Coaching & Leadership

Three Basic Conditions for Employee Experience Success Using Data and People Analytics

Laura Stevens

Today's highly competitive talent economy demands that successful companies differentiate themselves from the pack in more complicated ways. Central to this is being able to understand and positively impact the experience of its employees.

This post is aimed at

People in HR or team managers who are looking for a solid understanding when it comes to employee experience and the use of data and analytics.

After reading you will

ou will know what to focus on, and why, during the process of establishing such a culture and dealing with its challenges.

Organisations today increasingly invest in trying to shape their employees’ experience, aiming to create experiences that meet employees at every touchpoint in the talent lifecycle. However, improving the employee experience is the end game, but getting there requires a data-driven approach, including continuous listening, cross-functional data-sharing, and people analytics. This article discusses each of these conditions more in depth, including references to my previous posts in this area.

What is the employee experience?

  1. Different definitions and views across the literature and organisations

    Today, many organisations and authors herald the potential benefits of an employee-centric strategy. Still, a variety of different definitions are being used across the literature to define ‘the employee experience’, with some authors equaling the concept to employee engagement, and still, others seeing it as primarily related to service delivery satisfaction.

    In line with different views and definitions, numerous ideas exist on how to ‘create’ positive employee experiences, with most organisations approaching it as a digital issue, starting their transformation by investing in digital apps and tools. Despite various opinions, there is precious little scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, cultivate high-performing teams, maximise productivity, or enhance happiness.

  2. It’s about perceptions – shaped by different environments

    Less disputable is that the word “perception” is often at the heart of definitions. Employee experience is not about what actually happened; rather, it’s about what is perceived, understood, and remembered by the employee. Hence, it’s not just a factor of what an organisation throws at its employees; it’s how they perceive and interpret it. This critical nature implies that employee experience transformations should not begin with a piece of game-changing technology. They should begin and end with a thorough understanding of employee perceptions – capturing and analysing direct, indirect or inferred feedback (see later).

    The most comprehensive view on shaping the employee experience in my view has been developed by Jacob Morgan, one of the leading experts in the field of employee experience. Following numerous interviews with respected business leaders across the world, he defined employee experience as being essentially comprised of three environments:

    The physical environment: Office space, meeting rooms, restaurant, building accessibility and parking space.

    The cultural environment: Values, attitudes, sense of purpose employees feel, leadership perception and the mission of the organisation.

    The technological environment: The tools employees use to interact with the (HR) organisation and get their jobs done (e.g., internal social network, mobile devices, laptops, desktops or apps).

    Although some of its components may closely link to culture, I would argue that work conditions, including aspects such as workload (physical, mental or emotional), terms of employment (e.g., remuneration, job security, career opportunities), working relations (communication, relationship with colleagues) and workplace flexibility would be a valuable complement to that list.

  3. What creates a positive experience is personal

    What employees need to enhance their work-related experience may strongly depend on a variety of different factors, including the stage in their career, what kind of work they do, or what motivates them as a person. What constitutes a meaningful touch point in the employee journey also changes over the course of an employee’s life. For a young parent, providing child daycare or organising family days may be a critical component shaping the experience, while the same sort of services wouldn’t necessarily satisfy a senior executive.

Three basic conditions to understand, track and improve the employee experience

Given the critical nature of (i.e., perceptions and personal) and the different environments that shape the employee experience, I believe that understanding, tracking and effectively improving the employees’ experience requires (1) a continuous listening strategy, (2) cross-functional data-sharing and (3) investing in analytical skills or strategic partnerships. Without these being in place, efforts are likely to end up having clear costs and unclear results.

Condition 1: Continuous listening

A continuous listening strategy

Understanding your employees is crucial to your ability to consistently provide an excellent employee experience and compete on talent attraction, performance and retention. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that most companies or HR leaders think they know what their employees’ want—and more often than not they are either partially correct or incomplete. Either scenario results with a cascading effect that degrades employee experience objectives and investments. The negative financial impact that incurs is a significant hidden loss than goes unrecognised by most business leaders.

In the area of marketing and sales, voice of the customer programs have become an established path to delivering enhanced customer experiences and driving business change. In the same line, HR organisations today need to develop better ways to understand their workforce. Because employees’ needs and expectations differ and change over time, the way feedback is obtained must be in accordance with those shifts.

This is why continuous listening programs should be a priority for organisations; programs through which organisations collect and analyse employee feedback to identify insights that are used to improve the employee experience and eventually, business outcomes.

Thanks to advances in technology, collecting these sorts of feedback to understand what employees want and how they want it is much easier than before. Indeed, numerous technologies and apps exist to allow for almost constant ‘checking in’ on your workforce. Similarly, advances in data analytics and web technologies (such as social networking and blogs) allow organisations to mine the experience from their employees.

However, when collecting data, don’t get trapped in becoming more focused on the data than on the impact the information will have. Frequent feedback collection is important, but it needs to be relevant, robust and consistent. In my article ‘Why Data-Driven Employee Experience Should Include a Continuous Listening Strategy’, I outlined some tips and tricks on how to intelligently address some of the core challenges related to continuous listening and ensure you get the best out of your investments.

Feedback sources

To get a complete, unbiased view of what employees really find and value, it is critical to gather and analyse all forms of employee feedback, whether that feedback is direct (what people say when they are being asked), indirect (what people say without explicitly being asked) or inferred (how people behave). You may find that different types of conversations generate very different insight.

  • Direct feedback: What employees tell you when you initiate a specific conversation (surveys) or when they initiate a conversation through one of the company channels (e.g., via phone calls, email, chat). With regards to surveys, I like to make a distinction between employee relationship surveys on the one hand, and transactional surveys on the other hand – as they are typically owned and managed by different departments.

  • Relationship surveys: any survey that explicitly solicits feedback on employee's general engagement and perceptions of leadership, culture and organisational health.

  • Transactional surveys: Typically, a survey on how satisfied the employee is with a certain (operational) service interaction (e.g., ticket handling). A transactional survey may follow for instance each service call to assess satisfaction or progress.

  • Indirect feedback: Indirect feedback refers to instances when the employee is speaking about the company but does not necessarily have the intention to give feedback. It refers to what employees tell others about you through their communities, social networks, and the web.

  • Inferred feedback: Inferred feedback identifies how a tool or service is used to achieve a desired outcome with effectiveness and efficiency. This is typically derived from transactional, behavioural and operational data associated with the employee experience or journey across different touch points. Examples of inferred data include HR contact center data, clicks, views, or number of calls to the HR service center related to a certain issue.

In order to get a meaningful view on the employee experience and how to improve it, these different types of feedback need to complement each other. A rising or falling score in employee satisfaction with a certain service transaction doesn’t in itself reveal what is driving the trend. Operational data may then provide an objective comparison to self-reported employee feedback and be used to identify specific pain points that lead to perceptions of poor experience.

Similarly, operational and behavioural data may be difficult to interpret by themselves or be less relevant without being able to link them to overall employee engagement or satisfaction scores. Poor hand-offs between steps in a journey can leave the employee satisfied with individual interactions, but still frustrated with the overall experience being delivered.

Condition 2: Cross-functional data-sharing

Shaping the employee experience using these different sorts of feedback across the employee lifecycle represents a radical change in many HR organisations, where gathering employee feedback typically mirrors organisational structure: communication departments gather input on intranet usage or sentiment, HR service delivery examines transactional and user experience data and the people analytics department (increasingly) is responsible for employee survey management. This leads to the inability to drive holistic change and will ultimately produce a disjointed experience for your employees.

Each HR unit gathers information via its own methodologies and for its own use, stranding critical information in silos and depriving companies the benefit of getting a cross-functional 360-degree view on the employee.

The emergence of employee experience programs should bring some radical changes to this. As outlined earlier in this article, the employee experience is shaped by different environments, and therefore understanding it requires integrating and analysing data capturing perceptions and behaviours across culture, technology, physical environment and work conditions.

For most organisations, managing the employee experience through a single view – that includes unified feedback data – is perceived as a difficult area requiring huge investment. It doesn’t have to be. Today, organisations can combine data collected from HR service delivery systems with survey and other employee data, conduct analyses of both individual and aggregate responses in real time, and then automatically route and track issues needing resolution.

Instead, the biggest challenge will be in the way different departments work together. To secure success, check out my article ‘The Number 1 Challenge to Data-driven Employee Experience Success and How to Start Addressing it’, in which I share 3 tips to promote cross-functional data-sharing and integration and get the best out of your transformational efforts.

Condition 3: Expertise in or partnerships in people and HR analytics

Having a continuous listening and cross-functional data-sharing program in place is only as good as your ability to translate different data into relevant insights and actions towards the employee experience. In my article ‘Why HR Analytics is Critical to Employee Experience Success’ I outlined three ways how HR analytics will deliver a significant value in delivering and sustaining experiences that truly engage your best employees and can add value to the business:

  • Employee segmentation: Apply clustering techniques to identify groups of employees with similar needs/preferences or with different drivers of satisfaction across touch points.

  • Targeting and prioritising investments: Use analytics to determine the current and potential value of employees and determine who to target with which initiative, in which channel, and when. Similarly, proactively determine which employees are at risk of poor engagement or leaving the organisation and what tactics are most likely to keep them engaged or want to stay. All these insights can be used to understand where and how to allocate resources more intelligently and maximise ROI.

  • Understanding and demonstrating value: Linking experience and satisfaction data with HR and business-critical metrics will show what works, for whom and why (which drivers contribute to success).

Therefore, make sure to invest in building the right analytical capabilities when transforming to a more employee-centric organisation. Alternatively, if your organisation doesn’t have the right capabilities to perform advanced analytics on a broader set of integrated data, make sure to invest in a strategic partnership with a provider that has a deep understanding of advanced people analytics and can help you to get the insights needed.

Conclusion

Unless your company understands the personal and subjective employee experiences across different environments and the role every function plays in shaping them, employee experience is more a slogan than an attainable goal. Improving the employee experience is the end game, but getting there requires, continuous listening, feedback from multiple channels and functions, integrated to give a holistic picture of the employee lifecycle. Only with these three conditions in place, your organisation will be able to understand where to invest and how to maximise employee value through dynamic, personalised treatment.

Are you looking to move from doing what is simply interesting, new, or easy to what will actually make a meaningful, positive impact on an employee’s experience and business outcomes? I'm happy to help designing a pragmatic approach to capture, integrate and analyse the employee experience across different environment and all channels of interaction.