The 10 Principles Behind Great Employee Experiences

A few years ago, I read what would become a life changing book called The 10 Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences, by Matt Watkinson. This book clearly articulated the principles that both independently and collectively influence the experience customers have with all businesses. I thoroughly recommend it.

What was most interesting to me, however, was how obvious it was that these principles, with minimal amendments, applied to the employee experience too.

Below is our view of ‘The 10 Principles Behind Great Employee Experiences’:

Great employee experiences strongly reflect the employee’s identity

It is crucial when designing intrinsically motivating experiences, that time is taken to deeply understand who the employee is as a human being. Understanding their expectations of the organisation, both voiced and unvoiced, will allow you to consider how best to align expectations and meet their needs. Remember – one size fits one.

Great employee experiences satisfy our higher objectives

What is it that your employee seeks to achieve during their time with your organisation? Ensuring you develop an understanding of this will provide you with the knowledge to design an experience that enables success for your employee. It could be micro in terms of success on a project or simply developing knowledge, or macro in terms of career advancement – either way, knowing this and working to create the environment where your employee succeeds is a recipe for a great employee experience.

Great employee experiences leave nothing to chance

In my view, this should be the number one rule of employee experience. Far too often this is left to chance – with tactical or reactive activity the norm. To achieve truly great, time and energy must be put into deliberately designing experiences that will intrinsically motivate and ultimately lead to increased productivity.

Great employee expectations set and meet expectations

This seems remarkably obvious, but if your organisation either explicitly or implicitly creates a set of expectations with your employee – make sure you meet those expectations. The emotional fallout of letting employees down or failing to deliver will have a material long lasting effect on motivation and business success.

Great employee experiences are effortless

All employees want to do good work – so putting barriers in their way just doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately this is far too common. Clunky, outdated systems, poor quality information, disruptive and distracting physical environments, and confusing contradicting information from leaders seems to be commonplace. Deliberately seeking to remove unnecessary effort will go a long way to enabling and empowering employees to do good work.

Great employee experiences are stress free

Directly related to the previous principle, creating a stress free working environment has a direct impact on high quality productivity. Be it unreasonably high workloads, the inability to find basic information to help a customer, or the usual run-around with poorly designed policy documents – these all create unnecessary stress that damages motivation and reduces productivity.

Great employee experiences indulge the senses

As human beings, our senses are always on. To create truly great employee experiences, all of these senses need to be considered. Think about what can be done to ensure the working space has enough natural light, noise levels are appropriate, physical spaces are aesthetically pleasing and well laid out. All of these things have an impact on employees – and the best workplaces go all out to make the physical workspace an enjoyable place to be.

Great employee experiences are socially engaging

The workplace is more than a place to work – it is a place to engage other human beings, to develop connections and to feel like part of a community. All too often though, it can become a place just to get stuff done. This is particularly true during times of high workloads.

Creating space to connect as people, rather than just as colleagues, can have in immediate and long lasting effect on both motivation and productivity.

Great employee experiences put the employee in control

In days gone by, it was common for decisions to be made behind closed doors and suddenly announced to teams. The impact was almost always negative – why has this decision been made? What were the alternatives? Why couldn’t we do x or y? It simply does not make sense anymore to continue with this obsolete way of managing a business.

Wherever possible, employees should be engaged to participate in problem solving and designing solutions. Not only will a sense of inclusiveness be achieved, but more than likely you will end up with a better solution.

Great employee experiences consider the emotions

Vincent Van Gogh once said “little emotions are the great captains of our lives, and we obey them without realising it”.

One of the most common mistakes we encounter when working with organisations to design great employee experiences is the tendency to only focus on the rational. An example of this is the modern phenomenon of surveys – we assume that how employees respond is rational and absolute.

The reality is that this is just not true.

This approach does nothing to understand how employees are actually feeling or indeed what they may be thinking, but do not feel comfortable saying. Yet, this is the very essence of every individual employee experience.

To design truly great employee experiences, disproportionate effort should be put into engaging with employees one on one, to develop a deep understanding of what drives and influences their behaviours.

The key question all organisations should be continually asking is how do I want my employees to feel?

These principles are the foundation of deliberately designing truly great employee experiences.

June 11th, 2018

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There is no doubt the physical spaces our employees work in have improved dramatically over the past decade. Increasingly, offices are now open, bright and aesthetically pleasing. However, many organisations are missing the opportunity to create truly great employee experiences where their people can thrive.

This is the final article in our series that focuses on the key elements that directly impact the employee experience. Our first outlined what employee experience really is and why it is so important. The second identified leadership as the most important factor, whilst the third highlighted the importance of operations as a key people enabler. The last article outlined why tools, and in particular data, can have such a big impact on empowering employees.

All about collaboration?

There has truly been a pendulum swing over the past decade. The trend has clearly moved towards open-plan workspaces where employees are encouraged to interact freely and engage with one another. It is rare now to find an office with old style offices and cubicles – rather they have been replaced with shared spaces and Activity Based Working (ABW) where no-one has an allocated desk and all are actively encouraged to collaborate freely.

Whilst this sounds like a good idea on the surface, it often comes with a number of unintended consequences.

We’ve often found that these new modern workplaces make it challenging for certain cohorts to feel welcome. This includes mums often struggling to find appropriate places to work as they still (mostly) carry the responsibility of dropping kids off at school or kindy, as well as millennials who find it hard to develop meaningful relationships as colleagues move around so much, particularly in larger employers with head offices.

The problem with Activity Based Working is that if done for the wrong reasons, or if done superficially, it may not cater for all four distinctively different needs of a modern workspace required to create a great employee experience and to achieve organisational goals.

As Duncan Mitchell of property consultancy TwentyTwo points out “Businesses are using Design Thinking principles to re-engineer their systems and process to create better customer experiences, so why aren’t they applying the same principles to creating work environments for their people?”

“Why are businesses scared to ask their people what sort of work environment would let them their best work? Research shows people have fairly basic requests – fresh air, fast WiFi, some sort of outlook etc. I don’t understand why HR professionals haven’t stood up and taken the lead in these projects.

Environment

The Four Needs of a Workspace

In order of priority, we believe a working environment needs to allow employees to:

Focus: Do your employees have suitable abundant space to concentrate for significant periods of time, without distraction from noise or movement? A simple way to check if you have a distracting environment is to look for employees with headphones in their ears trying to drown out other employee’s conversations. This has become the new normal for businesses, but doesn’t make sense – people are trying to overcome the noise with more noise. Office movement is a modern phenomenon that persists in distracting employees – just watch how often your people’s eyes pop up from their work to see who walks past them. The consequence? It becomes almost impossible to achieve a state of Deep Work – as identified by Cal Newport – meaning high rates of rewarding productively cannot be achieved.

Collaborate: For employees to collaborate meaningfully, organisations need to be thinking beyond simply open-plan spaces. Employees need appropriate places to engage with one another to ideate and explore, with a range of tools at their disposal to capture useful thoughts and ideas including hi-tech (audio/visual equipment, touch screens) and low-tech (large writing walls and post-it notes). Consideration should also be given to facilitating virtual collaboration – this often requires specialist spaces with acoustic privacy.

We are continually surprised at the number of offices without a suitable place to do this kind of creative thinking.

Learn: The best kind of learning is continuous learning, including meaningful and ongoing coaching and mentoring. Yet, for this to become a reality, organisations need to not only invest in developing the skills required to do this effectively but also provide the appropriate space in which to do it. Consider whether your office has an appropriate place in relatively close proximity to the normal working space, where employees and team leaders can sit down and discuss progress without distraction or interruption. We don’t mean a meeting room though – as this can sometimes make employees feel like the discussion needs to be hidden.

Socialise: This last one is an interesting one. With so much choice about where and how to conduct work, there actually must be a desire to be in the space in which we work. Assuming the previous three elements have been achieved – consider whether or not people actually enjoy being in the space. Not just to work, but to engage. Do people choose to stay back after normal working hours to relax with colleagues; do they show off their space to friends and family? If not, why not?

With working from home and increased flexibility on the rise, we must ensure our spaces are designed to attract team members in, offer choices, a sense of pride and somewhere to have fun.

As Zak Hogg from Workplace Strategists and founders of ABW Veldhoen + Company suggests “Some organisations are starting to actually think about using the workplace as a way to attract and retain talent, and form part of the value proposition, and think about supporting their people in what they actually do more effectively.

“Those organisations who really get it are truly thinking strategically about where they are heading, what it asks of their culture, and how they go about supporting their people at work for a consistent experience through their property strategy.”

At Humankind, our goal is to develop employee experiences with spaces where communities are created, great work is achieved, and amazing customer experiences are delivered.

It is clear that this needs to be deliberately designed and can never be left to chance.

#employeeexperience #wearehumankind

October 24th, 2017

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Whenever we think about tools in the workplace, automatically our minds go to physical technology. And why wouldn’t it? With incredible advancements in everything from Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to increasingly sophisticated smart devices, we are continually being reminded of the latest and greatest.

Whilst the technology we use in the workplace is important and can enhance or impede employees, there is another key asset that is often overlooked and yet can have an incredible impact on the employee experience – data.

Our first article introduced what employee experience actually is. Our second highlighted leadership as the first key element of employee experience, and our most recent outlined how the operations of an organisation should be viewed as a key enabler.

This article identifies how the tools employees use (including data and systems) can have a significant impact – either to the detriment of an employee’s workplace experience, or as a positive amplifier of their existing capabilities.

Help or hinder?

The exponential increase in data accumulation has been well documented, and with it a never-ending narrative on concepts like “big data”.

Yet with all the talk of working smarter, not harder, it would appear this is not the case for too many employees who have been left to fend for themselves. This often involves employees struggling with outdated cumbersome systems, or even multiple systems to try and provide customers with the simple information they need.

Even relatively common business programs, like a CRM, are typically full of outdated irrelevant information making the job of the employee far harder than it should be.

As a result, employees become irritated and disengaged. Not only do they suffer through the ongoing frustration of poor access to data, but in turn the customer experience is also damaged.

Tools

In our view, there are four key stages of data evolution:

Data – in its rawest form, accumulated in massive quantities through the range of systems an organisation utilises or engages with. In this form, this data is all but meaningless and little or no value is gained.

Information – once raw data is turned into information it becomes easily understood. However, as with many organisations, simply turning data into information can remain overwhelming – it is almost impossible for employees to understand what is important, in-date or even relevant. Think of the earlier CRM example.

Knowledge – this is where information is turned into an asset that strengthens understanding. Employees can see what is relevant quickly and can use this knowledge to make good decisions or provide value to customers.

Insight – the fourth stage is what all organisations should be striving for. Insight is gained when an organisation is able to extract unique value from data. This heightened state of understanding should provide employees with the ability to make quick, important and highly proactive decisions to deliver maximum value to customers, whilst also creating competitive advantage.

This final stage is where employees are able to thrive, with their existing capabilities augmented and amplified. This is where employees feel valued and truly intelligent.

To successfully create a great employee experience, that will in turn deliver a great customer experience, organisations must give considered thought to the kind of data it is providing to its employees. Is it just overwhelming information spread over multiple outdated systems, or is it unique insight that will lead to competitive advantage accessible via an intuitive, user friendly system?

#employeeexperience #wearehumankind

October 17th, 2017

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What makes employee experience such a fascinating yet complex subject, is the sheer number of contributing factors that together deliver a unique experience. From the operations and structure of a business to the virtual and physical environments in which we work, to the tools, technology, and data we are provided with to actually do our jobs – each are vital and can have a profound impact on an experience. When done well, the results can be positive, enabling and motivating.

There is, however, one key factor that has the greatest single impact on the employee experience – leadership.

Leadership for many organisations remains almost an enigma. All recognise that it is important, but few can say they have achieved world class status.

Employee-Experience-Leadership

Why excellent leadership is difficult to achieve:

 

1.   Lack of experience

Marshall Goldsmith best sums this up in his book What got you here won’t get you there. More often than not, leaders find themselves trying to lead others with little or no experience to speak of. Having achieved recognition for becoming successful practitioners in their chosen fields, they are thrust into a position where they are expected to motivate and inspire others. The reality is, new leaders need new skills. They cannot hide because all too quickly they will be found out.

2.   Fear of vulnerability

New leaders worry that asking for help will be an admission of failure or a sign of weakness. It is, in fact, the complete opposite. A leader that asks for help and is prepared to be vulnerable is a leader seeking to succeed, and a demonstration of strength. A leader that never asks for help, or shows weakness is potentially arrogant and dangerous. Great leaders identify their weaknesses and seek support to better themselves from both within their organisations and from outside.

3.   Lack of strategic skills (decision making capability)

Having coached a number of senior executives, I find this to be a recurring theme. How can leaders acquire strategic skills if they’ve never had to think strategically? And once strategic decisions are made, how do leaders catalyse action. All too often leaders get sucked into stewardship and operations either because they do not trust those responsible for work, or because this is where they feel safe. Building high trust teams and effective delegation are crucial for new leaders to ensure they can focus more in the strategic space.

4.   Poor communication

Unfortunately, this is all too common. Leaders typically rely on one particular way to communicate, rather than learning how to inspire, motivate and to engage their people. Communication is a skill and must be practiced. Good leaders seek and accept support to grow their competence – hiding from the problem only inflates the problem.

5.   Failing to develop connections

Being a leader of people is a human endeavor. Developing and improving relationship skills is critical for successful leaders. When meaningful connections are developed, people feel compelled to follow and are intrinsically motivated to contribute. Take the time to ask questions, be interested, listen generously and seek to grow others.

Great leaders make a deliberate, conscious decision to improve. They acknowledge their weaknesses and proactively seek out the best support to develop.

Only then can truly great employee experiences be achieved.

#employeeexperience #wearehumankind

August 30th, 2017

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Organisations can no longer ignore the costs associated with poor engagement. Nor can they deny the financial benefits for having highly engaged and intrinsically motivated employees.

All too often we hear business and public-sector leaders talk about how important their people are to their respective organisations. In fact, I suspect most who read this article would have heard phrases like “our greatest asset is our people”.

Then why is it that so few choose to back up the rhetoric and invest in creating truly great employee experiences? Outside of haphazard onboarding, standardised training, and annual (or if they are lucky 6 monthly) performance reviews – it seems that many employee experiences are left to chance.

What is most alarming is that this appears to be the rule rather than the exception.

The answer, more often than not is that this kind of investment is never seen as urgent, and more importantly, the return on that investment is challenging to calculate.

The reality is investing in your employee experience is likely to be one of the most rewarding investments you could make. The impact on both the top and bottom lines are enormous and should no longer be ignored.

Here are five key reasons why you should invest in developing market leading employee experiences.

1.    Radically increased earnings

According to Gallup research, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. That is simply staggering.

My guess is that if commercially driven Boards were in possession of that information, one of their first questions would relate specifically to the effort Executives are putting to developing strong employee experiences.

2.    Substantial increases in profitability

To back up the research conducted by Gallup, a study by Towers Perrin found that there is a dramatic gap between the earnings of those businesses with highly engaged employees at a 19% increase in earnings per share, and those with the least engaged employees at a 33% decrease in earnings per share. With a gap of 51%, the impact on profit simply cannot be ignored.

3.    Greater productivity

As Daniel Pink found in his seminal book Drive, the three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction are Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. In fact, these three factors combined account for an intrinsic drive that is stronger, more powerful and more sustainable than traditional extrinsically driven environments. As Gallup found, engaged and motivated employees are 21% more productive than disengaged employees. Further research from McLean & Company found that a disengaged employee can cost a business up to $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary!

4.    The cost of turnover

The costs of recruiting, hiring, training of a new staff member are relatively common knowledge. There is also the lost productivity before an employee resigns (as they become less engaged), which continues until a replacement team member is found and is able to get up to speed in the organisation. This is a long time without productivity. The problem, however, is this loss in productivity is a hidden cost. You will never see this cost in the P&L of any business, only the cost to hire.

As a result, it is largely ignored.

If every organisation was to allocate a dollar cost related to each voluntary staff member leaving, the decision to invest in developing better, more rewarding experiences for employees would be a no brainer.

5.    Better customer experiences

By now most organisations have realised the financial value that a comprehensive customer experience strategy can have. Investments are made in new technology, new store layouts, and extensive customers surveys (too many in my opinion!!). However, employee investment remains largely static, which does not make sense. Employees not only create the most lasting memories of a brand (good and bad), but they are also best placed to identify problems and develop meaningful solutions if only they are given the tools, training, environment, and autonomy to do so.

The evidence is clear, investing in employee experience is great for business. Great employee experiences do not happen by chance – they are deliberated designed and executed.

#HumankindEX #employeeexperience #EX

June 28th, 2017

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I’ve worked with a number of organisations on employee experience projects and I’m starting to see a number of unfortunate commonalities. Whilst most leading businesses now appreciate that the employee experience is more than simply the culture (although it does directly impact the culture), the following three mistakes are all too common:

1.    Failing to consider the emotions of employees

Our emotions rule every single one of us, however, I’m continuously surprised at how often emotions are ignored in the workplace. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the emotional state of your employees is likely to be one of, if not the biggest, contributor to productivity. Failing to consider how emotions affect employees on a continuous basis can leave organisations with a significant blind spot.

Take the time to consider what currently triggers an emotional high (e.g. buzz of being involved in special projects or sense of accomplishment due to decision-making authority) and what might cause emotional lows (e.g. resentment over managers communication style or anxiety over the lack of development opportunities). It’s incredible how obvious some of the solutions are once you understand the cause of a problem.

2.    Substituting style over substance

There is a real trend toward employee experience “projects” that might include complete office fit outs and aesthetically pleasing workspaces. Whilst these projects are not wrong in any way, alone they are not enough to create great employee experiences. In fact, it is not uncommon to find a lull in employee’s motivation and engagement shortly after taking residence in a new space, especially if other key contributors to their experience remain ignored.

If you are considering a new office fit out, consider what impact you are seeking to have on employees first i.e. how do you want them to feel? Then consider what else might be a key contributor to this desired outcome? Leadership, professional development opportunities, and tools (including technology and access to information) are examples of contributors that remain the same even in a nice new shiny workspace.

3.    Focusing on “stages” rather than the day to day

For a long time, HR professionals have understood and focused on the employee lifecycle. This remains important at a macro level, helping organisations to build initiatives to improve key stages (onboarding, performance reviews etc.) on the employee journey. The downside, however, is that this same thinking tends to become the basis of which HR professionals consider the wider employee experience. The impact is that there is too much focus given to these key big stages and not enough focus given to ordinary day to day activities. This is where the majority of employees actually spend their time.

To give further depth to employee experience analysis, consider a regular day outside of the key lifecycle stages and capture all the seemingly minor activities, tasks and interactions that take place.

In my opinion, deliberately designing and executing a great employee experience is one of the most impactful strategic initiatives an organisation can achieve. Avoiding these common mistakes will help to make that a reality.

June 16th, 2017

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