What’s In It For Me? Caring at the Core of Employee’s Experience in the Workplace


At a HR conference in Saskatchewan this past year, keynote speaker Ryan Estis’ message had a profound impact on me — an Oprah “aha” moment, if you will. While he addressed a myriad of topics encompassing people and culture, his focus was really singular: re-thinking HR by considering the experience factor first and foremost.

To help illustrate his story, Estis referenced Adobe’s motto to its employees: “We are committed to creating exceptional experiences that delight our employees and staff.”

While many organizations focus on the guest experience, we often neglect to take that same opportunity to wow our own teams. We recognized that failing to deliver on guest experience can have a significant, negative impact on business. If this effect is similar on our internal guests (employees), what opportunities may we be missing? Moreover, what is the cost if we fail to deliver exceptional experiences?

Delivering on experience, especially from an HR perspective, presents both challenge and opportunity. When I first heard Adobe’s motto, my immediate thought was, how do we “delight” someone in a termination meeting? I also considered how difficult it may be to apply to an audience which predominantly consists of short-term, high-turnover (often entry level) positions.

The challenges are certainly real. How much do we invest in individuals destined for other industries and career paths? And how do you deliver a great experience with an individual who refuses to see the same opportunity? I believe we start by understanding three unique factors which impact experience: purpose, perception and intention.

Purpose, Perception and Intention

How individuals experience an event is truly unique from person to person. Experience is shaped and influenced by many factors including purpose, perception and intention. If purpose, or

“If the role of HR is to guide, support, build and maintain structure within an organization then we need to factor in that we are doing so with people who have diverse personalities, perspectives and expectations, not bricks and mortar.”
“What’s in it for Me” (WIIFM) clarifies a path or outcome, then perception is impacted by factors like selective attention and reality — hence the phrase, “perception is reality” — and intention is the delivery or outcome of purpose. All three factors meld together to form a unique experience.

There are, of course, many subjectives at play. We should not assume what we do not know to be factual. We should care enough about a person, respecting their individuality, to see the situation from their perception. Selective reality can shape a person’s perception which positively or negatively impacts their experience. A person’s perception becomes their reality which impacts their experience.

If the role of HR is to guide, support, build and maintain structure within an organization then we need to factor in that we are doing so with people who have diverse personalities, perspectives and expectations, not bricks and mortar.

The True Merits of Caring

In her book Radical Candor, Kim Scott encourages leaders to develop trusting relationships with their colleagues and direct reports and to care personally about the people with whom you work.
“Caring personally is about doing the things you already know how to do. It’s about acknowledging that we are all people with lives and aspirations that extend beyond those related to our shared work,” Scott writes. “It’s about finding time for real conversations; about getting to know each other at a human level; about learning what’s important to people; about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work – and what has the opposite effect.”

Caring enough to understand an individual’s purpose or drive to satisfy their WIIFM factor will go a long way in helping create a great experience for that person. For example, a worker in an entry-level position may be working to earn money for school in a completely different career path than the company offers. Even if the worker may not be a long-term employee, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be a great representative of your organization and it most certainly doesn’t mean that the company should stop investing in their growth and development because they may leave.

If we fail to connect, stay curious and care personally, we may be missing out on a great opportunity to build and develop an individual who may in turn endorse our company based on the exceptional experience they had. Purpose varies widely among individuals.

Consider a Candid Conversation

Similarly, if you are dealing with that individual who is fast-tracking to termination, take the time to understand their purpose. What if they are in desperate need of a motivator which we failed to provide? Or perhaps their goal is to work elsewhere, but they haven’t internalized it yet. Can you imagine if you were able to help them achieve this goal through candid conversation and assist them with an amicable exit strategy? This may seem farfetched, but for some this would register high on the experience meter.

We have an opportunity to care enough to have radically candid conversations with individuals, and this, in turn helps us to be better people. This extends beyond due diligence to be open to a different perspective—not because you have to, but because you can and you care.

In a recent ABC News interview with Michelle Obama read from her new book, Becoming: “There’s a power in allowing yourself to be known and heard in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s a grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

Failing to deliver on employee experience would be like building a structure from rotten wood. It may look fine from the outside, but eventually it will rot from within. From all factors and perspectives, we are nothing without our team. Take the time to care deeply and understand. It will be beneficial to all.


By Kristin Zehnder, BA, CPHR, SHRM-SCP is director of HR for the British Columbia-based retailer Otter Co-op.

ABC News Interview with Michelle Obama, November 11, 2018.

Scott, Kim. (2017). Radical Candor: be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. New York, N.Y., St. Marten’s Press.

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