Diagram - Delivering on employee experience via internal communications consulting

8 reasons why employee experience is (mostly) just a 2017 fad

In a nutshell: Organizations typically do poorly at the things required to deliver on employee experience, especially 1) focusing on employees instead of organizational silos and 2) operating ongoing employee experience programs towards clear outcomes.

Diagram - Delivering on employee experience via internal communications consulting

Belief in employee experience, concern about organizational design

See that gray box in the middle of the diagram above? The one labeled “Multidisciplinary design for employee segments, activities and moments”? That’s the unifying theme that drives employee experience progress. It’s also the thing most organizations just can’t do – because of organizational structure, incentives and goals, job turnover and the economics of running large organizations.

I actually believe strongly that “employee experience” is the most important lens that CEOs and employee-facing departments can take to drive organizational effectiveness.

Employee experience design is the lens that:

  1. Unifies different departments around a focus outside their own silos
  2. Identifies pain points across the functional spectrum
  3. Spotlights opportunities and
  4. Focuses on outcomes rather than outputs.

I’m a huge champion for employee experience thinking and have written this article partly to be a provocateur. But also, I’ve seen fads come and go over the past decade, and seen organizational issues persist.

I’ll never stop being hopeful about delivering more and more meaningful experiences of modern work, but I will also try to be realistic.

Why employee experience won’t stick around

Delivering on employee experience requires organizational commitment, strong cross-functional alignment, a focus on user experience design, and a programmatic approach. Some organizations can bring all of these things together, but most can’t for a number of specific reasons.

1) Few CEOs talk it AND walk it: Employee experience can’t just be driven by HR or Internal Communications. Executives, and especially the one with C, E and O in her title, need to drive it. Executives need to understand what it takes to deliver on employee experience, champion that and resource that. But most executives won’t do that.

2) Executive turnover & restructuring: Ambitious employee-facing programs often bite the dust or face major delays when new executives come in. New C-level leaders often re-organize, set new goals and change how their teams work. Employees at some organizations expect reorgs every six months. Ouch. This constant reshuffling makes it almost impossible to keep strategic programs moving forward as roles and working relationships constantly change.

3) Organizational structures work against it: Most executive teams are not teams. They’re collections of executives, each of whom runs a department in a siloed way. This in turn cascades down as the organization reflects the DNA at the top. Employee experience design requires tight cross-functional coordination and multidisciplinary design teams. It requires outcome oriented goals that departments commit to together. But standard organizational structures push hard against that.

4) No clear ownership: Who drives employee experience? HR? IT? Internal Comms? All of them? Some other department? The CEO? Well, yes, the CEO, but also no department or role clearly owns employee experience. The same has been the case for intranets for a long time: Since intranets combine internal communications, content from many departments, operational tasks, employee community, collaboration, and technology, organizations have struggled to establish clear intranet ownership. And as I like to say, “the cow owned by everyone in the village is fed by no one.”

5) Poor measurement: What do most organizations do today to measure “employee experience”? They run lengthy employee engagement/satisfaction surveys once a year or maybe twice a year. Imagine trying to improve sales or marketing or a product by only measuring its impact/performance once per year. Umpossible! Yes, there is an explosion of enterprise applications like TinyPulse, SocialChorus, and Waggl that measure employee sentiment on an ongoing basis with simple questions delivered to mobile devices. But what percentage of organizations are actually using those tools and effectively acting on feedback regularly?

6) Lack of user experience design resources for employee-facing work: Most organizations are so busy focusing on customer experience (or sales, or marketing, or product development) that employee-facing tools and teams are redheaded step children (no offense gingers – you’re some of my favorite people). Historically enterprise software vendors deliver complex functionality with poor usability. Organizations usually accept that poor usability and rarely invest enough in user experience design for intranets and other employee-facing tools they could highly customize.

7) Poorly aligned IT and HR goals: I recently talked to someone who said “I would never go to someone in HR if I had a problem” and “they just don’t seem to think about how they can help managers.” HR teams often focus on compliance, policies and process enforcement, while IT teams typically focus on spend management and security. All of those areas of focus are important, but none of them drive outstanding employee experience or are pursued through an employee experience lens.

8) Spot fixes without a consistent program: Forward-thinking HR departments will make employee experience progress. Employee-focused Internal Communications teams will move the needle. Customer service oriented IT units will make improvements. But unified efforts supported by executives will be rare.

Incremental improvement, a few leaders and the next fad

As technology and organizations slowly evolve towards being more humanistic, the field of employee experience will also advance. But the progress will mostly be slow, with a small percent of organizations leading the way while the rest flounder far behind.

That’s okay. We’ll see overall progress and new trends that support employee experience. We must persist, but with eyes wide open about the everyday challenges most organizations grapple with.

Together experience design thinking, treating employees like valued customers, and empathetic management will help leading organizations thrive. Their progress will tug the rest of us along at the usual rate that human behavioral norms change. But I’m happy (and hopeful) to be proven wrong.