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

Leadership and culture in the future of work

My news feed is full of articles on the Future of Work (“FoW”). A number of trends are converging so that it feels like we are on the cusp of big changes in the workplace. Some of those trends include:

  • Increasing use of contingent workers and talent exchanges like Work Market.
  • A more diverse workforce, meaning, for example, that teams comprise people with widely different experiences.
  • Employees who have grown up with social media and who have consumer-type expectations of their experience at work.
  • A workforce that is geographically dispersed and reliant on social media rather than face-to-face interaction.
  • Jobs that are far more technology-dependent, with routine tasks automated by artificial intelligence or robots.
  • Demand for new skills, such as those required to make sense of the huge volume of data that our on-line participation leaves behind.

Within this shifting mix, many people are wondering what it all means. In practice, “disruption” is an over-used term and transformation will be incremental. But it’s clear that there are new challenges and also opportunities for those companies that are able to seize them.

One area I am interested in is what the future of work means for leadership and culture. This can sometimes be low down on the to-do list in FoW articles, as it relates to something that is generally hard, ongoing, sustained effort. Some writers have even speculated that in the future there should be less focus on culture as attention shifts to the work itself. But I believe the leadership challenge is to glue together the shifting workforce into a community of shared interests and this is as important as ever because people want meaning from their work.

Some of the emerging priorities for this are already clear and are being explored by my clients:

  1. Focus on employee experience. This means identifying the key interactions that employees have with the organisation and then applying design thinking to improve engagement and performance. It is a joined-up approach to 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.
  2. Adopt a comprehensive listening strategy. This means deploying a mix of consumer-style approaches, including pulse surveys and social media analytics. An important part of the mix is also supporting managers to have dialogue and conversation, rather than only managing from their desktop “cockpit”.1 It also means shaping the physical workspace so that it is easy for face-to-face conversation to occur.
  3. Create a strong identity through shared experiences. Although artefacts and rituals are changing (workspaces, flex working, mobile tools, dress code, etc.), the fundamentals of culture building remain the same: role modelling, strong values, clear purpose. Increasingly, shared experiences are digital. These provide the opportunity to engage a broad group at the same point in time. However, breaches of trust are also more public, which highlights the importance of authenticity and consistency.
  4. Reinforce meaning and purpose through feedback. Technology makes it far easier to provide useful, regular feedback, not only from colleagues, but also from customers and partners. In fact, it is vital to provide customer feedback and to align employee and customer experiences. The critical “cog” in using feedback remains the team leader. So selecting and developing front-line managers who are able to build line of sight and help people understand the contribution they make is key.

Because change is incremental, the FoW is not as far off as it might feel, so it’s important to build preparedness now. But there is an additional challenge, namely who will be your most effective leaders in the future of work? In our recent Global Workforce Study only 39% of people said their organisation is doing a good job of developing future leaders.2 It’s quite likely that your current definition of leadership reflects your old hierarchy and old ways of working. Leading people in a flatter, networked organisation requires a different set of skills.3 Understanding the behaviours needed for your future success, and incorporating those into your assessment and development programmes now, is one of the most critical components to get right.


  1. Sherry Turkle “Reclaiming Conversation” (Penguin Books, 2015)
  2. Willis Towers Watson “Employers look to modernize the employee value proposition” (2016)
  3. Ravin Jesuthasan and Marie S. Holmstrom “As Work Changes, Leadership Development Has to Keep Up” (HBR, 2016)

Tags: #Leadership #Culture #FutureOfWork

This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 20, 2017