Employee Experience: The Movie

One useful lens on employee experience is to think of it as a movie.

The shift to focusing on employee experience, is part of a broader economic shift, as summarised by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore in their book The Experience Economy: “In a world saturated with largely undifferentiated goods and services the greatest opportunity for value creation resides in staging experiences.”

Pine and Gilmore are referring to customer experience, but employee experience is the other side of the same coin.  For organisations to attract, retain and engage critical talent, they need to shift from focusing on the traditional elements of the employment deal to a more holistic view of experience. This includes understanding employee journeys and optimising the moments that matter. Just as for customers, this involves a shift towards design thinking.  To quote Pine and Gilmore again: “Staging compelling experiences begins with embracing an experience-directed mindset.”

In The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore argue that “all work is theatre”.  As such, strategy provides the drama, business processes are the script, the work itself is the theatre, and the offering is the performance.  Performers (employees) are at their best when they are inspired to follow the principles of great acting, such as being “in the present” (engaged). And leaders are most effective when they behave like great directors, focusing on casting, working collaboratively, staying in the moment, and managing the tension between learning and creativity (Dunham and Freeman). The directing role requires organisational skills, interpretative skills and story-telling skills. During a performance, of course, the director is off-stage rather than the centre of attention, which is an important leadership lesson.

I would argue that employee experience is more like a movie (or a TV series or perhaps even a soap opera) than a play. This is because the end product comes from piecing together different scenes, episodes or moments into a consistent whole. The scenes occur at different times, in different places and with different people. From an employee experience perspective, this means understanding all the interactions employees have with the organisation, from before they join, through the hiring process and on-boarding, through all the moments that matter as an employee, and potentially on to those involved with leaving the company and even re-joining in the future.

The leader/director’s skill lies in aligning all the episodes delivered by multiple performers over time. And a key success factor is collaboration.  Movie production rarely begins with a finalised script.  Instead, the script is adjusted and revised collaboratively with performers.  And as you see in the end credits, a host of supporting roles have an impact on the final experience, from script writers to editors, CGI artists, technicians, costume designers, etc.

Employee experience management is similarly a process of collaboration between HR, IT, business analytics, marketing, leadership and front-line managers, etc. It is a joined-up approach to org. design and capabilities, jobs, teams, rewards and the way people work. It encompasses individual and team effectiveness, as well as the physical workspace and the digital tools that employees use. Thinking about employee experience management as movie-making, then:

  • Talent management is casting, ensuring you have the right people lined up for your key roles
  • Employee journey maps are story boards, helping you optimise the key moments that matter
  • A persona is a character analysis, allowing leaders to better understand key talent segments
  • Learning and development is the discipline and craft of rehearsing
  • Collaboration is editing and personalising key moments
  • And leadership is directing – creating the conditions for people to perform at their best

Pine and Gilmore wrote The Experience Economy in 1999. Today, increasingly, experiences are being co-created with customers and employees. Rather than just “personalised customisation” we are moving towards “collaborative customisation”. And the results are online, across social media, and they are transparent and public. One way to understand this is to look at your LinkedIn feed. If it’s like mine, it includes people editing their own movies as their jobs and careers evolve. For example, my feed includes people sharing pictures of their first day at work, showing their work space, equipment, new colleagues and welcome pack. It also includes people sharing news of a promotion or explaining the new role they’re taking on and why they’re excited about it. And it also includes farewells, often an image of a well-worn security pass and a commitment to stay in touch and to continue to be an advocate for that company’s services and people in the future.

In this sense, employee experience management is about creating the framework for people to produce and edit their own compelling movies online.  If you’re successful, then those stories will help to attract other talented people and reinforce the company’s culture, in turn driving more collaboration, commitment and advocacy.


B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage” (Harvard Business Press, 1999)

Laura Dunham and R. Edward Freeman, “There is Business Like Show Business: Leadership Lessons from the Theater”, Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 29 (2000)

Tags: #EmployeeExperience #Leadership

This article was first published on LinkedIn on June 13, 2017

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