Like you, I get jaded reading loads of articles daily that seem to collectively spew forth a litany of marketing jargon that boggles the mind. I find myself wondering if Elon Musk was right - we're all living in a simulation concocted by some Uber smart sim-game designer who is just manipulating our minds with fancy phrases. Such was my initial read on the notion of "Employee Experience." Then I actually started to read books on the subject to dig in more deeply - was there anything there, or are we repackaging employee engagement, or worse - employee satisfaction (read 'happiness').
I've been an HR practitioner for 25 years, a consultant for 5 and have become, in my old age, a crotchety, hard-nosed pragmatist who now sees the world from the employees' point of view, as well as those of the shareholders, chairman, CEO and operating board members. I'm grumpy and I'm riddled with scar tissue from fighting too many battles on behalf of humanity in the workplace, but with never enough weaponry needed to win the war - so I just keep on fighting until I do, or will die trying. I'm sick and tired of Henry Ford's and Frederick Taylor's mentality that workers are nothing more than plough horses - you ride them hard in the hot sunshine, and put them out to pasture when they're too tired to hoe a row. Then you get some younger, newer ones in and start fresh again. That only works in a master-slave relationship - and ain't pretty for anyone - except the brilliant jerk who's pocketing all the money at the top and buying toys left and right, pretending occasionally to be philanthropic.
The reason this model is DOA today is that the people we so affectionately refer to as 'workers' are actually where the magic happens, where the exponential power of an organisation's opportunity to go exponential with their products and services exists. Technology and all its advances haven't come about from other machines (yet). The incredible consumer products and applications we all take for granted today were all invented by creative, human centered and enlightened people who were able to operate in a cultural environment that supported their thinking, sharing, collaboration, inventing and seamless singularity with potential consumers. Leaders of these companies encouraged cross-functional, independent and radical working and thinking. They gave people the head space to dream up things no one else had imagined. Then gave them the money and tools to make it happen. They didn't stomp on failure - but they sure as hell were tough on results. They and their employees pushed one another to think better, faster and more nimbly. And man did they make a hell of a lot of money doing it. Think Apple, Google, Netflix, Nike, Amazon, Facebook - not to mention the hundreds of 'old world' companies that have taken the 'blue pill' and realised there is an entirely new universe out there to contemplate.
Everyone craves a dose of purpose and meaning in their lives. We all like a bit of Serotonin and Dopamine flowing through our brains. We crave enlightenment and exponential outcomes in our lives. But we have been acting like human beings having a spiritual experience - when in truth, we are really spiritual beings having a human experience. It's because of that, we end up unhappy, disassociated, we fall prey to thinking having more things will make us whole again. When we don't get enough money, a bigger house, a nicer car or that incredible vacation experience - we feel less than (our neighbours, our friends, our perceptions of what life is really about). We fall into despair and depression - and look to drugs and alcohol to fill the hole in our soul. And as we spend about 2/3rds of our lives in work - all of this happens there in even greater proportions than in our personal lives - or more aptly - the abundance of time spent in an imperfect work world bleeds into our personal lives, creating dysfunction and suffering. This isn't just the illness of the 'worker' but rather it happens at every level of our working environments. And what a shame - because if we woke up every morning having dreamed all night about the great thing we might invent, the cool people we would work with, the incredible opportunities that await us at work - you wouldn't need things, drugs, alcohol or false idols to keep you happy. Instead, you would seek fulfilment in a place that cared about your mind, body and soul.
Studies and research have shown time and again that people who operate effectively nearer the top of this pyramid tend to be healthier, wealthier, friendlier and more productive. But sadly most organisational activities operating at the Functional level of activity. I know HR does as these are the sorts of things they occupy the day, more often than not - but this isn't what enables human beings to explore their brilliance and creativity into wonderful products and services. The notion of the Employee Experience (EX) is figuring out how your people 'feel' about these various levels of activity. The optimal EX is attained when the organisation and the human being working there feel aligned, are measured and supported equally, are respected, empowered, enabled and developed effectively - every day.
Getting to the upper 'Life Changing' levels of emotional engagement requires a wholesale view of your entire organisational landscape - across your leadership, organisation structure, people programs (were they developed with the recipient in mind vs. the organisation's convenience?), digital enablement facilities, your physical and virtual work environments - and underpinned by a Purpose, Values, Vision and Mission that is consistently held as sacrosanct and not to be manipulated or abused. Importantly - all of these things need to work as if in perfect concert with one another - or pretty damned close - for the human being working there to believe it's real. EX design involves looking at all of these components from the perspective of that human being - and making sure you're pulling them up that pyramid daily - or if they aren't able to keep up - supporting them with coaching, mentoring, training or perhaps even respectfully steering them to an alternative existence somewhere else. Getting this right - for your corporate money watchers and makers - is the magical formula to winning every race in the book. But here's a top tip - don't be a vampire, a master of slaves, nor be inauthentic in your creation of an enlightening organisation. Rather BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT EVERYONE TO EXPERIENCE instead. And mean it.
This EX thing is real - and it's about the most real thing we will ever know. If you want to blow the doors off the competition, reshape your market, invent the next iPhone or ubiquitous search engine - then look in the mirror, assess your level of EX today, break it down into comprehensible parts, and pick 2-3 that really move the needle and design alternative realities that excite, engage and enlighten your people because you created that reality from the perspective of the recipient - not the organisation. Involve all relevant parties and treat your people like consumers. Validate everything, be hard on yourselves and realise that an exponential outcome never comes easy or fast. Finally - learn how to do this regularly - not as a special project but as a 'way of being.' Set a moon-shot goal to create the best-damned Employee Experience anyone has ever dreamed of - and measure that space before, during and after its launch.
This is the work we should all be doing - treating our people as if they were customers - delight them and involve them in building a place where that spiritual being having a human experience gets to have more 'spiritual' experiences (read interconnected, enlightened and the higher end of that pyramid), than not. I can assure you loyalty, persistence, resilience, creativity, abundant thinking, discretionary effort, and incredible results. As importantly - I can assure you that your customers will be thrilled to bits working with your teams and individuals. This sort of thing is contagious (and viral). Word will get out, and soon you'll have the best people knocking on your doors, and the best customers willing to give you their hard-earned money. EX is the hard work that needs assessing, designing, implementing and nurturing. If you want to avoid irrelevance in this insanely chaotic digital age - I would certainly steer you to fix this first - and the rest will surely follow...
Jeff Wellstead is a Digital & Talent Transformation Expert, currently Co-Founder at Ex.Design
Jeff has 25 years global, cross-industry experience: Consulting, financial services, high availability SaaS tech and cloud-based software.
He has held positions from Group HR Director at Metapack to COO at Kantar IT Partnership.