We here at Benefex can see a change coming. Allow me to elaborate…
Any business, in any sector, will talk about how their customers are their central focus. In the lead-up to securing a new client, we will all point to the research we undertake, and that research is extensive. It will focus not just on the history of that organisation, but also on the people within it. We want to understand the values of that organisation, the ambitions of that organisation, and ultimately, how best we can work with that organisation. The level of research is both conventional in terms of reading articles, reviewing our own relevant data, and sector analysis published by research bodies. But, it is also the less conventional - the LinkedIn ‘stalking’ as it has affectionately become known - method of research; people looking for any glimpse that can better support their understanding of those they will be seeking to build relationships with. Having secured that new client, attention then turns to managing that customer. Account meetings, regular catch-ups and CSR tools – all designed with the single purpose of making sure we don’t lose sight of the needs of our customer and they don’t lose sight of our unwavering focus on understanding them. All are crucially focused on making sure we give them the best customer experience imaginable. Why? Because they are so valuable to us. They support our growth, they support our organisation's brand and they make just about everything else possible.
The question I would pose though, is that whilst there can be no doubting their importance, there is another group of people who are just as key to our success, our brand and they make just about everything else possible – our employees!
Our employees are those people we trust with the task of being the face of our organisations to our customers. They are the physical representation of our brand and our values. Without them we are just a group of people working on a task. With them, we can be truly unstoppable – a force of nature. So this explains why employee engagement as a concept has gathered such traction. Organisations have realised that high engagement delivers better results for them. Many have realised that disengaged employees are in fact a far more dangerous proposition, and the below images bring this to life:
Now, the above examples are highly visual, and in many roles this disengagement can manifest itself in more subtle, but no less destructive ways. It could be that recurring lateness of an employee that influences those around us; their tone with our customers or their lack of interest in the shared success of the company, and lack of understanding the organisation they work with. And whilst there is clear consensus that employee engagement is key, the shift we are seeing is in how best to tackle that engagement.
Our belief is that great employee experiences drive engagement.
Engagement impacts not just the quality of the task performed, but it also impacts the wider spectrum of an organisation's strategic challenges.
Firstly, retention. We must not kid ourselves into thinking that employees do not have a choice like our customers. Customers have a choice to switch their supplier, and similarly, at a time when unemployment remains low and increased social mobility is widespread, there is a war for talent out there. To borrow a statement made by the respected commentator Josh Bersin, that ‘war is being won by talent’. The very best people, those who have the ability to deliver the success for organisations are, unsurprisingly, in high demand. Social norms no longer dictate that we have a job for life, but instead we have a job that forms part of our career. Moving between roles is normal, and the default of remaining loyal to your employer is increasingly replaced by a challenging view that employees need to feel like there is a reason to stay. Whilst watching a recent presentation by Simon Sinek, one that had quite a bit of fall out as it strayed into the subject matter of millennials (a broader subject for another day!) one thing - and perhaps that which caused the most debate - was this sense of entitlement that is increasingly present within the workforce. I don’t believe this is driven by the people themselves but a factor of the environment that they are within. Choice is an ever-present.
Secondly, and very closely linked, is the battle to bring people into the business. When we are speaking with our clients about their offering to employees, it is broader than just the base salary or even the bonus at the end of the year. The evidence is palpable in our desire for increasingly innovative total reward statements, and the inclusion of perks like the additional day off work for birthdays, or a free breakfast. However, if we explore further, we can see that increasingly, people are as motivated by the purpose of the organisation they work with as they are by their salary. For those of you like me who studied management theories, Herzberg and his hygiene factors started to bring this concept to life. People are not motivated by money, security or the conditions they work in, but they can quickly become demotivated when these base conditions are not achieved. Employees are instead drawn to a brand, but less so because of what it means for the CV. It is now more for the story they can then tell their friends about where they work. It is now less fashionable to speak with your chest puffed out about how you work for a major brand, instead it is more about the opportunities that working for that major brand enables you to have through its purpose and mission.
Employee experience is just as key as the experience we give to our customers.
Having thrown up this challenge for employers, it is only fair we now consider the art of the possible. We’ve got this concept of employee experience and we have clearly identified the reason there should be focus in this area, but how should we best tackle it?
For many years, technology has been heralded as HR’s key tool for any issue around engagement. I would agree it is a key tool, and certainly an enabler, but what we have seen within the market is that some providers have simply surfaced more and more technology, without a clear strategy that underpins it. We’ve also got to remember that our employees have a job to do. Simply adding technology does not give them extra time to access or use those tools as readily as necessary. We’ve tended to see that even the best tech launch will see a drop in usage in subsequent months without further focus, so creating a behaviour of ready usage is best achieved by building it into a powerful experience that rewards the user, and feels relevant to them.
Here at Benefex, we talk with our clients about engagement loops, by which we mean a large number of small interactions, which together make for a powerful experience. As part of that, we need to ensure that the content we are surfacing is relevant to the employees concerned, and that is where technology has a key role to play. Our OneHub software has the ability to segment and, ultimately, target relevant messaging to employee populations. It is also about making things as easy as possible for employees, so bringing the content into a single place is a great first step. Ultimately, this focuses on the ‘how?’ Therefore our consulting team focuses on the ‘what?’ and the ‘why?’. The two are intrinsically linked when considering the experience of an employee, in that the ‘why?’ should drive the ‘what?’
At one level, that could be thinking about bringing the access point of things like pensions and payslips into a single place. At a more complex level, it is about bringing together the tools to shape that experience – things like recognition from your peers, or a constant reminder of the values of the organisation and how they align to your own, or the gentle touch of your employer supporting you with things like your wellbeing. You could call it an ‘Intranet of Me’. In an ever-changing fast-paced world, people don’t have time to research why they work for the best organisation, they need to feel it!
The focus on engagement is unlikely to disappear, and it shouldn’t. We would instead argue that the employers who achieve the greatest success in this area will be those who focus on influencing each employee's experience.
Chances are, an employee's conversation over dinner with a friend will give great insight into this success. Will they reference their workload, and the tasks on their to-do list? Or, more powerfully, will they talk about what it feels like to work at that organisation, how it supports them and their role in the wider purpose? Both come from working at the same organisation, but the latter is more likely shaped by their experience. It is also likely to result in that employee's loyalty to the organisation, their support for the organisation, and someone whom you wouldn't mind standing in front of your biggest customer.