We delivered our first workshop dedicated to creating an amazing employee experience this week. The delegates came from the whole panoply of sectors from tech start-ups hoping to avoid the traditional HR approach, to large, complex and well-established organisations who wanted to know what all the fuss is about. Regardless of scale, maturity, sector or geography – they were all excited about the opportunity that taking an employee experience approach could offer them. The point I made at the workshop and reiterate here is this; I think an employee experience focus is a genuine game changer for HR – but only if we take a completely fresh approach to its design and implementation. If we apply old thinking to the way we go about doing it, we risk just changing the label and not the contents.
In this third and final blog in our series on Creating the Employee Experience, I am going to have a look at HOW you go about doing it – the first two blogs in the series looked at WHO you are designing it for and WHAT needs to be thought about and included and you might want to check those out first, but I’ve included a quick recap in Steps 1 and 2.
Step 1. Start with the experience you want to create
This is not about describing the process you wish to deploy! It’s about describing the feelings you’d like your people to have. But how do you identify those feelings? Which are the most relevant for your organisation? It’s not just about feeling good or happy – it’s about identifying feelings and experiences that:
AirBNB’s employee experience of ‘belonging anywhere’ is a perfect example of alignment with their external brand. ‘Belonging anywhere’ is what they promise their customers and they used this as the starting point to create ‘moments of truth’ inside the organisation too.
What is often missed when identifying your employee experience is that it should also support and drive your business strategy too. One of our clients was moving their business model at a rapid pace away from traditional catalogue retail to online. The experiences they identified for their people were ‘mobile first’ and ‘high energy’ because they reflected not just who they were – but also what they wanted to do as a business.
Step 2. Be user-led from the outset and remain so throughout
This is a far cry from my usual tactic of holding a one-off focus group or a bit of stakeholder management. It is about adopting the techniques used by consumer marketing such as creating your employee personas, learning about and implementing user-centred design and continuing to iterate and evolve your people initiatives through involving end users throughout the implementation.
I was struck at the workshop by how many HR teams had done some great work in developing their employee persona or employee journeys – but had done nothing with them. Employee persona are to be used to assess your current HR products and services and to see where there are gaps in your offerings. They are to be used to inform your new designs. They are to be used to develop key marketing messages and identify communication channels to get your products and services noticed. Above all, they are meant to be USED! I’d advise investing less time and money on getting the perfect employee persona or employee journeys written up and more on how you can use them – that’s where the real value is.
Step 3. Identify the ‘Moments of Truth’ you want to tackle
One of the exercises we do with our clients is to ask them to reflect on their current ‘moments of truth’ (ie: the key processes in the employee lifecycle) and to see which of them create the experiences/feelings that they want. Then to discuss and agree which of them need to be tackled first. Either choose a moment of truth that will be easy to change – or one that is the most undermining in terms of the desired experience. It doesn’t really matter – the important thing is to get going!
Step 4. Create through cross-functional teams
The solutions you’ll create should rarely, if ever, only come from HR. The best solutions come from a cross-functional team of people who bring a range of perspectives and ideas; Workplace, Technology, Marketing, line managers, employees, etc.
Moreover, it can be a struggle to arrive at say, new Talent solutions if you only ask the Head of Talent Management. If they’ve spent the last five years trying to embed the 9 box Grid, High Potential Programmes and a Leadership Competency framework, they may find it hard to not to get defensive or be constrained by their current ideas of best practice. They’re only human! Make sure there is plenty of involvement from other members of the team. And remember, you are not asking them to come up with a new talent management framework – you’re asking the team to create a different experience, a different feeling. Everyone’s view is valid, not just the expert’s.
Step 5. Think Products not Services
If HR was a manufacturer of widgets and our customers didn’t like our widgets – found them difficult to use or didn’t feel they were the right widgets for their needs – it is unlikely that we would say ‘stupid customers, they just don’t know what’s good for them. They must be made to buy them.’ Chances our we would look at our low sales and change the widgets. And yet, sadly we do tend to blame our customers when our HR offerings don’t get the take up we think they should.
Employee experience gives us the chance to re-think our approach and move to more of a ‘product mindset’ in HR. We’ve already considered how this product-mindset would lead us to think more about the end user, but it also enables us to adapt and benefit from some of the techniques used by product developers, especially in agile product design. I’ve suggested a few below:
Plan in Short Sprints
Three to five-year strategies and the annual business plan are feeling less and less relevant in our fast-paced world. Moving to an employee experience approach can be done much more effectively if we plan in shorter bursts or sprints. The HR leadership team of one company we know have changed their approach to planning as a result of moving to an employee experience. They have total clarity about the experiences they want to create (trusted and empowered, energised, and welcomed) but they can’t tell you exactly how they are going to get there. Instead they have a laser-like focus on the next three months and the products on the slate that will help get them a bit further forward.
Less is More
We can learn from perhaps the greatest product designer of all time, Apple, about how ‘less is more’. Apple only have a very small number of products in development at any one time. As a result, they can have a relentless focus on getting them ready for launch, reviewing progress every Monday, without fail. If I’d tried to review everything my team had got on our slate every Monday, we’d have been there till midnight. My three-year plans and countless initiatives from my Divisional HRDs and Centres of Expertise Heads created a smorgasbord of HR stuff. It could have been much more impactful if I’d focused on two or three important new products – ones that would improve our credibility, our responsiveness, and our speed of implementation.
Launch small with a Minimum Viable Product
Central to the modern product design industry is the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). If you’ve ever read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries you’ll be familiar with this; what it means is the version of a product which allows the creator to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about its users with the least effort. There are several benefits to this approach. You can:
Embedded within this is the notion that progress is better than perfection, and we in HR get nervous about that. We don’t like the idea of running into compliance or legal complications, or of upsetting unions, and so we avoid putting a new offering out there that isn’t completely accurate and that we can’t see working as a universally applied, end-to-end process. But this isn’t always the best way of delivering services people will be delighted to use.
How ‘minimal’ should your MVP be? In the words of Eric Ries, ‘Probably much more minimum than you think.’ So instead of launching an upgrade model to your reward system, you invite people to sign up to be notified when it’s upgraded. That way you’re testing how many people are interested in your plans and finding out what they might want. You can also use simple channels to launch your idea, so instead of laying on an expensive training programme on how managers can have regular conversations with their staff, you could record a podcast or a short video showing what one looks like and get feedback on that. Or instead of investing in a whole new learning management system you could take a key topic such as how to negotiate and use Facebook Workplace or your own intranet to share a couple of short videos from your Finance Director on how to do it. I like this light touch approach, because it means you start moving more quickly and are able to trial your ideas with early adopters, building from that point.
Step 6. Create time and space
Most HR teams I know are incredibly busy. The idea of taking on ‘employee experience’ would feel like another long list of actions to add to their already unmanageable list. If employee experience becomes another thing your team has to do on top of the day job, then it’s unlikely that you’ll make too much progress. Those HR teams who have been successful have made a conscious decision to get rid of stuff beforehand. They have stopped their efforts around annual appraisals, dropped the annual engagement survey, stopped onerous communication tasks, etc (sadly, some of it wasn’t even noticed!) – to free up their teams to really focus and engage on this new approach.
I started this blog series by saying that I believe placing our desired employee experience at the heart of what we are doing, can radically alter the way HR designs, plans and delivers. I should have added that our impact, our credibility and our own energy levels can also be greatly enhanced. Employee experience is, I feel, one of the most exciting things to happen to HR in a long while – but – and it’s a big BUT, only if we come to it with a desire to learn and an openness to the new thinking it offers.
As unpopular as it might be with leaders who often crave certainty, great HR is just ‘messy’. The HR leaders who are having the most impact, who are creating the conditions where people and organisations can thrive in our disrupted world are those who have the courage to avoid the neat solutions and instead offer messy solutions to the challenges we face. In this blog we explore what 'messy' HR looks like in practice.