by Jon Ingham, IMI Associate faculty member and Director of the Strategic HR Academy
In today’s digital, people-centric age, employee experience has become a key enabler for improving organisational performance, often now receiving more attention than the more traditional focus on satisfaction and engagement.
Employee engagement is still important but because this is defined as creating the psychological states and behaviours beneficial to an employer, it can be seen by employees as a rather manipulative approach. Employee experience tends to resonate better as it moves the employee to the centre of concern.
Employee experience also focuses on what is happening, rather than the results of these actions, and therefore provides earlier opportunities to intervene to improve things for an employee. However, experience is now a more useful concept than employee satisfaction (which also focuses on activities) as digital technology has tended to integrate different aspects of work. This means that the experience of everything happening to someone at a particular point in their employment is more critical than their satisfaction with a particular process or aspect of that experience.
Employee experience therefore provides a crucial opportunity to increase engagement, but also to support a range of other performance metrics. A good experience makes it easier for employees to do their jobs well, for example by improving processes, supporting innovation, and providing better customer experience.
So, what should we be doing to enhance this experience?
One, often over-looked factor is employee productivity. This is clearly a central driver of business performance and is another outcome of improving employee experience. However, productivity is often an important motivator for employees and therefore a facilitator for a good employee experience too.
Not everyone wants to put themselves out to ensure their employer succeeds, but most people would rather do a good job, and contribute as much as they can, if this is made easy for them. Being productive helps people feel that they are achieving, and that they have value. It is often associated with being in a flow state, in which someone can see themselves progressing, improving their contributions as their abilities develop.
This sense of achievement is enhanced by helping individuals and teams take more autonomy, as seen in agile teams; network and platform-based businesses; and blockchain-based distributed autonomous organisations (DAOs). In these organisations, individuals or teams focus on their own areas of accountability and co-operate with other teams around them over a technology-based platform rather than this being co-ordinated via hierarchical management.
Productivity is further enabled by embedding measures of performance within the work of these individuals and teams so that people can tell for themselves how they are performing and do not need this to be inferred subjectively by a line manager. People can then also take autonomy for improving their own performance and productivity.
Even organisations not wanting to move to these more innovative ways of organising will benefit from increasing the amount of autonomy that they provide to their individuals and teams for both doing and measuring their work. These gains will accrue partly as a result of the improved employee experience that these changes provide, and partly through their direct impacts on performance.
However, improving employee experience is not just about productivity. Another important element in achieving a compelling experience is purpose. Company purposes have increasing shifted from a focus on competition (for example, ‘beat Pepsi’) to achievement (for example, ‘a PC on every desk’) to organisational and sustainable performance (perhaps something like ‘to be the best company for innovation and to look after the planet in the process’).
A clear, compelling purpose helps employees understand what matters most to their own business and enables them to develop a sense of meaning for their work. This effect is compounded if employees are encouraged to think about their own, individual life purpose, and how this intersects with the company’s purposes too.
Purpose also helps integrate increasingly autonomous individuals and teams, helping them co-ordinate their actions to avoid duplications or omissions, and enabling them to experience a sense of relatedness and belonging, as part of the whole organisation, alongside others working more autonomously too.
Productivity and purpose are not the only factors leading to a good experience – companies do also need to look at everything else their employees experience, from the organisation’s culture to its digital and physical workplaces, and in particular, the ways that all these elements are combined in the most crucial ‘moments that matter’ to employees.
However, both productivity and purpose do provide far-reaching opportunities for many organisations to improve their employee experience, and therefore to gain the range of business benefits that are associated with this.
About the author
Jon Ingham is an IMI Associate faculty member and a people and organisation development strategist. He is the Director of the Strategic HR Academy and works as an independent consultant, trainer, keynote speaker and analyst.