A few years ago, I had a discussion with the president of a manufacturing company in Indiana. My report indicated that employee morale and engagement were low. He didn’t like the message. “My employee engagement scores are very high” He claimed. “In fact, 95% of our employees would recommend our company to a friend or a family member” he declared triumphantly.
“Look around” I replied. “what are the alternatives?” I asked.
The company was surrounded by corn fields, farming was the second largest employer in town.
Yes, compared to working in the fields, employees would prefer to work for the manufacturer. But it didn’t mean it was the desired working environment.
The chatter around employee experience is deafening. It started several years ago when the question of “how to manage millennials” evolved into a recognition that a great customer experience requires a certain culture (dah!) and now we are in a full-fledge employee experience craze.
But what drives an exceptional employee experience?
Is it conducting an annual employee engagement studies?
Is it canceling annual performance evaluations and instead providing more frequent feedback more informally?
Is it the power of every employee to award “positive recognition” to colleagues who can then turn that positive feedback into rewards?
Is it the “bring your kid to work” program, or the Is it the rich benefits program or is it about having more lunches together?
Those and many other hot employee experience ideas are nothing more than tools. And as tools, they can each support the employee experiences but not deliver it.
“If you are seeking to create an employee experience that matters, start with impact.”
In my book Next Is Now (Simon and Schuster, 2018) I discuss a study among 30,000 employees we conducted to identify the drivers of employee engagement. The prevailing factor to drive employee engagement, and therefore create exceptional employee experiences, can be summed up in one word: Impact.
While all the employee experience ideas listed above are nice, they are table stakes. And they lack the core ingredient for an exceptional employee experience. None of them provide the ultimate engagement: making a difference. The ability to connect my work to an impact is the ultimate way to create employee experiences that matter.
At the end of the day, when the employee looks in the mirror, what would they see? Would they see the face of a tired person, busy with work devoid of purpose? Or would they see a different person reflected in the mirror? A person who arrived at the finish line exhausted but accomplished? Would they see a person who feels that their efforts made a difference or a person who feels like their time was wasted in useless meetings and busy work?
The main difference between employee experiences driven by benefits (parties and other perks) and employee experience driven by impact is very clear. The former focuses on doing things TO employees. The latter focus on ENABLING employees to do things FOR others. Benefits-driven employee experiences treat employees as either spoiled brats or people devoid of power who need things done for them. Impact-driven employee experience treats employees as mature, powerful, people ready to make a difference. This is the distinction between entitlement and empowerment. What type of employees do you want to have? What type of culture are you seeking to develop?
In the same way that having a good corporate culture does not mean “permission to party”, employee experience should not be treated as a corporate spoiling system. Both exist for a purpose: to achieve the organizations’ goals. If those goals center solely around stockholders’ value, then employee experiences will fail to inspire. On the other hand, if those goals are a mission to make a difference in the world of customers, then the employee experience may rise to create accountability and the desire to act.
This is why impact is so critical. Because it is more than treating employees as passive recipients of perks. It invites them to make an impact and assume they are mature adults with the desire and determination to be part of something greater than themselves.
Impact is the key to lasting employee experiences. The pride that comes with knowing that you are doing something that will make a difference is the emotional evidence of a great employee experience.
There is a story of a boy who was walking on the beach and throwing starfish back to the water. An old man approached the buy and asked him what he was doing.
“I am returning the starfish to the water” the boy replied
“There are so many starfish out there on the beach,” the man said. “Your work will not matter.”
“But for this starfish,” the boy replied, “it will matter.”
Aligning work to impact. Empowering employees to see that their work matters, one email at a time, one call at a time, one starfish at a time, creates the ultimate impact and increases their commitment. Pride is the emotional visual of such commitment to making an impact. Proud employees are employees who have the permission and tools to be amazing. Like superheroes, they rise up to the better version of themselves. The right employee experience will do that to you.
It is, therefore, the critical question to explore in any organization: what are the obstacles we create to prevent people from rising up to their highest performance capacity? Why aren’t they choosing to be their best in the workplace? Why aren’t they proud of what we do?
If you are seeking to create an employee experience that matters, start with impact. Create an environment that will invite people to make an impact. Diligently remove the obstacles to exceptional performance and inspire your people to rise up. Transform your people from process operators to impact creators. Customers will be proud to be doing business with you. Employees will be proud to be part of the organization. And you will be proud to make all this impact happen.