It used to be that everyone wanted good customer service and a great customer experience. More recently, companies have woken up and realized that they need to have happy employees to deliver good customer service. Customer experience encapsulates everything the customer is experiencing around a transaction, from initiation to post-consumption of the service/experience. But have we begun measuring the employee experience the same way? I wonder.
During the 2021 Gartner Symposium, the term “Total Experience” was hyped; it is the combination of “Employee Experience + Customer Experience”. They remarked that to achieve an outstanding customer experience, you must focus on the employee experience first. No miserable employee can truly deliver outstanding customer service. That’s why Disney and Chic Filet and countless other companies have consistently positive customer satisfaction. It shows in everything their employees do, from their verbal queues, body language, and even how they handle things on a bad day.
What makes a good Employee Experience.
Employees need to feel that they can trust their institution/company, and that they can trust their leadership. Trust is everything here. It means they can bring their whole self to work. They can be creative, open, and free to explore ideas and opportunities. But this trust is a two-way street; while they want to trust their company/leaders, they want to feel they are trusted as well. How do you feel trusted? By being given a wide berth to work, without constantly checking in or being checked on. It’s also a feeling that if you fumble or fail, that you’ll be supported and not outcast.
Trust is something I would argue everyone wants and needs. For companies to truly start on the right foot, they need to nurture a culture of TRUST and not start with a “we’ll trust you when you’ve earned it” attitude. Companies need to extend trust first and then it will be reciprocated by the employees. When employees feel that they are trusted to do the job, put in the time and effort, and to bring their creative selves to the job, they will create their own masterpieces and work more cohesively in a team because everyone feels safe to do their best work
Employees need to feel that they are heard and that the company/leadership is listening. Beyond having an annual employee engagement survey, focus groups, or saying you have an open-door policy, it’s walking the talk. It entails effective conversations with managers on basic operations, and real discussions about career ambitions (not just the standard cookie-cutter review done once a year.) Open, bi-directional dialogue is critical. Employees need to feel that their thoughts, opinions, concerns matter, and that if action items are needed to rectify a situation, then these are taken seriously. They need to feel their leadership will pick up the phone for them or take an important meeting with them when something important comes up.
Tolerance for failure.
Employees need to feel encouraged to try new things, despite sometimes failing. Allowing employees to “color outside of the lines” and to try different mediums is a powerful way of supporting exploration and growth. Encouraging creativity and allowing a wide berth for exploration is the bedrock for innovation. I’ve heard of many companies even carving out a day a week (or month) for employees to work on any special project of their choosing, with no rules or guidelines in the effort to let their people try new things.
Imagine the genius that may be tapped into when employees solve problems you weren’t even aware of! This goes into making their lives/colleagues’ lives easier, and even extending to solving a customer problem. In the spirit of trying and failing, teams and individuals on these teams develop a muscle for ingenuity. They learn to trust each other more and to try harder until they succeed! And this is what leads to transformation. One of my favorite concepts is “evolution not revolution.” While most of us want instantaneous change for the better, this rarely happens. What we most crave is a feeling of continuous evolution to better.
Now let’s shift to some things that make a huge difference in the employee journey and help improve employee engagement.
A positive and easy employee onboarding “experience”.
New hires are formulating impressions of their new company and the relationship they will have with it from interviews. There’s enough anxiety about moving jobs, so figuring out how to situate yourself as a new hire isn’t needed. HR and hiring managers should prepare 80-90% for a new employee’s arrival before their first day.
This includes all HR forms/paperwork, benefit info distribution, selection/ordering of technology equipment, provisioning the appropriate access needed to do the job, and finally, a solid first and second week of calendar planning to include orientations, meet and greets, and other assignments to help “transition” the employee into their role. Demonstrating to new hires how their arrival has been anticipated with acts that help them feel welcome and valued leaves a great first impression.
The ability to learn in a comfortable, growth-oriented way.
Most companies have a learning management system (LMS) and/or access to learning content they outsource to third party providers. But that’s not the same thing as “growth-oriented” learning. Managers need to assess the strengths and interests of their employees and help match them to different learning opportunities. This may include recommending or signing them up for training (in person or via the LMS self-paced modules); this also includes a myriad of things such as assigning them to specific project teams, giving them meaningful stretch assignments, and when needed, seeking a coach or mentor to support them. When there is already a foundation of trust in the relationship, the employee will open up about their desires and/or apprehension to learn certain skills.
They will feel supported along the way, which ultimately accelerates their learning. It also builds gratitude and loyalty. Employee-company bond strengthens when employees feel worthy of investment.
Going far beyond the traditional concept of work-life balance, it’s stretching to figuring out how each employee actually wants to work, when and where. The Covid19 Pandemic has cast a huge focus on employee options and the desires for employees to work remotely from their homes to capitalize on much yearned for benefits. But that’s just the beginning. It doesn’t mean “disengagement”, in fact they want engagement with their companies, but this is defined differently for each person. Whether it’s figuring out what hybrid setup works (2 in, 3 out or 3 in, 2 out, or once a week or once a month, etc.) or how employees work when they are working (together in meeting rooms, video conferencing meetings, asynchronously/synchronously) and for how long/when they work- all of these are important.
Some work best always in contact with others, some with minimum touch points, and for some it’s a combination of these and as needed. This entails understanding how frequently you should have group meetings, the length of these meetings, the context and purpose of these meetings, up-to and including one-on-one and staff meetings. How you do this is just as important as the Why you do this.
The name of new world order: FLEXIBILITY
The name of the new world order is FLEXIBILITY. Autonomy for employees to handle personal situations and make up work off-cycle deepens trust and commitment within a team. It helps with the employee experience, allowing them to feel “connected” to the mission/vision of the company and Employees feel most stressed feeling it’s either work or home, but never both. Feeling that prioritizing work or home life to the detriment of the other is unacceptable. Engaged employees love their work, but never more than their families. They love whatever they’re doing at any time, and sometimes it’s a little bit of both at the same time. They care and give their best, and that’s when companies win.
There’s so much more to be said about employee experience, including solving little problems before they get big, making sure technology is an enabler and not a disabler, and continuously bringing people together behind meaningful/common purpose. All of this speaks to a global culture of psychological safety, which is essential anyway in any healthy organization. Yet I feel the 3 irreversible activities that make/break employee engagement are and will remain: starting employees on the right foot with an outstanding onboarding experience, setting up a growth-oriented learning path for them, and establishing the most flexible/engaging work setup for employees to thrive in.