The 3 P’s of Employee Experience: People, Purpose & Positivity
There was a time when people were so happy to have a job that they put up with just about anything to take home that precious pay cheque. The idea of management caring about employee experience seemed laughable.
And while that still may be the case in some organizations, employers are increasingly paying attention to the employee experience.
“It really impacts employee satisfaction, which impacts retention, productivity—it becomes almost part of the contract. It ultimately affects the bottom line big-time,” explains Caroline Schein, CPHR, vice-president, human resources, at Vancity Credit Union.
Where Employee Experience Begins
“Employee experience starts at all the touch points, everything the employee experiences with the organization, from the moment you’re on their radar, through to them being organizational alumni,” says Schein. “The need for a positive employee experience is becoming more and more understood. The market has changed; it’s no longer in the hands of the employer. It’s twice as hard to find good people.”
“I worked in retail in the ‘90s. Remember you would get a foosball table to be cool and help engagement, or be the Friday beer person? That’s not employee experience—we’re shifting how we look at it,” Schein explains. “If I look at the ‘90s, I wanted employees to have a good experience—training, check; onboarding,
check; compensation, check. Now I’m looking at the whole employee experience, the workplace experience.
“They have emotional needs (a purpose), intellectual needs (learning, career development) and a physical space; people work in different locations and you need to establish the where, the how, and the technology that will allow them to do their best work in collaboration with others,” Schein adds. “It’s really every touchpoint.”
Leadership, Learning & Autonomy
Christine Monaghan, principal at C.M. Coaching, recognizes the same importance but describes it differently. “The ideal employee experience begins and ends with leadership. If the approach is focused on optimum employee experience, coupled with learning, a sense of responsibility—it allows for the optimal return on investment,” Monaghan says. “Employees need to have clear expectations that are focused and can be measured, have inspired guidance and creative autonomy, which allows them to do in their own unique way that which sets companies apart.”
However, all too often, that isn’t what Monaghan sees among her clientele. “The gap between goal setting and achieving is the stress management piece. Many employees and leaders are running on their reserve energy tank. It creates unnecessary costs. You can make the connection between employee energy depletion and ROI depletion. It takes more than Friday events—they’re just going back to the same culture that’s depleting their reserves.”
“Being worn out has become a badge of honour, but it has immense mental health-related costs. Society in general is addicted to stress and sees it as being normal. The statistics speak for themselves—there’s a stress epidemic and it’s crippling people. Thirty per cent of Canadian disability claims are related to mental health. Presenteeism, where employees show up but aren’t engaged, costs Canadian employers $22 billion a year,” Monaghan explains. “We’re bankrupting employee energy, productivity and potential. That’s why the employee experience is so key to a company succeeding and prospering.”
The Evolution of Employee Experience
Part of what’s changed the perspective around the employee experience are the job seekers themselves; people now have choices. “You may only have them for three to five years, if that. It’s more important than ever to create an awesome, positive employee experience. Employees have changed their expectations because they could easily go elsewhere,” explains Tierra Madani, CPHR candidate, human resources manager for Vancouver Island Brewing (VIB) and CPHR BC & Yukon’s 2018 Rising Star.
“They’re looking for wellbeing, a place where they can contribute and feel it, where they can be results-oriented and are able to align with the company’s values. There is a bit of market and general influence—people talk about Millennials looking for the next shiny new thing—that comes with the start-up culture,” says Madani. “And when people find there’s not enough for them through several workplaces, they start their own.”
The 4 Keys to Employee Experience
Madani defines the key elements of employee experience as:
- Transparency and open feedback: An open and ongoing line of communication between employee and manager is essential For example, in VIB’s performance management system, employees also give feedback to their managers. People get peer reviews. It gives them multiple perspectives.
- Recognition and incentive: The important thing is incentivizing what’s important to the employees—not just a gift card. VIB has creative incentive programs that help feed into the pride of the employees.
- Ambassadorship and advocacy: Madani stands behind VIB’s employees as their best asset and inspires their initiative. For example, in their Cap-It program, they have been trying to drive employees to go to their accounts’ businesses and drink a beer there. Or have them ask about their beer at a new establishment and see if it might become an account. VIB gained two new accounts this way in a month. Then the employees enter their receipt into a draw for a gift card to one of the new account establishments and get reimbursement for a meal and a beer.
- Celebrate every win: Last year, VIB had a 100 Days of Winning program in the summer. After having gone through two re-brands in a year and a half, they felt the need to celebrate their employees, so every day an email was sent out celebrating a win from the day before. It might have been confirming an order, building a great display, becoming a grandma—any personal or business win. The wall was filled with 100 wins. Employees were responsible for it all.
“We’re creative in our recognition and it’s pretty successful,” Madani says.“We also have a monthly meeting where we recognize two or three employees who’ve gone above and beyond with the
Three Cheers Award, like the rep who had to take a ferry to deliver a last-minute keg to a customer. There are a variety of things we highlight and recognize.”
A Reciprocity of Trust Required & The 3 Legs of Employee Experience
“I believe the employee experience starts with whether or not an employee is engaged,” says Dan Pontefract, author of Open to Think, The Purpose Effect, and Flat Army. “I argue that employee experience is akin to there being reciprocal trust between the employee and employer to do what’s right, however, whenever and with whomever.
“It matters because if there is no trust, it erodes any opportunity for an employee engagement experience. Trust is where it all starts – if there’s none, there’s no hope for an employee to serve the customers or fill the job role adequately. Employees are looking for the ability to think, be creative, make decisions and do things,” explains Pontefract.
“You can’t just tell them what to do. In a world with democratized content and the ability to reach out to anyone on the planet, we’re still shackling people by job title or team or job description. We’re competing for employees internally instead of with our competition, to the detriment of the employee experience. It’s like Game of Thrones,” he adds.
There are three legs to employee experience, Pontefract says:
- Culture should be collaborative, open, transparent, proactive, genuine, trusting, inclusive and recognizing the development of people
- Purpose should help people remember why they’re at work – just for money and power, or to balance profit with a higher purpose. What’s the point of being in business? To help the world, to serve a higher purpose than we are today.
- Thinking should happen more. Busy-ness has become gold star worthy, freneticism is an achievement and being distracted gains checkmarks. All of this prevents good thinking. The culture and purpose for manifesting thinking is necessary for long-term success, growth and economic wellbeing. However, far too many are too busy to recognize it to begin with.
A lot of Leader, Still Stuck in the Past
Pontefract doesn’t believe the majority of workplaces value the positive employee experience, yet. “There are some who recognize the importance of the employee experience, but data and evidence suggest the opposite—that far too many men and women are not acting benevolently and don’t care about employees.”
“Leaders are stuck in the scientific principle of a leadership style that dictates rather than empowers, demands rather than asks, controls rather than collaborates, isolates rather than cultivates, ignores rather than recognizes, and purposely disengages rather than engages,” says Pontefract. “Back in 1911, Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management said managers should drive as much as they could out of employees with no regard to their health or wellbeing.
“Society is still bent on profit. That isn’t bad, but leaders have lost the critical balance of collaboration and employee wellbeing in their purpose-driven mindset for profit and power. The result is disaffected employees who are finding purpose elsewhere,” says Pontefract. “It’s a frightening time for employees. They’re out in the gig economy doing things they love and care about. Eventually as Millennials and Gen Z earn a living getting gigs, fewer people will want to work for companies.”
“If senior leadership is not involving everyone in how things are done or what the organizational norms are, if they’re hiding out on the top floor, it’s as good a top-down, hierarchical organization as I’ve seen,” Pontefract says. “We should ask employees how the organization should operate. They see the mistakes, the glitches and know how to improve processes. We need to involve other people.”
He cites the example of Netflix. “Over a 10-year period, it involved employees, from DVD mail order days to streaming, on what they wanted to be as an organization. Employees and the company
met in the middle, and created a culture deck that outlined 10 values and attributes. The company’s bottom line increased and it grew.”
When an organization is too hierarchical, growth is slow or even negative, such as it was for Kodak or Nortel, Pontefract says, adding that of the Fortune 500 list from 1955, only 60 of the same people remained in 2017. More than 400 of them changed. Some businesses were acquired, but arguably because they were using old practices in a new world and weren’t going to be able to keep up.
“When you involve employees, organizations win,” he concludes.
Workplace Culture a Key to Employee Experience
“It’s really a joint responsibility with give and get,” says Schein. “It’s the employer responsibility to ask for and listen to feedback. The employer must want to learn and evolve, to look at ways to
constantly improve, to makes things better, easier, to remove obstacles. The key elements are asking for feedback, then listening, and doing something about it.”
“It’s the employees’ responsibility to provide feedback, to want a good experience for themselves and for others. But if an employer ignores a problem they know exists, it negatively impacts employee experience,” she adds.
“Culture is such an important piece,” Schein says. “I inherited a large team of 80 people working in silos with a lack of trust, and a organizational culture—a departmental or divisional one. I did a survey at six months and asked them to describe the culture they wanted to have.
“Culture comes from what’s valued and what’s practised—the sense of purpose that employees feel,” Schein explains. “If someone isn’t aligned with the organization’s values, then it’s not a cultural fit and it impacts others’ experience. Also, we need to ensure those coming in feel a sense of belonging and set them up for success. Other employees have a responsibility for that, too.”
“If they define it, take accountability for it, this will enhance the experience if they collectively work together. It has to be a collaborative opportunity,” she adds. “It’s been a success. They’re having fun and holding each other accountable.”
“Culture and purpose can be your competitive advantage,” Pontrefact points out in agreement.
Leading by Example is a Must
Monaghan sees it differently. “The responsibility for employee experience largely falls on leaders, because I believe that employees take their cues from leadership and mostly emulate how that leadership shows up.”
“If the leader takes time for a 30-minute lunch every day, employees feel that’s a standard they can follow, as opposed to working 24/7. Their commitments, conversations and choices flow out of what they see their leaders model,” says Monaghan.
“Leadership must lead the employee experience. An organization can absolutely define and control its culture, but it has a responsibility to create a wealthy, healthy culture. That can be based on three things: improving time management, a preventive culture, and individual and collective goal setting with rewards,” she adds.
Hiring for Positive Employee Experience
The cultural fit that encourages a great employee experience is a factor right from the hiring process. “This is where hiring for a cultural fit comes into play. For example, we value member wellbeing and community impact over profit – it’s part of who we are. If someone isn’t aligned with our values, if they’re not a cultural fit, it will impact others’ experience,” says Schein.
“If a company is super clear on what commitments employees are going to be able to tap into, and works to preserve the employee’s inherent potential and convey this commitment during the hiring process and can discuss it, they’ll know if the person agrees with their culture,” Monaghan says. “We ask people, ‘Who is the next-best version of you going to be?’ The answers give us insights into what’s important to that person and their values.”
“When hiring, it all comes down to fit—he cultural fit and shared values,” says Madani. “Attitude is important because this is such a collaborative environment. We need team-oriented people who can also come up with great ideas on their own. These things trump education and experience. You can’t train attitude.”
“The employee experience starts with the company and what it decides the ideal employee experience will be, and what commitments are going to be made to help each employee grow into their next best version. Bold training, incentives, performance reviews, commitment to promoting from within—you can measure results if you’ve set commitments. It’s 100 per cent the responsibility of the company to set them, and then employees can step into 100 per cent responsibility of fulfilling it,” says Monaghan.
The 3 C’s: Commitments, Conversation and Choice
“You need to you create a solid foundation for employees from the get-go, following the three Cs (commitment, conversation, choice) and setting expectations with leaders who walk the walk,” says Monaghan. “Commitments, conversation and choice must be part of the employee experience every day. You need to focus on what employees want, versus what they don’t want, but don’t challenge out of a place of fear. “
A solutions-based communication culture can inspire engagement. Monaghan explains, “You have to implement communication across the company. It works if you work it, if everyone is leading with the same communication style. It reduces stress and decreases wasted time and productivity. If the company is proactive in creating solutions-based communication, it will save money, increase retention, reduce presenteeism. It will set them apart.”
Above All Else, A Team Effort is Required
“Employees want to be valued, safe, rewarded for actualizing their potential, to belong to a vision larger than themselves, and to be loved,” Monaghan says. “We have to slow down long enough to set people up so they can win. If we don’t, we’re working against ourselves, and it’s very hard to win.”
“The employer provides the resources, but it’s up to the employee to take advantage of them,” Madani adds. “It’s still up to the employer to follow up, to get feedback. It’s a step that’s often missed, especially at higher levels. To execute the plan, you have to keep the team engaged and deliver on planning. You need feedback from the team to succeed.”
“Talk to the key players who are affected, from the bottom up. We’ve gone through a lot of change management here in the past few years and now we’re as flat an organization as we can be with group or team decision-making,” says Madani. “We have folks who’ve been through similar experiences before, so why not give them the opportunity to discuss and share what they know?”
“We have to be flexible,” Madani maintains. “For example, we have a daily 9:17 a.m. stand-up meeting where each employee shares a win from the day before and their goal for today. It improves internal communications, enables collaboration and helps people “own” winning.”
“An organization can’t define its culture all by itself, or people will come to resent it,” Madani adds. “We derived our company values out of what our team members thought should be up on that board.”
In short, it’s part of a powerful and positive—yet fundamentally “everyday”—employee experience.
Nancy Painter is an award-winning communication consultant and writer based in Surrey. She is an active member in both the International Association of Business Communicators and the Professional Writers Association of Canada.