From employee experience to operational excellence: HR not so well equipped!

I already gave you my first comments on the 4th employee experience barometer published by “Parlons RH”. Here is, in addition, the interview I gave them on the occasion. This is a transcript of the original article available on Parlons RH: Companies are recruiting racehorses and putting 250 kilos on their backs.

What surprised you most about the results of this national employee experience barometer?

The good news is that the number of companies implementing employee experience policies has continued to increase, even if the pace has not accelerated. The subject continues to exist, it is not subject to a fad. This is a very good thing.

I’m a little surprised by the drop in the number of respondents who consider the employee experience “strategic” and the increase in those who consider it “important.” It is possible that not all professionals are putting the same thing behind these words. The term “strategic” may refer more to long-term performance, while “important” is more about immediate operational effectiveness, which is more likely to be sought in the emergency of a health crisis.

Above all, there is the question of the objectives of the employee experience as they emerge from the responses. The podium “engagement, global performance, attractiveness” has become “engagement, global performance, quality of life at work”. What surprises me is that, if engagement and quality of life at work are the responsibility of the HR department, what about the overall performance of the organization? This is a theme that largely escapes them. And yet it is essential and central to the employee experience.

What do you mean?

Not all the elements of the employee experience mentioned in the barometer are equally important in the life of the employee. Onboarding is essential, but it only happens once in an employee’s journey within the company. Similarly, you don’t spend your whole life in training. The peripheral facilities of the work environment are appreciable, but you don’t spend all your time in the gym. Most of an employee’s time is spent working, in a production situation.

When you ask an employee about their experience of life at work, they will first talk about their manager, their tasks, the organization. They will complain, for example, that decisions take too long, that they are not listened to, that their boss sucks, that they cannot take initiatives, that a certain tool is badly designed, that bureaucracy stifles everything, that they are pressured on the one hand while being hindered on the other… A study by the multinational ABBYY shows that one third of French employees would like to change jobs because poor process management is detrimental to their work life. Companies tend to want to recruit and train racehorses, and when the day comes, they put 250 kilos on their back.

The daily employee experience is work. You can always build a sauna next to the torture room, it will allow employees to breathe a little, but it won’t improve their work experience! The answer to these production organization problems is not found in HR. A large part of the employee experience depends on everything that makes for operational excellence: people, process, technology. In concrete terms, these are the elements that structure daily life: employees work with people, follow processes and use tools.

But then, what is the solution?

You have to look at the managers and the production management. What are their processes, their methods, how are the employees involved? Do managers destroy the initiatives of the HR department? Or on the contrary, are they setting up intelligent processes that deserve to be identified and reproduced?

At Emakina, I was the Director of Employee Experience starting in 2017. As I was a Business Director until then I could see what was “rubbing” on a daily basis among employees, generating a bad experience that was synonymous with non-performance. After three years, I had the feeling that I had done all I could do. To go further, I had to be able to get into the hard part of the production organization. That’s when I was offered the opportunity to take over operations management in addition to the employee experience. Hence my current title of “Head of people and delivery”. As Director of Operations, I have a greater impact on the employee experience than with my “people” role alone. But that means setting up real projects, which take between six months and a year, and modeling processes. It means reviewing from A to Z the way a company delivers value to its customers. I had the teams work in agile mode, just like they did for the customers. We identify together problems to be solved within 15 days, and we deal with them. Employees are involved in the continuous improvement of their own experience.

The employee experience only works if it has a concrete impact on employees’ lives. It must have an effect on operations. When you make work processes more fluid, employees are both better and more fulfilled. When an employee who used to take half a day to complete a task takes only 10 minutes, when we remove unnecessary validation steps that took days and arrived when it was too late, when we trust them… Their experience and satisfaction improve, along with their efficiency.

Operational excellence is therefore good for the employee experience.

Yes, and yet it is often a dirty word for HR! When we talk about operational excellence, lean management or even agile management, we quickly think of “cost cutting”. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about looking at what’s going on in the field to eliminate energy waste, simplify, identify everything that hinders the organizational and productive mechanics, and think together about how to improve the way we work.

These are difficult subjects to tackle with an HR hat on. You need to have legitimacy on both fronts, HR and operations, which requires specific profiles. But the employee experience is not specifically one or the other: it is both. You have to make the two work together.

These are questions that have existed for longer in industry. There are more questions about how to produce and the conditions of efficiency than in the white-collar world.

According to the barometer, companies that practice employee experience (the EX Players) were better prepared to face the health crisis and had less difficulty adapting. What about your organization?

We had implemented remote working long before the lockdown. It was not a problem to generalize it at the time of the crisis. From the beginning, when we deployed it, we didn’t think of it as an HR issue or as a privilege for certain categories of employees. Everyone is eligible, except for the receptionist and the cleaning lady, for reasons inherent to their job. Remote working is a way of organizing our production, not a benefit granted to employees.

The IT has been designed accordingly: all the tools are in the cloud. We have long been used to having meetings with people at home, others in an office, and still others in another office. We have a results-oriented culture: employees are judged by what they do, not by the time they spend in the office. We have not put in place any tools to monitor remote work. The tools, processes, rules and culture have been designed to be consistent. When it came to remote working, we thought about “work” before thinking about “remote. This allowed us to go to 100% remote working overnight without any difficulty.

In fact, any company that works well remotely works well face-to-face; but the reciprocal is not true. The transition to remote work reveals pre-existing dysfunctions which are often compensated for or masked in one way or another in the face-to-face environment. Of course, many jobs are not concerned, we must not forget that. But any activity that is done behind a screen is teleworkable. Today, we see companies refusing remote working for incomprehensible reasons. I have heard of a community manager who was not granted it!

We were also able to continue recruiting and onboarding during the lockdown. We have an onboarding system taking place over a year, with a mentor who reviews the situation with the new employee every week. We have adapted the process, adding a daily contact obligation.

EX Players are also more likely to involve their employees in the organizational changes resulting from the crisis. Is this also the case for you?

We already had feedback systems in place. We ask each employee to rate the “weekly mood” on a scale of 1 to 5. Everyone has the opportunity to report any malfunctions they identify or good ideas to be generalized, via a form. The employees really use it, because they have seen that it works. The form goes directly to the head of the company. We then prioritize the workstreams and mobilize the managers. When things work, it’s thanks to the employee. When things doesn’t work, it’s the responsibility of the leadership and the managers to improve things for their teams. It is the people on the field who make a company successful, the others, managers, executives, support functions, are there to solve the problems and put the employees on the field in the best conditions.

In my role, I don’t create value: my role is to make sure that nothing stops employees from producing and delivering their full potential. During the lockdown, this feedback process continued to operate at the same pace, without any acceleration or slowing down.

Another lesson learned from the barometer: companies that have been practicing employee experience for a long time reap more benefits than those that have just taken the plunge. When and how did you implement this approach?

Back in 2014 Emakina was the first digital agency to adopt “If you are not an experience you will no longer be a brand” as its baseline. It all started with the customer experience. And we quickly realized that there is no customer experience without an employee experience. Employees must be given the means to create the customer experience. So we created the employee experience department to apply to ourselves what we were saying to our clients

Then came, as I said, the merger of the operations department and the employee experience department. At each stage, I had the full support of my President, which is essential. The link with operations is also fundamental: this is what makes it possible to “sell” the employee experience to the financiers, to make its added value tangible. From the outset, the “employee experience” function has been represented in the Executive Committee. For us, the people experience is a business function, not just a support function.

Image : Desperate Employee by fizkes via Shuttertstock

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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