How Salesforce build their award-winning workplace

14 min read | Sandra Henke, Group Head of People and Culture | Article | Staff engagement | Workforce management

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Building a team to succeed is no easy feat. In this conversation for Hays Journal, our Director of People and Culture, Sandra Henke, speaks to Salesforce’s Judy Kohner about the company’s industry-leading initiatives. 


Shaping a workplace: Key Insights

  • Jody Kohner is Senior Vice President of Employee Marketing & Engagement at customer relationship management (CRM) software business Salesforce. She offers insight into a five-step strategy to create a great place to work.
  • Utilise the passion of your people as the best possible advertisement for the company. 
  • Recognise your employees as customers. From a HR perspective, this means mapping their individual journey in the company, and designing engagement for every stage of a career cycle.
  • Introduce useful metrics. HR and engagement can often be seen as fuzzy or ill-defined outcomes. Extracting measurable data is key.
  • Emphasise culture and personal accountability. Salesforce use a goals system that cascades from a company-wide agenda down to individual goals frameworks. This keeps the business and individual employees aligned in their aims.
  • Enable everyone in the company to make a difference. Salesforce makes time for all employees to ‘give back’ to community organisations – and map hours devoted on a global scale for a real sense of impact.

Keep reading for fuller details on Jody’s journey and her deep insight into building a workplace that gets (and gives) the best employer engagement. 

Or learn more about our professional services to find out how we can help you with your own business and company-culture needs.


An award-winning workplace: Background

The Salesforce approach certainly seems to be working. The company has been named one of the ‘Best Companies to Work For’ by Fortune for 14 years running. Jody Kohner says avoiding complacency and being intentional about culture is key to this success.

Equality is a core value for Salesforce, one embedded throughout the company. Kohner lists her boss, Chief People Officer Cindy Robbins, as one of biggest inspirations because of Cindy’s active role in achieving pay equality across the business. As Kohner puts it, pithily, “equal pay is now part of our DNA.”

That journey started in 2015 when Cindy raised the issue to Salesforce’s CEO. That conversation led to an all-company equal pay assessment. Salesforce spent $3 million to eliminate statistical differences in pay. The next year Salesforce had record growth, acquiring 14 new companies, adding 7,000 staff to the workforce. That hiring spree occasioned another equal pay assessment. To date, Salesforce have spent $6 million ensuring everyone is paid equally.”

Kohner believes that making a difference to the lives of your employees has a far-reaching impact that should not be underestimated.

“If you love your job and enjoy coming into a workplace where you feel you are growing, learning and inspired to do better, you go home happier at the end of the day. I really believe that has a profound impact on our communities at large. When people who love their jobs go home, they are better parents, better spouses and are more involved in their communities. They go to work and are inspired and energised.

It’s an aim that Salesforce, and Kohner, remain committed to. Here’s how they did it. 


The five steps to creating a happy, engaged, motivated team of people.

Step 1: Celebrate the passion of your people

“I started at Salesforce seven years ago in a product marketing role, heading up our competitive team,” Kohner explains. “In that capacity, my job was to train the sales team to differentiate our product from everyone else.

“What was interesting to me was how passionate our people were about our brand. When our sales team sat at a table with a customer, their passion and sense of belief in our company mission made our competitors null and void. Customers didn’t really care who else was out there, they wanted the energy of our people brought to their company.”

Kohner saw an opportunity to expand that sales passion throughout the entire organisation. “I thought that if you could build an army of staff who love to express how fabulous the company is, that would be an attractive and magnetic appeal to customers.” 

Step 2: Define the customer and map their experiences

Many businesses still abide by the mantra of ‘the customer is always right.’ However, applying this ethos outside of customer-facing roles can be challenging. For Kohner, the solution was second nature.

“Coming from a marketing background, the first question I asked was: ‘Who is my customer?” The answer, she explains, was the Salesforce employees themselves.

The follow-up question was how to build a great working experience for employees at every stage of their career? For example, someone who is interviewing for the company now would almost certainly have a very different experience to someone who has been here for 15 years. Kohner started to build a comprehensive employee engagement strategy by mapping out the full employee life cycle. Only then could she begin to build programmes, teams and metrics to provide an incredible experience at every stage of the cycle.

Kohner believes the overall project begins with a great employer brand that appeals to the best talent. According to Kohner’s theory, positive expectations are then reflected in the candidate interview experience, followed by a solid on-boarding process. 

“From there, we consider what we are doing to engage employees and drive their success in the company. That impetus can come from effective internal communications, from programmes that inject meaning into employees’ work, or from great company values. If we get that combination right, you quickly find that employees are your biggest advocates.”

Salesforce is clearly behind Kohner’s vision. In three years, Kohner’s team has grown a global reach and become an important pillar of the HR structure. 

Step 3: Decide how you are going to measure success

Salesforce specialise in products that help other companies track success rates with customers. It’s unsurprising, then, that Salesforce take their own internal metrics seriously. Kohner shares their focus:

“Metrics are something I’m pretty passionate about. When I was trying to decide if I should focus on business culture, I spoke with my manager. He cautioned me that I would not have any metrics and that if I didn’t create them, I couldn’t be successful in my approach. His advice was a real gift. Data is the language of business and that has to translate into HR. If you don’t have the data-backed validation, everything you do becomes a soft, fuzzy ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a business essential.”

Salesforce’s use a business plan they call V2MOM,  which stands for Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Metrics. A company-wide V2MOM is set each year by CEO Marc Benioff and the executive management. In turn, this overarching framework  cascades down to the individual V2MOM of each member of staff.

“Every single employee has one,” explains Kohner. “Vision is the aspirational thing you want to accomplish that year. The Values underline that vision and the Methods are hard actions that the employee will take to succeed. Obstacles are the areas in which you know you’ll need help from colleagues, and the Metrics are there to assess whether the Vision has been successful. Not only does every employee have a V2MOM, they are made public. Any employee can see a colleague’s goals and where they are up to in completing them.”

Step 4: Put culture and accountability first

Though success is measured in numbers, culture is still marked as the most important influence on goals at Salesforce. The company refers to this as ‘Ohana’, the Hawaiian word for family.

“Establishing Ohana as the primary method by which we reach our goals has changed everything,” says Kohner. “Every manager knows their first priority is to their people, their teams and the experience we’re co-creating.”

She says it is this formal push to put culture first that allows her and her team to really measure their engagement. Lot of companies run an employee survey, but Salesforce performs two per year. The data is uploaded to their Waves Analytics app, which allows every single global employee to see the results and check their team scores.

“Each manager is accountable for their team and if scores are low, they work collaboratively with their teams and HR to turn things around.” Kohner explains the importance of this managerial response: “Firstly, it’s important that managers react to the data because it’s on their V2MOM and they will be held accountable for it. Second, they need to retain their people. If you work here, you get calls from recruiters all day long. Managers need to make sure that employees find the job of their life here at Salesforce.

Kohner stresses that “you can’t game culture. Sites like Glassdoor and social media platforms make HR a transparent world. If you are not truly intentional in your culture, working in an aligned fashion and in an authentic way, people will know.”

Step 5: Enable everyone

Ohana is one of the most important concepts within Salesforce’s engagement strategy, and Kohner thinks the community it creates is key to staff progression.

“Enabling everyone is so important,” she says. “There are a lot of Hawaiian roots in this company but Ohana has really stuck. It means family, but it’s more than your blood relations. It’s really about the people that you are locking arms and taking the hill with.”

It’s an intriguing concept and it is at the core of everything Salesforce tries to achieve. Kohner says that “our employees are the centre of what Ohana means, but so are our customers, partners and the communities we live in and give back to. They’re all stakeholders.”

Giving back to communities is a huge priority for the company. Every employee is given 56 hours per year to devote to an organisation of their choice, explains Kohner.“I do a lot of work in my kids’ schools, other people might go to Costa Rica and clean a beach for a week. “

Kohner’s beloved metrics are at the heart of this too. “What’s important” she says,” is that we track milestones using an app and celebrate them as a company. We make it easy for staff to find a volunteer activity in an area and sign up to it and log hours through this app. We count all the hours globally, and last year we hit 2 million hours! The technology and the data allows us to celebrate such massive success. We can make it real and meaningful for employees.”


Building a fantastic workplace: What’s Next?

To read a fuller version of this conversation, you can request your copy of the Hays Journal here.

Workplace culture and recruitment go hand-in-hand. Our recruitment experts have compiled comprehensive research about what prospective employees really want. 
Attend one of our webinars to find out more about the Hays What Workers Want Report 2022.
For more information or to discuss your employment needs, please contact your local consultant.


About this author

Sandra Henke

Based in London, Sandra is the Group Head and UK/I Director of People and Culture for Hays. Prior to this Sandra held a similar role for Hays in the Asia Pacific region, based in Sydney. Sandra is passionate about organisational culture and its role in driving every aspect of business results.

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