If you’ve never attended Medallia’s annual Experience conference, you need to plan to attend next year. Last week, I spent a few days in Vegas at Experience 2024, and between the new product announcements and the celebrity keynotes, the event was packed with lots of great case studies, best practices, real-world use cases, and industry/discipline research for both employee experience and customer experience.

One of the sessions I really enjoyed was with Josh Bersin and Kathi Enderes, who spoke about employee activation. Here’s the session description and what intrigued me to attend:

Industry convergence, a changed labor market, changed employee expectations, and AI have catapulted us into a new economic era. As companies are constantly transforming, employee experience is changing rapidly, too. Traditional employee listening programs miss a massive opportunity to generate growth, boost productivity, delight customers, and drive innovation. It’s time for a new approach: employee activation has arrived.

I enjoyed it because it’s a topic that needs to be heard by all – and the session was standing room only. The word is getting out: take care of employees. Listen! Act!

What is Employee Activation?

There was a follow-up session to this one by Medallia Employee Experience Advisors that proposed a sort of playbook for how to go about activating employees. They defined employee activation as:

  1. Empowering employees to transparently share ideas, feedback, and suggestions in the flow of work
  2. Empowering stakeholders at every level of the organization to take meaningful action on the right insights that will have the most positive impact on business outcomes

Sounds to me like input –>> action –>> outcomes.

Is This a New Concept?

No. This isn’t really new. The problem usually lies in step two (action), but step one (input) is often unimpressive.

In his podcast, Josh admits that this isn’t a new idea, but it’s being brought to the surface so that we can drive businesses to focus on employees and the employee experience in the way they should. (I’m all for that.)

Perhaps the rub lies in the term “empower.” But I think these folks (employees and stakeholders) are empowered when the culture is designed to be people-centric. When the culture is one where people are put first. When the culture is one where (employee and customer) understanding is the cornerstone. Such a culture – deliberately designed – ensures that employees and stakeholders at every level share ideas and feedback and act on what is heard.

How Are Employees Sharing Feedback?

What do I say about employee understanding? It’s achieved in three ways, just like with customer understanding:

  1. Listen (surveys, data, and beyond)
  2. Characterize (personas)
  3. Empathize (journey mapping process)

From my article on employee understanding:

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.

There are many different ways to listen beyond surveys: listening tours, crowdsourcing, idea boards or forums, stay interviews, 1:1s, and more. Provide ways for employees to leave in-the-moment feedback about processes, practices, and policies that advance or inhibit the work that they are doing. Be sure to capture both solicited and unsolicited feedback, and analyze the text for localized issues or emerging trends, as well as for sentiment.

But critical to all of this is to act. To share the data and insights with the people who need to do something with it. And then do something with it. In other words, co-design and co-create with your employees. Do it together. In the moment. In the workflow. Make it the way we do things around here.

In Closing

I’ve said this before:

Without employees, who’s going to design and 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.

When you focus on employees and ensure that their experience is what they expect and deserve, the outcomes are astounding. According to Josh, the outcomes fall into three categories:

Business Outcomes

  • 2.2x more likely to exceed financial targets
  • 2.4x more likely to delight customers

People Outcomes

  • 5.1x more likely to create a strong sense of belonging
  • 5.2x more likely to be a great place to work
  • 5.1x more likely to engage and retain employees

Innovation Outcomes

  • 3.7x more likely to adapt well to change
  • 4.3x more likely to innovate effectively

Those are outcomes every executive should get behind!

Leaders today have to believe that each and every individual has the potential to thrive. What you require is patience, data, and insights to work with them and empower them. ~ 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 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business [Advantage|ForbesBooks], which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.