Employee experience is the new battleground in the war for talent. How can HR design a compelling Employee Experience and manage it at scale? Our new EX maturity model offers an implementation roadmap and readiness diagnostic to help HR executives focus limited resources on the right actions and align with their digital HR strategy.
Alice wanted to be a NASA engineer and dreamed of space travel as a child. Today, she’s an expert data analyst. She loves finding insights and digging patterns out of huge datasets. Her favorite (half-) joke is: ‘It works in practice, but will it work in theory?’
Alice is a high-performer. She receives frequent calls from recruiters across industries – seems everyone needs expert data analysts these days! In November 2017, Alice joined Acmeforce Inc. a market-leader in the outlandish and self-defeating hardware category. Her team is at the cutting edge of AI / machine learning, and they are designing an AI-powered rocket-on-wheels to capture a $1B market opportunity.
After 10 months in the company, Alice resigned and joined the new mobility startup ‘Bipedal Inc.’ Her college roommate had great things to say about life at Bipedal and so did Glassdoor. Alice felt underwhelmed by her first year at Acmeforce; she couldn’t put a finger on it, but she just wasn’t that excited or committed.
Pulse engagement data gave an indication that Alice belonged to an ‘at risk’ employee segment. Her manager couldn’t act on the data and ultimately failed to convince her to stay. His (unverifiable) justification was that Bipedal offered a large salary /equity differential: ‘There was nothing I could do! Oh, and by the way, our salaries are not competitive in this market, should we give everyone a raise?’.
It will take a minimum of four months to find another qualified statistician – same job posting, back on the same recruiters’ desk.
Let’s track Alice’s experience across her 10 months-long employee journey and look for triggers of disengagement. The green lines below join Alice’s experience levels across multiple journeys at the company (this is only a subset of the 20+ journeys she went through):
Drawing a line between this small sample of negative experiences, Acmeforce missed Alice’s expectations at key touchpoints: poor experience of company values during an interview, unexpected lack of company attention to obvious details, and low manager availability. The gap widened between Alice’s initial idea of the company and the reality she experienced.
At the ninth-month mark, Alice’s latest skills assessment showed that she was missing a couple of key skills and she was not contributing at her usual standards – a tough thing to digest for a high performer.
Negative experiences spanned across functional silos within and outside HR (manager, facilities, IT, …). From Alice’s perspective there were no processes or silos, just experiences across journeys with a few memorable negatives and a concerning capstone (poor result on skill assessment). As Daniel Kahneman told a journalist in 2013 on experience and memory, and which he paraphrased from his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, ‘What defines a story are changes, significant moments and endings.’
Despite some high points, negative experiences combined to fuel disengagement as Alice was (unconsciously) weighing other options along the way. Her stance evolved from early doubts – beginning with an interviewer who asked if she was married – to asking herself, ‘Is this my dream job/company?’ A well-timed call from Bipedal’s CTO tipped the balance towards an exit. Acmeforce has lost Alice forever, and a significant chunk of productivity:
- Time and cost of finding Alice’s replacement
- Time and cost of onboarding Alice’s replacement
- Opportunity cost – work not done at full productivity (0-80%) during 14 months for Alice’s replacement (time to fill + onboarding)
- Potential damage to other employees’ engagement (Alice will likely discuss her decision with other hires from the November 17 start class and tell them how excited she is about Bipedal. She might also write a post on Glassdoor.)
Alice is one individual only. Yet, the same causes – a preventable set of negative experiences which caused Alice’s departure — will have the same negative engagement effects on the next talented analysts coming through the door, pushing Acmeforce’s $1B business opportunity further out of reach.
That is, until Acmeforce swings its focus from managing employee engagement – the effect – to designing and managing employee experience – the cause.
Translated to the real world, as an explanation for Alice’s exit decision and a potential way forward for Acmeforce’s HR department: Experience precedes engagement.
The best companies validate this principle with outside customers every day. Using ‘outside-in,’ customer-centric agile design, they craft better product / service experiences and win the customer war. They’ve acknowledged and acted on a new reality:
1. Customers have increased choice and transparency in what and from whom they purchase. The balance of power has tilted their way.
2. Customer Experience drives decision-making when it comes to vendor choice and share of wallet.
Substitute the word ‘customers’ with ‘Alice’ and the new reality holds true for employees, too. Winning the talent war requires a similar shift in perspective.
The great news is: HR can take control and actively design journeys that provide employees with a compelling experience at work. Questions: Where to start, what is the ultimate vision and what should HR start and stop doing to advance on the journey?
TI people, in partnership with over 35 global HR organizations, has co-created a platform to design and manage employee experience at scale.
Spanning more than 10 personas (Alice is one of them) and 20 employee journeys, the platform provides EX design, measurement, dashboard and reporting capabilities to drive EX progress in a global organisation. As our co-creation advances, and through the work realized with our clients, we’ve identified five stages of EX organisational maturity:
Before describing these stages in detail, let’s define some terms and explore the three categories of capabilities we’ll use to measure progress:
Glossary of terms: (illustration below)
- CX = Customer Experience: The experience of (outside) customers across customer journeys
- EX = Employee Experience: The experience of employees across employee journeys (HR-owned or not)
- CxHR = Customer experience of HR: The experience of (internal) customers of HR (employees, managers, contingent workers) across HR-owned journeys
- Employees: In the broadest sense of the term, i.e. candidates, employees and alumni
Key HR capabilities:
- Agile HR service design: Using ‘outside-in’ design tools to craft compelling experiences for key employee personas along their employee lifecycle journeys at the company.
- CxHR management: Always-on, KPI-based, management of HR’s performance in delivering compelling experiences to its internal customer personas. Ability to measure ‘in the moment’ experience across touchpoints and journeys.
- Applification and AI: Use ‘point solution’ apps and AI tools to increase scalability of HR services while still delivering compelling experiences. Prioritize investments based on both EX data and ROI.
Ground Level: Unmanaged EX
Organisations in this category are the closest to Acmeforce’s approach to EX: They’re running a tight HR ship and invest a great deal in digital HR and innovation: Rolling-out a new cloud-based HR system to improve HR efficiency and data quality, they measure engagement metrics on a regular basis and experiment with various apps, AI and bots.
Were we to ask Acmeforce’s HR team, “Are you designing and managing Alice’s experience?” They would answer, “Yes, of course. We’re doing two things:”
1. We measure engagement with continuous pulse surveys
2. We use agile design to improve user experience (UX) of HRIS system users
The confusion is understandable but as illustrated earlier Acmeforce’s HR team is neither designing nor managing Alice’s experience, nor that of other key personas in the organisation:
1. Alice’s engagement is driven by her experience. Solving the engagement problem means designing a compelling experience (solving the root cause) and measuring it in the moment, at the touchpoint level. Engagement metrics tell us about the result of poor experiences long after they took place; not which specific touchpoints and journeys caused the poor experience and need redesign.
2. Alice’s most important journeys, such as onboarding, role change, relocation, life events, etc., are filled with cross-silo human interactions that escape ‘inside-out’ HRIS process maps. UX design misses the whole picture, focusing only on a subset of experiences: Interactions with HR systems.
In summary, Acmeforce operates HR as an ‘inside-out’ provider of services, ‘spraying’ experiences onto the personas they serve.
However, personas such as Alice see journeys, not processes: employees navigate journeys across swim lanes, silos and functions. What are the odds that a set of processes designed from the ‘inside-out’ around policies and silos reconcile into a compelling ‘outside-in’ journey?
At Acmeforce, employees fall into unmanaged experience gaps that eventually lead to disengagement and exit. Typical markers of this stage are:
Agile HR service design (level 0)
1. Design efforts are centered on building and automating a comprehensive HR service catalogue of ‘inside-out’ processes, policies and workflows
2. Some work on user experience (UX) design for frequent users of HR systems
CxHR management (level 0)
1. Measure engagement rather than experience => no CxHR management
2. Measure UX for HRIS systems => no CxHR management
Applification and AI (level 0)
1. Ad Hoc: Point solutions and bots are purchased as individual productivity boosters, with no reference to or guidance from EX journey design or EX data
2. This will lead to poor experiences in important moments (moments that matter), where the continuity and flow of the journey matters as much as the quality of its touchpoints
At this ground level, inaction is the obvious risk, but the ‘illusion of action’ is a more pernicious (and expensive) risk: Acmeforce would feel great about investing in cloud technology, innovative AI, continuous engagement pulse and other ‘digital goodies’ yet remain an inside-out organisation with lagging EX capability and performance.
Meanwhile, talent competitors are making real progress on the EX maturity curve by building CxHR design capabilities as a foundation of their engagement strategy. The war for talent is a zero-sum game.
Level One: Piloting
HR teams that intuitively grasped this ‘agile design’ deficit have begun to act. They’ve trained or certified HR staff on the discipline of customer-centric, ‘outside-in’ design (or design thinking). They’ve often partnered with consultants or training organisations to run hackathons and used internal communication channels to broadcast the new message of experience design across the organization.
At this point, few EX benefits have been captured and it’s hard to reconcile current efforts with the digital HR investment roadmap, testing HRLT’s resolve with the direction taken.
Let’s look at the markers:
Agile HR service design (level 1)
1. Training or certifying HR teams on agile design / service design thinking methods
2. Hold a series of pilot hackathons across select journeys/personas
CxHR management (level 1)
1. Measure NPS (Net Promoter Score) at journey level to validate hackathon results
2. Unfortunately, journey NPS misses ‘in the moment’ touchpoint-level CxHR data, offering only a synthetised opinion after the fact. For example, Alice’s frustrating experiences in the first month of onboarding would aggregate into a broad NPS measurement at the end of the 10 months journey (had she not exited before the measurement could take place). HR would miss an opportunity to detect the issues and redesign EX-destroying touchpoints
Applification and AI (level 1)
1. Ad-Hoc. There is no comprehensive EX coverage of employee journeys across the organization, therefore no EX frame of reference to prioritize App/AI investments
These pilots are the first floorboard of an experience design platform – a new HR capability focused on the design of compelling experiences for employees. An encouraging start, but initial challenges appear:
- How to move beyond the first couple of pilots and ‘make it stick,’ i.e. scale the approach to many personas and journeys across a global organization?
- How to reconcile ‘outside-in’ design efforts with internal ‘inside-out’ systems and processes?
For ‘Level 1’ companies, there’s a substantial risk of a ‘flash in the pan’ – a burst of innovation leading to incremental, scattered gains but no coordinated forward roadmap. HR teams at this level realise that EX management goes beyond a design thinking workshops, training and communication efforts. It needs a structured platform.
Taking L1 as a gateway to higher maturity levels, practitioners (often a small group of innovative HR leaders) pilot the approach on a few prioritized HR journeys and a couple of key personas representing the most strategic and scarce workforce segments.
Most of our clients begin with personas such as Alice and both candidate and onboarding journeys as pilots. It is worth noting that had Acmeforce done this and with a bit of luck, they might have prevented Alice’s departure.
Level 2: Designing
Moving from L1 to L2 is about scaling CxHR design. L2 companies have established the proof of concept. They’re committed to the agile design path and aim for maximum coverage across employee journeys, personas and business units. They use consistent, scaled, design methodologies.
They’ve assigned senior HR leaders as ‘journey owners’ for the journeys most aligned to their department – not a perfect fit since journeys almost never exclusively involve a single HR silo! Journey owners oversee EX journey mapping efforts with cross-functional teams and are accountable for progress.
Other L2 companies with strong customer-facing CX performance and experienced CX leaders leverage the internal leadership bench by rotating customer-facing business executives to HR and lead the EX initiative.
Most L2 companies realise EX gains from no-nonsense, employee-centric redesign of key touchpoints and journeys. Using a scaled and interactive methodology, they eliminate redundant steps, make pragmatic design calls, leverage cross-functional design teams, etc…
Key markers are:
Agile HR service design (level 2)
1. Scaled, interactive design methodology across most journeys and personas. Centralized capture, documentation and management of all key design elements
2. Local versioning of central design templates to account for EX preferences by geography / BU
CxHR management (level 2)
1. Broad use of NPS at journey level to drive design efforts and trigger journey redesign. As noted in L1 we’re still missing the ability to measure touchpoint-level EX
2. Emerging discipline of continuous improvement / redesign of journey maps
Applification and AI (level 2)
1. Broad coverage of journey and personas combined with occasional NPS data establishes an EX frame to prioritise AI / bots investments, by EX impact and ROI. Inputs naturally flow from design/redesign activities across the organisation
Had Acmeforce been an L2 company, there’s a good chance that Alice could have been on her way to great accomplishments in the firm since some of the preventable negative experiences would have been weeded out across journeys. Some, but not all, negative experiences. Two change management challenges would still get in the way:
1. Business partners and non-HR support functions play crucial roles in all employee journeys. While intentions are collectively good, it is hard to obtain sustained participation from partners and their commitment to changing EX-destroying behavior, rooted in years of repetition and legacy assumptions
2. Lessons from customer-facing CX champions show that journey owners and cross-functional teams can lose the ‘fire in the belly’ to keep improving experiences over time. How to install the practice of Agile HR redesign and CxHR management as a standard operating system for HR?
There is one silver bullet for both challenges: ‘In the moment’ EX Data
Level 3: Measuring
L3 practitioners use EX KPIs at touchpoint and journey level in two ways: 1. They measure HR teams on EX delivery to their customers; and, 2. They hold business partners accountable to EX-enhancing behaviors as measured by the data.
Since experience is not an absolute quantity, they use EX benchmarking to track and improve relative performance using cross-geography/industry datasets.
At this stage, CxHR becomes a new currency to manage HR by the quality of experience it delivers, knowing that engagement outcomes will soon follow (as they have in the customer-facing world).
Key markers are:
Agile HR service design (level 3)
1. Continuous redesign of journeys and touchpoints is guided by comprehensive CxHR data coverage
2. CxHR management (level 3)
Measurement sources are:
1. ‘in the moment’ experience survey data with a simple question format
2. ‘second-hand’ data sourced through APIs to enterprise systems (i.e. HRIS, ATS, Outlook…). See our ‘measurement tetris’ article for more discussion on measurement approaches
3. HR teams are held accountable to EX KPIs. Dashboards are visible at touchpoint, journey and HRLT levels
4. Intra- and inter-company EX benchmarking drives performance
Applification and AI (level 3)
1. EX dashboards are connected to the Digital HR roadmap, giving full transparency into EX impact of technology investments, based on EX measurements and benchmarks
Level 3 companies are managing CxHR in full, constantly improving the design and the efficiency of employee journeys based on tracked KPIs and reaping EX rewards. Alice might still be a flight risk, but not from HR-owned journeys.
What about other, non-HR journeys? Going to the cafeteria, attending ‘all hands’ meetings, using non-HR systems and apps, interacting with co-workers and colleagues – how do these moments all feel? Until now, we have focused our work on employee journeys that are owned by HR – in the spirit of improving ourselves first. However, the full scope of EX spans a broader journey universe that extends beyond HR’s control and includes functions that HR only has influence over. How to manage ‘Total EX’?
Vision: Total EX
Let’s consider the preliminary question of who should manage ‘Total EX’? There are several possible answers (diffuse ownership across functions, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Experience Officer, etc.) and it would be a good discussion to have in further articles.
However, our opinion at TI People is that CHROs and their teams should own the problem of EX and coordinate its resolution by functional players, following a consistent methodology. Why? Two main reasons:
1. HR is accountable to the CEO for employee outcomes (engagement, productivity, occupancy rates, etc.), of which ‘total EX’ is a critical driver
2. Through the practice of CxHR at levels 2-3, HR has built an experience design capability that applies to other internal employee journeys. Who else could educate functional leaders on key employee personas and their changing EX requirements while maintaining consistency across the organization?
We do not know of an organisation currently operating at this level (please let us know if you do!), but our ‘vision-level’ markers are:
Agile HR service design (level 4)
1. Continuous redesign of all employee journeys and touchpoints is guided by comprehensive EX measurement data coverage
2. HR holds central EX design elements: Design methodology, Personas, EX benchmarks, etc.
CxHR management (level 4)
1. HR is accountable to ‘Total EX’ KPIs at CEO level
2. Dashboards visible at touchpoint, journey, functional Leadership Teams and CEO level
Applification and AI (level 2)
1. EX dashboards are connected to and guide prioritization of the Digital HR roadmap, giving full transparency into EX impact of HR Tech investments
2. EX dashboards are connected to and guide prioritization of other functional investment roadmaps
A Level 4 company would be a formidable talent competitor and benefit from two streams of business value:
1. High engagement and low regretted attrition driving productivity and availability of talent (+25% productivity opportunity)
2. Constant ‘outside-in‘ EX design creaings a culture of customer-centricity: Alice is more likely to design customer-centric products/services if the company ‘walked the agile talk’ with EX. Such a culture benefits outside customers and drives faster growth (+23% Revenue Growth opportunity)
At this point, HR can contribute to the organisation as a crucial actor of the ‘G3’ (CEO, CHRO, CFO) and hold the strategic role illustrated in Dominic Barton’s article ‘People Before Strategy: A New Role for the CHRO’.
In summary, our EX maturity model is a roadmap to design increasingly compelling work experiences for Alice and other key employee segments. Every forward step has visible short-term impact on EX and shifts the HR team’s perspective towards an ideal balance of ‘outside-in’ design and scaled service delivery.
The fastest movers on this roadmap win and keep the best talent. Where are you on the journey?