What is Employee Experience and What Do HR, IT and Internal Comms Need to Know to Make It Successful?

So what is employee experience anyway?

Employee experience is a term that conjures up images of bean bag chairs and ping pong tables, nap pods and bring-your-dog-to-work days - all the cool, fun things you hear that a modern-day working experience needs to be in order to attract and retain the best talent.

While it might be fun to think about working in an environment that offers free massages and organic meals prepared by top chefs, the reality is that the concept of "employee experience" is far more serious (and impactful to your business) than any of the fluffy perks we've been led to believe are associated with the term.

According to Culture Amp, creator of the world's top-ranked employee feedback and analytics platform, employee experience is defined as

"Employee experience is what people encounter, observe or feel over the course of their employee journey at an organization."

That might not sound nearly as fun as margarita machines and Nerf-gun battles, but there's no denying the fact that the experiences of your employees as they interact with your business all combine to create the lifeblood of your organization. Deliver experiences that are useful and engaging, that minimize distractions and enable employees to focus on the core nature of their work, and your workforce will flourish and propel the growth of your business. Ignore the concept of experience and you do so at your own peril.

The importance of this issue can be traced back to the concept of consumerization. As people have become accustomed to seamless, personalized digital experiences in their consumer lives, they’ve also come to expect them in the workplace as well – and they get frustrated when they receive lesser levels of service.

So how do you achieve consumer-grade employee experiences in the digital workplace?

Every organization's journey to achieving digital workplace success will be different based on their needs and specific circumstances, but there are three key themes that every company should focus on as they consider their best path forward.

1. "...changed my expectations about what shoes could do." In a keynote session from Gartner’s Digital Workplace Summit delivered by analysts Leigh McMullen and Helen Poitevin, sneakers were used to drive home the transformative power technology can have on even seemingly straightforward experiences.

Helen's shoes - unassuming green canvas Converse sneakers - adequately fulfilled the basic requirements she expected of them. They protected her feet from rough walking surfaces and they looked cute, an added bonus. Leigh's kicks, on the other hand, were the space-age Nike HyperAdapt. In addition to the humble goal of protecting feet from the ground, these were fully digital, self-lacing shoes that intuitively adjusted to the shape of the wearer's foot, paired with mobile devices and provided tons of data on movement and health metrics.

The lesson here is that while both shoes fulfilled the same basic obligation, one offered a vastly superior experience. HyperAdapts make you rethink what shoes could be. That's exactly the type of mind set organizations need to adopt as they consider the employee experience they deliver. How much better and easier could you make the lives of your employees if you tossed out the notions of "possible" and "expected" and instead leveraged technology to create the best experience possible?

2. For a digital workplace to be successful, people need to be at the forefront of every consideration Organizations typically design digital experiences in a top-down manner, buying world-class systems in silos with very little thought into how those systems impact the overall employee experience.

While that may be fine for the small percentage of power users whose jobs require them to spend most of their time in those systems, it leaves everyone else feeling frustrated as they waste crazy amounts of time trying to navigate a maze of complex enterprise technology just to complete routine, high-volume tasks.

In a recent interview for the Digital Workplace Exchange, Workgrid CEO Brett Caldon summed the issue up perfectly when he said “…employees need to be at the heart of every consideration – that’s an area that gets forgotten all too often…

There are two great ways to make sure the employee perspective is kept at the center of the employee experience transformation. The first is to shadow employees in their day-to-day work so you can really understand – and therefore address – their challenges. This approach was discussed in the CMSWire webinar “Employee Experience: Taking a Page from the CX Playbook,” along with the importance of creating employee journey maps as a way to build experiences that work for every segment of your workforce.

The second must-do method of keeping employee focus first and foremost is to select a technology solution that practices outcome-driven design.

As it stands now, employees waste 2.5 hours each day on unimportant emails and 32 days each year on poorly designed “workplace efficiency” apps. Outcome-driven design eliminates those productivity drains by helping employees complete their tasks faster.

Take the example of onboarding. To complete the most common aspects of starting a new job, employees must access at least 4 different systems: HR for health insurance, Finance to set up direct deposit, IT to request a laptop and Facilities for a badge. That process might work fine for the business units involved, but it’s definitely not a process designed to optimize the employee experience.

An experience platform that utilizes outcome-driven design, however, would focus first on the employee, eliminating steps and creating a single, unified experience that enables them to complete all aspects of onboarding from a single interface. The result? One step instead of four, which means less frustration and more time for high value work – which is what you’re paying them to do in the first place.

3. Your workplace is the new frontier for competitive advantage While technology enables organizations to be more competitive than ever before, it also means that that your competitors have become equally fierce. One way to differentiate your business is to make improvements in areas that other organizations might not consider, going beyond simply improving sales and marketing processes or creating better products or services. One such area to consider is employee experience.

Who needs to be involved in an employee experience transformation?

When you assess the different roles associated with driving digital workplace initiatives - typically HR, IT and internal communications - it becomes clear that each group has its own unique goals and strengths, all of which are critical to the success of digitally transforming the employee experience. Each of those groups are also all burdened with their own biases, however, often developed over long-standing confusion or disagreement about which groups are responsible for certain initiatives.

Ultimately, to start your digital workplace strategy off right, you need to involve the right teams. And those teams need to commit to working together seamlessly if a digital workplace project is going to be successful. Here are some important takeaways for each group:

HR

  1. Talent and culture are the biggest barriers to digital transformation. It's easy for organizations to fall into the trap of "but this is how we've always done things." Unfortunately, if you only ever do what you've always done, then you'll only get the results you've always gotten, with no opportunity for improvements. To truly transform your organization and the experience you deliver, it's critical to get buy-in from your employees and help them understand the importance of the initiative. After all, they'll be your greatest ambassadors of your digital workplace success.

  2. Review your current workplace through the eyes of your employees. What are the important moments in their day that could be enhanced? How can you help them eliminate unnecessary tasks - and therefore stress? What small improvements could really make a big difference for them? By talking with employees and really understanding their pain points, you'll have much better luck shaping an experience that will enact positive, long-term change.

  3. Understand the personas that represent your employees. Since it wouldn't be practical to implement a digital workplace solution that addresses the needs of every single employee, creating personas is an effective way to categorize the most common needs and goals of your workforce. Personas, when thoroughly and thoughtfully compiled, provide an excellent snapshot view of the overall employee landscape, which will make it easier to create a successful experience for everyone within the organization.

IT

  1. The number one safe bet about the future of work is that it will become more digital - and IT is at the heart of that. It might be tempting to consider an employee experience initiative as an "HR thing," but the reality is, IT bears the responsibility of ensuring that organizations are using the technology needed to operate efficiently, so ITs committed involvement is a foundational requirement in any digital workplace project.

  2. Become a trusted advisor rather than the sole decider of technology selection. In certain area, such as enterprise security, it makes sense for IT to take a strong leadership stance with technology implementations. There's simply too much at stake to take a chance with a multi-disciplinary approach. Creating an effective digital workplace isn't one of those situations however. IT is certainly needed as an advisor and key stakeholder in terms of technological feasibility and other considerations, but other aspects of the project require feedback from more diverse areas of the business. The more IT can play the role of advisor rather than rule maker, the more likely the project will be a success.

  3. Culture isn't just an HR issue. The technology systems that are used in an organization, as well as how they're deployed and maintained, has a tremendous impact on the culture of a company. It's something IT groups need to be mindful of as they support the business. What is the workplace impact of how they deliver their services and are they helping or hindering the success of both employees as well as the overall organization?

Internal communications

  1. A "publishing" mindset will no longer work in a modern, successful digital workplace. Employees are being buried in information and as a result, they're ignoring it all. You can help them overcome that overload by thinking about how your communications will be received by the recipient. And always remember - your goal is to communicate with people, not at them.

  2. As you put together your "communication" plans, try to think of them as "understanding" plans instead. By making that mental switch and understanding what employees need to know and hear, it will help you communicate in a way that's truly helpful rather than just distracting.

  3. Employee communications will be the most effective if there's a closed loop mechanism in place - ask for and then incorporate employee feedback so they know that they were heard and feel like their opinions are valuable and are being taken seriously.

And what about winning support and measuring value?

Even with all stakeholders on board and rockets set for blast off, the chances are good that your employee experience project will require internal justification and approval (not to mention eventual ROI measurement) if it's ever going to get off the ground.

Unfortunately, the ROI of employee experience isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect, an issue that was explored by Gartner’s Jeffrey Mann in his session from the 2019 Digital Workplace Summit, “How to Win Support for and Measure the Value of a Digital Workplace Initiative.” He humorously sums up the challenges of quantifying ROI by pointing out that it feels weird to even have to justify something that’s so universally agreed upon as a good idea – like providing rest rooms for employees. No one ever had to make a business case for installing a toilet or provide post implementation statistics to prove that it was a worthy investment, yet bathrooms are a ubiquitous fixture in every office building. All joking aside, understanding what return you can expect to get from your employee experience investment is an important step in the planning process.  

Do’s and Don’ts of Measuring Employee Experience Value AVOID

  • Forgetting the impact employee experience has on customer experience Happy employees = happy customers, so any improvements you make to the employee experience are likely to directly impact the bottom line.

  • Overinflating your promises The prospect of transforming the employee experience is exciting but don’t let that create a frenzy of unsubstantiated expectations. Understand your goals, have a plan to achieve them and document your results.

DO

  • Benchmark the statistics you want to track Focus on high-volume, high impact initiatives first in order to demonstrate value quickly.

  • Listen to your employees and conduct sentiment analysis It will help you gain a clear understanding of what’s working and what isn’t.

  • Leverage existing priorities For maximum results, link your employee experience project to an existing priority and demonstrate how improved experience could help achieve that goal. It’s an easy way to make a “squishy” concept like experience seem more tangible – and therefore important – to senior business leaders.

  • Use anecdotal storytelling to make your case Since the first cave painters were discovered thousands of years ago, storytelling has been used as a foundation of effective communication. Take advantage of the power of stories, especially in the form of user stories, like Managers who want to approve things via mobile, to strengthen your own argument about the importance of improving the employee experience.

  • Consider the cost of not improving the employee experience It would be easy to think about improving the employee experience as being similar to getting the regularly scheduled maintenance for your car. On the surface everything seems to be working fine, so why spend money for nothing? Because it’s not nothing – it’s important preventative care. And while there might be a small cost associated with that service visit, it’s nominal compared to what you’ll pay if you skip it. Sooner or later the check engine light will come on (or your employees will start leaving in droves) and the depth of your troubles will be out of your control.

So now what?

Once you've made the decision to embark on a journey towards creating better employee experiences, there's one secret you need to know about all others. This secret was shared by Gartner analysts Carol Rozwell and Gavin Tay.

"The secret to digital is analog."

You can create the most engaging, transformative experiences your organization has ever seen. But unless it works for your employees - the "analog" component of your business -- saving them time and frustration while enhancing their work experience, then your efforts will have been for nothing.

So map out your goals, rally the internal troops and find a technology partner that can help you make it all happen -- let's get going!