Employee experience is the number one human capital trend in 2017. No question.
Why? With more companies than you can count opting to fully embrace this new future, not just for HR, but for the whole business, the time for this renewed and energising focus on the quality of our experiences in work has come. And guess what? It’s not just technology firms leading this workplace revolution.
What exactly is employee experience?
Employee experience is the intentional design and engineering of a high value, integrated and end-to-end employee experience. From pre-hire to retire, using the experience as a lens, we can maximise all the interactions an individual has with an employer over the long-term to create a deep sense of belonging and co-create high performance and stronger business outcomes.
This is not for everyone; it takes real commitment to provide a superior workplace experience. This is evident in the investment in technology, tools, and physical infrastructure as well as the progressive design of key HR and management practices.
All of this is aligned and co-ordinated to have maximum impact in translating the vision and values of the business into a day-to-day reality to drive great business outcomes.
Just ask GE, Lazada, Aurecon, Harrods, GSK, Riot Games, Nike, Maxis, Atlassian, Commonwealth Bank, DBS, and of course, the tech icons are all in there too with LinkedIn, Cisco, Facebook and Airbnb charting an experiential path.
The Chinese ‘Big 4’ are also locking experience into operations with Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba, and Huawei proving to be top pick for talented graduates who want to create history through a compelling mission and purpose.
Does your organisation have an all-consuming mission? It should, and employee experience is there to bring that to life.
Why should HR be concerned about employee experience?
It has been my pleasure to co-design, keynote and introduce employee experience to hundreds of colleagues in May/June at the HR Summit Asia 2017, Australia's first employee experience conference in partnership with PwC, and through my masterclasses around the world. What has become clear, as I digested the talks, conferences, meetings, and my other work with clients is that the experience of work is the only conversation that matters.
Experience is at the forefront of the discussions within business and HR. Yet, it still feels like we are just warming up in some markets. We need to change that picture and get ahead. I’m here to help you do just that.
So how does an employee experience approach reshape the structure of a business? Well, one model we are seeing being rolled out now within global businesses is that of a Chief Employee Experience Officer who has oversight, authority and accountability over the entire holistic employee experience. This mandate includes all or some of the main employee-facing function such as HR, recruitment, L&D, marketing, IT, estates, catering and internal communications.
With a strong business leader at the top of that, the experience is being positioned as a strategic imperative. Other organisations are leading coalitions made of internal services that have collectively fostered a team around the employee experience and have a key sponsor in place from the top team. The proof around which approach is best will be in the outcomes.
What I have also observed on my travels is that HR is in serious danger of missing a huge opportunity as the employee experience mandate is being given to a range of internal functions to lead. Every part of the corporate world is positioning around employee experience and for good reason.
That’s because the end-to-end journey of the employee experience is critical, from the way people are hired and then on-boarded, to how they learn and develop with the organisation, and how their overall contribution is measured and rewarded. In the past, much of this has been fragmented or focused on short-term, unaligned, and not very strategic engagement activities. Not anymore.
Employee experience is about the whole 3D Employee Experience™ – being able to define, design and deliver workplaces where people belong, find meaning, and create astonishing human achievements. This is what we are focused on at the World Employee Experience Institute.
Ten key points to note about employee experience
So how do you get started on the employee experience journey? Here are 10 points of focus:
1. First things first.
Progressive companies understand that the ‘people’ thing matters more in this economy as a significant competitive advantage. Take it seriously. Position it as a priority. “People are our asset” – Mean it. Breathe it. Lead it.
2. To restructure or not restructure? That is the question.
The business needs to be accountable for the employee experience in some way whether through the board or other mechanisms. Jeff Bezos of Amazon famously has one empty chair at his management team meetings. I would recommend two. You know who the other chair represents. Keep the customer and employee experience together – they are best friends and will thank you for it.
3. Quite frankly, it is time to sharpen the responsibilities and remits around employee experience.
Bring the full employee experience into the play by consciously shaping and guiding its development across functions and roles. If you can, ensure this is led from or at least sponsored by the entire top team (Idealistic) or by one named accountable senior executive (more realistic for a lot of organisations).
4. At the outset, focus on the ‘experience’ points that matter most to staff and prioritise them.
Employee experience is a long-term, strategic approach. Most organisations don’t have the resources or mandate to go 100% employee experience immediately (if you do, great, enjoy!), so work with staff to figure what needs to be developed early within the experience at your organisation and narrow the focus on some data-informed pain points that you can get to work on straight away.
In that sense, I would say that you don’t immediately need to worry about what you can’t change, control or influence. Make sure your immediate attention and energy are directed towards the things that you can control or influence. Every employee journey begins with the first step. Get started and get ready for the long-haul.
5. Within early employee experience approaches, we do need to find the believers – the ones who really get the point about people making the difference and creating the real value within a business. Work with them. Bring them into the movement alongside employees to co-create something special, together.
The days of developing ‘engagement’ activities within one function of corporate HQ’s are gone. As Cisco did, you may want to break some stuff along the way like they did with the HR function, and why not. Break it, then build something better. Real transformation starts from within. If your HR function is uninspiring, do something about that issue early. Where you see processes, we see experiences! Make them count.
6. What is happening in practice right now is driven by in-context research and solid people analytics.
Practitioners must understand the context and build something within it. Everything must enhance or strengthen internal capacity and capability. We don’t need to be dependent on outside providers unless real value is being added. How do you know if it is? Check your results and the feedback from staff and data also talks wisely. It could be engagement or brand outcomes, or if you are really moving ahead, go straight to the business performance data and work backwards!
Data is key. How engaged is your workplace? How are the HR metrics doing? Where are you up to with strategy and performance outcomes? Develop capabilities to ensure that you can harness all the data in a compelling way. Utilise it to build either a better experience for your staff, or a superior experience within your sector. This depends on the appetite and leadership of your business.
7. Within employee experience we have a new approach to benefits, rewards, and perks, so introduce free food, free parking and every other perk you can think of.
Actually, don’t do that. Get yourself into a place where you can step back and think about the overall design of the experience. The employee experience must be authentic and in harmony; in that respect, everything needs to relate to your overall strategy, approach and brand. Don’t just introduce free food “because Google does it”.
8. A big part of experience is the actual design of the workplace.
There is heavy investment in infrastructure projects right now especially within large organisations that have or are experiencing high disruption within their industries; consider the physical and technology workplace infrastructure and how it can better serve the needs (and wants) of your employees to get their jobs done well and enjoy doing so.
I met with over ten major banks and consulting firms recently who attended my events or met me for private chats, and the scale of their investment in the employee experience is eye-watering and simply incredible. They are getting ready for the future right now to attract the best talent and the best clients. (Hint: this is not just about funky furniture, pool tables, and slides).
Employee experience is all about creating a deeper connection between your staff, your customers, and your business. The design of the workplace is a helpful facilitator of that connection and should, when done well, easily and naturally ooze what is important to your organisation.
9. Employee experience unlocks serious wins for talent attraction, retention, and engagement.
Employers can’t leave this to chance and need to channel a lot of energy into communicating the employee experience, inside and out. This will bring talented people and talented people leaders to you in droves. It will also be the biggest way of differentiating between you and other organisations.
10. Crucially, leadership remains a critical factor within the organisation; find the best and develop great leaders who do not see the employee experience as a secondary matter. The great leaders integrate employee experience into their business practice; poor leaders do not and that should also be addressed as part of the employee experience approach.
Think about this. How would you rate the experience of working with your organisation on a scale of 1—10?
If you rate below an 8 or a 9, then I would encourage you to get started on the points above right now this second because if your competitors are not already investing in and positioning their employee experience to compete with yours, they will be doing very soon, and that is very smart business indeed!
(A version of this article first featured in Ben's regular column with HRM Asia. Contact Ben to take part in his upcoming writing and thought leadership projects)
Ben Whitter is often described as "Mr Employee Experience”™ and the “number one figure in employee experience around the world right now’.
He is the Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI), a leading employee experience consulting, training, and research organisation operating globally.
In 2017, Ben was officially named as one of the world's leading experts and influencers within employee engagement and one of the top 30 HR Influencers in the UK.
Ben consults, speaks, and delivers masterclasses on EX around the World.