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Many companies are modernizing their approach to employee engagement. In particular, they are moving beyond thinking of engagement as a stand-alone activity, often characterized by a long-running annual employee survey. Instead, they are adopting a broader and more holistic approach to employee experience (EX). This means using new technologies and incorporating new data sources. It also involves integrated analytics to tackle key business challenges, such as collaboration, innovation, and productivity.
Employee surveys have, of course, been around for a long time. Companies started to use them in the 1970s. They began by focusing on job satisfaction. They shifted to look at commitment, as leaders realized that the ability to retain key talent was an important competitive advantage. In the early 2000s, companies began to run employee engagement surveys. These gave all managers feedback from their teams, typically on an annual basis.
"A successful EX philosophy is to think about making lots of small changes that can add up to a big impact overall"
But many organizations have struggled to create real, lasting change from these efforts. Engagement surveys are a bit like performance reviews—they are hard to do well, and when they are not, it can lead to frustration and fatigue. Moreover, the speed of change inside many businesses is faster now than ever. Certainly, it is too fast to simply rely on an annual measure of employee engagement. There is an appetite for more frequent and ongoing feedback and insights that are more actionable. This is why EX is gaining in popularity.
A common source of EX data is pulse surveys. These are often run on an agile basis—in other words, as and when needed. This means feedback can be collected close to the key moments that matter for people. Pulse surveys are often short, sent to only a sample of an organization, and typically gather a lot of qualitative comments.
EX data also come from lifecycle surveys. These capture insights from key cohorts during their onboarding, or on their anniversary, or at key moments such as a promotion or an assignment, through to (potentially) their future exit from the company. Lifecycle surveys often run automatically, triggered by updates in a company’s HRIS. Such survey data can be supplemented with insights from continuous listening. This may include tracking sentiment by using bots on internal social platforms like MS Teams, Slack, and Workplace. It can also include tracking scores and reviews on websites like Glassdoor.
Some organizations have looked at other sources of information, including smart badges and metadata from calendar appointments and emails. It is possible to use these to improve collaboration and to give personalized behavioral nudges, for example, to help individuals use their time more effectively. In fact, personalization is a key element in any employee experience program. To some extent, EX is about turning the organization on its head. If engagement is typically seen as a top-down management-driven exercise, then EX is a bottom-up view of the organization from the employee’s perspective.
As such, it borrows heavily from the field of customer experience (CX). It is part of an overall focus on thinking of employees more like consumers. Moreover, there is a realization that CX-EX alignment is critical. It is impossible to create fantastic customer experiences without an engaged and enabled workforce to deliver your products and services. For this reason, EX analytics often focus on key talent groups, such as mission-critical staff and those at the employee-customer interface. They focus on understanding these groups in detail by building employee journey maps. They pull different insights together to construct in-depth employee personas, based on a range of behavioral data. This kind of segmentation and analysis is a long way from traditional engagement efforts, which often focus on business units and general demographics.
This shift in perspective can be a challenge for HR departments, where different teams may operate in silos. As a result, some companies have introduced a Head of EX role to bring different stakeholders together. Some companies have even introduced a Head of Experience role, which combines both customer and employee experience efforts.
Often, EX is introduced in small steps. A successful EX philosophy is to think about making lots of small changes that can add up to a big impact overall. One way to do this is by adopting a design-thinking approach to EX, where experimentation and iteration are important processes. As a result of these factors, many companies have still kept an engagement survey as an important part of their overall listening strategy. Interestingly, this is true even at technology companies like Google and Facebook that deal with lots of personal data. This is because employees still value having an independent way of providing anonymous feedback. Leaders still need a material way of measuring the progress they are making. Boards still need a clear way of tracking culture efforts.
Of course, leadership remains the most critical element of any employee engagement or experience program. Leaders providing a sense of purpose at work, being clear about opportunities for personal development and growth, and making communications personal and relevant are all at the heart of a compelling employee experience.
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