Changing perspective: from employee engagement to employee experience

Employee experience at work
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Over the past 50 plus years, organizations have conducted surveys of their employees to gauge employee satisfaction, i.e. if they were satisfied with their jobs. Then, in the late 1990s, organizations began to try to understand if their employees were “engaged” at work, calling it employee engagement.

This revised approach promised business leaders with a way to better link their people and their attitudes to actual business results. Sounds great, right? Of course it does.

Logic prevailed and a movement was born around this new way of finding out how proud employees were of a company, if they wanted to stay with the organization, and ultimately, if they were willing to give extra effort that benefited the company. 

As the employee engagement movement has progressed, it has become something of a commodity. Large consultancies have benefited by creating packaged approaches turning the concept into a product.

Because it is a simple idea, employee engagement sounds like something leaders should be doing and some smart consultants have been able, in very limited ways, to link employee engagement to some business outcomes such as sales and revenue numbers. But the clients of these consultancies and their employees have only benefited in marginal, often short-term ways.

If there really is a business case for employee engagement, then why do so many “Annual State of the Employee”-type reports indicate that many employees are not engaged or are ready to leave the organization at a moment’s notice for something better?

Because today’s employee engagement programs don’t focus on the employee. The simple fact is they are created, delivered, and measured from the point of view of the organization, not the employee. And employees are noticing.

There is a new perspective—one that reverses the lens of what you’re looking for in your employees—and it’s called employee experience. This new approach “flips the script” and is concerned with learning, from the employee’s perspective, what it will take for them to deliver for your business.

Instead of trying to understand if an employee is proud or motivated or wants to stay with the company (because that’s what the company wants), employee experience is concerned with the dialogue between employees and organizations to aid both sides.

The real information needed to gauge if an employee is challenged, contributing, and growing focuses on six key areas:

  • What employees hear
  • What employees see
  • What employees say & do
  • What employees believe
  • What employees want
  • What employees question

Most organizations believe they learn these things from employee engagement surveys, but that’s not the case. A survey is just the start. Understanding these six things will require the gathering of a new type of data, employee experience, or “EX” data, from and about employees.

What is EX data?

Most organizations are flush with or can easily obtain what can be considered “operational” or “O” data about their employees, such as tenure, position, number of new hires, etc. What organizations lack in many cases is real “EX” data. Unlike employee engagement survey data, which is typically obtained only once or twice per year, EX data is constantly evolving and changing just as people and situations change.

EX data allows an organization to better understand more complex, dynamic constructs such team cohesion, quality of leadership, and quality of the hiring process. The elements of day-to-day experiences of employees are what employee experience and EX data is all about.

Dealing with all this information will be a challenge, but not a barrier. There are many means of obtaining, storing, and then analyzing this new type of data.

The real barrier is in the thinking of data in a whole new way.

Why is employee experience important?

Employee experience has a direct impact on the brand, product, and customer experiences of any organization. If an employee’s experience differs between what they see/feel every day and what they are asked to deliver for the organization, eventually that disparity will cause the employee to become frustrated, tuned out, or in a worst-case scenario, completely unproductive.

Employee experience gives an organization something that satisfaction and engagement data really cannot; the ability to reinforce the fact that every employee impacts their own and each other’s experience every single day. It’s about enabling employees to create an impact, for themselves and for the company.

It provides a foundation to create an immediate difference that is owned by employees and is therefore no longer thought of as a “management issue” as employee engagement often is by employees.

This does not, however, absolve the organization of responsibility for the experiences of their employees. Organizations must take the opportunity to use the information provided by EX data to enable great experiences for their employees and remove obstacles to those experiences.

What is the impact of employee experience?

If the employees responsible for executing on your customer strategy are not experiencing the company in a positive way, then what is the chance they will deliver a great experience for your customers, no matter what the customer strategy? Not great.

Employees are the best brand ambassadors and will pass along the positives and negatives that come along with their experiences at work to everyone—including customers. Taking the opportunity to better manage the likelihood employees have a positive experience is an imperative for all businesses.

Employee experience is a key business driver and key to lasting business success.

It’s only when we flip the perspective and try to better understand the employee experience that we will be able to truly motive and engage our biggest asset—our employees.

About Jason Clark

Jason Clark, Manager of Employee Research at Lowe's Companies

Jason has over 10 years of experience developing and delivering employee engagement and experience, employee relations, and research programs for several top brands including Lowe’s, Amazon, Disney, and the Gallup Organization. His experience in multiple industries (retail, healthcare, hospitality and tourism, financial services, transportation & warehousing, technology, and manufacturing) and 23 countries helps him bring a broad perspective to understanding human behavior in the workplace.

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12th Sep 2017 23:57

Awesome tips, Jason! Too many employers think that forcing employee participation will work. It's quite the opposite. It starts with cultivating an environment where they want to participate. Geckoboard came to mind when you mentioned employee engagement data (read about their process here: http://bit.ly/2h1HhCB). They use employee NPS to make sure their strategy for hiring for culture fit stands the test of time! Thanks for sharing.

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