When do leaders deliver on ‘employee experience’?

Abhijit Bhaduri | Updated on March 14, 2020

Engaged employees have a personal connect with their workplace   -  worldofstock

When they create a working environment for their staff to realise their potential

I remember attending an Adobe conference where the CEO, Shantanu Narayen, started the keynote saying, “People do not buy products. They buy experiences.” That made perfect sense. After all, a cup of coffee at an Udupi restaurant may cost a fraction of what it costs at a high-end coffee shop or at a five-star hotel. The difference is the experience.

When designers design products and services that generate emotions of awe, surprise, thrill and amazement, they move the consumer’s focus from the product or service to the emotions that are generated during the consumer’s journey.

Experiences are all about moving the transaction from the tangible to intangible. A flawless product is the starting point. It is all about exceeding the customer’s expectation. It begins with a certain mindset and state of evolution.

Customer Experience (CX) design looks outside the organisation towards the person buying the product or service. Employee Experience (EX) design looks at the ecosystem of the employees who are working to deliver the CX.

Start with the mindset

Is employee experience just the new-age term for employee engagement? Employee engagement measures the response of the employee to the policies the organisation has in place. Employee experience is all about co-creating the environment at the workplace. It is a stage of evolution of the leaders’ mindset — the way they view the employee.

Stage one: Employee cost, like raw material cost, is unavoidable: The employer treats the employee as an unavoidable cost much like the cost of land or raw material. It is an expense that needs to be managed frugally. The workers are employed at minimum wages for long hours under poor conditions, and often at risk to their health and safety. When you read about sweatshops, remember it reflects on the way the employer views the worker.

Stage two: Employee is factor of production: The employer views the worker as a factor of production whose productivity is to be maximised. Employee productivity is the employer’s key motivator. Any expense done has to be justified by a return on investment (ROI). The employer is biding time until the company musters enough capital to bring in a robot to replace the worker.

When the employer questions the value of upskilling initiatives, diversity, office cafeteria, etc, you are looking at an employer in stage two.

Stage three: An engaged employee is a productive employee: In this stage, the employer tries to keep the workforce happy. The belief is that when employees are engaged, productivity goes up. Employee engagement activities are based on a one-size-fits all model and episodic. Engagement surveys measure the employees’ response to the policies of the organisation. The approach is reactive.

Stage four: Employee experience is a design challenge that keeps evolving: When employers believes that the experience of work can be designed to encourage every individual to fulfil their potential, they step into the realm of EX. Employee experience design leverages leadership, talent and culture as the three drivers that celebrate the humanness of the workplace. Workplace technology is a way to simplify and remove friction. Sustainability and competitive advantage come when the worker feels that the work is meaningful and has an emotional connect with the workplace. It puts the human being (not just the employee) at the centre. The experience is personalised for each person in the value chain.

3 stages to EX

Discover what the experience of work is like: Running listening sessions with diverse groups of employees (and anyone who impacts the value chain) is a great starting point. Ask them how they feel and behave when they come to work. Asking them about their hopes and fears and dreams is a great place to start. Look for the feeling that underlies the stories that they are telling you. This is a sense-making process. It is unstructured and cannot be captured through a questionnaire with standard questions and rating scales. Emotions are discovered through the stories.

Define what matters to the employees: Stories are like an unstructured collection of insights. They contain contexts and meaning that need to be decoded. People share stories when they sense that the listener is trying to understand their world view without judgment. Airbnb starts by asking people what a “five-star experience” would look like. Then they ask what a six-star experience would look like and then a seven-star experience and so on. That is when people really share what matters. Designing with emotions is all about discovering the answer to what is a seven-star experience as defined by the employee.

Design these experiences: The design of these experiences will often be different from designing the typical HR process. Processes in the organisation reflect organisational silos. Experiences cut across many silos. For example, the onboarding experience may mean working with facilities, technology, HR and the legal teams. Experiences are rarely limited to an organisational silo or function. Employee experiences are not what HR or any other function designs for them. It is always co-created.

The CX-EX link

Kaveh Abhari of San Diego University has explored the link between CX and EX. He says, “When I was studying customer experience management systems back in 2007, I noticed that in order to deliver exceptional customer experiences, many leading brands invest more in their employees than in anything else. This confirmed that managing the employee experience is a cornerstone of customer experience initiatives.”

He suggests 3 steps of EX: 1. Ask if the employees feel proud of their work. Help them see how their work impacts the life of a happy customer. 2. Encourage the employees to reinvent business processes, and make them meaningful. 3. Encourage employees to create value for the business, for their colleagues. Create open innovation projects where teams of employees from various functions across the organisation come together for projects.

To design a great employee experience the leader must ask, “What is the working environment that allows people to realise their potential?” Then let the people co-create those workplaces. That is the secret sauce of great EX.


Abhijit Bhaduri is a columnist and author. His new book, Dreamers & Unicorns, is expected this summer

Published on March 12, 2020

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