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.

HR Leaders: It’s Time to Build Your XM Skills

Over the last few years, it’s been great to see a rising number of HR professionals focusing on Employee Experience (EX) and driving more engaged, high-performing workforces. This has only enhanced my belief that EX represents a critical opportunity for the entire HR profession to increase its value.  

By definition, EX is the collection of experiences and interactions that employees have with their employers. But despite the increased focus on EX, many of the HR leaders that I’ve worked with over the past few years find this effort daunting and many still leverage decades-old approaches. 

That’s why I decided to write this post about an organizational capability that will equip HR professionals to manage and master EX. This capability, called Experience Management (XM), is defined as:

The discipline of using both experience data (X-data) and operational data (O-data) to measure and improve the core experiences of a business. 

And one of the most foundational of those core experiences is the employee experience (EX).

Now, most organizations do measure and improve certain components of their employees’ experiences. And many have even built formal people analytics functions and teams to produce insights and implement changes. This ad-hoc approach to EX, however, represents only the most basic level of XM. 

The Role of XM in HR

While many organizations focus on isolated approaches to managing EX, very few have built XM into a discipline. As a discipline, XM requires a sustained focus; it’s not a project or two that an organization implements and then suddenly “achieves.” In fact, among the hundreds of HR departments I’ve worked with, the ones with the highest levels of XM maturity are the ones that constantly feel like they are behind and look for ways to improve.

Another hallmark of XM is that it involves the combination of X-data and O-data. While most organizations have multi-instrumented O-data systems in place to collect and manage employee operational data, like course completion rates, employee productivity, turnover, etc, their X-data systems are lacking. That is, organizations know a lot about what is going on with their employees, but not nearly enough about why it’s happening.

XM combines the power of what and why with a set of operational processes for putting those insights into action. Specifically, XM helps HR teams to:

  • Continuously Learn. XM helps organizations more effectively sense and interpret what’s happening to employees, how they are behaving, and why. For example, employees’ needs, wants and expectations are always changing, as are organizational priorities, and HR teams need formal, flexible mechanisms to keep up with these changes.
  • Propagate Insights. XM helps organizations put actionable intelligence in the hands of people across their ecosystem who can use it, creating seamless access to the right information, in the right form, at the right time. As the organization collects insights from its workforce, it must act on them. And in order to act on them, those insights must be available and consumable to senior leaders, frontline managers and individual contributors alike. 
  • Rapidly Adapt. XM helps organizations act on the insights they’ve uncovered at an increasingly faster pace, finding ways to create new experiences and renovate existing ones. Senior business leaders, HR teams and people managers need to make changes faster than ever, especially during times of major disruption and crisis.

Operationalizing XM Across HR

How can you weave the XM discipline across HR and across your EX practices? By focusing on three areas that we call the XM Operating Framework:

  • Competency. To gain value from XM, HR teams need to expand their skill sets and develop new approaches for gaining and using insights. Competencies are the skills and actions that ultimately establish XM as a discipline. We’ve identified six XM Competencies: LEAD, REALIZE, ACTIVATE, RESPOND, ENLIGHTEN, and DISRUPT. 
  • Technology. To master the competencies at scale, organizations need a flexible, scalable platform that is capable of collecting, analyzing, and distributing insights to the relevant people and processes. This technology empowers everyone to understand and – more importantly – take action on the insights generated from both X-data and O-data. Technology also helps core EX teams create modern X-data systems that operate more like O-data systems, collecting employees’ attitudes, thoughts and feelings in seamless, automated ways. 
  • Culture. For XM competencies to thrive, companies need to foster an environment that instills XM-centric mindsets and behaviors in their leaders and employees. Most organizations have established ideal cultural values which are represented by artifacts and underpinned by underlying beliefs. When these artifacts, values and underlying beliefs are aligned with XM, not only do XM mindsets and practices grow, but so do business outcomes.

Starting Your Journey Towards Employee XM

So how can you move from ad-hoc employee surveying or disjointed EX efforts to true employee experience? Here are 4 simple steps to get started. 

  1. Learn more about the XM Operating Framework. Specifically, start by focusing on the six XM Competencies. While culture and technology are critical enablers of XM, the competencies are the most foundational and directly actionable for HR leaders. 
  1. Assess your current EX Maturity. Once you’re familiar with the competencies within the XM Operating Framework, it’s time to assess your organization’s current maturity. We’ve developed a short assessment designed for HR leaders and practitioners. As you take the assessment, be honest; there is absolutely no benefit to inflating your scores.
  1. Learn about the State of EX Management. We conducted a study of large, North American organizations of their EX maturity. Within the same report as the maturity assessment is a summary of our findings. This report will help your benchmark your organization against others who’ve taken the same maturity assessment. 
  1. Join the XM Professional Network (XMPN). At the XM Institute, we have created the XMPN which connects XM professionals across all experiences (employee, customer, product and brand) and facilitates greater learning and education. Click here to register. 

A final benefit of XM is that it is a singular capability that organizations can leverage across the core experiences of business: customer (CX), employee (EX), brand (BX) and product (PX). Personally, one of the most rewarding aspects of XM is that it has introduced new and innovative ideas from the other pillars to greatly enhance its application to EX!

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).

How to Provide Certainty Even During Times of Uncertainty

Last month, at the XM Institute, we held our second ever XMPN Virtual Meetup. We met with experience management (XM) professionals from around the world, with most reigning from the APJ region and Africa. 

The bulk of the conversation was centered around applying XM during this time of crisis. We anchored this part of the discussion around four experience design-based tips for leaders, one of those tips being “choose certainty over uncertainty.”

The importance of this tip was emphasized by an XM practitioner from New Zealand who pointed out that organizational leaders are struggling to communicate with certainty because of the uncertainties at the national and local governmental levels and the uncertainties among the leaders above them in the organization. In other words, uncertainty has a tendency to spread. 

This got us thinking – while these chains of uncertainty are common, they are certainly not necessary!

Why Choose Certainty over Uncertainty?

As many of us are learning the hard way right now, humans respond much better to certainty than uncertainty, even when the certainty might be bad news. Many airlines have come to embrace this principle, communicating things as simple as flight delays with detailed timelines and updates. Flight delays are almost always bad news, but knowing what, why, and when helps us (as consumers) manage and cope. 

In fact, in times of crisis and uncertainty, human beings actively seek out certainty and stability. And this is the case for many employees and customers around the globe right now. 

How to Break the Chain of Uncertainty

While uncertainty spreads aggressively when left unchecked, here are 3 simple steps that leaders can take to break the chain:

  • Make the uncertain, certain. First, clearly lay out the issue and acknowledge the uncertainty facing everyone. Avoiding the issue can actually make things worse. For example, many remote employees are wondering if and when they might be asked to return to the office. And for many organizations, there is no definitive answer to this. As a leader whose employees are looking to you for guidance, be frank with them that you don’t know and neither does the organization. That fact, at least, serves as some form of certainty.
  • Clearly share what is certain. Next, transition to communicating what is certain, even if the news is not great. Building on the scenario above, while you may not know for sure if and when the team will return to the office, what you do know is that it is not for at least the next three weeks. Share those details and outline the relevant state or local guidance your company is relying on. Also share any known dependencies, such as if and when your team returns to the office, there will be new policies and procedures in place to protect people. 
  • Provide a path for more certainty. Finally, build on what is certain by sharing any known timelines for when updated decisions may be made. For example, you may let employees know that you will be providing updates every Wednesday with the latest information. You could also share the resources that you are using to drive the decisions, which will allow them to stay informed. This step requires some work upfront on your part but is well worth the effort. 

In summary, even when we are surrounded by uncertainty, it is almost always possible (and highly desirable) to provide some level of certainty.

Three Phases For Heading Back To Business

I’ve studied human behavior for decades, examining how people respond to their environment as customers, employees, and leaders. Humans are amazingly resilient—for the good and bad. Even after facing disruptive events such as an epidemic or a recession, people tend to revert to their old ways shortly after the shock dissipates. People will go back to congregating, shaking hands, shopping at malls, and going without washing their hands more quickly than we’d think at the moment. Behavioral norms are hard to break.

That does not mean that the future will look exactly like the past. The evolution to a new normal will be a tug of war between people’s heightened anxiety about staying safe and their desire to return to highly engrained normative patterns of behavior.

Some Changes Will Persist Beyond The Crisis

While people don’t tend to change, there are some emergent behaviors that appear to have the momentum to stay longer. For an activity to continue, it needs to be economically favorable, fulfill an unmet human need that persists beyond the crisis, and nurtured into an evolved form as the crisis subsides. The ones that jump out to me as candidates for ongoing change are:

  • Group video interactivity. Although people will not remain separated, the use of group video events will continue. People will go online for family gatherings, global training, college courses, and group workouts. This pandemic has accelerated the hurdle of trying and adopting these activities, and they fill a latent need for connection that exists beyond the replacement of in-person interactions.
  • Blended delivery models. Now that a large portion of the older population has been pushed to order groceries, necessities, or meals online and either have them delivered or picked up from their local market, they’ll likely keep doing it—at least in some ways. I expect the use of blended models will become a standard component of everyday life, especially for older consumers.
  • Streaming media consumption. People have turned to content services like Netflix, Disney+, and YouTube to fill their days. While the volume of binging will subside, these behaviors will likely continue to replace other media options. This shift, however, may decelerate if these services don’t actively keep first time users engaged with appropriate pricing models and content.
  • Work from home. Not all of the current home workers will continue spending workdays in their makeshift offices. But some will. And the need for organizations to enforce social distancing will push these activities for a longer time than many other temporary behaviors. Now that leaders and employees have been exposed to the benefits of working from home (and recognized where there are limitations), we’ll see more job descriptions allowing people to at least partially work remotely.
  • Omnichannel medical care. Gaining access to healthcare services through channels beyond visiting a medical office or hospital had to become a mainstream activity at some point. It has all of the right advantages of a persistent norm, it’s better economically, while also being more convenient. The only thing that will hold this back are slow-to-move government regulations.

Three Phases Of Returning To (New) Normal

As the world returns to some semblance of normal, changes will represent ongoing trade-offs  between safety-oriented behaviors and the desire to return to old ways. Given this behavioral struggle, I suggest that organizations plan for three phases as they head back to business:

202005_ThreePhasesXMrecoveryIcon

  • Phase 1: Explore: People will quickly start doing some of the things they haven’t been able to do. The activities they do and the way they do them will be the result of balance between ongoing anxiety and the desire to get back to “normal.” This will be a somewhat chaotic period, where organizations need to be observant and responsive, and make sure they meet the rapidly changing desires and attitudes. They need to try new operating models, and refine them as they learn; all while providing evidence of their commitment to safety.
  • Phase 2: Reorient: During this next phase, customers and employees will start to settle into patterns of behavior that will stick beyond the crisis period. In this stage, organizations need to aggressively reposition their existing offerings and messaging, and create future-looking operating norms. There will need to be a lot of alignment, as this change will affect suppliers, employees, partners, and customers.
  • Phase 3: Normalize: After the new patterns emerge, organizations need to lock into operating models that support the new norms. During this period, organizations will likely formalize new offerings, look at the market through new customer segmentation models, develop supporting processes and systems, and go to market with a refined ecosystem of suppliers and partners.

The picture below provides a good metaphor for these phases. Before designing the landscape for Lafayette College’s quad, architects observed how students used the space. Once they saw patterns emerge by the beaten down grass that formed pathways, they built the asymmetric walkways that exist today. You’ll need to let people walk in phase 1, identify the patterns they take in phase 2, and then pave the paths in phase 3.

Tap Into XM Along The Way

As I’ve discussed in the past, Experience Management (XM) is a critical capability during times of change. That’s because XM is all about staying connected with people (customers, employees, partners, and suppliers) by continuously learning (how they are thinking and feeling), propagating insights (to the right people in the right form at the right time), and rapidly adapting (to an increasing flow of actionable insights). In these fluid times, XM provides the human-connected adaptability required for organizations to successfully navigate their way back to business.

As you can see in the chart below, organizations will need a different approach to their XM efforts across the three phases in returning to the (new) normal: Explore, Reorient, and Normalize.

2005_ThreePhasesRecovery_Table2

As your organization begins its journey towards normalization, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Chart your back to business phases. The three phases will occur in different ways and at different times across industries and markets. The way that people interact with the airline industry in the U.S. will normalize at a different rate and in a different manner than they do with retailers in the UK. Every organization needs to make its own unique plans for the three phases.
  • Practice intentional patience. The early stages are primarily about trial, error, and learning. Even if something seems to work in the Explore stage, the success of that approach may not be persistent as people’s needs and priorities change. You need to maintain very quick cycles of sensing and adapting early on, while holding back on locking into a long-term direction until persistent patterns emerge.
  • Capitalize on persistent changes. One of the most dramatic opportunities to disrupt your competitive environment is to tap into new behaviors and attitudes that persist beyond the crisis. The list above provides some areas for innovation, but there will likely be others as well. Make sure that you are tracking attitudes and behaviors of your customers and employees, and not just attempting to return to “the good old days.”
  • Tap into engaged employees. Navigating through these back to business phases are much less about a great strategic plan, then they are about tapping into the insights and energy of your employees. Especially in the early stages, employees are your eyes and ears about what’s working and what needs to be changed. If you don’t keep your workers engaged, then they’ll never make the changes that you need at a pace that’s required in the market.
  • Keep XM action-oriented. Late last year I labeled 2020 as “The Year of Insightful Actions.” Even before the pandemic, it was clear that organizations were most successful when their XM efforts focused on driving improvements and making better decisions. That’s the direction that many organizations have been forced into during the last few months. Don’t fall back into the pattern of using XM primarily as a source of metrics. Leaders should continue to ask the two ultimate questions: “What have you learned?” and “What improvements are you making?

John F. Kennedy once noted that, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.” During this path to a new normal, don’t just aim to recover. If you come out of these three phases doing exactly what you were doing before, then you will likely fall behind. You need to identify how you will emerge with improved capabilities and enhanced offerings.

The bottom line: Stay focused on people as you head back to business.

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.

Tapping into the Six Traits of Human Beings During a Crisis

Experience Management (XM) is all about human beings. Customers are human. Employees are human. Partners, leaders, suppliers, prospective customers… all human. In the current environment, where many people are facing hard times, it’s more critical than ever for organizations to find ways to demonstrate their humanity and build deeper emotional ties with all the people who interact with them.

This, unfortunately, is easier said than done. Human beings are complicated and can be difficult to understand. So to adapt your experiences to address the shifting concerns of the people you care about, consider their needs across all Six Traits of Human Beings:

  1. INTUITIVE. People use two different modes of thinking to make decisions and judgements: Intuitive Thinking, which is fast, automatic, and emotional and relies on cognitive biases and heuristics (mental rules of thumb) to make decisions, and Rational Thinking, which is slow, effortful, and deliberate and relies on logic and reason to reach conclusions. While humans always tend to use Intuitive Thinking more frequently than Rational Thinking, our dependence on it intensifies during times of stress and uncertainty. So emergencies often exacerbate our existing biases – such probability neglect, availability bias, aversion to uncertainty, and herding behaviors – leading to “irrational” reactions, like buying mountains of toilet paper.
    • Customer Example: Reduce customer uncertainty by proactively communicating how your company is addressing the current situation (e.g. new safety precautions, expanded channels for reaching customer service, plans for waiving certain fees or penalties, etc.). Studies show that during an emergency, communication is most effective when it is timely, credible, empathetic, emphasizes useful individual actions, and is tailored to specific audiences and segments.
    • Employee Example: Engage employees’ Rational Thinking by providing them with a continuous flow of relevant data and insights and then holding them accountable for using that information to make evidence-based (rather than intuition-based) decisions.
  1. SELF-CENTERED. Everyone views the world through their own personal lens, which is informed by their unique life experiences. Unfortunately, this individual context can make it hard for us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. However, in the current environment, where empathy is paramount, organizations must actively work to help leaders and employees escape their individual context and instead demonstrate understanding and compassion for each other and for customers.
    • Customer Example: Instead of continuing to survey customers about the company’s performance, shift your Voice of the Customer efforts to understand how your customers are doing on a personal level. Shorten surveys to only a few open-ended questions that ask people how they are feeling and how the organization can help them get through this challenging time.
    • Employee Example: Engender empathy in employees for both coworkers and customers by sharing people’s stories in their own voice – whether that’s through contact center recordings, customer verbatims, or inviting employees to recount their experiences during team or company-wide meetings. 
  1. EMOTIONAL. As Maya Angelou once said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you make them feel.” Human beings remember experiences based on the most emotionally extreme points and how it ends – a phenomenon known as the “Peak-End Rule.” Because of the heightened emotional climate, people are going to be particularly sensitive to how organizations make them feel right now…and will remember those emotions long after this episode has passed.
    • Customer Example: To create positive emotional peaks, review your major customer journeys and find moments where your organization can add a special moment of surprise or delight, such as sending a customer a handwritten note, waiving a fee, adding a small gift to their package, or empowering employees to spend a certain amount of money to go above-and-beyond to make a moment special.
    • Employee Example: When conveying bad news to employees, lessen the negative emotional spike by carefully preparing for the conversation in advance rather than leaving it up to chance. Think through how you will explain the situation and its causes, communicate with transparency and respect, deliver the news in an appropriate setting and format, and allocate plenty of time to answer their questions at the end.
  1. MOTIVATED. All people strive to fulfill four intrinsic needs – a sense of meaning, choice, progress, and competence. These four motivations are especially important for a company to tap into during a time of crisis as people often feel stalled and discouraged, and the business may not be in a position to incentivize people with extrinsic motivators, like money or formal recognition.
    • Customer Example: Tap into customers’ desire for choice by offering them a variety of solutions to problems they encounter, such as canceled flights, out of stock items, or long wait times for the contact center. Studies show that when companies give customers a variety of potential solutions to choose from to resolve an issue, they are ultimately more satisfied with the outcome.
    • Employee Example: Tap into employees’ desire for meaning by finding ways to redeploy your organizational capabilities to help the community (e.g. repurposing factories, donating products, providing logistical support, etc.), and provide opportunities for employees to contribute to these efforts – both within the scope of their everyday roles and on a volunteer basis. 
  1. SOCIAL. People are naturally social, and we particularly enjoy connecting with other people and institutions who are “like us.” Because people are more attracted to brands who are able to give them a sense of community and belonging, in this time of social isolation, companies should actively create opportunities for employees and customers to connect with each other around shared interests.
    • Customer Example: Give frontline employees space to emotionally connect with customers by waiving efficiency metrics like Average Handle Time.
    • Employee Example: Studies show that the greatest predictor of a person’s success and happiness during a challenging time is his or her social support network, so encourage all employees to start every day by reaching out to someone in their social network – a coworker, family member, friend, etc. – to briefly express gratitude and appreciation. This will help people to feel more connected and recognize they have more social support than they may think.
  1. HOPEFUL. People flourish when they envision a positive future. When we are optimistic, our brains perform better across a number of different categories – such as intelligence, resilience, and creativity – compared to when we are feeling neutral or pessimistic. To help people focus on the positive amid the continuous barrage of bad news, organizations should articulate a compelling vision of the company’s future that specifically addresses people’s personal needs and aspirations.
    • Customer Example: Instead of only communicating with customers to convey negative or disappointing news, share inspiring stories from around the business as well as positive lessons the business has learned that will be carried forward to make the company – and its customer experience – better than before.
    • Employee Example: Start every company meeting by highlighting successes, praising team members, or sharing something you’re excited about. Priming people with positivity will change the way their brains process the challenges you are about to tackle.

Managing the Working-From-Home Employee Experience

Last week, my colleagues Steve Bennetts, Sally Winston, and I held a webinar (watch it here) focused on how organizations should manage their employees’ work-from-home experience. While we covered several meaty topics, we also tried to keep the discussion light and lively. In fact, we covered this topic while working from our own homes and at certain points during the webinar, you can clearly hear children playing and laughing in the background. This is indeed the world we are living in right now! 

Importantly, each of us represented different global regions, with Steve based in Sydney bringing perspectives from the Asia, Pacific region, Sally based in London with perspectives from the EMEA region and myself, based in the U.S. bringing a North American perspective. 

Here is a summary of our discussion:  

  • Organizations must understand the human experience cycle. We started the discussion by anchoring on a basic understanding of the human experience cycle. This is a foundational concept for experience management (XM) that explains the determinants and outcomes of human experiences. We focused heavily on expectations – a core component of the human experience cycle that influences how humans perceive experiences. Among the components of the cycle, we agreed that organizations have the greatest direct impact on the experiences they deliver to their employees and the expectations they set and manage. We also agreed that employee expectations of their employers are very likely to change in the future, based on the dramatic and emotionally-charged experiences they are going through right now. 
  • Now is the time to adjust Employee Experience (EX) Management programs. Next, we dove into the most tactical topic of the webinar, starting with an overview of our research that employees want to be asked for feedback during times of change and are actually more engaged when they are. This is precisely the time when organizations should ask their employees for feedback. However, we also vehemently agreed that conducting a business-as-usual survey is not appropriate and that organizations must be extremely sensitive to employees’ concerns and uncertainties (e.g., safety, job security). We closed this section by concluding that one of the hallmarks of a strong EX Management program is its agility and we pointed to resources that answer other common, tactical questions about EX management programs. 
  • Employee health and well-being must be top-of-mind. To be clear, organizations should always be concerned with employee health and well-being but it is especially important right now. Many employees are working remotely for the first time ever and have lost their social networks (at least physically). This has the potential to dramatically impact employee mental health and physical well-being. Steve Bennetts, who brings a strong background in clinical psychology and workplace safety, explained that “employees are having a normal reaction to abnormal events”. He suggested that organizations and its leaders attempt to “normalize” peoples’ reactions to this unprecedented situation. We closed this section by discussing practical tips for people leaders managing remote teams such as creating new, virtual touch bases (e.g. daily standups, virtual lunches, virtual happy hours) and getting to know employees in this new, virtual world. The latter point is important because employees may behave very differently in this novel environment. 
  • Strong people leadership is even more important right now. While there are tons of articles providing direct tips for remote workers, we acknowledged that far less has been published for people leaders. As our founder and CEO, Ryan Smith, pointed out in his recent article, “right now the work needs leadership, and it has to start with people managers”. We discussed several global examples of organizations that have actually created sub-task forces focused specifically on front-line people leaders and the ways in which they have trickled tips and tricks. Our discussion ventured into performance management and goal setting and how people leaders play a critical role in continuously aligning their newly-remote workers’ goals and expectations.  
  • Employees’ expectations of their employers are likely to change. Our discussion came full circle, back to the human experience cycle and the role of employee expectations. Here are 3 changes to employees’ expectations that we think are likely to persist:
    1. Employees will expect to bring their whole selves to work. Employees will expect that the blending of their personal and professional lives will not be counted against them in the future.
    2. Employees will expect more workplace flexibility. Not every employee will want to work from home but many will expect more flexible policies from their employers in the future.
    3. Employees will expect greater global alignment. While the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly a horrific global event, it is also globally unifying and employees will expect an increased level of global alignment in the future.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and we all learned something about how different global regions are handling this crisis. Our overarching conclusion from the session was that organizations that are focused on XM during this time, are the ones who will thrive when this crisis ends.

Applying the Four P’s of XM Insights in the Current Environment

The way we live has changed due to COVID-19. As a result, organizations face the dual challenge of meeting dramatically different customer, employee, and partner needs while operating in a new economic environment.

The discipline of Experience Management (XM) can help successfully navigate through this time because it enables organizations to continuously learn, propagate insights, and rapidly adapt to meet new and evolving needs. XM leaders better understand and more quickly respond to these needs when they adopt the Four P’s of XM Insights:

  • Problems: Quickly find and fix issues.
  • Preferences: Identify and deliver the right features and experiences.
  • Possibilities: Uncover and satisfy latent needs.
  • Priorities: Prioritize the most impactful experiences.  

Even as customer, employee, and partner needs are rapidly changing in the current environment, so are the priorities for many organizations which may have to change business plans and work only on what’s most important for the foreseeable future. XM leaders will have to pivot quickly to meet these new needs and priorities.  

The Four P’s of XM Insights can help with this pivot. How? There are some typical alignments between these insight types and common categories of business objectives. Here are a few examples: Fixing problems decreases costs associated with broken experiences and also has a positive impact on satisfaction, retention, and loyalty. When issues that prevent service reps from resolving customer issues are fixed, it has a positive impact on both customer and employee satisfaction. Supporting preferences for things like product features and touchpoints for different types of interactions can increase satisfaction as well as revenue associated with loyalty measures like likelihood to rebuy. Understanding possibilities and designing to meet latent needs drives new revenue opportunities. And, knowing people’s priorities and delivering at the moments that matter most to them ties to satisfaction and retention.

XM enables organizations to meet the most important customer, employee, and partner needs and top business priorities. Structuring decisions by focusing on the 4 P’s of XM Insights and the most current business objectives will help XM leaders pivot quickly to meet rapidly changing needs that characterize the current environment.

XM Fireside Chat: Healthcare Experience With Bruce Temkin And Susan Haufe

Welcome to my XM Fireside Chat series, where we hare some of our thinking through an informal discussion format. I hope you enjoy it!

In this segment of XM Fireside Chat, I talk with Susan Haufe, Chief Industry Advisor for Healthcare at Qualtrics, about healthcare experience, with a focus on the current challenging environment.

The current pandemic is challenging the very structure of our healthcare system. Healthcare providers are being overwhelmed by the volume of patients and the lack of supplies and tests. All of this plays out through a network of human beings who are facing a multitude of stressful factors, including patients suffering from coronavirus, doctors and nurses lacking supplies, and administrators looking to manage and expand their bursting facilities. In this environment it’s more important than ever to stay connected with those people, which is what XM is all about.

Here are some related posts that you may find valuable:

XM Fireside Chat: XM Leadership With Bruce Temkin And Benjamin Granger

Our XM Institute team was looking forward to seeing everyone who was coming to Salt Lake City last week for Qualtrics X4 Summit. Unfortunately, that great event was postponed. So we decided to pull together an XM Fireside Chat series to share some of our thinking through an informal discussion format. I hope you enjoy it!

In this segment of XM Fireside Chat, I chat with the newest member of the XM Institute team, Benjamin Granger, Ph.D. This is a great chance for you to get to know Ben, and we also spend some time talking about XM Maturity.

Organizations don’t master XM overnight, it takes several years of evolution and change.  The XM Institute has found that this path often takes a consistent form. We’ve  identified five distinct stages that organizations go through as they build XM capabilities and increase their XM maturity (see graphic below).

If you’re wondering how to gauge your organization’s CX maturity level, complete our online CX assessment.

2003_5StagesOfXMMaturity

XM Fireside Chat: XM Leadership With Bruce Temkin And Aimee Lucas

Our XM Institute team was looking forward to seeing everyone who was coming to Salt Lake City last week for Qualtrics X4 Summit. Unfortunately, that great event was postponed. So we decided to pull together an XM Fireside Chat series to share some of our thinking through an informal discussion format. I hope you enjoy it!

In this segment of XM Fireside Chat, I chat with Aimee Lucas about XM Leadership.

Leadership is a critical component for driving successful XM programs, which is why “LEAD” is one of our Six XM Competencies. You can see a lot of different content about LEAD on this blog. Also, check out these free reports from the Qualtrics XM Institute:

XM Fireside Chat: ROI Of CX With Bruce Temkin And Moira Dorsey

Our XM Institute team was looking forward to seeing everyone who was coming to Salt Lake City this week for Qualtrics X4 Summit. Unfortunately, that great event was postponed. So we decided to pull together an XM Fireside Chat series to share some of our thinking through an informal discussion format. I hope you enjoy it!

In this segment of XM Fireside Chat, I chat with Moira Dorsey about the ROI of CX.

Ensuring that your CX program (or any type of XM program) delivers value is critical, which is  why “REALIZE” is one of our Six XM Competencies. If you’re interested in ROI of CX, then check out these recent research reports mentioned in the XM Fireside Chat that you can download for free from the XM Institute:

Tap Into XM To Navigate A Recession

Given the spread of Coronavirus and recent losses in the stock market, we’re facing the threat of a prolonged economic downturn. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been asked to share my opinion about how experience management (XM) would be affected by a recession.

If the downturn occurs, it would become the third recession of my professional career. During the last recession, I advised many companies on their strategies and even used this blog to provide advice to leaders on how to weather the storm.

The Great Recession started in late 2007, at which time I was a VP at Forrester Research focusing on customer experience (CX). While the overall environment was challenging, my area of the business was booming. That’s right, the CX business was booming. It turned out that companies increasingly recognized the importance of CX as a tool for actively prioritized customer retention.

I think XM will see that same type of surge if we fall into a recession. This isn’t a forecast about spending on XM technology or services, but instead it’s a prediction that leading organizations will become increasingly committed to XM as a strategic discipline.

To understand how XM will be affected in a recession, it’s important to look at how organizations respond to downturns. In general, companies take one of two approaches to navigating these difficult periods:

  • Manage their way through it. In this approach, executive teams react to market conditions by making widespread cuts in an attempt to maintain short-term profitability targets. After the recession lifts, these firms will often need to rebuild their employee and customer relationships.
  • Lead their way out of it. In this approach, executives intensify their company’s focus on the long-term purpose of the firm and make targeted cuts in areas that are not core to that purpose. After the recession lifts, these firms are set for a quick shift into growth mode.

Five Recommendations For Leading Through A Recession

One of the best perspectives for thinking about a recession is conveyed through this quote by John F. Kennedy:

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.

This insight is at the heart of my high-level advice to leaders during a downturn…

Be aggressively defensive in the short-term, while being increasingly aggressive for the long-term.

How do you manage this seemingly stark contradiction? By following these five recommendations:

  1. Protect your values. You will be forced to make very uncomfortable decisions. Make sure that you don’t allow them to undermine your organization’s core values and its brand promises. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Continually ask yourself: how will this decision affect the core of who we are?
  2. Be bold. During a recession, you have three choices for how to make decisions: 1) hold on to the past, 2) respond when required, or 3) get in front of the wave. The first two option keep you locked into the past, while the third option allows you to start looking ahead. And that’s critical. The faster you can be forward-leaning, the more time you’ll have to outpace your competitors on the backend of the recession.
  3. Be clear. One of the realities of a recession is that just about everyone is anxious, especially your employees who are going to wonder what changes are coming. As I discussed in my recent post about coronavirus, follow four steps: 1) Don’t be shy with bad news, 2) choose certainty over uncertainty, 3) always share exact next steps, and 4) stay empathetic. Also, human beings are hopeful. We flourish when we envision a positive future. So paint a picture of how your organization will be better in the future. This will also be helpful with customers and partners.
  4. Prune against priorities. During a recession, companies have less opportunity for sloppiness so they need to more effectively align their offerings and efforts to the specific need of target customers. Take the opportunity to rethink your future direction and stop non-core efforts. It’s often much better to cut entire secondary efforts, then to enact across-the-board cuts.
  5. Incubate for the future. While you may not be cutting back on new products and features during a recession, don’t cut back on your innovation. Identify two or three big best that you will want to deliver to the market in 18 to 24 months and go after them, even if you need to cut other efforts to find the funding. Set your sites on coming out of the recession with a vigor.

XM Will Fuel Recession Winners

So how will the use of XM change if there’s a recession? Many of the organizations that successfully navigate the downturn will do so by actively adopting XM. During downturns, organizations are forced to intensely focus on what’s most important. For the Great Recession, that meant using CX as a tool for customer retention.

Over the last decade, organizations have recognized that employees are as critical to their success as their customers. So I expect to see leading organizations respond to a downturn by attempting to better understand what their customers and employees are thinking and feeling, put that information into the hands of the people that can do something about it, and make fast adjustments. That’s XM.

Here’s how we describe the capabilities that XM enables:

  • Continuously Learn. XM helps organizations more effectively sense and interpret what’s going on all around them, collecting and analyzing signals from the actions and feedback of employees, partners, vendors, customers, and even competitors.
  • Propagate Insights. XM helps organizations put actionable intelligence in the hands of people across their ecosystem who can use it, creating seamless access to the right information in the right form at the right time.
  • Rapidly Adapt. XM helps organizations act on the insights they’ve uncovered at an increasingly faster pace, finding ways to create new experiences and renovate existing ones.

These XM capabilities can be the foundation for success during a downturn as they will help organizations:

  • Tailor efforts to the most important customers
  • Stay aligned with customers’ changing needs
  • Prioritize the critical projects and programs
  • Engage and learn from employees

In addition, XM will be a critical ingredient for organizations to accelerate after a recession. The ability to stay connected to market signals will be woven into the operating fabric of new offerings that organizations incubate for the post-downturn era. Think about it, if you were building an organization from scratch, wouldn’t you want it to be able to continuously learn, propagate. insights, and rapidly adapt?

To better understand the capabilities that XM provides, here’s a chart from the report, Operationalizing XM.

2003_LearnInsightsAdapt

Previous Recession Posts

In case you’re interested in more information on managing in a recession, here are some older posts that I’ve written on the topic:

The bottom line: Use XM to weather a recession and to thrive in its aftermath.

New Research on EX Management and the Shifts Required for Success

The XM Institute has published new research that examines the current state of employee experience (EX) management programs and the mindsets, skills, and actions required for employee experience (EX) excellence. You can download both of these reports for free:

  • The State of EX Management Programs, 2020. This research – based on a survey of HR leaders at 250 large U.S. firms – looks at the current state of employee experience (EX) management programs and future plans for EX. It also compares organizations that are more mature in EX (EX Leaders) with those that are less mature (EX Laggards). EX Leaders have better financial results, deliver higher quality EX and CX, and are more effective at using employee feedback to improve experiences.
  • Three Shifts for Employee Experience Success. This research looks at how companies can overcome employee engagement stagnancy by shifting to 1) purpose-led empowerment from functional job execution, 2) collaborative understanding and action from disinterested surveying, and 3) employee-engaging leaders from HR-driven programs. It includes over 20 examples from companies of these three shifts in action.

The graphic below, from The State of EX Management Programs, 2020, shows how more mature organizations (“Leaders”) outperform their less mature counterparts (“Laggards”). Ninety-one percent of EX Leaders report the employee experience that their organization delivers is above average compared to their competitors and 88% of EX Leaders report better financial results.

The graphic below from Three Shifts for Employee Experience Success outlines best practices for each of the three changes in mindsets and actions that companies must take to overcome employee engagement stagnancy and mature their EX program.

You can download both of these reports for free from the XM Institute.