Once we were ‘Personnel Officers’, then we became ‘Strategic Business Partners’ and now, of course, we are ‘Head of Employee Experience’. Whether this new label is merely a superficial re-brand, or whether it actually leads to something better depends on whether the name change is accompanied by a genuine change in approach. I believe moving to an employee experience focus can be a real game changer for HR – but it does involve a re-think in how we plan, design and implement. In this second part of our blog series on creating an amazing employee experience, we’ll look at the key elements that you’ll want to think about and include. The first part; “Who are you designing it for?” can be found here.
Start with the feelings
When I’m working with an HR team and ask them to describe their current employee experience, the usual response involves them describing their processes. The teams will tell me ‘this is how we do recruitment’ or ‘our performance management systems works like this, etc’, but often struggle to describe it from the employee’s perspective. The question they need to be able to answer is “How does it make them feel?”
A great employee experience starts with envisioning how you want your people to feel when they are at work. Recently we were working with an HR team for an insurance company who established that they wanted their people to feel ‘warm and welcomed’. Another HR team, for an online retailer, want their employees to feel ‘energised’. And finally, an engineering firm who want their people to feel ‘trusted’. These emotions are a great place to start when designing your employee experience for 3 reasons
Vision vs Reality
As with any exercise of this kind, the obligatory soul-searching needs to take place. Is this about planning for an aspirational experience or one grounded in reality? I think it’s a bit of both. Whilst we want our employee experience to be compelling and attractive, it has got to feel like us, be based on what is special and different about us today and should feel achievable in our life time! If our aspirations are too great a stretch, we risk losing credibility through over-promising.
The strongest employee experiences are those that reflect both our current culture and our external brand. Arguably the most prominent pioneer of employee experience, AirBnB, developed theirs through taking their external mission ‘Belong Anywhere’ and applying it to their employees. What resulted was a range of innovative people practices that ensured their employees felt like they ‘belonged’, such as each person having their own intranet page to help employees connect with one another or their unique office space – a kind of office ‘city’ – where employees can choose a ‘neighbourhood’ that best suits their task whether that be a quiet library style corner, a bustling concourse or a large kitchen table.
Moments of Truth
Have you been into the store Abercrombie & Fitch recently? Personally, I find the thumping house music and low lighting a nightmare! But then they’re probably not interested in making it an experience that appeals to my (increasing) age demographic? What they, and other great retailers do brilliantly is to take their brand and break it down into multiple ‘moments of truth’ – touch points for the customer that reinforce and support their brand such as when they enter a store, the numerous service interactions during their visit, or how their complaints are handled. How many of us in HR break down our employee proposition and hold a robust examination of our employees’ ‘moments of truth’? We have many more of these moments, lasting far longer, for our employees – so we have lots more opportunity to get them right – and of course, get them badly wrong. In our work we come across numerous conflicts between the promised and the actual employee experience such as:
Each ‘moment of truth’ in the employee lifecycle needs to be deliberate and designed to create our unique employee experience. Simply implementing processes that follow the accepted wisdom of what good looks like is not going to cut it.
More than HR
Whilst HR can take a lead with employee experience, we are reliant upon a number of our colleagues, especially those in functions such as workplace and technology. Jacob Morgan, the leading authority in employee experience has identified 17 individual factors that employees care about and which combine to create a great experience. Of these, 10 are cultural, 4 relate to our physical surroundings and 3 relate to the tech we get to use at work. He believes that we have to work with our colleagues in these other disciplines to get our experience right and has produced a handy assessment tool where you can benchmark yourself against the best.
A consistent experience for different people
There is a real risk that we apply old thinking to the new approach offered by going down an employee experience route in HR. Our tendency has been to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to the design of our people processes. Whilst there is a growing and exciting trend to adopt a more ‘consumer mindset’ to our employees and to invest in providing greater choice and personalisation, we may return to our old ways and think we can produce one employee experience. We should steer clear of this temptation! Truly powerful employee experience work has at its core a recognition that we deal with human beings, with their different needs and wants and preferences. It should be user-led and user-centred. This means that whilst we can be single minded about the feelings we would like to create, we need to provide different options for our employees to experience these feelings. To help explain this, let’s go back to the three examples I gave earlier – the companies who wanted their people to feel ‘warm and welcomed’, ‘energised’ and ‘trusted’.
The ‘warm and welcomed’ company used a great app called Enboarder to ensure that the line manager knew a lot about their new employee and could tailor their onboarding experience to one that was personal to them.
The ‘energised’ company recognised that having a choice of working environments, including quiet, solitary spaces as well as the social ones would energise both introverts and extroverts.
The ‘trusted’ company worked through each of their processes to see where ‘trust’ became important for different people and factored it into their flexible working approaches, their approach to rule-making, the discretion given to line managers and so on.
Creating a great employee experience is about ensuring it’s a personalised experience.
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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.