Embracing the Employee Experience: Part 2
This is the second part in our series on the Employee Experience. Read the first part to this series here.
Just as your offerings start with the experience you envision for your customers – your employee experience should be experience-led as well. Start with the experience you envision for your employees, across all facets of their work and interactions, and then work backwards to ensure it is time well spent.
Five Core Adjectives as They Apply to the Employee Experience
My partner Jim Gilmore and I discuss designing experiences extensively in our book “The Experience Economy: Competing for Customer Time, Attention, and Money”, with five core adjectives: robust, cohesive, personal, dramatic, and transformative. Each of these adjectives, and the principles and frameworks they represent, apply directly to the employee experience.
Now more than ever, employee experiences are challenged with many factors we cannot always control – but can greatly influence. Robust experiences consider all aspects of the employee’s day – digital, cultural and physical – and ensure they hit the sweet spot of educational, escapist, esthetic, and entertainment realms of experience.
Consider Learning and Development. L&D centers on cultural aspects of experience, with benefits both to the enterprise with higher-skilled employees, and to the workers themselves who through education gain knowledge and abilities that can be used to further their careers. But think of how much more robust L&D would be if it embraced the other realms of experience! Keeping people’s attention calls for incorporating digital and physical elements that entertain. The esthetic environment in which people learn can be crucial to retaining knowledge and skills – true even in an environment where employees work remotely. And learning so often remains just head knowledge until it is applied in real-life situations, going from classroom to workplace via the escapist realm.
Cohesive experiences fit all the elements into an organizing principle (the theme, if you will) so everything hangs together throughout the experience, from front to back.
Whirlpool Corporation, for example, used theming brilliantly in redesigning its sales training. The company themed it after the old MTV reality show, “The Real World,” where young people are put into a house, not allowed to leave, and then the show films and edits all the interactions for audience amusement. Whirlpool themed its “sales immersion experience” as “The Real Whirled,” housing its sales trainees in a big residence where they, too, can’t go out to restaurants or laundry facilities – they have to make their own meals and do their own laundry using the appliances they came to learn about. The ten-week experiential learning program for eight people at a time all occurs in the residence, and since the company instituted it in 1999 its retention rate has hovered around 50%, a huge gain over industry training programs.
When such a theme applies not just to a particular experience (such as training), but to the entire employee experience or even the entire company or enterprise, then it can rise to the level of a meaningful purpose, one that aligns the organization in its common pursuit.
Every company – not just those confronting today’s coronacrisis, where meaning has become all that more important – should determine and promulgate its meaningful purpose (beyond making a buck) throughout the enterprise. For as my colleague Kim Korn writes on how enterprises can thrive, it is “imperative to infuse meaning in order to inspire people, guide the enterprise, and enrich humanity.” These pursuits are needed now more than ever.
Personal experiences are customized to the individual. The more you customize its elements, the more personal and engaging the overarching experience. And the more you mass customize offerings the greater the scale and lower the cost. Every one of the on-demand apps mentioned earlier mass customize to individual need, while the smartphones used to summon them come out of the factory with only a little variety (differing storage, screen size, etc.). Yet they become unremittingly unique in the hands of each individual. For the simple reason that anything you can digitize you can customize, smartphone makers gain tremendous scale on manufacturing while the digital customizability enables every person to get exactly what they want.
And that level of mass customizing is what workers need in the employee experience. The consumerization of technology is one way of doing so. Consumer technology will always and forever stay ahead of B2B technology, and it also eliminates time wasted in not having to teach employees unfamiliar interfaces – or to put up with endemic crashes and back-level software. There are also a host of engagement platforms that necessarily address the needs and wants of individual employees.
What Steve Altmiller, former CEO of San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico (now President at WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center), once told us about healthcare applies to every company in any industry creating experience value. “If you expect to be successful in individualizing the patient experience, you’d better get good at individualizing to the employee. Our entire patient experience redesign will start with an exclusive focus on the employee experience. We’re going to try to personalize everything from recruitment to retirement because we think it will do more than anything else to help our employees understand what we want for patients. And in these times of staff shortages and heavy competition for the best people, it would be a good strategy even if we weren’t planning on doing it for patients. As it is, we’ve come to believe that individualizing the experience will ensure our future success.”
Dramatic experiences entail designing the time customers spend with you to not be flat with precious little drama, but rather to rise up to a remarkable climax and come back down again. Such dramatic structure is required to engage people in time well spent. As famed experience architect Jon Jerde defined experience design, “What we do is design time.” Brenda Laurel applies this same thinking to digital interactions in her wonderful book Computers as Theatre. The design of what passes within a particular period of dramatic time creates the emotional textures that keep us engaged.
It is of course your people who design, stage, and perform the experiences that engage your customers in the time they spend with you. So first understand that work is theatre. It’s not a metaphor (work as theatre), but a model: work IS theatre. You must therefore direct your employees to act, give them the roles to play, help them characterize those roles, and then enable them to act them out on your business stage. So think of HR more as a talent agency and L&D as incorporating an acting school! UK retailer John Lewis provides acting lessons from The Oxford Playhouse for the workers in its flagship experiential Oxford store. Famed improv troupes such as Second City in Chicago and The Groundlings in Los Angeles have robust B2B businesses. And Richard Olivier even uses Shakespeare to teach executives leadership in London.
But we need to go beyond employing theatre in work to also deploying theatre for workers. Think of recruiting, for example. Go to an interview at Southwest Airlines and expect to be asked to stand up a tell a joke, for the company hires for gregariousness. I once observed a 30-person recruiting experience at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where applicants were put into groups to come up with a dance move, and then in pairs to introduce each other. There were just two things management was looking for: a willingness to do the dance move (how competently didn’t matter), and how well applicants listened to each other (what they said didn’t matter either).
There are many ways of thinking about dramatic structure that I teach companies, but perhaps the most pertinent here is the “5Es” (adapted from a framework by Doblin, a Deloitte business)
Enticing: How do you alluringly draw people to want to have the experience?
Entering: What happens as people move into the experience? What are the first impressions?
Engaging: While all five stages must be engaging, what is that core personal and memorable experience for which guests come, and how does it rise up to a climax and come back down again?
Exiting: What is the final thing that happens on departure, which people will tend to remember for a long time?
Extending: How do you appealingly expand the experience beyond the physical or digital place, cementing the memories, and encouraging repeat visits?
You can apply these five stages of drama to any and all genres of experience. Regarding employees, HR leaders can use it to design the entire length of employment, to make recruiting enticing and make onboarding a great first impression, to any and all courses or other development experiences.
Transformative experiences bring together the set of experiences required to help employees achieve their aspirations. An employee’s job and career can be transformative, especially when the experiences are deliberate and meaningful. When employees are connected to the company’s vision, goals, and especially purpose, they can see the how the roles they play fulfill and align with that purpose. That yields full engagement.
Maintaining that engagement often requires coaching. BetterUp bills itself as “The People Experience Platform for professional coaching, immersive learning, and insights designed for everyone.” Its transformational work for L&D – where employees of clients get to individually select a personal coach to help them in their own particular circumstances – is based on the platform’s 3-stage model of “Learning to Doing to Being.”
Transformation happens throughout an employee’s time at an organization by evolving role, skillset, and leadership qualities. Much like the relationship with a personal trainer, a robust L&D experience helps employees set goals, be held accountable, and feel personally connected to the journey of reaching those goals. Where experiences happen inside of us, transformations change us from the inside out.
Time Well Invested
While companies – whether in offerings to customers or engagement with employees – want to avoid time wasted, provide time well saved whenever necessary, and offer time well spent as value in its own right, recognize that transformations impart time well invested. The company and customer – or organization and employee – invest their time together so that the transformative experiences gain compound interest over time, paying dividends now and into the future.
Holy Redeemer Health System outside Philadelphia understands the power of HR being a “broker of time.” It built the Spark! Transformation Center to help its employees invest their time wisely. HR constructed a new welcoming entrance outside the old convent at the heart of the health system’s heritage, and now immerses employees in a place that exemplifies its theme/meaningful purpose of “My. Life. Story.” It reimagines recruitment as a talent agency and gives applicants a box shaped like a book to bring in objects from which they can share their own life story during the interview. Employees attend interactive educational programs in various event spaces, and each one gets a Life Story Coach to help them “set a new life course and contribute to the company in new ways”. Workers can even meet up with HR, and each other, in the Vital Energy cafe.
In the end, the whole of L&D, all HR activities, and the entire employee experience culminate in transformation, in investing time in your employees so that they have the knowledge and skills to create value for your customers now as well as long into the future. Eliminating time wasted, providing time well saved, and offering time well spent clear the path and then pave the way for the journey of transformation for your employees and for your enterprise.
Time to Change
As Rightpoint CEO and Co-Founder Ross Freedman writes in “The New Competitive Advantage Is Experiences For Customers And Employees Alike”, leaders must “Change the way you think.” Experience companies shift from this inside-out thinking to an outside-in mindset, in which they consider customers’ needs first, then work backward. Additionally, consider what customers are really looking for from your brand, beyond what they are asking for. Then consider the experiences you can create to fulfill that need.
Ross concludes by imploring that “employee experiences matter just as much.” Your own employees are as important as your customers. They are your brand ambassadors and creating a seamless employee experience is part and parcel of being an experience-led company. To which I would add not only your employees but all contributors to your enterprise, whether contractors, suppliers, community members, volunteers, or even raving fans. Now is the time to change not only the way you think but how you operate, embracing experience design principles – in particular those that enable you to stage engaging and memorable experiences that are robust, cohesive, personal, dramatic, and even transformative – to create connected human experiences for your customers, your employees, and all contributors.