The problem with measuring employee experience

Measuring employee experience is different from assessing traditional business activities. Read this blog to discover what approaches to take instead.

How do you deliver impact in a meaningful way in an organization?

You do that by defining, designing, and delivering a workforce experience that matters. We all know we are living in an experience economy, and we commonly agree that workforce experience begets customer experience. Furthermore, we generally understand that technology fuels empathy at scale in the form of experience design. So, it seems straightforward to say employee experience is a worthy and valuable mission.

Unfortunately, we still live in a world where employers need to make a business case to improve and elevate the experience of work. Do you actually need to make the case for treating people well, especially when no one really doubts that a positive employee experience helps people perform better? Why wouldn’t every leader want to create a great experience, deliver empathy at moments that really matter, understand where friction encumbers performance, or maintain a relationship after you’ve parted ways?

Employee experience suffers when organizations lack the foundational belief that business will improve when people are treated well.

This is why we have trouble connecting the dots between the need to improve employee experience and proof that it’s working. Most organizations haven’t built this belief into their organizational purpose. Unfortunately, by the time this gap becomes apparent, the “proof” you promised the organization when you embarked on an employee experience mission fed your business case, informed your technology requirements, drove your investment strategy, and set the stage for the biggest disgrace of all: ROI. Let’s come back to this.

The fundamental shift required

A fundamental shift in our understanding of workforce experience—measuring how work gets done, how work makes people feel, and designing with humans at the center of data, technology, and business strategies—will get us to a place of measuring and delivering workforce experience design for human performance. And we mustn’t forget this experience is owed to and well-deserved by every part of your worker population: candidate, full- and part-time employee, gig worker, continent labor, all. Obsess over it as you would customer experience.

In my first blog of this employee experience series for Oracle, I described the concept of personalization or E to ME (generic “experience” to “my experience”). Personalization of content, knowledge, journeys, and overall workforce experience requires data. Data is both input and output of a well-designed workforce experience. When you hyper-personalize workforce experience, people want more of it, allowing you to understand and act on what matters most to everyone, deliver targeted, relevant, tailored communication, and provide contextual guidance in the flow of work.

In the second blog of this series, I also offered a framework to self-audit your organization’s efforts to deliver a modern employee experience. What does a modern, frictionless digital workforce experience look like? What does it require, and what does it feel like? Elevated employee experience leverages empathy, proactive communication, listening, and acting on input from the workforce and is modern, simple, and inclusive of the full and extended workforce.

Focusing on the right measures of success

Reimagining the modern workplace requires a renewed understanding of what people need, want, and value. Employers play an important role in helping people thrive in their day-to-day lives, and they’re leaning in harder than ever to organizational purpose, values-driven leadership, and culture. People want to work for a purpose, drive and effect change to make the world better, and crave inspired leadership.

A whole-person approach to candidate and workforce experience puts human needs at the center of your people, culture, and technology strategies. It connects the candidate experience to the workforce experience, and it considers who they are and what will make them most effective and happy.

Technology is fuel for experience at scale, but 70% of projects fail. In an industry that spends US$8 billion per year on technology for work, the failure rate we seem to allow and accept is astounding to me. It’s also true that most workforce experience initiatives fail traditional measures of success.

Instead of wondering why we can’t get technology projects across the finish line on time and under budget, we should be asking why technology investments make almost no impact on employee experience. Even if the technology project itself was a success, a meager number of these projects report impact or improvement to employee experience. Are we missing the mark, or is the mark all wrong? I’m not sure we’re looking for the right return on investment, leading me to explain why I called ROI a disgrace (I promised to come back).

When you base workforce experience on the fundamental belief that people should be treated well, you can reframe what success looks like. I beg organizations to remember the true meaning of transformation: ‘trans’ is a complete change in the state of a thing. Too many organizations undertake HR transformation and employee experience initiatives and complete a transition of one technology to another. There is no substantial change to the way work gets done, the way people approach productivity and task completion, or how we support them. The impact on employee experience is almost nil. I challenge you to find an employee who would tell you the experience layer you put in place makes them happier, helps them thrive both personally and professionally, makes them feel seen and heard, provides more inclusive opportunity, and fosters a sense of belonging, community, and innovation.

Whether or not technology efforts associated with your employee experience initiative are on time and budget, they should be considered a failure if they make no impact on employee experience. To measure the true impact of employee experience solutions, consider your primary stakeholders first and foremost: the workforce. If you wrote an NPS survey to measure their satisfaction, what would it look like? I hope you write an employee experience vision statement when you decide to address it. If you do, your measures of success should be predefined against your guiding principles:

  • Is it simple, digital-first where possible?
  • Is it a flexible solution, inclusive of the workforce, and built to grow?
  • Is it equitable, supporting transparency of information, knowledge, and communication?
  • Is it innovative, offering consumer-like experiences, and allowing for continuous improvement?
  • Does it allow for proactive support and communication, close feedback and action loops, and resolve issues before they arise?

Proof of value for employee experience investments should have nothing to do with return on technology investment, cost of ownership, or HR technology spend per headcount. These are data points, nothing more. Proof of value for employee experience must be measured by the workforce: Did you improve their lives? Did you make things easier for them? Are you designing work for them, or are you asking them to adopt a system or workflow that doesn’t feel natural? Are you truly meeting them where they are? Ultimately, your best proof of value is when an individual can say, “This experience is right for ME.”

Employee experience continues to be the Holy Grail of Human Capital Management. Counting these programs as a success will take a fundamental shift in our philosophy around the workforce, their experience, and the outcomes we need to achieve.

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Jason Averbook

Co-founder and CEO of Leapgen

Jason Averbook is a leading analyst, thought leader and consultant in the area of human resources, the future of work and the impact technology have on that future. He is the Co-founder and CEO of Leapgen, a digital transformation company helping organizations shape their future workplace by broadening executive mindset to rethink how to better design and deliver employee services that meet the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business.
Prior to founding Leapgen, Jason Averbook served as the CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC). In 2005, he co-founded Knowledge Infusion LLC and served as its CEO until 2012, when the company was sold to Appirio. Earlier in his career, he served as the Chief Business Innovation Officer at Appirio Inc., where he led the HCM business. He has also held senior leadership roles at PeopleSoft and Ceridian Corporation. Jason has more than 20 years of experience in the HR and technology industries and has collaborated with industry-leading companies in transforming their HR organizations into strategic partners.


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