7 lessons employee experience

I just finished reading a brand new book called The Employee Experience. It’s a great look at the relatively new concept of creating an experience for employees, not just trying to engage them or do some other one-off program that doesn’t deliver long-term results.

7 Powerful Lessons on the Employee Experience

1) Congruent customer and employee experiences

I’ve long said that the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience. Well, what I’ve actually said is, “Employees will never treat customers better than their management treats them,” but it’s one and the same. The experiences will be congruent, or similar. That means companies that live and die by customer satisfaction scores need to start not with customer bonuses or other gimmicks but with a positive employee experience.

2) The Employee Experience is not the Employee Life Cycle

One of the issues with someone’s initial attempt to grasp the concept of the employee experience is to put it in the context of the employee life cycle. The experience, or how someone feels, is part of the life cycle, but it’s not quite the same thing. Don’t think that understanding the mechanics of onboarding and performance management means that you have a great employee experience. Instead look at the candidate or employee-centric nature of your processes and see to what extent they support, encourage, and engage your workforce. That’s your hint.

3) Tell me about your employees first

If I walked up to you right now and asked about your company, what would you start with? Your products? Your mission? Your customers? What about your employees–would they even make it into the discussion? It’s so common to think about this in the context of customers when in reality it’s our employees that make us successful. Start with employees and go from there. It will change the perspective of those around you.

4) Expectations rule the day

A big part of why employees have bad experiences in the workplace is because of expectations. Have you ever had high expectations for a raise, performance discussion, or meeting, only to walk away feeling disappointed? The theory of expectancy plays into motivations and how we feel about choices we make. If you want to deliver a poor experience, make sure you give people a warning ahead of time so their expectation gap (what they expect and what you deliver) isn’t as large.

5) Companies don’t really exist–people do

The trouble with leaders in many organizations is that they view the company as “The Company,” an automonous entity that doesn’t need to be understood or afforded respect. In this worldview, employees are replacement parts, and we don’t have to worry about the feelings of replaceable parts.

People get stuff done, not “the company.” People are the face of the firm, not a logo, billboard, or slogan. Remember that.

6) Design thinking for the win

The concept of design thinking centers on this: efforts are spent not just on solving problems, but on creating solutions with the end result in mind. In this case, how can we create ideas that focus not on the organization or on the customer, but on the employee experience. Instead of thinking about how to fix a problem specifically, the focus is on becoming something radically different. For many of us, that’s the direction we need to go to rectify design flaws in our processes and policies that can actually hamper our efforts to engage our workers.

7) Scrap the fancy job titles and get to work

I’ve heard in the last few years about new job titles popping up in the HR space. Chief Culture Officer, Chief Employee Experience Officer, etc. This was also mentioned in the book.

At first I was excited about the idea, but the more I thought about it, I realized that in some cases it was an abdication of responsibility. Think about it–when a task is assigned to someone specifically, everyone else can forget about helping with it and it falls off their list of priorities. That’s where I see the challenge in hiring these types of roles or even trying to create that kind of organization. Guiding and shepherding corporate culture isn’t one person’s job, it’s everyone’s job. Creating a powerful employee experience isn’t just HR’s or the C-suite’s job, it’s everyone’s job.

What are your thoughts on the employee experience? After reading some of these ideas, are you creating a great one, or does yours need some work

One of the scariest parts of having a great culture is the fear that it will shift and change in negative ways as the company grows. I can remember talking with Atlassian earlier this year, an organization that has an enviable culture and has leveraged it for incredible success. Every team at Atlassian has a person dedicated to defending the culture from poor fit hires, and these culture stewards can veto any hiring decision at any level. That’s an excellent way to help protect the culture as the organization scales up, but it’s not the only method for making it work. Today at the 2016 Glassdoor Summit, one presenter offered some amazing advice that is worth exploring.

Note: you can catch the livestream of the entire conference for free online

So far at the event we’ve heard from several speakers, including CEO of Glassdoor, Robert Hohman, about the value of transparency into culture. One quote this morning was particularly hard-hitting for me, and it came from Katie Burke, VP of Culture and Experience at Hubspot.

After talking about culture and the role of transparency, Katie threw out the quote above. I also believe the idea that acting on employee-generated ideas is one of the greatest ways to scale culture.

When we look at how culture is misrepresented in the media on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that HR leaders are craving a more concrete option for creating and scaling a culture that truly embodies the values and beliefs of the organization. Pick up any magazine or read any news article and you’ll quickly see that culture is purely about ping pong tables, free beer in the office fridge, and dog-friendly work spaces.

But as HR and talent leaders chase that elusive goal, they quickly become disillusioned and believe that this “culture” thing is just for the Googles and Ubers of the world.

As I pointed out in a recent Lighthouse blog around killing the traditional performance management approach, it’s critical for companies to point out culture in behavioral terms so that people have a concrete idea of what culture really means. But what about this concept of innovation, especially the type that is employee-driven?

Innovation, Engagement, and Culture

Innovation is not a new topic, but it’s one that is not often discussed in relation to the way we engage employees. The people throughout the organization are closest to the work, and they often have the best ideas for how to innovate and create new value. Therefore, innovation can be used as a valuable metric of engagement.

How many employee-generated ideas do you implement in a given year? One? One hundred? One thousand? Because it matters to your employees, and it’s an opportunity to improve business performance.

Last year I read The Idea-Driven Organization and thoroughly enjoyed the book. The main concept was the power of listening to employee suggestions, giving them serious consideration, and implementing them when feasible.

It’s fundamental, really. We all know that we should be listening to our employees. That goes without saying. However, the next step is actively soliciting input and then acting upon it. Instead of ignoring or fearing employee input, go the extra mile to encourage them to provide suggestions. The authors share a story that I think is a powerful reminder of this.

Employees at a bar had the opportunity to provide input on their jobs by submitting ideas. There were few, if any restrictions on the type of ideas, so one might expect them to pick some that made their work easier. But it turns out that was often associated with an improvement in the customer experience as well.

For instance, instead of having to carry a massive carton of empty bottles down to the cellar when it filled up, they installed a chute at the back of the bar for empty bottles to slide down to the cellar unassisted. This decreased the risk of workplace injuries from walking down stairs with heavy objects, improved customer service by not pulling away a service employee during a busy shift, and allowed bartenders to monitor and discard the empty bottles unassisted.

Even if nothing else came from these ideas other than the improved customer service results, it would be worthwhile. Yet it also improved the engagement levels of the employees by eliminating a non-value- added task from their daily work.

Another great example is from a former employer of mine. We used a “The Big Ideas Database,” which is a grandiose title for a spreadsheet. Any employee could share an idea through the web form and it would be considered by leadership for implementation.

Many of the ideas were actually acted upon. Some were quite minor (larger garbage bags in the break room), but others were considerably more important (repurposing/licensing a piece of software led to an additional $2 million in sales annually). Employees were actually excited about sharing ideas via the platform as a way to drive innovation and continuously serve customers better.

And, as with the previous story, it drove their engagement as well.

Want to create a culture of innovation and high performance? Focus on seeking out employee feedback and acting upon it. It’s powerful fuel for organizational performance and can be a significant competitive advantage if implemented properly.

Does your organization encourage employees to share ideas? Have you ever considered the effect on engagement or culture when an employee’s idea is implemented? 

I recently finished up a new book and have been looking forward to writing this review. There are three key things I picked up from the book that I want to share. No wasting time–I’m diving right in. :-) By the way, if the name sound familiar, this is the third book I’ve reviewed for John. He knows what he’s talking about.

Key Lessons from Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention by John Mattone and Nick Vaidya

cultural transformations book reviewFirst up, stories are powerful. I think we all know that (and I’ve talked about it both lately and in the past), but it bears repeating. The bulk of this book is made up of interviews with CEOs from companies across the globe. One of the biggest challenges for HR is understanding what the business needs and how to solve those problems. In this book you get to peek into the heads of executives that make the top-level decisions every day, and it’s powerful stuff.

Secondly, Mattone points out early in the book the power of innovation, but he doesn’t do it like everyone else. Instead of focusing on what we typically think of as product innovation, he points out the need for innovation throughout the organization. Here’s the snippet:

When executives change their leadership culture, they are rewarded with significant, sustainable outcomes, including… genuine organizational innovation for not only products but also the organizational systems required to sustain innovation.

Do you know what those organizational systems are that he alludes to? Hint: it includes HR! He’s talking about the infrastructure that enables the organization to create value for customers. From marketing and HR to finance and more, there are so many opportunities to truly innovate within the processes and systems we use to drive the organization on a daily basis. This is refreshing, because it departs from the typical look at innovation from the product side–for example, creating the next iPhone. If my internal systems are better, I don’t necessarily have to create the best thing since sliced bread–I can outpace other companies simply due to the effectiveness and efficiency of our systems. That’s a powerful thought.

Finally, the book makes mention of this concept of a “culture value proposition.” If it sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of its cousin, the employer value proposition, which is the sum of the things you have to offer to candidates/employees to make them join/stay with your organization. What I like is that this looks at culture, a topic I’m pretty fanatic about, at a deeper, more systematic level. From the book:

A strong CVP foundation leads to: capability… commitment… and alignment.

Think about the employees within your company. Are they capable, committed, and aligned with your strategy and goals? If not, it might be time to rethink your culture value proposition, or what your culture can offer to them.

Final Thoughts

If you are interested in checking out what CEOs have to say about culture and business reinvention, or if you’re looking to hone your own organization’s culture value proposition, then I encourage you to check out Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention by John Mattone and Nick Vaidya (find it on Amazon here). You can also check out the other books John has written: Intelligent Leadership and Talent Leadership.

Find other book reviews here.

credibility integrityRecently someone asked this question on Quora, a site that I sometimes drop by to help shed some light on the world of HR:

If I lie about a past felony on job applications, will the California FCRA keep background checks from finding out?

The first two responses to the question were focused on what the law covers and how the person might hide their information–interestingly enough I don’t see their answers on the site anymore, so I’m not sure what to think on that. However, here’s what I offered as advice:

Since the others didn’t address it in their answer, I’ll go ahead and say it: you don’t want to start your career off with a lie. There are studies that show the number one predictor of long term success is integrity–if you’re willing to sacrifice yours now, well…

If I was the HR director at the organization and found out later that you had lied about something like that, we would terminate. If you lie to me once there’s a good chance you’ll do it again.

This isn’t a dig at you or your history–this is a plea to maintain your honesty, especially when it gets hard. There are careers that don’t require you to pass background checks (small employers and startups rarely use them).

Continue reading

The Culture Engine by Chris Edmonds

culture engine book reviewOne of the topics I love to discuss is culture. I think it’s a powerful, yet underutilized, tool for driving business performance. I recently read The Culture Engine (on Amazon here) and wanted to share a few insights that particularly spoke to me.

Highlights

  • What is the cost of high performing, low fit employees? When you think about your workforce, you know that some people can really get the job done, but they might not fit with the core values of your organization. In other words, they can do the “what,” but they miss the mark on the “how.” Figuring out how to actually put a cost on retaining those folks is the first step in getting rid of them. Companies are reluctant to drop high performing staff, but if they are damaging the culture, driving higher team turnover, or having other negative results, it’s important to define and measure those sorts of impacts against the “positive” inputs.
  • Stop the “don’t” messages. Instead of solely talking about what NOT to do, give your staff values and targets to aspire to. This is something I’ve said for years, but this is great validation for that concept. If you only talk about the bottom, minimally acceptable standards, how do you expect to help staff reach higher goals?
  • Define your values in behavioral terms. Yeah, you have values like “integrity” and “customers first” on your list of values, but what do they really mean? Take the time to list examples (real ones are better!) and the actual behaviors that you want to see. As with the previous bullet point, the more you can define what you DO want to see, the more likely you’ll actually see it.

Conclusion

If you also are interested in culture, values, and how those can drive actual business results, then I think this is a book you’ll enjoy. You can get your copy here.  If you’re not quite convinced that culture is a tool that organizations can use to increase revenues and become more competitive, then this might also be a good opportunity for you to learn about how some companies are doing just that with measurable results. It’s a great book!

Today we’re hosting a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Zappos is my HR idol. I have posters on the wall, read articles about them in HR Beat, ask them to sign things – you know how these crushes go. I’m obsessed not because of their dreamy eyes or perfect coif, but because they are known world-wide for their happy employees (many of whom are in a call-center – no easy task!), clearly defined values (that they have the cojones to hire and fire by), and because they scaled culture without negatively impacting their bottom line (they still are the dominant player in their market).

I was lucky enough to tour their HQ in Las Vegas recently. They do Insights tours daily and quite literally open their doors on company culture. There were some obvious takeaways as to what makes them special – the perks, zany work environment, and tons of things they do to make work-life easier for employees – but I walked away thinking I finally get their special sauce. Hint: it isn’t what companies focus on poaching when trying to create a special culture, but it’s what they should focus on.

The Zappos secret

So what makes Zappos, Zappos? Employees really, truly feel comfortable being themselves. It’s not just a show they put on for the tour, it’s palpable. Zapponians dress in what makes them comfortable. Work stations are tailored entirely to their owner – be it a prim and proper organizational center or an ode the their favorite sports team or hobby. Work seems to be an extension of who each and every employee is as a person. Oh yeah, and their CEO is out there for everyone to run into, talk to, and approach with issues.

How can we, as HR professionals, allow and encourage employees to be themselves? It starts with the interview (maybe even before). Give candidates a chance to talk about what gets them excited outside of work … and genuinely care to hear the answer. It will let them know that they can be more than a contributor at your company – they can be a person. Boy does that make a difference!

It also comes from the top. Is the leadership team opening up and sharing a bit about who they are as people with your employees? Is your CEO accessible and open with employees? Do you celebrate your employees as people instead of just as contributors? The answers to all of the above should be a resounding yes.

Aspiring to be like Zappos is a challenge, but I’m convinced that there is a business reason to try. Recruiting gets easier through referrals and word of mouth. Happy, engaged employees will work harder, be invested in the company’s success and stick around much longer. And coming to work doesn’t feel like, well, work. Who wouldn’t want that?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.

Approximately half of your employees think you’re not being open and upfront with them, according to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association. In an environment where mistrust abounds, how can we operate our businesses in a way that rises above these troubling issues?

How HR can help

One activity that human resources has always been fond of is policy creation. There is a time when policy formulation needs to occur, but it also needs to take into account common sense and organizational culture. It all comes back to trust — do you trust your people to do great work, treat customers well, and support their team?

Too often we build policies with the minority in mind. Instead of creating rules around the 5% of people who will abuse our trust, we need to start looking at the 95% of people who will be inspired by our trust.

Give your people trust and autonomy and they will reward you with engagement. Withhold trust from your people and they will withhold trust from others, creating a downward spiral of negative, toxic behaviors.

Building a Culture of Trust

Recently I was listening to a story about an organization that put the principles above into practice. The leadership focused on giving the employees freedom to do their work, and the employees responded with new ideas, additional effort, and a sense of ownership over the business results.

That, my friends, is a culture of trust.

Employees need to see these characteristics displayed by everyone in the organization, but this especially applies to members of the leadership team. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.

I know what you’re thinking–what happens if we have someone who abuses that trust? Let’s look at one of the best ways to correct that issue.

Empowering employees

Developing an intentional culture of trust is similar to gardening. When weeds begin to flourish, the answer is not to wipe out all nearby vegetation. The solution is careful weeding to take care of the specific offenders.

A few years ago I was at an event listening to the speaker talk about what had led to his organization being named on a local “best company” list for several years in a row. He said something to start his presentation that I will never forget.

You don’t create a “Best Place to Work,” you defend it.

That was such a powerful statement. You can develop a workplace that people really want to join, but in order to have a noteworthy organization for the long term you need to create a mindset that it is everyone’s job to protect the culture from harm. A great way to make that happen is by enabling employees to seek out those “weeds” and apply pressure to either get in line or get out. You should find willing participants, especially if the current employees have already begun reaping the benefits of a culture of trust (greater autonomy, less micromanagement, etc.) Here’s a hint: if your employees are willing to fight for you, then you’re probably on the right track.

Instead of managers or HR having that role tacked onto their list of duties, make it the job of every single employee to ensure that a culture of trust prevails. Together, we can fight the mistrust that has invaded our work environments and spread a powerful culture of trust.

Originally published here