In 2018, if you’re not actively driving, defining, or managing the employee experience, then you’re not effectively managing your business.
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To stay competitive and relevant in today’s market landscape, businesses need to actualize a sophisticated operational framework that starts and ends with the employee experience.
This term “employee experience” is starting to sound appetizing to businesses, in large part due to its positive ROI including higher employee engagement, productivity, profit, revenue by employee, and stock price performance.
Investing in the employee experience has long been proven a worthwhile investment.
Research on the subject from Gallup tells us that highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share. Yet, 87 percent of employees worldwide are unengaged, the same study found.
Research by author Jacob Morgan shows a strong correlation between organizations that invest heavily in employee experience and social proof benefits such as designations like “Best Places to Work,” “In-Demand Employers,” or “Most Innovative Company.”
These accolades are imperative for potential employees to see during their research and recruitment stage with your company.
Looking at the financials is one important lens to apply when you’re seeking to improve your organization’s employee experience, but not the end-all-be-all way.
For too long employee experience has been crafted not only on now severely outdated assumptions of what an employee values, but aligned with rigid top-down organizational structures.
Much, if not all of this friction between business profit and employee experience can be reduced by reframing the role that HR can play in crafting, managing, and refining an employee experience aligned with today’s values and workplaces.
Let’s discuss what this all exactly entails, and how you and all HR leaders can start building a winning employee experience.
The sooner a business can start seeing HR as more than just the compensation and benefits department or the hire and fire department, the sooner they will realize the powerful role that HR can play in architecting the business to achieve long-term success.
One of the things that businesses and HR functions haven’t really put together is the role of HR in mainstream business environments.
HR was built on years of solely managing risk, representing the business, and protecting the business to balance out the representation of the business with employees.
When I really break down why employee experience is relevant to those like me in HR — it comes down to this basic way of thinking:
Employee experience is HR’s one and only product, the same way a technology company’s software is its product.
…and at the heart of every product, is the customer.
Therefore, at a very basic high-level, I am the product owner of the employee experience.
Our product helps companies solve how to better manage and drive the rates of engagement, retention, tenure, turnover — and ultimately their connection to the core values of the organization.
HR’s main role today is to foster and enable the employee experience through leaders and people managers.
To drive the employee experience, HR is now not only on the front lines of best methods to attract, select, hire, and onboard employees, but they are anchoring the parts in between to engage, develop, and retain.
The latter — engagement, development, and retention — is what completes this newer employee experience framework.
Now that we have defined employee experience, here are my top recommendations for crafting one that lives up to all the hype.
- Step 1: Define employee experience as it pertains to your organization – make it relevant
- Step 2: Manage the employee experience – proactively
- Step 3: Change work habits to align with the employee experience – sustain and nurture it
Employee experience is the experience that is offered by the company to employees throughout their entire time with the company — from the early days of recruitment through their exit.
One definition I love is from Kate Le Gallez of Culture Amp:
The employee experience encapsulates all that people encounter, observe or feel over the course of their employee journey at an organization. It’s an expansive view of the relationship between the individual and the organization, starting with the application process and continuing through to the day the individual exits the business and even beyond to when they join the organization’s alumni.
The beauty of employee experience is that while it’s inherently the same concept, the diversity of its look and feel are totally contextual to the organization — making the “experience” a unique value proposition for the company.
As you work through defining the employee experience as it pertains to your organization, ensure that this definition and the expectations of it are shared throughout the company, frequently and is aligned to your core values system and organizational DNA.
It takes at least a few times repeating something for it to truly resonate and become habit. The more your employees and leaders hear, feel, and think about the employee experience from key stakeholders, the higher the likelihood for it to stake claim in their memory.
Ultimately this is evidenced by how employee behavior is influenced, and behavior change is what we’re after.
For example, are employees visibly living the tenets of employee experience as it is internally defined? If so, it’s starting to resonate and anchor.
If not, keep using the bullhorn to make sure your messaging and values are peppered in every employee lifecycle touch point and in every company, internal communications in subtle and some not so subtle ways until these newer habits are imprinted on the organization’s DNA.
If you truly think about the employee experience from end-to-end — from what people are saying in public about the company, it’s products, it’s reputation, etc., to how we pitch the company to a potential employee to when they leave the company — all of that to me, is now the job of HR.
We’re not exclusively responsible to manage compensation and benefits or learning and development, HR analytics or HR business partners — those are and always will be part of the function and the tools we use every day. They are our areas of expertise.
But really, HR is all about proactively managing and being a part of the employee experience in every facet.
Again, when thinking about employee experience as an iterative product that HR manages, the role of HR is to enable the creation and customer support for a set of products and services that help secure and ultimately anchor the employee, the leader, and the culture.
For everything inside and outside the company, developing an action plan that is designed on a contextual almost personalized basis per employee — one that factors in their family life, facilitates work-life balance, works toward achieving milestones of a big picture career path — that’s part of the employee experience and it’s very powerful and core to that healthy employee/employer relationship.
Recruitment experiences, for example, should be based on how well a recruiter can articulate the company’s employee value proposition (EVP) — what’s in it for the employee to work there — and a clear framework on what is expected from the employee.
Competition is fierce out there for great talent. How a recruiter articulates the EVP, is a differentiator.
This product/service customer-first approach changes how HR frames the entire end-to-end employee experience.
And as HR evolves and refines their product and service offering over time, so to speak, they find that a well-managed employee experience empowers managers and leaders to do their jobs better rather than it being dictated through policy and HR jargon.
With HR leading the charge around employee experience, it’s a core responsibility to facilitate an ongoing empowering experience. Part of this involves letting managers actually manage.
Looking over our shoulder, we see that we’ve given managers policies on how to manage — a binder an inch or thicker stuffed with paperwork all dictating, “This is how you’re going to manage here.”
The benchmark around people management only went as far as providing guideposts and wishing for the best. This check-the-box approach is no longer going to cut it.
If companies are not actively driving, defining, or managing the employee experience, then they are not effectively managing a business.
Climbing the corporate ladder, so to speak, doesn’t take as long as it used to. Career path options are aplenty, and entry-level workers tend to jump ship after only a couple of years.
Recent research out of Georgetown University Center of Education confirms this, out of 5.6 million US-based Millennials who held a job in 2000 did not hold one by 2010.
To that end, the incoming workforce — Generation Z — is predicted to challenge business’ approach to communication, which directly impacts how the employee experience takes shape.
As “digital natives,” those entering the workforce from this generation expect technology to be the primary model for interactions, according to Deloitte Insights.
For those of us in HR, the gaps presented by the incoming workforce most notably around social cognitive skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication, need to be considered when crafting and maintaining a diverse employee experience — especially the early stages of the employee lifecycle.
“Organizations should reevaluate the skill sets that are critical for the execution of the organization’s strategy and the persistence of the company’s competitive advantage,” says Carolyn O’Boyle, Josefin Atack, and Kelly Monahan of Deloitte Insights.
When it comes to crafting an employee experience that positively impacts the business, simple is always better.
I’m the first to admit that HR tends to over complicate things more often than not.
And when we do, it doesn’t deliver on our main employee experience where people clearly understand what HR is doing and why — such as:
- What are the company’s principles that all employees should live by?
- What are the frameworks that are going to be important and used every day to make decisions and do my job?
- What are the guideposts, and ultimately, how does it deliver on the overall employee value proposition?
Removing the HR speak and communicating in plain language allows you to talk about and categorize what exactly is in it for the employee.
Remember: if you can’t explain it to your grandmother — you’re not doing it right.
Your organization’s EVP becomes the standard way you can talk about and categorize what is in it for the employee, what is in it for the business, and how you come together in that partnership.
To set the stage for a powerful employee experience to grow, keep it simple, and clean. Cover the basics — share short and sweet policies that protect the organization and the employee, and what enhances the experience and the business, for example.
The end deliverable should feel like adults thinking alike and working with and talking to other adults; not the stiff, exhaustively long, and overly formal employee handbook. The barrier to entry should be as intuitive and even-keeled as possible.
When you simplify, you’re able to ultimately work faster, and by default, deliver a better product to your customer once you know who your customer is.
Customer insight is typically at the center of any product roadmap. Employee insight should, therefore, be at the center of the experience roadmap.
Understanding what employees are trying to accomplish and the obstacles they face in doing so peels back the layers for a new way of doing things.
In the recently published book, Jobs to Be Done by Stephen Wunker, Jessica Wattman, and David Farber, the authors argue for a new approach to growing a product.
The customer is always right. Especially when it comes to innovation. Whether they know it or not, customers have the answers for where the next big breakthrough will be. The problem is that customers are notoriously bad at imagining the product that solves their problems and conceptualizing how they would interact with true breakthrough solutions. As Henry Ford reputedly put it, ‘If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ The trick is figuring out how to unlock the right information that can get you to the winning solution without relying solely on asking people what they want. This critical step is where many innovation efforts fail.
Lacking from these tried and true survey insights is intel about the intangible and unquantifiable side of what motivates and satisfies employees such as:
- Morals, Ethics, Beliefs
- Character traits employees apply when determining if a company is a good place for them to work, such as honesty, accountability, and integrity
- Understanding their goals and reasons for working at the company
Listening, for these critical elements, are needed to complete the whole employee picture.
By stepping back to start with the basics and listening to employees — including how they perceive the current or potential iterations on the current experience — allows us in HR to become laser-focused on the areas that will provide the most strategic impact needed to long-term growth.
The data-backed insights provide you the compass needed to take action and understand where to prioritize your efforts. After all, that is the whole point of administering HR-style surveys in the first place.
Yet, the magic happens when the hard and fast data is combined with the nuances of your employee population.
What that gives you when you start thinking about employee experience as your product and employees as your customers, is speed and precision to diagnose problems, pain points, and gaps.
If you can’t be precise and agile, you can’t create an elegantly simple yet highly sophisticated experience or have the ability to turn around actions quickly or report on successes and outcomes to then do it all over again.
At the end of the day, crafting a rich and sought after employee experience is not rocket science. It requires HR leaders to take full ownership of it, and iterate and improve on it constantly based on data and employee intel — and remembering, perhaps most importantly, that we’re all humans trying to help other humans.
When push comes to shove, ask yourself one question: would this experience be enjoyable for me if I were on the receiving end? If your answer is anything other than a definitive yes, revaluate. When it comes to your product, never settle for good enough.
Jeffrey Belanger is the Head of Leader Enablement & HR Business Partnership at Pandora. His passion is helping companies drive transformation and global scale initiatives while creating effective, inclusive, and engaged organizations and company cultures. Connect with him on LinkedIn.