A new subject for a business inevitably raises questions, all the more so when it results, as is now commonplace, in the creation of new jobs or new job titles.
In the almost 3 years that I have been Director of Employee Experience, I have had the pleasure of talking to many companies and professionals who are curious and interested in the approach and who want to understand concretely how this trendy theme that is experience and that was originally applied to the customer could be applied to the employee.
Hence the idea of this post to summarize all this and take the opportunity to twist the neck to some preconceived ideas.
One does not always care about the employee’s experience for the sake of caring for employees
I’ve often been told “it’s logical that you ended up here, you’ve always had a passion for internal organization, management and people”. True enough. But I used to do it very well in the consulting business so I didn’t really need to switch to an internal position. And to be honest, taking care of people is not the reason that brought me here but rather a consequence.
I say this even if it is surprising, because I have had the chance in recent years to meet a number of people in the same type of position, no matter how different the titles are, and I have really been able to distinguish two types of profiles. All of them have an “HR/People” sensibility at the base but it has not been expressed in the same way throughout their careers. And this often translates into two radical visions of the function.
The first profile, precisely, is “pure HR”. He or she has spent most of his or her career in the function or in peripheral functions and has always been dedicated to dealing with people in one way or another. And it is logical that one day they will be in charge of the employee’s experience (or another name used to say the same thing) with the mission of improving the employee’s work context.
people/HR/management/organization sensibility but has rather made a career on the business and customer side. There are people who have been in consulting, marketing people, operations managers who at one point are offered the opportunity (or triggered it) to change their playing field and have seized it. For those, of which I am a part, the logic has most often been different.
All those with whom I have spoken and who have followed this path have started from an observation that can be made in absolutely every company in the world. They were in charge of selling, executing, driving in one way or another a promise made to customers, they were among those who asked employees to be always more efficient, to run faster and faster, and they realized that what prevented them from moving as fast as expected, from being at the expected level of performance, were the balls that the company itself hung on their ankles. Being on the business side their primary concern was logically the number, the sales, the profitability but they realized that the first lever to improve all this was internal.
Some causes of underperformance are acceptable, others are not.
There are many reasons why a team, a department, a business unit does not achieve its objectives.
The most frequently mentioned are customers who are difficult to manage, immature or too demanding, a poor economic context, aggressive competitors or competitors who have a better product or any external factor that can be described as a crisis. These are causes that are easy to point out, about which we waste a lot of time unnecessarily lamenting and discussing while we cannot do anything about it. They are external factors on which you have no way of having an impact in the short term, or even no way of having an impact at all. These are what I call acceptable causes because teams have no power over them and have no way of improving things on their own. Blaming them for this is like thinking that you can just honk the horn to dissolve a traffic jam.
On the other hand, you have a complicated organisation, cumbersome processes and internal decision-making circuits, a lack of collaboration and information sharing, defective or insufficient tools, a human and managerial context that makes the work difficult and leads to disengagement. These are the causes that I describe as unacceptable because it is the company that is the cause and tolerates them and, in doing so, generates by itself in all conscience the performance deficit that it blames its employees for.
The people in this case did not choose to leave the customer to take care of the employee, but to take care of the employee to better serve the customer and thus return the company more efficient and hopefully profitable. They made the choice to focus on the issues they could have an impact on rather than lamenting over issues they had no control over. They decided that fighting all day long against their own organization was not a sustainable solution and that it was better to transform it.
These people also decided to have an impact on the employee’s work context, but in a different way.
Two visions of employee experience
I intentionally used the word “context” in both cases. And it’s logical because by definition an experience is what the employee experiences at work, so it’s inseparable from the context in which he or she finds himself or herself. But I have found over time that depending on the profile of the person in charge of the subject, the word does not have the same meaning.
For the first profile I will speak of “non-operational” context. This is a “well being”, “care” or even “happiness” approach. It will use all possible levers to improve what the employee experiences at work…but outside his or her job. What I usually caricature crudely is “putting a sauna next to the torture room” since one takes care of the employee only when he or she is not working, not producing.
For the second profile I will use the term “operational context”. This is more of a performance-based approach and the aim is to remove all the friction points that prevent employees from delivering their full potential individually and collectively. It is a question of firstly tackling the torture room, and secondly there is nothing wrong with a sauna.
What’s the best option?
I’m not hiding my bias for the second one, but it’s just a personal opinion and it doesn’t really answer the question. Here we are on the side of the person in charge of the function and his or her vision of the position, largely conditioned by his or her background.
Actually, it all depends on what the company wants to do. Maybe the “operational” part is already the responsibility of someone else, in which case the employee’s experience recovers what is missing. Maybe the company does not want to venture into the promising but sometimes politically sensitive field of simplifying the organization and its processes. Maybe it only wants to make cosmetics. Maybe it doesn’t want to “undress” its HR function too much… It’s all a question of context, ambition and then it’s just a matter of finding the right profile.
In short, there is no profile or typical path to steer the employee experience, you just have to be clear about what you put into it.