REFRAMING OLD QUESTIONS

Enough talk of past festivities — we’re a twelfth of the way through the year already, so let’s get down to business. 

Looking back at last year, eight out of every ten conversations† we had went something along the lines of:

“How do we increase engagement?” 
“How can we shift/build our culture?”

Reasonable questions. 

We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that these two things are our El Dorado; our Everest; our Holy Grail. These are the things we need to get right for people and organisations to perform at their best. Get ‘em interested! Get ‘em inspired! Build a culture!

Honourable intentions, all of them.

Yet it’s interesting that when you ask someone how their work day was, they’re unlikely to answer:

“A little bit disengaged, actually.”
Or, “really enjoyed the culture today.”

Nope. They tend to respond quite simply:

“Pretty average.”
“Ok.”
Or, hopefully (if they work with us), “it was great.”

And while culture and engagement probably influenced these answers, the wording of these answers is telling. Not surprisingly, the way people summarise a work day is no different to how they would describe any other non-work experience — watching a game, going out for dinner, or Christmas shopping.

When it comes down to it, work is just another experience — one that consumes the most hours in our day. Countless moments occurring over days, weeks, years, and careers. A series of touchpoints experienced positively, negatively, or neutrally, all merged together in our memory. Simplified into a one or two word summary. 

“Terrible.”
“Not bad.”
“Amazing.”

Never complex words like engagement or culture

Simple words, describing our memory of the experience.

I don’t mean to belittle the complexity of business or leadership. I certainly don’t mean to devalue the importance of engagement or culture. Well, maybe I do — just a little. There’s a tendency in business to overcomplicate things sometimes.

But, what if we took sheers to the typical approach? What if we no longer had to deal with big, fuzzy words like engagement or culture — vague notions that are tough to define, and even more difficult to change. 

What if we reframe the usual questions:

“How do we increase engagement?”
“How can we shift/build our culture?”

To:

“How can we shape a better employee experience?”

Then — how the possibilities shimmer! 

Because, experiences aren’t intangible. Experiences can be defined. They can be changed. They can be improved. And it’s all remarkably simple. 

By identifying all the interactions between our people and the business; mapping their days, weeks, years, and careers; and understanding the science of how we remember experiences — we can make them better.

Heck, if the process can make Christmas shopping more enjoyable, it can definitely make work more appealing.

And here’s the real kicker: by focusing only on creating great employee experiences: better onboarding; better programs; better days; better careers — there’s a really, really good chance we may also increase engagement and shift culture in a better direction as well. 

† Not strictly statistically accurate.
 

WHY EXPERIENCES? AND, WHY NOW?

For decades organisations have thrown resources with wild abandon at the customer experience. That makes sense — customers have the money, and happy customers happily hand over their money. There’s a proven return on investment that makes customer experience very easy to justify. Yet it’s only recently that businesses have seen the value in investing the same effort in their people — in the employee experience. 

Perhaps it’s a shift in mindset as millennials fill the workplace. This is a generation that sees work as more than a wage like it was for the generation before. For folk who banged away in undesirable jobs day in, day out, to support their families, that attitude probably seems a lot like entitlement. 

“We did it tough — they should just suck it up”. 

I don’t disagree, but the times — they are a changing. 

Yes, there’s an increasing expectation that companies will provide purpose and possibility. Today’s workforce wants to work for brands they believe in. Entrepreneurialism is on the rise, and real talent is becoming harder to attract, and even more difficult to retain. 

Focusing on the people inside our organisations isn’t just smart — it’s essential. And there’s increasing evidence to back the investment.

In exactly the same way customer experience leads to happier customers, employee experience leads to happier employees. And happy employees translates to whole bunch of benefits: increased engagement, better productivity, better customer experiences, increased motivation, higher quality of work, fewer injuries, lower absenteeism, and lower attrition rates, to name a few. These are not fluffy assumptions — they’re backed by cold, hard data.