowering them to develop the strategies, execute on those plans and do the work necessary to move us forward is how we will succeed today and for future generations.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My dad played a big role in helping my career. He was a college professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and a psychologist who specialized in alcoholism and drug abuse. He was constantly leaving me books to read and would invite his patients to visit our home, so I got a front row view of working with people who are facing difficult challenges.

The things I learned from my dad and from majoring in sociology have been useful throughout my career. Sociology is the study of people and any job you take will involve people and the unique dynamics that come with them. I’ve always felt like my sociology background gave me an advantage over others who were never educated or trained around what it takes to motivate and engage people. You can have specific business skills, but if you don’t have a basic understanding of how to communicate with people, you won’t get nearly as far.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One thing I’m proud of is my partnership with Girl Talk, an organization that helps girls by providing comprehensive curriculum, extensive resources and ongoing support at no charge.

Every year one high school junior or senior Girl Talk participant is awarded the Jill Campbell STEAM Scholarship, which creates new, meaningful opportunities for their future. I’m a previous member of their board of directors, and I believe in the organization’s goals and approach.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be intentional and clear about what you want — and what message you’re sending out to people. Letting people know where you stand can be a big benefit to your career. I was once passed up for a promotion because my boss thought I didn’t want it. It all worked out for the best, but I should have been clearer about my intentions and goals.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think I’m doing it now. I have some influence in some circles, but that’s nothing compared to what the nearly 50,000 employees at Cox can accomplish when we work together. The days of a politician or media personality making a proclamation and everyone falling in line with that way of thinking are long over. People are inspired by the circle they have around them. Their friends, family and co-workers are the biggest influence they have.

I have so many areas I’m passionate about. I always want to support girls and women and help them even the playing field in their careers and life. We’ve come a long way but still have a way to go.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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