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Why Leading Organisations Are Moving from HR to Employee Experience

In an exclusive with Customer Experience Magazine, I shared recently that the UK retail giant and high street icon, River Island, was transforming its HR function into a People Experience team. River Island is one of many companies embracing a people-centred approach to developing engagement, performance and business outcomes.

A winning position within the business

Employee Experience dramatically changes the organisational landscape especially as companies become increasingly effective in digitalizing the workplace. If you set up a function focused on ‘resources’, you will get a department delivering against this mandate. People are resources to be managed. If you set up a function focused on people and experience, you will deliver a function working every day to enhance and improve this experience. Experience counts and matters. This is a winning position. Employees are no longer resources to be exploited and commanded, they are now allies in a shared mission to co-create experiences that deliver better results. This experience of working together, working differently together is, in and of itself, a catalyst to build trust, mutual respect, and starts to move companies away from what has been a parent-child relationship that has plagued too many organisations for far too long. In the process, organisations get closer, more connected, and become more transparent.

Delivering real and tangible business outcomes

Done right, EX delivers, and spectacularly in a lot of cases. Every single iteration counts and makes an impact. Colleagues I speak to regularly are EX leaders in their companies. They are doing tremendous work that is aligned to business strategy. If it isn’t aligned to strategy, then it isn’t aligned to the purpose of the company so colleagues are challenging themselves at every turn to keep that close connection to the business. It is the hardest and most challenging work they have ever done, but it is also the best time in their careers. They feel like they see the difference they make on people and the business in a way that they never have before. They are often in their element challenging old paradigms, breaking traditional and dinosaur-like HR practices, and embracing disruption. The journey is never-ending, but like life, there are moments that make it all worthwhile.

This was never the case previously. Most professionals have earned their stripes by developing the employee experience in a very fragmented manner, often disconnected from other key functions such as estates, facilities, IT, and even specialisms within the HR function. It’s still happening too. There are L&D functions not working well with the marketing group; HR operations not working well with talent development and so on. How can you deliver an exceptional employee experience if you can’t deliver this within your own functions? How can you build a trust-based organisation if no-one trusts management or HR?

Every key function within the employee experience should be working side by side, and this has been revelation within the employee experience field. We see, and advise colleagues, to start with a grand coalition and put the employee at the centre of its vision. This may turn into an employee experience department from the outset, or it may remain a coalition that just really works well together informally; whatever works for the context should be encouraged and developed.

Much more than a buzzword or label

Employee experience goes deep. It must if it is to connect with colleagues and the company. Whilst changing the name of a function sends a signal to the business, it is action that brings it to life. Action that is evident and present every day across the holistic employee experience. What I am seeing in practice is a tangible commitment to really deliver better experiences for everyone. Companies usually embrace a discovery phase to reimagine themselves and the role that every support function needs to play in business transformation. This is a great part in the journey and one that employees welcome wholeheartedly- why wouldn’t they? In the past, these great big conversations with staff have been nothing more than fait accompli, efficiency drives, or a pre-marketing exercise to launch things that the company wanted to launch such as performance appraisals, competency frameworks, and engagement surveys.

Moving from HR to employee experience is a big move because it really does draw a line in the sand, and for businesses, the stage is set to build with human-centred ambition. There will be some epic failures to learn from within the economy- words and actions do not always meet. Standards and expectations will increase. There will be notable excitement within the business. This being the case, professionals will need to develop their skills, capabilities, and state of mind to be truly effective when working on the employee experience.

But what an opportunity this is for HR. What an era to start putting the humans at the centre of our companies. What a defining moment to become what we always wanted to become and to fulfil our potential.

The future of HR and work is Human.


Ben Whitter is described as "Mr Employee Experience”™ and the “number one figure in employee experience around the world right now’. In 2017, and again in 2018, Ben was officially named as one of the world's leading experts and influencers within employee engagement and also acknowledged as one of the top 30 HR Influencers in the UK.

Ben is the Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI). Ben and his team partner with medium to large organisations worldwide to elevate the 'experience' of work as either a catalyst to get an EX approach started (EX Keynotes, EX Masterclasses, HR/EX Breakathons) or as a longer-term partner (EX Coaching & Training, EX Design & Transformation Programmes).

Ben's writing, speaking and advocacy for employee experience have reached over 16 million colleagues worldwide. Ben is the Chairman of the UK Employee Experience Awards 2018.

Book Ben for a keynote, masterclass or EX Breakathon today!


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