by Rob Zell

Much has been made in the last several years about managing the guest experience. We often hear how companies are seeking to make service their differentiator, or do more to leverage data to maximize the customer relationship. I have to admit, as easily as that language rolled off my keyboard, I’m not sure I know what it means. I’ll concede that there are several brands out there that do a fantastic job of understanding what their customers want and meeting their needs – often before the customer is even aware of it. Amazon comes to mind when I think about the recommendations it makes based on my purchase history.

There are also brands that are known for their commitment to the service profit chain; the core idea being that if the company takes care of its people, the revenue will follow. This is a wonderful practice and one to which I faithfully subscribe. It was once told to me like this: “The guest experience will never be any better than your employee experience.”

According to Lewis Carbone, author of Clued In, in order to design great guest experiences, one must be mindful of experience clues. I think the same concepts can be applied to the employee experience.

Finding and Winning Over Talent

Employers seek to create an employment brand that extends throughout the employee experience. This goes beyond attractive websites. Recruiters must communicate in the style of the organization and set the stage for the company’s culture. Throughout the interview process, there should be opportunities for potential hires to see and experience elements of culture: the stories told of organizational heroes, exposure to artifacts of culture, and glimpses into the way people and processes engage one another. This makes for a stronger organizational and cultural fit.

Of course the experience for the new hire doesn’t end with the hire; or at least, it shouldn’t. Onboarding and orientation is the next critical phase, and if you are looking for a superb model, take a trip Nevada and visit Zappos.

No budget for travel? That’s no problem because there has been plenty written about their onboarding program.

The key to successful onboarding lies in the way the program communicates a sense of history and values. Successful programs are built around the company’s core values and give participants an opportunity to learn about, experience and practice those values both with other new hires and with existing employees. Linking values to job performance helps these new hires understand how to be successful at meeting company goals.

Off to a Great Start. Now What?

You designed an action-packed orientation and steeped your new hires in your company’s culture. But if their experience post-orientation doesn’t match up to their day-to-day experience, you are going to have serious problems.

Typically, the issue isn’t that the culture is totally different; it’s just that it may not be reinforced the same way on a daily basis. For example, if you emphasized “fun” as a core value, but managers vary across the business in terms of how they deliver upon that value, you will have some very demotivated people.

There are plenty of ways to manage this experience:

1.       Performance management systems need to support the values. Managers and functional heads need regular feedback on the degree to which they are reinforcing (through words and actions) the company values. Likewise, people managers need to set clear expectations for their employees on “what good looks like” when it comes to values.

2.       Employees need to have the tools and resources to be productive. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is an integral part of every teacher’s preparation but it is equally applicable to the workplace. In this case, the Safety need translates to feeling safe at work; job security, knowledge of expectations and clarity on what success looks like. At the next level, we can translate Sustenance to tools and resources. After all, much is written on a child’s inability to be successful in a school environment without proper nutrition. How successful can employees be without the proper tools?

3.       The approach should be all-inclusive. If culture and employee engagement are truly differentiators then the infrastructure and processes that support it must be managed in a holistic way for all employees. As referenced in this Forbes blog post from 2013:

Effective leadership must now engage a talent ecosystem of value creation and delivery capability. This ecosystem can include full-time employees, part-timers, alumni networks, contractors, temps, outsourcers, partners, and more.

The all-inclusive approach to valuing communication, tools and resources serves to make culture a daily part of every interaction.

How do you create it?

If you were going to set out to build the next great smartphone, how would you go about it? You would probably start by asking, how do people use the device? How does it fit into their routine? How should it look and feel? What else would they do with it, if the technology was available? How will you support it after the sale?

These questions lead to the factors that Carbone challenges us to consider when creating guest experiences. You could probably ask the same questions as you design the employee experience.

1.       What are the mechanical clues that drive the company values? For example, if “Family” is a value, are there pictures of the founder and all the family relations? Are employees encouraged to post pictures of family on desks and in cubes? Are there collages of family members or team members (the work family) posted in public places? These visual reminders reinforce the sense of family in the workplace.

2.       Next are the functional clues. These are processes and events that serve to drive certain business outcomes but also support the values. Let’s continue with our example of “Family” as a value. A functional clue may be the way benefits are provided to family members. It may appear in emergency funds for employees in need. The sense of family may be reinforced in processed steps that set expectations for deeper collaboration across functional teams.

3.       Finally, there are human clues. These are clues that are driven by human interactions. Using our existing example, human clues might include recognizing managers who get to know the important birthdays and anniversaries for their people and their families. The annual company picnic that includes family is a testament to the importance of this value.

That’s not to say that every employee will experience clues that reinforce every value every day. There will be plenty of times when they perceive clues that actually erode the value in question. The point is not to attempt to avoid all the negative clues. The objective is to design an employee experience with as many positive clues as possible so that at the end of the day employees leave feeling like they made the right choice in where to work. This way they are more likely to say engaged and motivated.

Once you have defined the employee experience, you can hang the rest of the talent life cycle on that experience framework. Talent acquisition, training, performance management, succession planning, and talent exit are all employee experiences that can be managed and designed to fit within your company’s culture and values. Take the time to be introspective and define the current state before embarking on the journey. Nothing derails your experience efforts faster than existing, ingrained cultural behaviors that are counterproductive to your goals. With some careful planning, and an eye on the overall employee experience, you can create a company culture that is engaging and brings deep value to your customers.

How have you made your company culture visible in the workplace?

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