Smiling happy faces drawn on sheets. Customer Experience and evaluation concept.
The equilibrium between productivity and presence is one of the hardest to master in business. For centuries, productivity was presumed to be fueled by segregation of skills, management of autonomies and powered through technology. We are now learning despite the vast investments made, productivity really didn’t pick up more than 2% across the board (see OECD productivity report) and paradoxically, there has been an uptake in workplace statistics suggesting growth in pain and loss of identity across workspaces.
Work is… and good work requires thoughtful philosophy and mutual accountability sharing from involved parties. As the poet David Whyte writes “Good work like a good marriage needs a dedication to something larger than our own detailed, everyday needs; good work asks for promises to something intuited or imagined that is larger than our present understanding of it”, improving experience at work requires approaching that relationship more than as a numeric balance that needs technology fueling.
Much has been suggested about employee experience – especially around data and technology staging, very often overlooking the need to highlight the underlying case and organizational philosophy around the need to rethink experience.
The Case for Employee Experience
Each one of us come to life as single entities. We have our own genetic make-up, unique set of strengths, capacity and abilities, etc. As an early toddler, we are fairly clear about our core, who we are, how we can relate to others, what we can and cannot do as an example. Something interesting happens during our childhood development. Right around the ages of 3 to 5, we start growing our consciousness and we become aware of how the world may view us. This awareness prompts a strong desire for us to get clarity around our identity and we start looking for a community or a group to become part of in search of our self-identification. This need to find our source of truth continues into our adult development. We become not only dependent on our own experiences and perceptions (of who we think we are), we become equally dependent on how we think the world may see us.
A lot of people think this is triggered through neurosis, but it is not. This search is part of our existence and fuels our journey as living organisms. This is not a spiritual thing either. According to self-determination theory, our genetic make-up is so that we have 3 core motivations to our being: (1) self-interest, (2) connection, (3) contribution to something meaningful and as a result of this wiring, we have a natural preference to be close to those we self-associate with. In other words, the human condition is one about belonging. We cannot thrive in absence of appropriate conditions and relationship building. Recent studies showcase for us when isolated, the negative health implications measured is worse than those of smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.
Now, you may ask why this matters in the context of work and work experience?
It matters because we often think of ourselves separate from the environment, the system, the culture, the work. In reality, there is very deep interconnectedness to our being. In defining an organization, we are not only an integral part of the whole, we (and our condition) actually make up the whole. This is also closely related to how we make sense of our environment inside a system. Because we understand the conditions outside of us through our experience, how we define our interaction with the world serves as a dictionary in how we define ourselves. In that, belonging is not an external trait, it is rather an internal and an external process that can both create and destroy our association with external worlds.
Now, you will find some will say if you want to change people’s mind, you need to first change behavior. Others will say, if you want to change behavior, you have to begin with changing organizational ways. Recognize this is not a ‘either/ or’, this is an ‘and’ statement. The individual and collective behavior infect and affect each other up and down the organizational stream.
When it comes to creating the right culture of an organization and/or building an attractive brand, the question actually becomes how do we rethink our existence, policies and structures so that it can reflect (as authentically as possible) some of our deepest values, ways of connecting and working?
What’s an Experience?
An experience is a collection of moments. It is a collection of moments; but it is not the actual moments, it is the perception of a moment in our memory. When we study what makes up the stories in our memory that support decision-making, we find it is most emotionally triggered. Only about %5 of our rational brain engages in fact gathering, the rest is all us reacting to something.
Let me give you an example from a recent client work. This customer had a partial growth strategy thru frequent mergers and acquisitions (M&A). They had the due-diligence and integration process very well mapped, had tools supporting, manager readiness in place, etc., yet, they were struggling to improve their collaboration metrics by % of their targets. When we mapped their integration emotional journey at an employee experience level, we saw the below happening.
i.e. emotional journey during M&A Integration
SESIL PIR Consulting GmbH
This is a perfect example of how an experience comes about. In terms of our cognitive and emotional response to the world, they mostly happen at the unconscious level and in terms of our experience, a lot is influenced and colored by our emotions and assumptions. Our rational minds may understand the why and what of something whereas our hearts and bodies may react differently. The good news is that because so much of our collective experience relies on individual formation of emotions and assumptions, which are often dynamic and fluid, when predicted and tracked, it can be effectively reshaped with outside touch points.
Reimagining Employee Journey in Experience
An experience journey serves as a home base, a community for an organizations’ collective culture. It has an invisible presence and reflects upon its constituents as if in a story told from a third person’s point of view.
Imagine, for an example, an executive inside an organization considering him/herself very busy most of the time. Imagine the person walking from their desk to the elevator a couple of times a day, everyday, looking down at their phone in hand instead of greeting employees. Now, consider what they may be contributing to in terms of employees’ experience?
Depending on an employee’s sense of being, desire to relate, maturity in understanding the different ways of working, the executive very well may be contributing to creation of segregated moments. Consciously or unconsciously, s/he may be signaling to some employees in their shared physical space the denial of their connection or that work being higher rated than connectivity in their culture.
This is exactly why experience journey needs a structure, a methodology and a transparent process to share and reflect upon modern day needs. In the 21st century, we can no longer rely on lengthy (bi)annual surveys to provide timely insights either. Today’s employees want to know they’re being heard and want to hold the collective accountable at large. With the blurring lines in business, employees are more and more interested in advancing the integration of their social conscience and their personal sense of value as a driver of sustainable performance. In other words, belonging, in the new era, is largely about knowing what one stands for and having access to shape the journey.
For those organizations, interested in thinking through their employee experience, below are shortened hallmarks to consider:
1. Clear philosophy: Start by considering what’s an experience to your organization, why you want to rethink your employee journey in experience and what you are looking to get out of the exercise.
2. Defined needs: Take the time necessary to develop an understanding of what matters for your employees, a segment of them or a specific audience. Many times, creating employee personas can be helpful here.
3. Articulated accountability: Collect and analyze organizational data. Gauge in behavioral psychology to interpret key measures, to innovate your journey and to empower your communities. Technology can be a big enabler in improving experience and at the same time, it can not be the only place you place your investments in. You may find other critical (non-digital) moments that matter more to your employees.
4. Aligned measurement: Define journey and targeted metrics as well as appropriate governance systems to monitor and measure your progress along and beyond the journey. One of the secrets to success may be hidden in your comparative analysis of employee to customer journey.
Being a human is a process. It’s not something that we just are born with. Throughout our life journeys, we are actually learning to know who we are, to stand by our ways (of showing up, connecting, contributing) and to celebrate our collective ways of performing.
A person’s identity at work is a pattern supported by its physiology, psychology, sociology and philosophy. If one part is not settled, rest assure, the whole experience will suffer… It is true that delivering differentiated and satisfying employee experiences can lead to a boost in improving satisfaction, productivity and retention metrics inside organizations but more importantly, it can reshape how we inhabit our belonging in an ever-changing reality.