7 Lessons on Creating a Powerful Employee Experience

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

Differentiation is Critical for Long Term Success

Today we’re talking about the importance of differentiating your HR practices to increase your value and the satisfaction of your customers, both internal and external. Check out the video (subscribers click through to view):

The bottom line? You should explore the possibility of differentiating your offerings where you can. I’ve long said that as technology and globalization make the world smaller, the gap between competing companies shrinks. The best way, therefore, to stand out from the crowd is through excellence in HR service delivery. World class HR helps organizations deliver world class service.

Differentiate your HR practices from other organizations. Customize your offerings to the degree you can.

But beware the trap of trying to be all things to all people. below you’ll see some excellent advice on how to know when to accept or reject an opportunity to customize your HR service delivery.

The argument for and against customization

Here’s a snippet from my friend Kris Dunn on how customization can be used to improve your HR service delivery based on lessons learned in a software development environment.

The bottom line is that customization causes complexity. The same logic holds true for your HR shop.  If you’re good, you’ve got a set way of doing things, and if you do it the same way often enough, it’s going to work pretty well.  But you’ll have requests from your client group often to do it different ways.  It’s hard to say no, but you should say no when you can.  Complexity eats away at your ability to deliver in an efficient way.

You know when customization for your HR client group really makes sense?  The same time that it makes sense for a software company.  When the work that you’ll do to customize creates features that can be rolled out to more than one person/client.

Say yes to custom work that results in your HR practice being deeper and capable of delivering more.  Make sure you approach it like a product manager, to make it replicable.

Run away from other custom work if you can.  But the take above means that if you run away every time custom work is requested, you’re probably transactional – not strategic. Source: The HR Capitalist

I’d love to hear from some of you about what you do to differentiate/customize your HR practices to increase the value you’re offering to your candidates, employees, managers, and customers. 

Are You Proud of Your Work?

Recently I heard a story on the How to Do Everything podcast that I thoroughly enjoyed. The hosts of the show have a funny award they present occasionally to businesses and people for having unique or interesting restrooms. On this particular episode, they interviewed a convenience store manager about his restrooms. The unique quality?

Cleanliness.

pride workThe restrooms were cleaned numerous times a day enthusiastically and completely. It might sound like such a simple thing, but if you’ve ever experienced a restroom in need of some cleanliness, you know how special this small touch can make customers feel.

The thing that struck me was the intense pride in the voice of the manager. He was excited about providing a healthy and hospitable location to his customers, whether it be friendly service at the counter or a fanatically clean restroom.

Making the transition

That leads me to the topic for today. In the past few years that I’ve worked at my current employer, I have made numerous attempts to qualify and quantify a characteristic that influences the workplace: pride.

The majority of our staff are incredibly proud to work at Pinnacle, but I can’t figure out the exact root cause.

  • Maybe it’s because of the leadership team.
  • Maybe it’s because we’re serving the military through our products/services.
  • Maybe it’s because we’re performing solid, ethical work.

Whatever the case, it’s evident that they are incredibly proud to say they work here. That comes in handy numerous ways. I tell every new hire that we are too small to have a public relations/marketing team, so each person has to be trusted to represent us well in whatever they pursue at work or at home. When I meet an employee’s spouse or family for the first time, one of the first reactions is how much they appreciate the work environment, because that contributes to our employees being happier at home.

This video I shot several years ago captures this conversation well. It focuses on how each person should look to tie their daily work into the ultimate goals of the organization and how that can impact the business in a far greater way than if each person is unable to understand the bigger picture.

What about you?

Let’s look at two key questions to wrap up for today.

  1. Are your people proud of what they do and where they work? 
  2. Do each and every one of your people understand where they tie into the business’ overall goals and direction?

If you can’t answer “yes” to both of those, then it sounds like you have some homework to do. :-)

Partnership and Service-The New HR Model

Some of these people have never had a good experience with an HR person. They are wary and a little cynical of the whole idea. A few of them have been burned and won’t be quick to trust someone.

I’ve had a variation of that conversation with three people in the past week. I don’t know why it’s suddenly become a hot topic, but I definitely understand where the sentiment comes from. For many people the whole idea of HR is a “no” function.

noNo, you can’t do this. No, you can’t do that. No, that would make us liable. No, we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. No, let’s try to avoid that conflict. No, let’s just put in a policy.

Really? Who goes into a career looking forward to being a master of disappointment and let-downs?

Let’s diverge

When I’m not reading fiction and other fun stuff, I like picking up books focused on service. Customer service, stewardship, etc.

Speaking of which, the book Stewardship is phenomenal. Some of the things I’m talking about today are discussed there in more detail, so feel free to check that out if you’re looking for some ideas on how to serve others well.

If I had to boil what I do down to two words, those would be partnership and service. Probably not what most would expect, but they are mine nonetheless. What I do for my staff is partner with them in any way possible—career planning, compensation review, handling benefits for their family, etc. And the back end of that is serving them as well as I am able. This isn’t about me—it’s a reminder for everyone of what this position has the potential to be.

If you are spending your time saying “no” to everything that is asked and looking for ways to reduce freedom within the organization (how many of us would put it in those terms?), then it’s time to shape up. Make a change. Look for ways to partner with your people as a trusted, valuable resource. Find out how you can best serve each person to enable them to do their jobs better.

Beware the but

One final comment for today. Some of us are quick to say, “I do serve my employees well, but… [blah blah blah].” Beware the “but.” If you believe strongly enough in something, there are no exceptions, special rules, or alternatives.

It will be different, strange, and possibly even painful the first few times you remove the “but” from your vocabulary and move forward with your plan. But in the end, it will be worth it in the respect you earn.

The Customer Rules (Book Review)

The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service by Lee Cockerell

As an HR professional, I don’t often interact with the end-customers for our business. However, I learned early in my career that HR’s internal customers (managers and staff) are to be treated as well as, if not better than, we actually treat our customers who purchase our products and services. It’s the opportunity for an HR/recruiting professional to serve others well.

I’m always looking for ideas on how to better serve our people here, and when I saw this I knew I had to check it out. Read on for a few ideas that I picked up from this handy book.

The Customer Rules Lee CockerellWhat I liked

  • You hear stories every day about great service, poor service, and everything in between. This simple statement hit me pretty hard: Great service does not cost any more than average or poor service. When it costs nothing to offer a smile and a kind word, why isn’t it the norm instead of the exception?
  • Your service statement should inspire your staff to new heights of delivering world-class service to customers. This quote from the book is a perfect example: It has been our responsibility to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality. Wow. It doesn’t say, “Be nice” or “Help customers quickly.” It says “fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” If that doesn’t inspire you I don’t know what will.
  • In the chapter on hiring the best people, Cockerell talks about the time he learned to stop asking leading questions in interviews. We all know that behavioral interviewing can bring great results, but when the question sets the person up to sound like a rockstar (whether they truly are or not), it reduces the value of the responses provided. An example he gave is “Tell me about a time you went above and beyond to satisfy a customer.” A better question might simply be “Tell me about a time you served a customer,” and then you judge if it’s truly an above and beyond type of experience.

Wrap up

I would recommend this book for anyone looking for ideas to serve customers (internal or external) better. I think we can all learn a few lessons (or be reminded of the tried-and-true principles of service, at the very least) from this book. If you are interested in checking it out, click here to get your copy of the book.

Click here for other book reviews.

The Crown Publishing Group provided this review copy.

Customer Service-Optional?

Phone company customer service repsWarning: today’s post is a mishmash of stories, but they’re all tied together with a customer service focus. Be sure to read through to the end. There are some good thoughts in there.

Story 1

I was reading an interesting article about customer service by a friend recently and had to share. Krista Francis is an HR director for a nonprofit in Washington, DC, and she wrote about a bad customer service experience she witnessed.

So I was on a train–the rail line shall remain anonymous–and we were delayed for five hours because of an accident.

A nearby passenger fretted about the distinct possibility of missing his connection because of the delay. Seeing the Assistant Conductor, he seized the opportunity to ask for guidance. He was clearly worried, but polite and respectful in his approach.

Direct quotes from the representative:  “What do you expect me to do about it?” “I can\’t help you.”  “Ask at the counter when we get to the station.” (click here to finish the story)

Story 2

Jason Seiden, a leadership-lovin’ guy, had this to say about a recent bad dining experience.

I was in Aspen last night, having dinner with a friend and a four of his coworkers. As there were six of us, the tip was automatically included on our bill. 20%.

Maybe that\’s why our waiter thought he could take us for granted? He was slow, he got drink orders wrong, he brought our food out at weird times, and he even left us sitting with the check for 15 minutes after he saw us put our credit cards down—we couldn\’t even pay! Worst of all, his attitude was blase when we brought issues to his attention; he left each of us with the distinct impression that he did not care.

And why should he? Our tab ran into the hundreds of dollars, and his 20% was fixed. Easy money!

Or so he thought… (click here to finish the story)

Story 3

This story comes from Rachel. I’d link back to her post, but her website isn’t active anymore. The story is still solid, though, so read on.

While waiting for my car inspection and oil change at my dealership I took the time to dive back in to reading The Pursuit of Something Better. The book relies heavily on data from employee satisfaction surveys and discusses some manager\’s attempts to skew the survey results.

I made good progress in the book before being told that my car was ready. As I handed over my credit card I was told that Honda may call and survey me about my experience. That\’s not an unusual event so I nodded. Then I was told that my response to the questions should be “excellent.”

The service representative went on to tell me that “it actually hurts [her] score to answer anything less than excellent.” And then she passed me a sheet with the questions I would be asked, the responses I could give, and then ratings for each response. There was another note at the top saying “Please let us know if you cannot rate your service experience as ‘excellent.\’” The service representative even highlighted the “excellent” in case I didn\’t get the hint already.

Needless to say I left the dealership feeling dirty. The service I received was perfectly fine up until the point that I was told I must say the service was excellent. I\’m actually at a loss to think of how an oil change and inspection on a year old car could in anyway be excellent. Thanks for not breaking anything on my perfectly new car?

I would be very angry at dealership if I wasn\’t so confused by the Honda ratings. My options for responses were: excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. This reminded me of a recent conversation with an HR veteran who stated that performance is only ever one of three things: below expectations, meets expectations, above expectations. By Honda\’s standards a “good” experience (ie. meets expectations)  is only worth a 50% score on the question. I wonder what ratings the dealerships are supposed to meet. If I do get called for the survey I\’ll be very sure to ask what the difference between each rating is since it does not seem to be explained.

Yes, shame on the dealership for pressuring their customers into answering the survey in a dishonest manner. But the fault is on Honda for having such a horrible rating system in the first place. The results of this survey are pointless since the survey was so poorly designed that dealerships feel the need to lie and pressure their customers – which actually ruins the customer experience.

My Take On Customer Service

I have my own short story to add. I use a service called “Ning” to support some of my eBook customers. It’s a neat way for them to share stories and generally help each other prepare for the PHR/SPHR exams. Well, recently I saw a news article that said that Ning would be shutting down its service to smaller groups like mine.

I was dumbfounded and outraged. I’d received no communication from Ning about the issue, but apparently it was the truth, because a few weeks later they finally acknowledged the issue. It’s put me and thousands of other Ning creators in a bind, because we all can’t afford to pay the new prices.

I can only imagine how those others who didn’t see tech-related news are going to feel when they find out that their networks are going to be shut down.

How to Rock Some Customer Service

Great example of a customer service failure

This customer service agent failed this time

Customer service should always be a priority, because customers are the lifeblood of a company. Treat them well, and they will forever remember who was there for them. They become champions for your cause. Treat them poorly, and word gets out very quickly about the type of service they received.

The problem is that many people are shielded and don’t see how their efforts are tied into customer service. I read and reviewed a great book called “The Pursuit of Something Better.” It talked about how U.S. Cellular made the decision to filter every decision through the eyes of the customer. Customer-focused decision making became second nature, and their clients were transformed from merely being “customers” to being “champions” for the company.

Think about it. Ever had a horrible experience with a company who treated you poorly? You probably told someone (or a lot of someones!) about it. On the flip side, do you have a favorite restaurant where the service is always top-notch and impeccable? You probably tell people about that, too!

Yes, I realize that in HR, we may not have customers in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean we can’t focus on them, right? When you’re dreaming up a sweet new policy, think about how it will impact your organization’s customers. Let that guide your decisions whenever possible. Shall I repeat?

Let every action you  take be filtered through the question: “How will this impact our customers?”

Whew… I’ve said enough. Anything you’d like to add with regard to customer service?