In last week’s post, I considered whether or not leaders make the connection between the employee experience and the customer experience. I mentioned that…

Without employees, who’s going to build the products, sell the products, service the products, deliver the services, etc.? Who’s going to deliver the experience? Happy and engaged employees are more productive, so it’s up to you to understand them and their needs in order to design a better experience for them – so that they can, in turn, deliver a great experience for customers.

And with that, I alluded to (well, maybe hit you over the head with) the fact that employees have to have a great experience – and that that experience must be designed, just like you design the experience for customers. (Employees will not be happy, engaged, or productive if the experience is poor. They’ll basically just tread water until something better comes along.) Before I talk about what’s needed to design a great employee experience, let me start by defining employee experience because I don’t think everyone knows what that means.

My definition is this:

Employee experience is the sum of all interactions that an employee has with her employer during the duration of her employment relationship. It includes any way the employee “touches” or interacts with the company and vice versa in the course of doing her job. And it includes the actions and capabilities that enable her to do her job. And, importantly, it includes her feelings, emotions, and perceptions of those interactions and capabilities.

For details about the interactions, actions, and capabilities, check out my post on What Exactly Is Employee Experience?

Back to designing the experience. Companies struggle with how, though. I’m not sure why because the work that you need to do is very similar to the work you do to design an experience for your customers. (Why wouldn’t it be?!)

So, what am I talking about? Well, I wrote the book on Customer Understanding, but you could literally replace the word “customer” with “employee” and get it done.

Employee understanding means you’re learning everything you need to know about your employees, i.e., who they are, their needs, their goals, their pain points, the jobs they are trying to do, etc., as well as about their current experiences and their desired, ideal future experiences in order to design and deliver the best experience for them.

Like with customers, there are really three ways to achieve that understanding. The problem with these approaches is that, if not done correctly or if nothing is done with what you learn, you’ll be no further ahead in terms of understanding than if you hadn’t done them.

The three approaches are:

1. Listen. Don’t just ask employees about the experience, listen, as well. There are a lot of different channels and ways for employees to tell you about their needs and desired outcomes and how well you as a manager or an employer are performing against their expectations. Listen for/ask about things like: Do they have the tools, resources, training, etc. to do their jobs and to do them well? How’s the culture? Do they know how their work contributes to the bigger picture? How are their relationships with their managers? Do they believe leaders care about them? And more. And don’t forget about those bread crumbs of data that employees leave behind or the various sources and types of data that you have about your employees. Incorporate that into your analysis and understanding.

2. Characterize. Talk to your employees. Identify the jobs they are trying to do. Find out what motivates them. Learn about them as individuals and talk about goals and outcomes. Compile key personas that represent the various types of employees within your organization. You may think they should be role based, but I think you can dig deeper than that to really uncover your true employee personas. In their latest research, Bain identified six employee archetypes that might give you an idea of how you should be thinking about these employee personas. “These archetypes help us better understand what it takes for different individuals to find a sense of purpose at work,” the report states. The author of the article then goes on to state, “If you know who you’re dealing with, you’re better placed not only to hire the right person for the right role, but also to help your existing team stick around.” In other words, you’re better equipped to design a great employee experience.

3. Empathize. Walk in your employees’ shoes to get a clear understanding of the steps they take to do whatever job it is they are trying to do within the organization. Map their journeys to understand the current state of the experience but also to ideate and design the future state. And while we create service blueprints to get a surface-to-core view of what’s happening behind the scenes to support and deliver the customer experience, you can use them to better understand the employee experience, too. What policies are outdated or which processes are broken, making it difficult for employees to do their jobs? Which systems are primitive and inhibit employees as they work?

Let me just reiterate: after you do this understanding work, you must do something with what you learn. I’ve seen it happen all too often where companies create journey maps or do quarterly or annual surveys, for example, and nothing gets done with it. Yet employees keep getting the surveys. I’ve actually heard from employees that they copy and paste the comments from the previous survey wave into the current one because nothing has changed. That’s embarrassing. Don’t be that company!

You should define and design your Employee Experience, not just monitor it. The CEO should think about EX as one of the most important design issues in the company. Done well, the EX program drives employment brand, productivity, engagement, retention, and customer success. ~ Josh Bersin

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2021, she wrote the manuscript for her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business, which is now available to preorder on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and more! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

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