Employee experience (EX) is having a moment, but it’s still widely misunderstood. Here, two EX champions unpack what it is—and isn’t.
ARTICLE | 5m read
February 19, 2021
Name it, and Christophe Martel, CEO and Co-founder of TI People, Inc, has seen it. An early advocate of employee experience (EX), the CEO and co-founder of the experience excision TI People has watched EX be interpreted as a holiday party, a catered lunch, and a multimillion-dollar bundle of pulse surveys. It’s not that business leaders don’t grasp the importance of EX; they know a strong EX strategy can help reduce turnover, improve customer interactions, attract new talent, and increase employees’ pride in the work they do. But leaders’ ambition can outpace their ability to design—let alone deliver—a good one.
“They try to hack the entire system in one go,” Martel says, “and then get lost in the shuffle and wonder why. They also may misunderstand what EX is for. They think, ‘If the experience is poor, then I can just buy some technology and that’s going to solve it.’ EX goes deeper than that.”
The centrality of EX is dawning on organizations regardless of sector or size—a key takeaway from Citrix’s recently published report, “A roadmap for unlocking employee experience.” Indeed, organizations are spending hundreds of millions on EX and engagement strategies, yet because they aren’t set up to implement recommendations they gather from surveys—or are too siloed in their thinking—the return on those investments may prove elusive or never materialize. Poor survey results and stubborn employee attrition rates can make EX investments feel expendable, even wasteful.
Against this backdrop, how should true believers make the case for EX, or even identify where to begin?
“At the end of the day, you have to begin with your people,” says Angela Schafer, Senior Director Culture and People Strategy at the Canadian Medical Association, and a staunch proponent of EX. “We need to give our people an opportunity to define what [their experience] looks like.”
Here, Martel and Schafer unpack these and other insights, as well as provide tactics they’ve used to champion EX. They also share how they measure success, and how their understanding of employee experience has evolved amid the pandemic and rise of flexible work.
The case for EX begins on a balance sheet. Though investment is necessary to create a robust, inclusive EX strategy, it’s important to recognize that the success of employees and the success of a business are intertwined.
“The answer starts in the recognition of the impact [EX] has on the business,” says Martel. “There is a sub-group of leaders that understands good CX is predicated on good EX. If I have a call center, and people are feeling good there, my customers are going to have a great experience. It’s about taking what’s essentially an HR exercise and making it a business, enterprise-level exercise.”
“Leadership knows it’s very expensive to lose good people,” adds Schafer. “The more stability they have, the more energy they have to be focused on strategy.”
Over her career, Schafer has been lucky to work with leaders who innately understood the importance of employee experience. That’s not to say it doesn’t take focus.
“You still have to look for those people in the organization who are most energized about discussions around employee experience,” she says. “Then it’s a conversation around needs. You need to talk about acquiring the best talent, retaining that talent, and that’s sometimes your best way in … to make the case [for EX].”
Martel and Schafer’s experiences complement insights surfaced in Citrix’s “A roadmap for unlocking employee experience.” Nearly 75 percent of surveyed executives said they anticipated significant ROI from an improved employee experience. It’s clearly not about whether they perceive value in a good EX strategy. The challenge lies in how the strategy is designed and implemented. So, what can leaders do to create EX strategies that work?
For Martel and Schafer, it all starts with the right tools.
of executives say they anticipate significant ROI from an improved employee experience.
“[Leaders] are still using the old tools—process design, change management, waterfall-type transformation models—where ideas always come from the top,” says Martel. “We need more human-centered tools. The companies with a really steep learning curve need to understand that experience is first and foremost a human thing. When they grasp that, the rest isn’t so scary.”
Organizations that self-identified as “EX Advanced” in Citrix’s research were more likely to engage in human-centric activities. Among those organizations, 52 percent said they tailor the day-to-day employee experience on an individual level—a hallmark of a well-designed EX strategy. How do they do it? In a phrase, with human-scaled tools.
“We’ve done design-thinking breakouts, even during the pandemic,” says Schafer. “We use [virtual collaboration tools] to land on key focus points, and we do facilitated sessions around the pains, the severity of those pains, before going into further breakouts designed around two statements: ‘How might we…’—which is an invitation to define goals—and ‘We might…’ which is where we start prioritizing. That’s where your strategy really starts to emerge.”
Schafer designs employee experience statements that are department-agnostic, which helps break down silos. “At CMA, one of our statements is, ‘I am part of one team, one vision.’ That is not an HR statement, is it? It’s for everyone. Another is, ‘I feel healthy, safe, and included,’ which is around diversity, around equity. A third is, ‘I have the tools I need to be successful.’ That could be about IT.” The idea, Schafer emphasizes, is to gauge an employee’s sense of well-being and feeling of progress in their role.
“We can measure ourselves against these [statements],” Schafer continues. “Each statement is an ‘I’ statement. It has to be about the individual.”
Another hallmark of good EX is identifying the “champion,” as Martel calls it, of the strategy. “This can be someone accountable to the experience of customers, like a Chief Experience Officer,” he says. Indeed, CX teams can be tremendous advocates, helping lead EX initiatives within an organization. “They understand that ultimately, you’re competing on experience—whether it’s for customers’ attention or employees’ commitment. A company that realizes this will be much more adept at crossing silos to solve individual problems.”
When Covid-19 forced lockdowns, EX was—paradoxically—everywhere and nowhere. “It sucked the air out of the room between March and October,” Martel says of the pandemic. “However, since then, there’s been enormous realization by executive teams that experience was important, and they had no idea what that experience was. When that ‘hum’ stops, they don’t know what’s left.”
That has placed enormous pressure on managers, Martel says, to maintain connections and ensure their teams are supported. “Being able to lead without being present—they’ve really been tested,” he says of managers.
Acknowledging the very human scale of the pandemic, advanced organizations are listening intently to their employees. Compared to just 19 percent of EX Learners, 43 percent of EX Advanced organizations say they will implement workplace IoT when it’s time to transition back into the office as a way to promote safety and tracing. Seeing an employee as an individual beyond their day-to-day responsibilities separates the laggards from the leaders.
“We have so many parents with school-age kids, me included, who are working to balance all of that right now,” Schafer says. “The least we can do for our people is listen.”
of EX Advanced organizations say they tailor the day-to-day employee experience on an individual level.