The Employee Experience: It’s Trickier (and more important) Than You Thought

I just finished a week of meetings discussing HR Technology and the Employee Experience and I want to give you some thoughts. This topic is enormously important, and it’s actually harder than it looks.

Why This Topic Has Become So Big

First, the phrase “Employee Experience” has become a giant vortex for everything in HR. All the programs we’ve invested in over the years (employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, leadership development, performance management) are all part of the employee experience. So in a sense Employee Experience is not a “program,” it’s a “topic.” (Or maybe a mindset.)

irresistible organization, employee experience

And wrapped around this topic we have hundreds of new technology tools to help diagnose and improve the employee experience. Every survey tool, portal tool, mobile app, and process management tool now has “employee experience” slapped on its website, telling us “this, too, will make your employee experience better.”

It turns out we are now in a stage where most companies have too much technology, and not enough time.  (Time is now the most precious resource at work.) So a major part of the employee experience is simplifying the technology experience, and designing HR programs that happen “in the flow of work.”

I’m starting a big research project to study the adoption of HR technology (hope to share findings this Fall) and I think you’ll be surprised how we’ve failed to deliver on lots of the systems we’ve purchased.  (One study just found that 59% of cloud-based HCM buyers did not achieve the business results they hoped.)

Third, while the topic is crowded with books and articles, the real methodologies to improve employee experience are just emerging. I”m working with quite a few companies on this topic so let me share what I’ve seen.

The Methodology We Are Discovering

If you want to improve your employee experience, productivity, wellbeing, and output, what should you do? Where do you start?

Here are some things I’ve discovered:

  • Design thinking: this really matters. It’s time for you to “empathize” with your employees, follow them around, survey and interview them, and sit down with them in workshops. They will tell you what bugs them at work, and you’ll hear all sorts of little things that make work difficult.
  • Start with the basics: look at the common “moments that matter” at work first, and flatten these issue completely. Onboarding, job changes, relocation, and all the little things can really bog people down if they’re difficult. Every company can look at these topics and map out better solutions.
  • Partner with IT and Finance:  as I discuss in the Employee Experience Platform report, none of these problems is HR”s alone. Bring finance and IT into the team immediately, they are going to be part of the solution.
  • Practice Co-creation: every solution you develop should be “co-created” with business people and leaders. There’s no way to improve the employee experience without employees being involved. We have to work with them to fix old and broken processes, design new systems, and make work easier. Job shadowing is a good practice to use.
  • Look at New Tools: the ERP and HCM platforms may not help as much as you think. Every client I met with in Europe told me their big HR systems project did NOT necessarily improve the employee experience. In some cases they did, but only if they looked at the platform project as an “employee experience project.” (more on Employee Experience Platforms)
  • Practice process simplification: every “process harmonization” project I uncover comes down to one thing. We have a tendency in business to make things too complicated. As your company grows, acquires, and changes people keep tacking on new steps, approvals, and branches to everything.
  • Segment the workforce:  we can’t possibly fix every employee’s experience in every way at once, so we need to segment the workforce. After we take care of the basics (ie. core HR practices, IT), we can move into specific strategies for the workforces or personas that matter most.

Becoming A Business Consultant

After you’ve covered the basics, much of this work comes down to work simplification – and it may include job redesign as well. So you’re going to become a business consultant, which is the best place HR should be.

A few tricks to consider: some companies design their organization around the customer and employee, not around the hierarchy. Southwest Airlines designs its employee experience around the airplane and crew. One of the manufacturers I talked with designs its experiences around the customer and service engineering team. UPS designs much of its business around the driver and the distribution center. Retail banks often design around the retail branch. And companies like T-Mobile design around the sales team.

This is the type of approach that gives you focus as you look at the top issues to address.

Applying Marie Kondo

As I’ve interviewed companies, I find these projects are like reading the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. Companies have to say good-bye to the processes that we don’t need, and simply keep the things they love.

As she advises in her process, if something is sitting in the back of the closet, just take it out, thank it for its service, and give it away. This “continuous decluttering” process is what we need to do in HR.

Examples Of What To Do

Let me share a few things I’ve seen to help you get started.

  • Avoid system projects without a focus. Several of the companies I met with told me “we are implementing a new system because we have too many systems and they’re not all integrated.” And guess what. The new “system” is not going as well as they hoped. Why?  They didn’t design around the employee experience, they designed around the back-end. If consolidation is your goal, that’s nice – but employees don’t care. What they want is simplicity, ease of use, and a single place to go. You may not need a new system to accomplish this – an employee experience platform sitting in front of existing systems may be far easier.
  • Create employee personas. One of the companies I met with (a large TV network) created a set of personas they now use to design solutions. They built these personas with help from the business unit and then mapped all the various HR transactions against these personas. Each persona had its own design session (co-created with the business) and they created a role called “innovation consultant” in HR to rethink the way things get done. They’re implementing many of their new ideas in ServiceNow and other tools, but it was the personas that got the business leaders excited.
  • Look at everything. One of the companies I met with (Coca Cola) found that ordering a new employee credit card required 52 different process steps. I’m sure all those steps were well intended when they were designed, but it ended up wasting hours and hours of employees’ time. Re-engineering this simple thing, coupled with a relook at onboarding, enabled them to save a million hours a year of employee time. This entire project was cost-justified immediately, and now they know how to look for other time-wasting processes.
  • Work on onboarding. Everyone I talk with tells me their onboarding process is complex and incomplete. One of the companies told me their service engineers suffer a 50% turnover rate in the first year. This is because there really is no strategic onboarding process, so managers are filling in the gap. Employee moves are a similar opportunity. (Have you ever had a job where the first week was horrible?  It sets a bad tone for a long time.)
  • Engage the people analytics team. These problems are all about measurement. Where are people wasting time? How much effort is going into doing something?  Where are people clicking and who are they emailing? If you have a good ONA tool (TrustSphere, Microsoft Workplace Analytics, etc.), a good survey system, and a good set of instrumentation on your workforce you’ll need the data. SAP’s $8 billion acquisition of Qualtrics was justified by helping to instrument employee feedback – this data and the analytics team should be part of your plan.

One of the companies I interviewed used an ONA (Organizational Network Analysis) tool to analyze employee productivity in their sales force. The data found that the low performing sales teams were spending far more time communicating with managers than their high-performing peers. As the HR team dove in, they discovered that these “low-performing” managers were micro-managing sales teams on pricing, configuration, and sales offers. The more empowered teams were outperforming their peers.

The answer?  Fix the “sales employee experience.” 

How? The team worked with sales leadership to further empower sales teams with pricing, configuration, and negotiation authority.

More to Come

I’m digging into this topic in detail and developing a whole course on it. Let me conclude that this is an essential topic in business today, and the practices and tools are now becoming clear.

Finally, consider what we’ve done for customers. Journey mapping, segmentation, and micro-targeting are well-established practices in marketing and product management. Now they’ve come to HR.

Just remember that “the customer experience is dependent on the employee experience.” Every time we make employees’ lives better, we better serve customers as well.

There’s the motivation to take this topic seriously!