Changemakers: How Salesforce Is Building Belonging With Its Workers

“I quit.” A record 45 million U.S. workers are believed to have quit their jobs last year, and early estimates indicate that 2021 will yield the highest number of worker resignations since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking quit data. And pollsters predict the wave of resignations will continue well into 2022.

This leaves employers struggling to understand what is happening, and, more importantly, what they can do to reverse the trend.

For companies looking for solutions, Jacalyn Chapman at Salesforce has a straightforward answer — listen to what your employees tell you and act on it.

Salesforce is a leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform with $21 billion in annual revenue and nearly 70,000 employees around the globe. Chapman, who has spent the last decade at Salesforce, is an unlikely expert (at least on paper) on employee retention. A civil engineering graduate of Georgia Tech, she has spent most of her career in operations roles focused on strategic innovation, customer experience, and consulting. In 2020, Chapman made a career right turn into human resources (HR), where she began leading Salesforce’s Employee Advocacy and Belonging team.

Chapman helped launch a new initiative called the Warmline, an employee advocacy program for women of all races and ethnicities, and focused on Black, Indigeneous, Latinx employees of all gender identities and employees who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. It connects employees with advocates who help them navigate career moments, issues of belonging, communication and conversations.

The Changemaker story of how Chapman is helping Salesforce management listen to and learn from its employees offers an example of how Impact Employers partner with their workers to create welcoming workplaces where people want to stay. As a Founding Coalition member for JFF’s Recover Stronger, Salesforce is part of a vanguard of companies adopting sustainable business practices that prioritize worker well-being along with business returns.

JFF’s Carey O’Connor recently spoke with Chapman to learn more about how Salesforce is listening and working with its people during this time of immense change.

CO: Before we met, I heard you were the employee “warmline” at Salesforce before the idea even existed at the company. I would love to know more — how did an engineer with such a strong technical background become Salesforce’s lead employee advocate?

Chapman: I’ve always been a connector at heart. I want to help people feel like they belong and are valued. When other people feel valued, I feel valued. It’s synergistic. That is the empathetic side of me. At the same time, I’m also highly curious and have a strong bent toward justice. When I was a little girl, I was the student who raised her hand and constantly asked, “Why, why, why?” I love solving problems and logic puzzles, which is the engineering side of me.

I pursued engineering in college because of the support I received from an amazing high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Barbara Cook. I was the first in my family to go to college, so I didn’t have a blueprint to follow. Mrs. Cook helped to fill that gap, exposing me to experiences that led me to choose engineering as a major. After I graduated from Georgia Tech with a civil engineering degree, I quickly realized that working as an engineer would not afford the opportunity to engage with people in the way that I preferred. So I shifted my career to project management and consulting in the technology space.

Salesforce, with its focus on customer success, was a natural home for me. After several years in strategy and digital transformation at Salesforce, I found myself gravitating to helping others who were experiencing workplace and career challenges. Helping them find solutions was like a logic puzzle for me — identifying the root cause and then connecting them to the right people and resources.

So when the opportunity to lead Salesforce’s Warmline came about, I realized it was a perfect fit for me.

I love the name Warmline — it sounds so friendly and inviting. Where did the name and idea come from?

It is intended to be friendly and inviting! A warmline is typically used to provide support before a crisis occurs and is usually run by peers. We are not the first to do it, but I like to think that we added a bit of Salesforce innovation to our efforts that is a differentiator for our program.

In early 2020, our engagement data illustrated a gap in the experience of some of our employees. It is important to our leadership team that everyone’s experience is consistent with our culture. The Warmline was created as an equity solution to address this gap in experience. Our recently appointed chief equality officer, Lori Castillo Martinez, actually sponsored this initiative when she was in her previous role. She was a catalyst for us to try something new, something bold.

When George Floyd’s murder happened in late May 2020, we knew we needed to accelerate our pace, which was challenging since the pandemic had also started. To provide the immediate support that our employees needed, we did a soft launch in June 2020 and have continued to expand ever since.

Let’s talk about how the Warmline operates. How does a Salesforce employee start working with your team, and what are the types of issues an employee might raise?

The Warmline is an opt-in service — we work with employees (we call them clients) who reach out for support. Clients call the Warmline when they are struggling with something or want a thought partner to help them think through options. They may not have a network in the company who they can contact when they have a problem or question. The type of issues clients raise frequently include:

  • Concerns with belonging
  • Support with communication and conversations
  • Assistance with career navigation
  • Building community & internal networks
  • Awareness of and connection to resources

Let’s talk about what happens when an employee, I mean client, contacts the Warmline. What can they expect to occur?

During a Warmline interaction, we follow our client’s lead as they talk about whatever is top of mind. We do not have a set menu of topics we discuss. Our goal is to provide a safe place and empathetic ear where clients can talk about their problems and concerns. As we work with a client, we help the person identify potential steps that could address their concerns. The process can take several conversations.

Once we help them identify what steps they want to take, we then work with them on the resources and support they will need. For example, many of our clients ask for assistance with having a courageous and sometimes uncomfortable conversation with their manager or peer. Our advocates are Salesforce employees who are trained in conducting courageous conversations and can help them role-play the conversation. Advocates are also deeply familiar with Salesforce’s employee benefits and can help clients get access to the benefits they need.

Unfortunately, we don’t always have a solution for every client, which is hard. Solutions rely on what our clients are willing to do, as well as the role they would like us to play as their advocates. In every case, we look at how we might inform the corresponding systems and processes across the company to drive a better employee experience.

How has the Warmline been received by employees?

Very, very well. Over 1,000 employees have contacted the Warmline so far for support.

Wow. That is a large number of employees in a short period of time. Why do you think it is so popular?

The Warmline created an engagement channel for employees that never existed previously. Employees are sometimes hesitant to engage with Employee Success due to fear of retaliation or reputational damage. Our goal is to serve as advocates for employees; this is a paradigm shift from the traditional role of HR.

The Warmline creates a safe way for our clients to get their message out.

I understand how the Warmline can help individual employees, but why is it revolutionary? How is it changing Salesforce as a company?

Warmline provides a secure way to bring the valuable feedback we hear from clients to decision-makers in an anonymous aggregate manner to address their concerns. We want to be more than an empathetic ear — we want to address the problems clients raise with us, but we cannot do that without data. So we created an internal process that categorizes calls we receive on a de-identified basis. We then regularly analyze this de-identified data to look for patterns.

When we find one, we work with the appropriate Employee Success center of excellence to address the issue. For example, if we see a training need with a manager or a group, we will partner with Salesforce’s Talent Experience team to pre-emptively address the concern. We want to identify problem areas before they become systemic or pervasive.

What is exciting for me is how we are using the data to think creatively about new resources Salesforce employees need. For example, our Warmline clients told us how important a sense of belonging and flexibility are, as well as what employee benefits they required for the new hybrid work environment. So we incorporated these learnings into our Success from Anywhere hybrid work approach.

We are also developing a leadership networking pilot and career navigation support based on feedback from Warmline clients. The possibilities are endless. It is exciting to see how clients are helping us create a workplace that works for them.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to push their company to create a Warmline?

Go for it! My background in strategic innovation taught me that all new initiatives need to be supported by a well-thought-out, defendable point of view. Think about how someone might object to your idea as strongly as you think about who might benefit from it — and be ready with supportive research and data for both audiences. Find the research that documents the connection between employees who feel like they belong at a company and positive business returns. Use macro trends like the Great Resignation to support your idea and underscore the need for new retention tools. Ask for permission to start a small pilot to test your hypothesis. Starting small requires less resources and allows you to make mistakes. Be strong in your belief, keep gently pushing, and don’t give up!

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