The sequel to ‘The Future of Work’, ‘The Employee Experience Advantage’ by Jacob Morgan (pictured right) will launch in March 2017 and already promises to become another popular book among future of work enthusiasts. It is the result of two years of intense research that the author conducted inside 250 global companies. As the book’s subtitle suggests, Morgan sheds light on the business benefits of giving employees their desired working environment.
I wanted to speak with Morgan about his latest discoveries and what to expect in the business world in the years to come. In this interview, the author shares what leading corporations are doing to create a great employee experience as well as the emotional influence of culture, technology, and the physical workspace. He also provides tips on leadership, talent management, and communications.
Gloria Lombardi: Three years ago, the popular The Future of Work was published. What prompted you to start working on The Employee Experience Advantage immediately afterwards?
Jacob Morgan: Many companies have started to talk about the ‘employee experience’: new job titles have emerged while organisations have begun thinking differently about how they treat their people and re-design work. Unfortunately, there is still not enough research about what employee experience really means and what it looks like. Often, people confuse it with employee engagement. But they are not the same thing. So, it is a unique opportunity to launch a book about what I believe will be the next trend in the future of work.
GL: You have just mentioned the ambiguity that exists between employee engagement and employee experience. Could you help clarify the difference?
JM: According to my research, employee engagement has become a short-term fix: the engagement scores inside a company go down, the organisation introduces a perk, the scores go up for a while, they go back down again, the organisation introduces another perk, and so on. This is a short-term manipulation of employees.
Employee experience on the other hand, is the actual re-design of the organisation that puts employees in the middle. It is not just about giving staff free food or the opportunity to work from home on a Friday. Employee experience happens when the organisation challenges the conventional management and HR ideas, and builds new ones from scratch, based on what workers care about and value. In this scenario, the company genuinely re-structures the organisation by incorporating employee feedback — creating an environment where individuals want to show up (rather than an environment where people only need to show up).
GL: What are the basic components for creating successful employee experiences?
JM: After interviewing around 150 senior executives around the world – Chief Human Resources Officers, Chief Technology Officers, etc. – I came to realise that employee experience is a combination of three environments: technology, physical space, and culture. All the leading organisations focus obsessively and purposefully on those three aspects.
The technological environment includes the devices, apps, hardware, software, and all the work tools that employees use to get their job done.
The physical environment is the physical space in which employees work including open floor plans, cubicles, and co-working spots.
The cultural environment is the one that dictates how employees feel about working for a particular organisation. It includes the leadership style, the overall brand perception of the company, how employees are compensated, as well as diversity and inclusion.
But employee experience is also about understanding and knowing your people. It requires good conversations, dialogue, and a ‘people analytics’ function to collect data and analyse how and why employees work for the organisation.
GL: Given the technological environments that you have examined in The Employee Experience Advantage, what are companies doing (or should be doing)?
JM: Whether it is collaboration, video conferencing, or automation tools, it is about consumer-grade technology. In other words, work tools should be so beautiful, useful, and valuable that employees would consider using them in their personal lives if such tools existed. An organisation should think about it from that perspective and ask, ‘Are we giving our employees beautiful, relevant, and modern tools that help them do their jobs effectively?’ when deploying technology.
GL: And, what about the physical workspace(s)?
JM: The most successful organisations provide their employees with a combination of multiple environments. It is not about closed versus open plans, for example. It is about giving staff different workspace options to choose from, such as: co-working spaces, conference rooms, quiet areas, coffee zones, learning centres, and outdoors.
GL: Looking at the cultural environment, and in particular at leadership styles, what directly contributes to a great employee experience?
JM: Definitely a shift from the command and control management style. It is a new leadership style that is collaborative and focused on collective intelligence. It embraces vulnerability and empathy in the workplace.
The pioneering organisations are genuinely creating human leaders. Leaders who treat employees – regardless of job titles and roles – like a peer. It is a big shift away from the traditional way companies have always treated and thought about their people: in the past, it was as if staff owed the organisation something, had to do something for it, and climb the corporate ladder.
GL: When doing your research for the book, was there something that surprised you or just came up as unexpected?
JM: There were a couple of surprises from the 250 companies that I researched.
Employee experience is not just a responsibility of the organisation. In fact, the employees are responsible for it as well. The type of job that an individual does is something that they picked – it is not something that the organisation picked for them. If people apply for a job in Sales, they will do Sales. If they apply for a job in Marketing, they will be responsible for Marketing. The company only controls the environment in which the work gets done. That means that the employee has a big say in what their work experience looks like. Hence, they need to be self-aware. They need to understand what they want to do, what their skills are, and how they want to contribute to the organisation. They also need to speak up inside the company. They should not stay quiet. They have to show their ideas and perspectives because, ultimately, they are responsible for shaping their own experiences.
Another observation is around the ROI of employee experience – that includes staff performance, revenue, profitability, talent retention, and company growth, for example. Consistently, the employers who invest in experiences outperform those that don’t on all of those metrics.
However, out of the 250 companies that I looked at, only 15 of them are doing an amazing job at creating and shaping employee experiences. So, there is still a long way to go.
GL: Could you share an example of an organisation that focuses on employee experience remarkably well?
JM: Cisco is doing a great job at listening to its employees and redesigning the organisation based on that feedback. They hold HR hackathons where people come together for 24 hours or more. The goal of those events is to figure out how they can break the HR function and rebuild it based on what staff members care about and value. For example, the whole idea around the Cisco People Deal, a manifesto that promotes the company’s commitment to its people, was originated by the employees themselves.
Cisco is also constantly experimenting with new ideas such as how to make the online talent economy work inside the company. They have technology feedback mechanisms in place at all times so that workers can provide inputs and share their ideas. They continually encourage managers and leaders to have conversations with employees. They invest heavily in diversity too. The same applies to redesigning the corporate offices.
Other large companies that are doing exceptionally well include LinkedIn, Accenture, and Microsoft.
GL: What final advice can you offer to help organisations build great employee experiences?
JM: The first tip is to ensure that the organisation brings in the right leaders and managers. To build employee experiences, those in positions of power have to care, genuinely, about their people. But, you can’t teach caring – it is an attribute that someone either has or doesn’t.
Secondly, employee experience is not designed for employees. It is designed with them. So, ensure to have on-going employee feedback.
Finally, think of the organisation more like a laboratory, and less like a factory. In other words, there will be obstacles, and will go awry along the way. But that is OK. You need to experiment, test ideas, collect data, and keep iterating and adapting.