Connection, belonging and innovation

A CEO I’m working with told me their 3 “big worries” about their people during this pandemic:

1. All the “pre-activity” (their word) that’s being lost, i.e. the chance conversations and the informal sharing of information and insight that usually takes place in the office.

2. The lack of mentoring and day-to-day coaching of junior staff – again the informal stuff where people are shown new things or learn a different perspective.

3) The difficulty that leaders are having in “instilling and sustaining” (their words) the culture of the organisation “over Teams.”

It could be that a lot of this is happening online and simply isn’t visible to leaders, which is one of the things we’re looking to find out. But I also think these are important concerns.
In fact, many of the leaders I’m working with at the moment are asking something similar, along the lines of “How do we maintain connection and belonging and evolve our culture as we work differently?” Or as another client put it: “As this pandemic goes on and on and on… how do we keep and evolve the “secret sauce” that’s made us successful?”

Connection, belonging, innovation… these are key reasons for focusing on the changing employee experience.

Tags: #COVID #EmployeeExperience

Listening Through a Crisis: Employee Experience When it Matters Most

Our clients have continued to prioritise employee experience (EX) through the coronavirus crisis.

They have run surveys on key topics like working from home, communications, and well-being. They have explored issues like resilience and agility.

In terms of how the surveys are being used:

  • Results have been analysed at a business level, so leaders can immediately address concerns and identify hot-spots
  • Managers have received team reports, so they can act locally
  • Employees themselves can be nudged towards specific resources and tools, for example, to support their well-being or to access benefits

So what are some of the learnings from this period?

Change leadership

An immediate focus for many companies was ensuring new work arrangements were effective.

Nomad Foods, for example, quickly deployed a pulse survey focused on well-being and productivity:

“The objectives of the survey were to gather insights from employees who are working from home, understand what we could do differently and gather ideas on how ways of working may change as we move out of lock down.

The results were really encouraging. Most people believed that working from home was going well and felt extremely well supported. In fact, we saw a desire for ongoing flexibility in the future. As a result, we’re now accelerating our smart working initiatives.

The survey helped us identify some groups who were under more pressure, which included those managing issues like childcare (including home schooling) and supporting elderly relatives.“

Tim Kensey, HR Director at Nomad Foods

From a change leadership perspective, organisations viewed the crisis in terms of three phases:

  1. Managing through the initial challenges
  2. Restoring stability
  3. Rebounding strongly

Surveys have provided a way to listen to and involve employees in each phase. This has been the case at Virgin Money:

“In Virgin Money we ran a pulse survey in April to assess our agility in creating new ways of working and serving our customers, and we also looked at how we can best support and connect with colleagues.

We achieved our highest ever response rate for a pulse survey, and colleagues told me the content of the survey was superb.

Our Executive Leadership Team and Board found the feedback really helpful.

We’re will also integrate some of the questions from the COVID-19 Leading and Accelerating Back surveys into our all-colleague survey in June.”

Edwina Emery, Employee Engagement Manager at Virgin Money

Analytics and narrative insight

Looking across the survey data that’s been published, it’s clear that employees had a generally favourable impression of their company’s efforts in the early stages of the response. There’s a kind of “grade inflation” effect that you need to consider when analysing results.

It’s also important to examine the drivers of stress and anxiety. Over 90% of employees express some level of anxiety from the coronavirus, with 55% indicating a moderate or high degree of anxiety. Key driver analysis shows where you can focus to have the most positive impact.

Comments analysis provides a narrative insight into key concerns. One organisation that has done a good job of using text analytics is the train operator LNER:

“We analysed our survey results to understand how well people are dealing with this crisis. We found that employee engagement at LNER is not just holding up, but it is improving. In fact, we have seen engagement improve over the course of several years. We’re far more resilient as an organisation.

The results told us that communications are working, people believe our health and well-being programmes are effective. We can also see that many front-line managers are doing a great job of staying in touch with their teams.

We analysed the comments feedback to understand where there were concerns and opportunities. We could see if we had any hot-spots. This showed which things contributed to people’s anxiety about the coronavirus. These insights were especially for staff who are in customer facing roles.”

Jennie Pitt, Inclusion and Engagement Manager at LNER

Agility matters

A key feature of the crisis has been the speed at which events have unfolded.

What’s critical from an EX point of view, is being able to survey people on an agile basis, in the moments that really matter to them.

Agility and responsiveness was critical at ARM, for example:

“We have started to implement a continuous listening strategy at Arm and we were able to quickly measure how well people were managing changing working arrangements.

The response to our pulse survey was overwhelmingly positive. People really appreciated being asked for their opinions.

We also asked people for tips and suggestions, in terms of what was working well. People came back saying that all those tips should be made public as a way of sharing creative ideas and best practice. This kind of in-the-moment feedback and knowledge sharing is really critical.“

Hayley Whitwood, Director, Organisational Effectiveness at Arm

There was a similar focus at Avon:

“We were able to run a short survey in ten languages in a matter of days, with great support and guidance when we had queries.

We got instant feedback from more than 2,000 associates across the globe.

This kind of agile insight is critical for understanding the experience of our associates during this critical time.“

Anne-Elisabeth Jehl, Learning & Talent Manager at Avon

Accelerating back

In the third phase of the crisis leaders are focusing on how to rebound strongly.

This includes planning for how to operate as conditions improve, and how to manage through ongoing uncertainty. There’s a focus on effective risk management. Leaders also want to learn from what’s worked well during the earlier stages of the crisis.

Key topics include:

  • How do you reconnect with people who have been working from home and who may want to continue working from home in some fashion?
  • How do you “re-board” people who have been furloughed?
  • What’s the best way to support key workers who have remained on site?

Many companies have been measuring levels of anxiety and stress through all the stages of the crisis and will to continue to track this.

Leaders also want to make sure that the organisation does not simply default back to the way things were before the crisis. Instead, they want to learn from the prior months about the experiences that have led the organisation to be agile and effective.

Leaders also want to ensure that people are not just drifting back into established work habits, but are coming in with a growth mindset. This is critical, given the need to rebound quickly.

Tags: #COVID #EmployeeExperience #EmployeeSurveys

This article was first published in June 2020.

What is Employee Experience (EX)?

Employee Experience

Employee Experience (EX) is a hot topic.

In LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report, EX is ranked as the top priority. Numerous articles and books (including my own) have been written about it. Most consulting firms have EX white papers you can download. EX conferences are springing up. People are already complaining that it’s the latest HR buzzword. Some wonder if it’s a fad; about to peak in the hype cycle.

Here’s the obligatory google search term graph:

Image for post

I think EX is much more than a fad.

It is becoming more important because of some solid reasons, which I have written about here. It’s the result of forces like digital transformation, the rise of social media, and the desire for greater transparency. These are long-term changes that mean EX will remain a priority in the future.

I do think it’s important to be clear on what we mean by EX, though. There’s a danger that is becomes a “catch-all” phrase.

There are three EX definitions that I use, which I have summarised below. The first is quite simple, but it gets at an important change in perspective. The second is about the field or discipline of EX (in which I work). The third is more technical, but it’s the one that I use the most. This definition gets at the importance of new sources of data and new types of analytics, which for me at least, is key.

Here they are:

Definition 1: “Employee experience can be thought of as simply “What’s it like to work here?” From the run up to your first day, to the end of your first month, to your first anniversary, to a promotion, and so on, until you leave.”

I like this definition because it gets at a change in perspective, which can be hard for people to get their head around. I explain this by contrasting EX with traditional approaches to employee engagement. Employee engagement is usually a top-down process that is management-led. It’s about alignment, coordination and resources. For this reason, engagement fits easily within a traditional management mindset. By contrast, I think EX is bottom-up and messy, and it’s employee-centred. It’s about capturing individual points of view, which makes it personal and conversational. EX requires a different leadership style.

Definition 2: “EX is a new, emerging science that uses new sources of data and new analytics, and we are only at the beginning.”

I feel this is an important point to make, because although EX builds on previous work on employee satisfaction, morale, climate, commitment and engagement, it’s also something new. EX is enabled by new technology, new sources of data and new analytics. As a result, you need different approaches and tools to analyse EX and make sense of it. I honestly think we’re only at the start of developing these. New cognitive machine technologies and new sources of flowing data are going to revolutionise the field in the years ahead. That’s exciting to think about.

Definition 3: “Employee experience is about analysing individual journeys together and dynamically, so you can understand and improve events, touch points and processes in order to gain a systemic lift in productivity and performance.”

As I said, this is the definition that I use most, even though it’s a mouthful. The point here is that organisations are now able to look at experiences over time and to map and analyse specific journeys. This is because of new sources of data that come from more continuous listening (active and passive). You can also organise those insights in non-traditional ways, such as for cohorts and personas rather than departments and demographics. I firmly believe that lots of small changes can add up to something transformational. This idea is a key plank of design thinking. Of course, the link to business challenges, especially mission-critical ones like collaboration and innovation remains key.

I hope you find these definitions useful. Let me know what you think. I realise there are lots of different ways of looking at EX.

You can read more about how companies are focusing on EX here as well as by following me on LinkedIn and twitter.

Tags: #EmployeeExperience

This article was first published on Medium on February 5, 2020.

Five reasons why there’s so much interest in employee experience

The Global Talent Trends report by LinkedIn is one of many studies to show that HR and business leaders are making a priority of employee experience (EX).

Elsewhere, I have defined what I mean by EX and argued that it’s more than a fad. Looking beyond the buzz, there are key reasons why EX has become a serious focus for leaders:

  1. It is widely accepted that employee experience matters for business performance. Even if you haven’t analysed your own people and business data, most leaders can see that employee experience is important in delivering great customer experiences, especially in a digital world. At an operational level, if the tools and systems that you use internally are clunky and time-consuming, there will be a knock-on effect for customers in terms of agility and service. Businesses increasingly compete on the basis of the experiences they deliver to customers. This means that collaboration, simplification and end-to-end thinking become even more critical capabilities.
  2. Leaders are aware of the risks of not understanding employee experience. You can argue that Boeing is the latest in a long line of companies to get into trouble by not understanding the experience of key workers. Boeing’s leaders were apparently blind to the fact that staff were so critical of arrangements for the 737 Max. Another recent example is the fashion retailer Ted Baker. The company suffered serious damage to its reputation when incidents of “forced hugging” were exposed publicly in the rise of the #MeToo movement. Listening to employees needs to be a leadership focus even (or perhaps especially) during moments of crisis, such as the financial crash and the current pandemic. These are times when your values are tested. For Tracy Maylett and Matthew Wride, these are key “moments of truth” for EX and trust.
  3. Partly in response, EX is getting board-level and external attention. In the UK, for example, the Corporate Governance Code has brought in a higher level of employee involvement and a focus on internal culture. Many companies have doubled-down on employee listening as a result; making sure they can demonstrate that employee input is given greater prominence. Related to this is a broader focus on corporate sustainability that emphasises the perspectives of all stakeholders, including employees. Investors also have an appetite for better workforce reporting and greater transparency. This interest is only going to grow, given that intangibles such as human capital increasingly drive value in a knowledge- or experience-based economy. One-in-three large companies already use people metrics in executive pay design; the most common metrics are EX-related (culture and engagement).
  4. Another important reason for focusing on EX is because inclusion and diversity is under the spotlight. In the UK, for example, where progress on I&D has been slow, large companies have to report gender pay gaps (and perhaps in the future BAME pay gaps as well). These pay gaps arise because of long-term and persistent trends. Traditional approaches only provide crude insights into these trends. An EX lens can be far more useful in terms of understanding problems and finding solutions. This often involves more continuous listening, focused on key cohorts and networks, especially at critical moments.
  5. One underlying or structural reason for making a priority of EX is the widespread impact of digital transformation on work, jobs and organisations. The speed of digital transformation has accelerated during the coronavirus crisis, by necessity, but it is a longer-term and ongoing force for change. To operate a successful digital business requires a focus on culture and behaviour as well as systems. Effective digital processes depend on collaboration and end-to-end thinking. In turn, this requires a change in leadership mindset, away from hierarchy and control towards involvement and transparency. This is a big shift for many organisations and for many leaders. By focusing on EX, you can build trust and help establish sustainable change.

You can add other reasons to this list. They may include things like generational changes in the workforce and changing expectations regarding personalisation and feedback.

What strikes me is that, in my 20 years’ of working in employee insights, I haven’t seen as much interest as there is now in measuring and activating employee experience.

Because of this, however, it’s especially important to be mindful about your overall approach and how it should evolve. This will include, for example, your overall listening strategy, the data you have available for integrated analytics, your level of EX maturity, the degree of trust that exists in your organisation, and your change leadership capability.

Given that EX has become such a priority, you need to think strategically and systemically about it. In particular, you need to prioritise the areas where employee experience can answer the most critical questions and provide the greatest business value.

Let me know your thoughts on this and any other reasons that you would add to the list.

Feel free to also contact me here or on Twitter @nickl4.

You can read more about EX Leadership here as well.

Tags: #EmployeeExperience #EmployeeEngagement #PeopleAnalytics

This article was first published on LinkedIn on May 12, 2020.

Employee experience, leadership and purpose – all key themes

As we get to the end of the year, what are some of the key trends that we have seen over the last 12 months?

Well, in 2019 my clients have had a big focus on things like:

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At Willis Towers Watson, we have published exciting new research and materials on:

And I have written and talked about EX leadership throughout the year:

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At the recent EX Leadership Workshop we held in London, it was clear that many of these themes will continue to be high on leaders’ agenda in 2020 and beyond.

Let me know what you think, and thanks to everyone who connected with me in 2019 or provided comments and feedback. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Tags: #FutureOfWork #EmployeeExperience

This article was first published on LinkedIn on December 12, 2019

Purpose Is at the Heart of Employee Experience Leadership

Purpose is high on the agenda for many business leaders. As has been widely reported, for example, even the Business Roundtable group of CEOs has started to talk about organisational purpose and values. This replaces their long-held convention of “shareholder primacy” and is seen as a big shift in thinking.

In part, this is a reaction to low trust and confidence, especially in the long wake of the financial crash and numerous corporate scandals. Many people also worry that in the future, with trends such as cognitive automation and further globalisation, the trust gap that is already prevalent in many companies is only likely to worsen,

Surveying the scene, CEOs like Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson point out that “People are asking questions about how well capitalism is serving society.” IBM CEO Ginni Rometty observes that “It’s a question of whether society trusts you or not. We need society to accept what it is that we do.”

Over time, we will see if this is more than a marketing campaign by this group. I hope it is, because in my experience the best companies do have a focus on creating purpose and meaning at work. In those companies, this is achieved through sustained, practical efforts, rather than by mission statements and the like. And they accelerate progress by adopting an Employee Experience (EX) lens.

“The best companies have a practical focus on creating purpose and meaning at work”

The why of work

First though, a bit of background. One reason CEOs have been persuaded to talk about purpose and values is because of a wave of research in psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics over the last decade on motivation, emotion and experience.

For example, Barry Schwartz, in his book Why We Work, showed that people get a sense of fulfilment from the work challenge, from social interaction, and from having some control over what they do. Another important factor is finding that what you do is meaningful. One important way of finding meaning is by linking what you do in your job to the welfare of others.

In some professions, such as healthcare or teaching, which are often thought of as vocations, that link to the welfare of others is clear and obvious. But in many jobs it isn’t. So effective leaders inspire employees by making it clear how their job affects others in positive ways.

A common way of doing this is by building a very clear line of sight to the experience of customers. Another way of doing this is by building a strong link to the organisation’s broader mission and vision.

This is a connection that many other authors have highlighted. From the viewpoint of behavioural economics, for example, Dan Ariely in his book Payoff highlights the complexity of motivation, suggesting that if you wrote down an equation to capture why you work, it would involve a very long list of factors, including money, achievement, happiness, a sense of progress, security, legacy, status, and so on.

Ariely criticises many organisations for being stuck in “a factory mode of production” when it comes to thinking about motivation. By this he means that leaders focus on financial rewards, whilst they neglect fundamental social elements such as identity, goodwill, connection and meaning.

Another person who has had a big impact is Daniel Pink. His best-selling book Drive was first published in 2009. In it, he highlights the importance of mastery and purpose in motivating people to perform at their best, which he characterises as a state of flow.

More specifically, he argues that it is the pursuit of mastery that is the most important thing. Pursuit is really a mindset focused on continuous improvement and perseverance towards long-term goals.

Accordingly, when it comes to inspiring leadership, organisations need to focus on what he calls “purpose maximisation”. Successful companies do not chase profit while trying to stay ethical and values-based. Their goal is to pursue purpose and to use profit as the catalyst rather than the objective.

Daniel Pink sets out an evolution in terms of organisations’ focus on motivation, from carrot and stick approaches, to performance-contingent rewards, which is where most organisations still are today, and on to what he calls Motivation 3.0: “The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose.”

Daniel Pink notes, rather sadly, that the gap between what science knows and what business does is wide and it is not narrowing.

You can see this in the data collected in employee surveys. Most companies have a long way to go. In the UK, for example, only 56 per cent of employees say that leaders provide a vision for their company that is inspiring.

Narrowing the gap is where employee experience leadership (EX Leadership) really comes into play. A key dimension of EX leadership relates to providing purpose and meaning for people at work.

Of course, it’s one thing to point out that purpose matters to people and performance. What differentiates the best companies is that they actually do something about it. That practical application is increasingly achieved by adopting an EX lens.

Overall, the best companies are framing organisational performance in terms of individual experiences. They use EX analytics to ensure they are doing a number of important things well. From an EX point of view, a focus on purpose is actually quite practical and applied.

“From an EX point of view, a focus on Purpose is practical and applied”

Job crafting

For example, when it comes to thinking about jobs, tasks and roles, EX leaders have a focus on encouraging what is sometimes called job crafting.

In job crafting, managers and team leaders are able to provide employees with the authority and space to alter their jobs in such a way as to better suit their skills and interests. Employees are able to make small, but meaningful changes to the scope of their work, and to focus especially on the purpose of their role.

As described by Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski: “Within a formally designated job, employees are often motivated to customise their jobs to better fit their motives, strengths, and passions. Job crafting is a means of describing the ways in which employees utilise opportunities to customise their jobs by actively changing their tasks and interactions with others at work.”

This might mean people taking on more or fewer or different tasks, expanding or reducing the scope of tasks, or changing how they perform tasks and how they interact with others. This can happen in a wide range of work environments. Approaches like Lean and Kaizen, which I would argue have a similar emphasis on empowering operators, have transformed sectors like automotive manufacturing, for example.

It’s also the case that job-crafting is going to become an even more important capability in the future. This is because many companies are looking at the mix of skills and the “skills architecture” that they will need in order to for individuals and teams to continue to be successful in the future of work. For sure, as they undergo digital transformation, they are going to require flexibility and adaptability in crafting purposeful jobs.

“Companies are increasingly focused on the skills mix they will need in the future of work, which makes job crafting even more important”

EX and CX alignment

Another element in providing meaning and purpose is by ensuring there is a clear alignment between employee experience and customer experience (EX and CX).

For all organisations, your employee experience is critical for delivering outstanding customer experiences. Put plainly, it’s not possible to provide a simple and effective customer experience if your internal tools are clunky and hard to use. You’re not going to achieve customer delight if the people dealing with your customers are disengaged. It’s impossible to deliver great service if your employees are unable to exercise their own judgement effectively.

A successful customer experience strategy is the result of your company’s culture and ways of working. How you interact internally within your company will have an impact on external interactions too. As a result, leading companies realise that they have to focus on employees when they try to improve their customer experience.

A positive customer experience is, of course, the responsibility of everyone in the company. But an EX lens can be deployed the most effectively at the points of intersection with your customers: sales reps, success managers, call centres, front-line and field staff, and so on.

“An EX lens can be deployed most effectively at the points of intersection with your customers”

In practice, this can mean linking EX and CX feedback and analytics in order to identify important differences and gaps, and then addressing them.

The single best way to improve both EX and CX is to improve the flow of knowledge. Too often, critical knowledge becomes stuck inside different departments and teams, which act as silos. A key task of EX leadership is to identify and then break these silos apart in order to ensure that information is available to all who need it. This is also a key component in simplifying the way people work and in thinking end-to-end.

EX leadership and trust

EX leadership, then, involves providing a clear sense of purpose through things like job crafting and EX-CX alignment. Of course, this is one leadership component, alongside other things like team learning and personalising communications. Moreover, a critical factor is leaders’ own behaviour and consistency. Doing what you say, builds trust and confidence over time.

Ultimately, that will be the biggest test for the Business Roundtable. In a few years’ time, when people look back at their 2019 Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, will it be seen as yet more spin? Or will these leaders have demonstrated their own sustained and practical commitment to delivering positive experiences in the organisations they lead?

Connect with me here and on twitter @nickl4 and let me know what you think.

Notes

For more on EX Leadership, you can read my book: Employee Experience (EX) Leadership: Build trust through employee experience and engagement.

The CEO quotes and information on the Business Roundtable come from the 19 August 2019 Fortune article by Alan Murray “New Purpose for the Corporation” which you can find here.

The UK employee survey data here comes from The Global Workforce Study by Willis Towers Watson.

On job crafting, see: Wrzesniewski, A., LoBuglio, N., Dutton, J. and Berg, J. (2013), “Job Crafting and Cultivating Positive Meaning and Identity in Work”, Bakker, A. (Ed.) Advances in Positive Organizational Psychology (Advances in Positive Organizational Psychology, Vol. 1), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley.

Tags: #Leadership #Purpose #FutureOfWork

This article was first published on LinkedIn on August 28, 2019

The Leadership Trap

It’s hard to lead any large organisation. Putting aside the business challenges that come with size and scale, it’s simply difficult to stay in touch with what’s happening on the ground.

(This is the first chapter from my book Employee Experience (EX) Leadership, which is available on Amazon now.)

As a senior leader, it’s all too easy to become remote and detached. A close circle of assistants manage who you meet with. You spend most of your time with a cadre of other senior people who know it’s in their interest to present things in an agreeable fashion.

It’s difficult for your communications to have an impact. The things you say are filtered through layers of management. Like Chinese whispers, they have been thoroughly distorted by the time they reach the front line. This often reinforces your remoteness in the eyes of employees, who think you don’t understand the day-to-day challenges they face.

Even if you make an effort to get out and about, your people know how to manage appearances to their advantage. You may sometimes smell the fresh paint in the lunch room when you make a site visit. That friendly employee group you met with was perhaps designed to achieve that effect.

In order to keep the organisation focused you reach out for help. The management consultants you hire are happy to give advice on how to restructure and transform your business units. Consultants are temporary partners with a focus on short-term outcomes linked to project goals. They will quickly move on to their next assignment. But long-term employees, with valuable customer insights and an understanding of work challenges, can feel overlooked and ignored. They may feel their experience is not valued as a result.

These organisational transformations come in regular waves and with soundbite names. This language is then incorporated into internal communications. This leads to employees feeling even more remote, as they’re not up to speed on the latest jargon. Again, it appears as though senior management have locked themselves into an ivory tower of their own making.

None of these problems are new. They are inherent in any large organisation. Senior leaders have recognised these problems and tried to build solutions, so they don’t end up falling victim to their own hubris.

In order to avoid this leadership trap, companies have invested in building trust through open and effective upward communications. Beyond other channels that may exist — such as hot lines, employee directors, unions and works councils — you need to keep an ear to the ground and ensure that you receive honest, unfiltered feedback. You need to be able to cut through the layers directly. You need to make sure that it’s safe for people to speak up.

As a senior leader, you need to be able to cut through the organisation’s layers directly. You need to make sure that it’s safe for people to speak up.

Over time, various devices have been put in place to make this happen. In the 1970s and 1980s, large companies began to routinely run employee surveys. These quantified employee satisfaction and allowed leaders to identify problem issues and hot spots.

In the 1990s and 2000s, surveys became fully-fledged engagement programmes, which provided all people managers with anonymous upward feedback. These survey activities were supplemented with things like focus groups, town halls, jams, open mic sessions, and so on.

This book looks at the rise and development of these approaches in detail. It takes the long view on employee surveys, climate surveys and employee engagement. It highlights some of the problems with these programmes and it pulls out the key success factors by looking at companies that do them well.

The best leaders have deployed these approaches effectively. They ask tough questions. They analyse the results in detail. They act on the feedback. They keep tabs on hot spots. They provide support to areas that need it.

I have been lucky to work with some great business people who are aware of how important it is to avoid the leadership trap in this way. This includes CEOs who read every single comment written in an employee survey. When I asked, for example, Ivan Menezes at Diageo, why he does this, he explained that there is no better way to keep grounded and to stay in tune with the day-to-day problems people face. Of course, being CEO of Diageo (the maker of Johnnie Walker whisky) means he can do this with a tumbler of something tasty to hand.

It’s not easy to do this kind of thing well, especially when there are so many demands on leaders’ time. But it is the argument of this book that it is more important now than ever to deploy effective listening methods and to avoid the leadership trap.

It is more important now than ever to deploy effective listening methods and to avoid the leadership trap.

This is because modern organisations succeed or fail based on the work culture they create. Competitive advantage now stems mainly from the innovation, creativity and service that your employees provide. In order to free people up to do their best work, so they can deliver fantastic customer experiences, you have to establish high trust and open and direct communication.

The problem is that there are forces at play inside modern companies that make this difficult. Specifically, leaders have to manage a tension between pushing responsibility and risk onto individuals versus the need to build loyalty, collaboration, and strong teams and networks. Moreover, this tension is intensifying with trends such as automation, digital transformation, and the increasing use of contract and independent workers. Employees feel less secure, at the same time as leaders need them to contribute even more. The trust gap that results in many companies is a significant drag on performance.

This is why many leading organisations are exploring new and innovative ways of listening and creating dialogue with their workers. The good news is that internal social media, pulse surveys and people analytics mean that there are new sources of data that are available. These provide the means for more continuous listening. This can allow leaders to receive useful feedback on an ongoing basis about the moments that really matter to people.

Many organisations are exploring new and innovative ways of listening and creating dialogue with their workers.

This is the opportunity provided by the new and emerging science of Employee Experience (EX). This shift, from traditional listening approaches, such as employee surveys, to EX data and analytics is the focus of this book. The aim is to help leaders understand how they can use EX to avoid the leadership trap, build trust and improve performance.

In all of this, the book is a mix of review, research and personal reflection. I have included old and new client stories, and I have speculated on future trends. It includes background and theory, as well as practical guides, best practices and tips.

The reason for writing this now is because I have been working in this field for twenty years. That feels like a personal milestone of sorts. So I want to look back over that time and pull out some key lessons.

It’s also the case that the employee insights world is going through a major transformation at the present time (like most industries). So I wanted to take the opportunity to think about the future, both the opportunities that result from new technologies and data sources, and the potential risks.

Throughout my career, both as a researcher and a consultant, I have always believed in taking the long view on things. So I want to put changes that are taking place in the world of work, and which are currently much hyped, in the context of longer-term trends and developments.

It’s clear to me that the new focus on employee experience builds on prior work on engagement, commitment and satisfaction that began many decades earlier and at a time when jobs, work and careers had a different set of meanings and expectations.

EX leadership refers to two aspects that this book delves into: those companies that are leading the way in developing this new science, and the key role that leaders play in shaping employee experience to build trust and engagement.

EX Leadership refers to companies at the leading edge of this emerging science; it also refers to the key role that leaders play in activating EX to build trust.

I hope that in this mix of stories and suggestions, there is something that you will find useful and relevant for your own organisation and your own personal reflection.

***************

You can read more here.

Tags: #Leadership #EmployeeEngagement #Trust

This article was first published on Medium in May 2019

Preparing for the Future of Work: Employee Voice and People Analytics

Many of our clients are preparing for the future of work. Technological, economic and demographic forces are causing disruption and change.  Companies are adjusting their strategies so they can adapt and capture growth.  They are also thinking about what it means for how they lead their people.

What are some of the things they’re thinking about?  We asked leaders in our recent Future of Work Survey and the answers challenge some widely-held ideas.

For example, when it comes to AI and robotics, rather than simply replacing people as many commentators fear, most respondents (57%) see automation as a way of augmenting human performance.  The big implication for many companies, therefore, is on improving the way people interact with technology.  It means focusing more on human-machine interaction, on combining human skills and machine tasks, and on improving user experience.

In addition, rather than automation leading to de-skilling – a new digital Taylorism as The Economist recently put it – many organisations (27%) are already changing the design of jobs to require more skills.  In fact, many organisations have a big focus on capability-building. They realise they need to make learning easier and more continuous. With a multi-generational workforce they need to support employees making different career and job transitions.

In the future, organisations will also rely a more diverse mix of worker types to deliver their services, including freelancers, contractors, and partners.  A lot has been written about the rise of the gig economy and new talent platforms such as Upwork. However, the contribution of free-agent workers is only set to rise from 4% to 6% in the next 3 years. This means that the focus that most leading organisations already have on employee engagement, employee commitment, and employee retention remains critical to their success as a business.

So what are companies doing to prepare for these future trends? For one thing, they are listening to employees more often and more continuously.  There is more interest in employee research now than there has ever been.  Last year was the busiest twelve months in the 40+ year history of the employee insights team at Willis Towers Watson.

Many of our clients are now licensing our self-service Pulse Software to capture employee voice on an agile basis.  Our Pulse Software allows them to run surveys as often as they like, as and when they need to, and to track engagement in real time.

Employee engagement surveys are also now part of a continuous listening strategy, which incorporates joiner, leaver, and key-cohort surveys. Clients are also using tools like our Virtual Focus Group Software for active listening and jams – creating conversation and dialogue with hundreds of employees at a time.

They are also using technology and analytics to understand their workforce better.  For example, we use smart machine analytics to suggest the specific actions that individual managers can take to improve their team’s performance.  We also connect engagement data to other workforce and business data, in order to reduce employee turnover, improve sales, productivity, customer retention, and so on.  Predictive analytics like these help companies transition from a point-in-time perspective to a process of continuous improvement.

As well as listening more and understanding people better, when it comes to taking action on engagement, many companies are thinking about it through the lens of employee experience (EX).  What do we mean by EX?  It comprises all the elements of the employment deal and psychological contract.  This includes challenging work, effective rewards, strong teams, and a clear purpose.  Often our clients are thinking about EX as part of an overall culture transformation, because they are making a shift to a more digital business strategy.

It’s an exciting time for anyone involved in employee research and people analytics as both are key elements in helping leaders navigate towards the opportunities provided by the future of work.

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Tags: #FutureOfWork #EmployeeExperience #EmployeeSurveys #PeopleAnalytics

This article was first published on LinkedIn on  July 17, 2018