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.

See also:

Tags: #FutureOfWork #EmployeeExperience #EmployeeSurveys #PeopleAnalytics

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

The Employee Experience Maturity Curve

One of my favourite books is Alan Pennington’s “The Customer Experience Book”. The reason is in the subtitle: “How to design, measure and improve customer experience in your business”. It’s a very practical guide to putting customer experience into action. I use ideas from it all the time.

One idea that I’ve found especially useful is assessing the maturity of an organisation in terms of its approach to customer experience. Alan talks about moving from being customer centric to being customer intelligent. In a customer-intelligent organisation “all staff know the experience they are required to deliver”. Moreover, there’s an understanding of “the precise points in the customer journey where value is either created or destroyed”. Above all, “a customer-intelligent company is making small adjustments every day to improve the experience”.

There is an obvious parallel with employee experience (EX) where many companies are looking to make a similar leap in maturity. I typically think about this in two dimensions: insights and activation.

Organisations who are just starting to build EX capability probably collect insights through an annual engagement survey. However, engagement survey results are likely to be looked at in isolation from other human capital data, even the results of other surveys. Key results from an engagement survey may be included in the company’s annual report and some engagement insights may be included in recruitment materials. These can help with building a consistent approach to how the organisation markets itself to potential recruits on LinkedIn and elsewhere.

More mature organisations supplement their engagement survey with agile pulse surveys. This means they can track sentiment on an ongoing basis. Connections are made between the findings of the engagement and pulse surveys, as well as automated joiner and exit surveys. This allows them to identify expectation gaps and misalignment. Insights are used to develop a broader employment brand, which is linked to organisational values and leadership behaviours.

A key tool is integrated people analytics that uses a broad range of connected data. These can include unstructured qualitative data, survey results, network data, human capital data, operational and business measures, and customer feedback such as NPS. Insights are used to personalise communications. The employment brand is translated into a differentiated employee value proposition (EVP) which is customised for key talent groups.

In mature, employee-intelligent organisations, data are translated from moment-in-time insights into employee journey maps and personas. They focus on a deep understanding of cohorts and critical talent and the employee life cycle. HR takes a design-thinking approach to employee experience. This means maximising the value of key episodes and moments, such as on-boarding, anniversaries, performance reviews, development discussions, and so on. They do this through prototyping and testing, from learning what’s working well and what’s not, and through rapid iteration. All people managers understand their role in delivering experiences that build trust in the future.

One problem with maturity curves like this is that they are seen as a sequential progression when it’s my experience that in practice things are typically messy and uneven. But by assessing where you fall in terms of your current EX capability you can identify where you need to focus and how to prioritise your efforts. To come back to Alan’s book again, he argues that it’s best to focus on lots of small changes rather than major programmes: “Your mantra for change is 100s and then 1000s of tiny changes”.

Tags: #EmployeeExperience #PeopleAnalytics #DesignThinking

This article was first published on LinkedIn on March 8, 2018

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

People Analytics and Employee Experience

This week I attended the People Analytics World conference #PAWorld17. It’s my third year and attendance has gone from 100 to 350, which indicates a real growth in interest. It’s always an event I enjoy. There are great case studies and there’s a lot of enthusiasm among attendees. It’s also personally satisfying, as I have a career-long interest in helping organisations use data and insights to make better decisions about people.

There was a lot of discussion this year on how the field should develop both inside organisations (how do you build an effective people analytics team?) and as a profession (including a call to establish a professional body). And I think this is a good discussion to be having as it feels like people analytics is not having as much impact as it could.

In fact, there’s evidence to show its impact is really quite limited. From an HR perspective, a 2016 report by the New Talent Management Network (NTMN) concluded that “Only basic people analytics are being performed by most organizations, undercutting the popular narrative that companies are rapidly advancing in this space.” The study also found that in those organisations which are doing people analytics, the most common focus areas by far are still turnover and acquisition. From an academic perspective, Janet Marler and John Boudreau conducted an evidence-based review of HR Analytics in 2016 and concluded that “despite evidence linking the adoption of HR Analytics to organizational performance, the adoption of HR Analytics is very low.” Even in the latest Deloitte Human Capital Trends report, people analytics is well down the priority list (a lowly 8th) and the authors note that “Readiness to capitalize on people analytics remains a challenge… Only 8 percent of organizations report they have usable data, while only 9 percent believe they have a good understanding of the talent factors that drive performance”. At PAW itself Alec Levenson, who kicked things off, talked about “amazing potential” but highlighted how “much analysis is disjointed and uncoordinated”.

This lack of impact is a problem, and it’s worth digging into in more detail.

Broadly, I think there are three domains within people analytics.

  1. The first is human capital measurement, workforce planning and reporting. In large organisations this is being automated by technologies whose analytical capabilities are increasingly impressive. They are able to provide leaders across an organisation with near-enough real-time updates on key measures. For a central team the manual workload is reduced and attention can shift to thinking about what information to highlight because of its impact on business strategy and performance. Smart algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence which are being embedded within these tools will simplify even this task and help drive further efficiency. The other role of the central team is to help leaders use this information to make better decisions regarding org. design and capabilities, which is often a storytelling and consulting role. In smaller organisations that cannot afford these smart systems, this whole area can remain a problem. In fact, the NTMN report revealed that many smaller companies still rely on Excel and have problems with basic data quality.
  2. The second domain is what you might call “classic” people analytics. Take a business and talent problem, such as “Why do so many of our engineers leave after three years?” Calculate the business cost (in terms of lost experience, cost to replace, etc.) and dig into the data to understand the drivers of turnover for that particular group and to identify possible fixes. These are often small projects dealing with specific “fires”. Sometimes the question might be broader, such as “Are our assessment tools actually predicting performance?” or “Does our performance management process reward collaboration and innovation?” I’ve called this domain “classic” because it’s been around for a long time. For example, in 1999 we produced a service-profit-chain analysis for a major retail bank. It was based on structural equation modelling and several years of data and it showed the business impact in terms of sales (penetration) of improving the onboarding of new staff. It led to a revised induction and training programme, which helped to improve performance. I felt I could have presented that client story at this year’s PAW and not felt too out of place. There have been advances in using more creative statistics (e.g. machine learning, cluster, segmentation, survival analyses), there have been improvements in data visualisation, and there has been a notable advance in qualitative data analysis, but these feel like refinements rather than major shifts.
  3. The third domain is “big data science” and it is the least defined and the most hyped. Data science outside of people analytics has grown quickly due to easy access to massive, open data sets which can be explored and tested. When you have a huge amount of data you can take a different approach to analytics, namely using lots of computing power to explore, test and refine different kinds of models to see what’s out there that might be useful to know. The challenge here for people analytics is really a data challenge. For obvious reasons, companies are reluctant to provide access to integrated data at an individual level. This is why approaches are often conducted at a very aggregate level on external data (e.g. tools like Joberate) or very specifically on topics like workspace and collaboration (e.g. tools like Humanyze). At PAW Randy Knaflic described how Jawbone, who you would expect to be ahead in this, has used biometric data to help some of its teams improve. With these kinds of data the focus for the people analytics profession is to build trust in and to demonstrate value through these kinds of approaches. I think the real future for big data science in people analytics is when large organisations fully embrace social platforms like Workplace (i.e. Facebook at work) and whatever MS/Yammer/LinkedIn evolves into, and when employees are producing data that social media-style analytics can explore (more on this below).

All three domains face challenges then. But I think there is also an overall problem for people analytics, in that it is missing a clear “hook” (or perhaps several good hooks). By this, I mean a way of communicating to business leaders and others what it is all about – not so much a unifying theme, but a clear message or set of messages (in marketing terms a hook is a simple way of creating interest). And I would suggest that one very good “hook” is “Employee Experience”.

Employee Experience is a term that is being used more and more. Sometimes it is used in a narrow sense to describe the user experience of the digital tools that employees have access to. But others define it more broadly, which I think is better, such as: “The intersection between employee expectations, needs, and wants and the organizational design of those expectations, needs and wants” (Jacob Morgan) and “The sum of perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work” (Tracy Maylett and Matthew Wride). In this sense, it’s a nod to the field of Customer Experience and reflects an overall trend towards approaching employees in the same way as you would consumers and customers. The big driver of this change in perspective is the digital transformation of business and the trends associated with the future of work, such as a more flexible workforce, greater numbers of contingent workers, more diverse teams, dependence on social media, a focus on projects rather than jobs, etc. (I have written more about this here).

Personally, I really like Maylett and Wride’s description of thinking of employee experience as “creating an operating environment that inspires your people to do great things”. To my mind this means identifying the key interactions that employees have with the organisation throughout the life cycle and then applying design thinking to improve performance. It is a joined-up approach to org. design and capabilities, jobs, teams, rewards and the way people work. It includes understanding employee journeys and maximising the value of key episodes. It also means improving the digital tools employees use and reviewing the physical workspace in order to increase collaboration and productivity. A key focus is “inspiring people to do great things” – it’s about removing obstacles, simplifying processes, building trust and allowing people to do their best work and to contribute to the organisation’s mission and purpose.

Each of the domains of people analytics has a role in improving employee experience. “Classic” people analytics can highlight which aspects require optimising and for whom. One key contribution here is to break employee experience down into actionable parts through approaches such as micro-segmentation, personas, journeys, episodes, moments, networks, etc. As more data are integrated at the individual level, it’s possible to tell a far more holistic story about the “operating environment”. In terms of reporting, once you have identified the elements of employee experience that are key to your business strategy, it’s vital to help leaders review the progress that’s being made. One way that we are already doing this for our clients is through Employee Experience Scorecards, which pull in data and insights from a variety of HR, business and external sources. And data science perhaps offers some of the most exciting opportunities for improving employee experience through social media analytics. This can take the form of using design thinking to create shared digital experiences, testing different approaches through analysing real-time feedback, learning about your workforce based on their online behaviours and adjusting your plans as a result. The future of “business-to-employee marketing” is this direction.

To return to the start of this piece then, one of the things that strikes me attending PAW is the passion that people have to use data and analytics to make a positive difference. That’s why the feedback about limited impact is a bit disheartening. As well as debating the need for a professional body, I wonder if the lack of impact is partly because there’s a need for a better “hook” in order to tell a more complete story about the contribution the specific domains of people analytics make. If that’s the case, then Employee Experience is one possible hook and a powerful and positive one as we consider the trends associated with the future of work.


  • New Talent Management Network “Still Under Construction: The State of HR Analytics 2016”
  • Janet H. Marler & John W. Boudreau (2016) “An evidence-based review of HR Analytics” in The International Journal of Human Resource Management
  • Tracy Maylett and Matthew Wride “The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results” (Wiley, 2017)
  • Jacob Morgan “The Employee Experience Advantage” (Wiley, 2017)
  • Willis Towers Watson “Under pressure to remain relevant, employers look to modernize the employee value proposition” (2016)

Tags: #PeopleAnalytics #EmployeeExperience #FutureOfWork

This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 26, 2017

Employee experience: analytics and design thinking

Back in 1998 Joseph Pine and James Gilmore described the rise of the experience economy. They highlighted how successful companies stage engaging experiences through mass customisation.  One of the key points they made was that while services provide a value, experiences are memorable.  With the shift to digital, companies have put a focus on designing customer experiences and using customer insights effectively.

Many organisations are realising that they also need to focus on employee experience. In part, this is being forced on them.  As traditional elements of the employment deal have fallen away, organisations are looking for other ways to differentiate themselves, so they can attract and engage the best people.  What’s left are the more experiential elements, such as values, culture, the physical environment and the work itself. At the same time, research has shown that these factors, along with purpose, are vital for motivating people to perform at their best.  It’s also the case that the digital natives companies want to retain have very different expectations as consumers than previous cohorts.  As a result, many organisations are having to play catch up.

All this is leading to a growing interest in measuring and managing employee experience.  This takes a number of different threads:

  1. First, there is an emphasis on integrated people analytics.  The aim is to link together all the touch points that impact employees and to identify the key moments that matter.  In customer terms this is akin to understanding customer journeys (indeed, employee journeys can be one output).  Or in technology terms, this is like shaping user experience.  There is also a focus on micro-segmentation.  This means getting far more specific in how you identify employee groups.  This might include critical roles and talent, or life-stage and values-based clusters.  By digging into micro-segments, and playing back the findings through tools like employee personas, you can help design meaningful strategies for communication and engagement.
  2. Second, there are capabilities that require attention.  For example, it becomes important to have an overall listening strategy, which deploys a range of tools and approaches.  And these insights need to be collected in a way that means they can all be connected to tell a holistic story.  Manager capability is another crucial area.  It goes without saying that managers have an impact on a lot of the touch points that impact employees.  The requirement for managers to deliver the value proposition well makes their selection and learning especially important.  In addition, it’s vital to personalise communications through social technology and portals.  And the physical work space must allow collaboration and conversation.
  3. Third, some organisations are establishing an oversight role, a Director of Employee Experience.  This role can encompass insights, employer branding, people analytics and aspects of learning, capability and rewards.  And sometimes they are filled by people with a background in customer experience rather than HR.  This reflects the fact that employee experience is a business (and customer) priority.  Another success factor is the ability to apply design thinking in this role.  This means developing models to make sense of connections, valuing emotional as well as practical concerns, and finding solutions through experiments and pilots.

What’s the impact of all these elements?  Our research indicates there is a performance premium for companies that get it right.  They have higher levels of employee engagement.  They find it easier to attract key talent. They face fewer regrettable losses. And they report stronger business performance.  This is especially the case when a focus on employee experience is part of a broader modernisation agenda.


Tags: #EmployeeExperience #EmployeeSurveys #PeopleAnalytics

This article was first published on LinkedIn on September 26, 2016.