Consider the Employee Journey When Improving Workplace Experiences

Engaged employees make a big difference inside organizations because of the higher level of commitment and contribution they bring to their work. However, many organizations still struggle to manage employee experiences in a manner that results in engaged employees. In the XM Institute’s recent best practices report, Three Shifts for Employee Experience Success, I highlighted three ways companies should be adapting their mindsets and actions when it comes to delivering experiences that raise employee engagement. Those shifts are:

  1. From functional job execution to purpose-led empowerment. Rather than expecting uninspired compliance to narrow job descriptions, leaders must recognize empowered employees as a critical enabler of company strategy and success, and invest in strengthening the connection of employees to the mission of the company.
  2. From disinterested surveying to collaborative understanding and action. Companies must shift from periodically measuring and reporting on employee satisfaction or engagement to seeking out candid and actionable insights that enable conversations between managers and people across the moments that matter to them.
  3. From HR-driven programs to employee-engaging leaders. The individuals who lead people and teams must recognize the benefits of and be ready to fulfill their personal responsibilities to engage employees every day instead of relying on the periodic motions of HR programs.

All three of these shifts will help companies improve the effectiveness of their EX efforts. However, how an organization demonstrates or acts on those shifts can vary based on different stages of an employee’s journey. Here’s how the three shifts can positively impact experiences when put into action across four typical stages of an employee’s journey:

  • Interview and accept job. In this stage, both the company and the candidate are assessing fit. When companies take a more purpose-led approach, prospective employees will get a more holistic sense of how the role fits within the company’s mission and how their individual success will be supported, not just the job description they are being hired to fill. Companies will get smarter in the process because they will proactively seek feedback, close the loop with candidates, and inject key learnings to improve the recruiting and hiring experience.
  • Join and onboard. Once the company offers a job and the employee accepts, it’s time to set expectations and help the employee learn the ropes. Where traditional orientation programs concentrate on generic presentations of company information, adopting these shifts will result in a more personalized experience for the new employee. Because a new hire’s manager understands the experience starts with themself, the onboarding journey will include one-on-one time spent getting to know the employee and helping the employee get to know the company and its mission and culture, the team and their goals, and their new role as part of both. Periodic check-ins will ensure that while the new employee is learning the ropes, the company and manager are also learning about what’s working and jumping in when things are not quite on track.
  • Perform. Employees will spend most of their time in this stage over the course of their careers. In this stage, companies need to consistently deliver on the experience they have promised employees. When the shifts are embraced, employees understand how they can personally control their experiences at work, while managers invest in reinforcing positive performance so that the employee and the company succeed. In this stage, processes that enable listening, learning, and getting better – from lifecycle surveys or multi-rater assessments to individual engagement reports or performance conversations – are highly valuable to the company and employees alike.
  • Advance. In this stage, employees pursue and step into roles with greater responsibility, influence, and impact. Organizations that prioritize employee experience can be confident that those who advance not only are high in functional competence, but also live the company’s mission and values every day. Because they’ve experienced it themselves, newly promoted managers readily act on the key beliefs that help them engage employees every day.

Bottom line: When you embrace the three shifts across all stages of employees’ journeys both the company and employees will benefit.

How Do You Engage Employees? Adopt The Five I’s

One of the key goals of any Experience Management (XM) program needs to be employee engagement. This is not only a critical outcome for Employee Experience (EX) efforts, but it’s also a critical input to delivering great customer experience. Why? Because engaged employees are the trigger of a “virtuous cycle” of good customer experience and strong business results.

So how can companies tap into this value? By focusing on a set of activities that we call the Five I’s of Employee Engagement:

  • Inform. Provide employees the information they need to understand the organization’s vision and brand values. Ad hoc, inconsistent communications are not effective in engaging employees. Instead, organizations should develop a thorough communication plan and deliver key experience management (XM) messages through multiple channels on a regular basis. XM leaders we have interviewed stress the importance of persistent and consistent communications to ensure messages are heard, understood, and internalized by employees.
  • Inspire. Help employees understand the organization’s vision and values, and to recognize how their role contributes to them. Leaders play a key role in inspiring employees to embrace the company’s vision and values. Whether that’s meeting directly with employees to share organizational stories or demonstrating commitment by holding leaders and managers accountable for changing behaviors to support XM goals, successful organizations identify specific ways to tap into the positive influence of the senior executive team.
  • Instruct. Support employees with the training, coaching, and feedback they need to be successful. Employees first need to know what to do and then be enabled to do it with the necessary knowledge and skills. This happens through activities like formal training, on-the-job coaching, and peer reinforcement, to name a few. Organizations also need to make sure they are making it easy for employees to put what they are learning into action. If employees are constrained by things like out-of-date systems that require workarounds or frustrating policies they have to enforce with customers, then neither employees nor customers will have a positive experience.
  • Involve. Take action with employees when designing their jobs, improving work processes, and solving problems identified through customer or employee feedback. Raising engagement isn’t a one-sided effort. Successful organizations find ways to involve employees whether that’s through a formal voice of employee process, journey mapping, employee-driven process improvement or innovation processes, or other ways. Even if early efforts are informal and simple, take action to raise employee engagement from the ground up, not only top down.
  • Incent. Deploy the appropriate systems to measure, reward, and reinforce desired employee behaviors and motivate employees to give their best. Employees and teams that deliver excellent experiences – to customers, fellow employees, partners, or others – should be celebrated with meaningful gestures of appreciation along with formal awards and incentives. And if engagement is truly important, then organizations should establish and measure employee engagement levels as a management metric with defined goals, action plans, and progress tracking on a regular basis.

Putting the Five I’s into action isn’t solely on the shoulders of the Human Resources (HR) or EX team. Executing on the Five I’s involves stakeholders from across the organization, including:

  • Senior executives: The leaders of an organization need to be visible and accessible to employees as they reinforce the importance of XM as a company priority. Their daily actions including how they help overcome internal resistance and hold others in the organization accountable can be very valuable when bringing the Five I’s to life.
  • Middle managers: This group of people is an important leverage point as they help their teams understand and apply the organization’s vision and values into daily work. They can be particularly helpful in providing coaching and feedback to employees following training and fostering an environment that encourages feedback and recognizes people for doing the right things.
  • Marketing: This function is a key collaborator when it comes to supporting communication plans, promoting employee involvement opportunities, and incorporating employee recognition into internal messages.
  • Finance, IT: In their own way, each of these internal functions may be asked to support the Five I’s through policy, process, system, or tool changes. For Finance, it may be systems and budgeting for employee rewards and recognition programs. For IT, it could be updating internal social networks to allow for easier employee connection-building and collaboration. 
  • CX core team: As an important part of the XM machine inside an organization, the CX team does have a role when it comes to raising employee engagement. It can contribute starting points for organizational success stories, curate customer feedback to spur employee innovation or recognition initiatives, and help translate organizational values into a clear set of customer promises employees help to keep through their roles.
  • Human Resources: While they don’t take whole responsibility for employee engagement, the HR team is the de facto leader of strategic engagement initiatives from the start. Many functions native to HR are key enablers of the Five I’s, including training/development, performance management, employee feedback oversight, and compensation (to support rewards and incentives).

Effective Communication: A Critical Skill to Propel XM Success

In a world where humans are inundated with messages 24/7 through a myriad of channels from a variety of sources, it’s a challenge to cut through the noise to reach employees with important information that helps them do their jobs better. Yet this is exactly the challenge experience management (XM) leaders must overcome if they want to successfully design and deliver great experiences to employees or customers.

In fact, effectively informing employees about XM is so important that Ecosystem Communications is one of our 20 XM skills organizations must master to embed XM as a discipline. When people understand why XM is important, how they play a part in its success, and the value and progress of XM efforts currently underway they are more likely to stay aligned and positively contribute to results. That’s why no XM initiative is complete without a well-designed communications plan. Organizations need to deliver ongoing messages that balance both practical and inspirational elements relevant for each target audience.

So how can XM teams navigate the noise to reach the people who bring experiences to life in their organizations? Here are five tips drawn from across our research that you can put to work to elevate understanding, encourage participation, and celebrate progress:

  1. Design role-specific messages. Not all employees are the same. Different groups of employees have distinct information needs. Therefore, ensure your communication plan considers how key messages need to be adapted for different audiences from senior executives to operational leaders to people managers to individual contributors. This adaptation should apply not only to the substance of the messages but also with the timing/frequency and delivery channel used to disseminate information across the organization. This includes translating “corporate speak” into clear and relatable terms all employees can understand and reinforcing how XM contributes to their own success at work.
  2. Communicate with empathy. Not only do employees have distinct information needs, but they will also react differently to what is shared compared to other groups of employees. There are many times where XM-related communications may ask employees to change what they need to do or to think about their work in a different way. Organizations need to anticipate employees’ emotional reactions and convey support across each message. This is even more critical in times of disruption and uncertainty, as in our current environment, so XM leaders should put a premium on designing communications with these four tips in mind: don’t be shy with bad news, choose certainty over uncertainty, share exact next steps, and stay empathetic.
  3. Use social tools to amplify messages. Effectively deployed employee social networks and similar tools can enhance communications by adding emphasis through executives’ or other key influencers’ personal participation in message threads or by enlisting employees at all levels in sharing updates or elevating topics. The interactivity of social communications has the ability to create “buzz” and tangible energy around a topic in a way that email or other one-way communication channels cannot.
  4. Capture feedback through a two-way dialogue. While communications plans typically focus on getting employees the information they need on a regular basis, they can also be used to bring information back to the XM teams and others. Employees are a valuable source of insights and ideas for their companies and their co-workers. Reserve some capacity throughout your communication plan for learning from employees and adapting how you frame and deliver your ongoing flow of XM communications. You can also encourage broader dialogue around key XM messages that yield employee ideas on how to improve processes or solve problems identified through customer or employee feedback.
  5. Share XM success stories. It is well-known that stories have staying power. XM success stories can bring to life what good experiences look like, what it takes to create them, and help employees connect to the XM strategy in very meaningful ways. There are lots of types of XM stories to tell. Three of my favorites are how-to stories (share the employee mindset and actions that resulted in the success), winning team stories (trace tangible wins by connecting the dots across all the teams that contributed), and everyday hero(ine) stories (instead of superhero moments, highlight employees who are demonstrating desired XM behaviors on a consistent basis, day in and day out).

XM efforts can easily falter when they share too little information, provide disjointed, hard-to-understand messages, or leave out compelling content like progress on key initiatives and success stories. That’s why investing in effective communications is critical to propel the success of your XM program.