A vital element in delivering a great customer experience is your employee experience. If your people feel good about their work, that transfers to all their interactions with customers. So, what exactly is employee experience and why is it important?
I spoke to employee experience expert, Samantha Gadd, for her insights and tips on how to design a successful employee experience. Sam is the CEO of Humankind, an innovative consulting business that partners with organisations and HR teams of all shapes and sizes to build amazing employee experiences and leading employer brands.
Humankind has recently celebrated seven years in business – congratulations! What is the greatest value that you offer your clients?
SG: The greatest value we offer is partnering to co-design better workplaces.
From the very beginning of my career, I've always had a real passion for helping people to love what they do. I just believe you should love your work. It’s such a big part of life, and I don't think you can be a happy human if you're doing something you don't enjoy.
At Humankind, our purpose is ‘humanity at work’. That means we practice ‘human-kindness’, and leading humanity at work is why we exist.
We believe the best workplaces in the world have love, compassion and creativity at their core – traits that make us human. We have a strong desire to prove that organisations that lead with their heart and high levels of humanity are also the most successful.
We think this approach is a real point of difference for our business.
What is your definition of employee experience?
SG: Employee experience is the combined thoughts, feelings and interactions that employees have at work. It’s what goes on in people's minds, what goes on in people's hearts and what goes on between them and other people and teams.
We’ve developed an employee experience model which describes the types of experiences people have and provides direction and clarity for organisations wanting to design amazing employee experiences.
We call it PREP – short for Purpose, Relationships, Enablers and Performance. Purpose experiences relate to employees having a sense of meaning or purpose, Relationship experiences relate to our interactions with others, Enabling experiences relate to our tools and physical or digital environment, and Performance experiences relate to experiences that enable us to have a sense of achievement in our role.
I like this model because it’s used to diagnose and assess employee experience, and it can also be used to design employee experiences.
You’ve said that leadership is one of the most important aspects of employee experience and also one of the most difficult things to do well. Why do leaders find leading so hard?
SG: I don't think it has ever been as hard as it is today to be a leader.
When you think of leadership ten years ago, things were so much simpler. Expectations of leaders today have changed.
Being a leader today means being transparent, collaborative, purpose-driven and able to communicate well to build strong personal and professional connections.
I don't think organisations are doing enough to equip their people with these skills.
How are you helping leaders and HR teams build great employee experiences?
SG: We work with organisations to build understanding and capability to deliberately design employee experiences.
You wouldn't leave anything about your customer experience to chance. And so why many organisations leave most aspects of their employee experience to chance just defies belief.
Designing a great employee experience involves understanding what we at Humankind call ‘moments’. Moments are subjective, first-hand experiences.
The most obvious ones are what we call ‘moments that matter’. They are the times when we can predict an employee is likely to have an experience that will be important to them. An employee’s first day, a performance appraisal, a promotion or last day, for example. They are the things that you know are coming and can be deliberately planned to ensure a great experience.
But the really interesting moments are those called ‘moments of truth’ – when things happen that you don't know are coming and you can't plan for. An example might be when a customer gets enraged or exasperated with an employee. What support do they get from their leader? How does that leader react? Does that leader back that person up or do they leave them hanging?
It’s a really important time for an employee, and their experience is obviously really impacted by this moment. A moment of truth reveals an organisation’s true level of care. Policies and processes can help guide leaders in these moments, but what they actually say and do is what matters most. Moments of truth disproportionately affect the employee experience.
How do you design an employee experience that helps organisations prepare for these moments?
SG: We first work on understanding the current employee experience so an organisation knows where to start. Often what employers think will have a great impact on work is not necessarily what will. By listening to employees we can get a real understanding and therefore know what will make a difference. The views of an executive team alone are not enough.
The discovery process is really powerful because it includes a survey and a series of 1:1 interviews with people to understand the business and opportunities around organisational structure, culture and people and of course PREP experiences. The nuggets you get from conversations with employees can be truly eye opening.
Once we’ve got those insights into what the current employee experience is like, we then open up the thinking and work with employees and employers to co-design new experiences to build a better workplace.
What’s your advice for retailers wanting to know where to start?
SG: A lot of organisations are so focused on innovating and adding lots of bells and whistles, that they neglect the basics.
The first priority is to help your people understand the strategy, purpose and vision of your organisation and what you stand for. If you stand for world class customer service, for example, then what does that mean? If it means going above and beyond for the customer, then what does that look like? Help them to understand how to do their job well.
The second area to focus on is leadership and connections. People love to come to work and feel that they are understood as individuals. And that means talking about more than just professional development.
People leaders need to know how to connect with people on both a personal and professional level. They need to understand what their people are driven by – are they saving for a house, filling in time before university, or have they just had a baby and aren’t sleeping well at night? Find out what’s going on in their lives and then create work that fits in around it and enables them to meet their personal needs – one-size-fits-one employee experiences.
If you can do these two things well, then you're going to have really connected and engaged employees who love their work and therefore create better customer experiences!