The flow of work, glass ceiling of the employee experience

When one looks at the way companies go about improving the work of their employees, three types of initiatives can be observed.

Three levels of action for employee experience

The former are peripheral to work and, moreover, one can wonder if they have their place here because they play the nuance between “at work” and ” while working”. They are basically everything that relates to the employee’s experience outside of the work context, the quality of life at work, etc.

Example: the employee who enjoys the benefits of his works council is at work just like the one playing the playstation in the dedicated corner of the open space, taking advantage of the newly installed gym or the yoga class given during the lunch break. On the other hand, the one who is at his desk in front of his computer doing his work or behind a machine fine-tuning his settings is working.

Seconds are spent in the flow of work, no matter if this flow is rigid or informal in order to remove friction points, to make things more fluid.

The second take place in the flow of work, no matter if this workflow is rigid or informal in order to remove friction points, to make things more fluid.

Example: simplification and digitalization of processes, implementation of a Lean/Agile approach, automation of tasks and reporting.

The third are on the border between the first two, although in my opinion closer to the second. They affect the context in which the employee does his or her work, they are the things that make the flow of work fluid and easy.

Example: work on employees’ soft skills, implementation of a managerial model, training systems and tools, goal setting, implementation of a fully integrated digital workplace with an emphasis on integration between business tools on the one hand and collaborative and business tools on the other.

Impact vs. Sustainability

Which ones are the most important? I don’t think that’s the right way to ask the question. For me all these approaches are equally important but do not have the same objectives.

Business ImpactNatureCategory
Peripheral to workWeakQualitativeSustainability
In the flow of workStrongOperationalBusiness
On the context of the flow of workRelativeTransformativeInfrastructure

All this deserves some explanation.

Initiatives peripheral to the flow of work have an impact on the business that only manifests itself in the long term and, if it is certain, remains minor compared to the two others. It is more a question of improving the qualitative relationship between the person and the company, at work, to allow him to be part of the long-term without physical or mental breathlessness.

Initiatives on the flow of work have a strong business impact because they affect the very activity of production and value creation. We are therefore in a logic of operational excellence both from the point of view of the organization and the individuals. The objective is therefore exclusively business-oriented.

Initiatives addressing the flow of work context have only a relative impact on the business. Indeed it is a question of putting a potential at the service of the organization and the employee, a potential of skills, tools…. but this potential will only be exploited if the operations (the workflow) are designed to take advantage of it by transforming the potential into value. So it’s about creating a kind of infrastructure that makes things possible.

Lessons learned from collaboration initiatives

For the former readers of my blog, this will not be without reminding the debates we already had in the years 2005-2010 when we were talking about collaboration and more specifically about new forms and uses made possible by social web tools such as enterprise social networks.

A distinction was made between “in the flow” collaboration that took place within the company’s processes and “above the flow” collaboration, which was purely voluntary and informal, took place outside the flow of work even if it was intended to contribute to it.

Since we’ve been through the same situation before and we know why the problem is still unresolved, we can build on it to accelerate our learning curve in terms of employee experience.

1°) It’s not a question of business but of culture

Pick a person, give him the topic, the way he will position himself in relation to the three approaches will be the result of his culture and that of the company. You will see people who have a 100% human prism, those who are driven by the organization and the processes and those who are in between and want to move both forward together in a coherent way.

2°) “Or” vs. “And”.

Since the debate is of a cultural nature, there will be a tendency to oppose the interest and the benefits of this or that approach when they are indispensably complementary.

3°) One must not touch the core of the engine.

The closer you get to the flow of work, the more the organization protects itself from change in an almost unconscious way. It’s easier to let you buy playstations for the break room than to change the way work is actually done.

4°) But at the end there is business

Levitt told us that a company’s goal is “to create and retain customers. Put another way, in the end it is the business dimension that is the purpose of the system even if it needs the two others. Otherwise it will quickly become dysfunctional and unsustainable in terms of performance. Here again we must not fool ourselves: the idea is not to say that it alone counts, but that everything that is done elsewhere and that does not contribute to it by nature is of no use, and that what contributes to it by nature but is not used is wasted.

5°) The need to combine vision and business skills in order to transform

At the time, I said that one could not be an “expert in collaboration” because without knowledge what employees really do to achieve their work one could only apply principles. Principles that can be innovative, that can change things but that must be translated into the reality on the ground for each collaborator, for each team. It is the same for the employee’s experience: it is a vision more than a job: the job requires knowledge of the field in order to have an impact. If a person cannot have both, then he or she must make allies in the field.

The glass ceiling

The concept of employee experience collides with the same glass ceiling as many other subjects before it: breaking the glass ceiling that separates good intentions from operations.

The good news is that on the customer experience side it has been done. But we all know that it’s easier to project change outward than to change oneself, even if at some point the gap between the two becomes so great that it becomes unbearable. One more reason to change?

Image : The two sides of the brain by Alberto Loose via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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