Employee First for Company Success. With Tonille Miller

Employee First has been a mantra for Tonille during her fifteen years as a consultant, organizational psychologist, and strategist. With a background in people coaching, Tonille partners with leaders to transform their organizations and advise on employment strategies.

As the Founder of EXT – Experience and Transformation, Tonille started the company during Covid to help streamline her consultancy. At EXT, employee first is key.

Tonille sees work as a verb. It’s a thing we all do, not a place we go. Over the years, Tonille has worked on planes, in cars, at home and abroad. The ‘office’ is the same now as it was ten years ago.

Listen to the following clips for Tonille’s expertise:




“The way that most of our workplaces were founded [are] from the Industrial Revolution, [going] back hundreds of years ago” – Tonille Miller



Since the industrial revolution, we have had to go to work for our jobs. Our workplaces haven’t really changed much since then.

Except for a small percentage of us in North America, we don’t work in factories anymore. Especially not knowledge and gig workers, yet we’re still expected to report to a specific place of work.

Before the pandemic, our workplaces were already out of date. But the pandemic changed all that. Tonille feels it forced us into the modern era and to rethink what is possible with technology. The purpose of the office needs to be a place to collaborate and build community.




“Culture and employee experience is an extremely strategic lever. It’s an actual strategy that you do and there are activities come out of it” – Tonille Miller



Leaders think culture and employee experience are those cosmetic things like foosball tables or Taco Tuesday. They believe that’s culture and that if you’re not in the office, you can’t have those things, which means you don’t have a culture.

While a foosball table may cause an initial uptick in usage and office engagement, employees statistically lose interest in these things after about one month.

As Tonille says, no employee that’s sick of their manager ever stayed with a company because of a foosball table. Cosmetic things don’t really add value to a company.




“Treating people like little kids, I cannot overstate this enough, this is one of the number one factors [fuelling] the great resignation.” – Tonille Miller



During the pandemic, employees showed that they could pivot overnight. During social justice movements and economic uncertainty, no matter what is happening, and be more productive. Employees didn’t even get paid more, yet leaders are tone-deaf. They acknowledge employee sacrifice yet expect work to not continue to be flexible.

People are realizing life is too short, especially Millennials and Gen Z. They live their life in a very different timeframe than folks from older generations. Because all the things they’ve grown up with feel uncertain. They want flexibility and integrate work into their personal lives in a more meaningful way.




“I’m seeing them increase surveillance and control, which is not helping anybody. In fact, it’s bringing trust way down, if you can imagine, and then trying to replicate exactly how they worked in the office, but doing it remotely. That’s another mistake.” – Tonille Miller



Tonille says mandating employees to come back to the office is a pretty laughable idea at this point. We have two years of pandemic data that proves that work from home works very well. Companies like GitHub and Netflix have been practicing hybrid work for years.

The next thing that needs to change from leadership is decreased trust in their workforce. People on twelve hours of back to back Zoom calls are expected to have their camera on the whole time because that would be the equivalent of them putting in a full shift at the office.

Tonille says this is unacceptable. Zoom fatigue may be a new phenomenon, but it’s very real.




“In a hybrid world, you have to be much more transparent, give candid feedback [in real time]. Push information as low in the organization as possible. Netflix is great at this. It allows everybody to feel part of the organization. It also helps everyone drive the business forward” – Tonille Miller



Tonille says leaders need to get their heads around working asynchronously. They need to employ technology more effectively, because we have it, but leaders just aren’t comfortable with it.

At EXT, there are three themes for employee first mentality. The first is transparency. The second is autonomy. So increasing autonomy, agency, and accountability. The third is having a clear vision and giving employees problems to solve. Give them guiding principles and then let people figure out how to get there.




The leaders must light the way. They need to be role models. The sad thing is the disconnect between what they expect and what they do.

Leaders get excited after buying a new platform because it’s going to save them money, or it’s going to show them all kinds of benefits for the company, but they’re not willing to do that role modeling for the employees.

They expect their employees to change, but aren’t willing to put in the work themselves.

About the author

Nicholas Carey

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