How To Get Started on Employee Experience
Award-winning Sr Communications Strategist
18 Dec 2023
Simon Rutter outlines practical steps for any company seeking to get started on employee experience.
Employee experience (EX) is, as Gallup defines it, “The journey an employee takes with your organization. It includes all the interactions an employee has with your organization before, during, and after their tenure.” To deliver it successfully requires a joined-up approach across the company that uses people, processes, and technology to deliver a consistent, positive, and sustainable workplace.
EX is hot right now, and getting hotter, as organizations battle to attract and retain the best talent, improve engagement, and remain competitive. Indeed, 90% of companies worldwide are prioritizing EX, and at the start of 2023 LinkedIn reported that ‘EX Manager’ was one of the five fastest-growing job titles in the US (it had never previously been on the list).
However, despite this spotlight, because of the broad nature of ‘experience’, it can feel daunting, complex, or ethereal, with many companies not really knowing what it is or where to start.
To overcome this overwhelm, I’ve identified five possible ways to get started on employee experience, and shared practical tips so you can begin your journey today.
1. Mobilize a joined-up team
There is no single ‘owner’ of EX in a business, as each stage will rely on a variety of functions working together to deliver it. However, you need a core EX team to set the strategy, oversee its delivery, coordinate often disparate parties, and report on progress to senior leaders.
As Mike Sharples and Nicholas Wardle wrote in their book, ‘Monetising the Employee Experience’, there are a few different roles you need to have on your team. Key among these are:
- The Evangelist – the person leading the way on EX in your organization
- The Executive Sponsor – a senior leader with gravitas and authority over resources (budget etc)
- The Driver – a project manager who will keep deliverables on track
Once the team is assembled, and even while it’s forming, you can come together and hold workshops to design how you’re going to get started on employee experience, answering such questions as how you’ll do employee listening, set strategy, and create your plan. You can also agree roles and responsibilities, ways of working, and how you will pull in the diverse subject matter experts needed to consult and deliver at various stages of your EX.
Think carefully about the role and purpose of your core EX team. If you’re struggling to get engagement and commitment, it is possible for people to perform multiple roles, or to deprioritize certain roles until you have made progress. If the key roles are in place, you can move forward, and pull in additional resources on an as-needed basis.
2. Listen to your employees
While this may seem obvious when developing EX, it’s not common practice. Indeed, only 30% of organizations involve employees in EX design, while 65% say enabling employee voice is an organizational priority.
Many companies still rely on traditional and often irregular tools for employee feedback, for example pulse surveys. But when creating and delivering an EX strategy, the key is to involve employees at every step in the process, so you are listening to what they really need and shaping your stages accordingly.
Here are just a few ways you can do this:
Focus groups – You can use these for many different purposes. For example, have a cross-section of employees (champions) from all levels and all areas of the business come together to input into your EX strategy, suggest the best place to start, and monitor progress.
Open listening forums – Hold regular EX drop-in sessions where employees can share challenges and ideas for making their experience of work more positive, so you can truly understand the motivations and aspirations of employees.
Developing employee personas – Employees have differing needs, desires, and expectations. Creating personas enables you segment employees, drill down into their specific preferences and pain points, and deliver a holistic EX strategy and more personalized EX for your people.
Lead with empathy and curiosity. You can only design and deliver a winning EX strategy if you understand the experience from the perspective of those at the receiving end. So, before you’ve even started writing your strategy, ask lots of open questions, avoid making assumptions, and have a group of trusted employees who can test your thinking, give you critical feedback, and be ambassadors for EX in your business.
3. Develop an EX strategy
As with anything in business, you need to have a strategy that, at a high level, clearly shows what you’re trying to achieve (what EX means for your organization), the priority areas you’ve chosen to focus on to do this, and how you’re going to measure success.
For your EX strategy, you need to outline:
- How your priority areas support the delivery of the business and people strategies
- What tangible improvements you are targeting
- How they impact key business metrics
Developing a strategy is essential for tackling the major challenges highlighted in the first-ever EX Report, an annual survey of the EX profession launched this year. While developing a strategy is itself listed as a key obstacle, if you have one you are far more likely to be able to tackle the thorny issues of:
- Getting executive buy-in
- Securing budget/resources
- Improving people manager capability
The good news is there’s nothing stopping you. As well as listening to your employees, you will also be awash with other strategies and data points, from functional plans to engagement surveys. Comb through these and, combined with your employee listening, you will start to see patterns and make connections. The key is to summarize these in a strategy that is clear, concise, and aligns to your business strategy. Do that, and you’re off.
Use what you already have within your business to get started on building your strategy. Look at quantitative and qualitative feedback, use visualization tools, and make use of data science to create a strategy that is based on insights and analysis.
4. Map your employee lifecycle
After defining your strategy, you can start to map your employee lifecycle. This is all the key stages your employee goes through before, during, and after their employment with you.
To do this, you need to:
- Speak to all the functions responsible for delivering EX in your business, including HR, IT, Facilities, and Internal Communications
- Review the systems, processes, and people involved at the various stages
- Analyze the data – for example, candidate experience surveys, attrition rates, Glassdoor reviews
Mapping your employee lifecycle will give you a holistic picture of all the stages of the cycle, as well as their interconnections. It also enables you to spot the interdependencies in EX delivery, so you can show your business functions how and why they must work together in an integrated, seamless way for a positive EX. With just 5% of EX practitioners saying their EX is connected from beginning to end, this work is a priority.
Crucially, it then enables you to pinpoint the area you want to target first, whether that’s the source of most complaints, the area you can make the biggest difference in, or simply a quick win.
Once you have your employee lifecycle, publishing and sharing it with stakeholders is essential to get buy-in (especially among execs, as we mentioned earlier), reinforce your strategy, and show the methodology behind EX, as it may feel mysterious at best or downright fluffy to some of your people.
Don’t overcomplicate your employee lifecycle. List out the key moments that really matter, and visualize them in a way that will work for your organization. The lifecycle needs to be a simple tool that everyone understands, no matter what part of your business they work in.
5. Focus on one moment that matters
When you lay out your employee lifecycle, it can be tempting to boil the ocean and try to fix everything at once. That will overwhelm your EX team and dilute your impact. The key is to review the evidence and decide which moment that matters you’re going to start with.
Here are some criteria you can use to help you:
- Where do we get the most complaints?
- What is most aligned to our EX strategy?
- What can we realistically deliver, given our resources?
- How long will this take to see measurable improvements?
- How much change is required, and how will we manage that?
Once you’ve decided on the priority moment, the next step is to gather the relevant stakeholders responsible for delivering it, and come up with a plan of action. As the authors of ‘Monetising the Employee Experience’ rightly note, the key to EX is to work in an agile way. This means focusing on just getting started somewhere, delivering small incremental improvements, and refining as you go. There are many benefits to this approach, including avoiding overwhelm, securing quick wins, and getting early buy-in.
Pick a moment that is highly visible, and where you can make demonstrable benefits quickly and easily. To help with this, break the moment down into its constituent parts, as that will enable you to identify your areas of biggest weakness and target these first.
Go forth and get started on employee experience!
EX is an exciting, emerging discipline with a noble ambition to improve the world of work for everyone. And while it may also seem unwieldy, there are many ways to get started that don’t cost the earth, can be delivered quickly, and will make a massive difference to your people and your business.