Though 2018 has been dubbed “The Year of the Employee Experience (EX),” many Fortune 500 HR leaders are still playing catch-up in understanding and embracing that EX is just as important – if not more so – to their bottom line than customer experience (CX).
Behind buzzwords like “war for talent” and “employee engagement,” and beyond slick PR and on-campus recruiting campaigns and short-term perks, EX is the totality of interactions between employer and employee from well before the start date until long after the exit interview.
As Maya Angelou once said, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” How much truer this is for companies and their leadership? One look at Glassdoor company pages shows fanatic praise mixed with horror stories.
With record-low unemployment and record-high employee mobility, it’s never been more important for companies large and small to critically evaluate, plan out, optimize and improve every stage and component of their EX. Enterprises find themselves with little room for error and tight deadlines to transform their HR and communication practices, or else.
The cost of losing an employee too early (the average tenure of millennials in a job is 24 months) can run up to twice or more the employee’s average salary, given the cost of recruiting a new employee plus training and the time it takes to onboard them. Knowing there is no magic bullet, Fortune 500 C-suites are looking for incremental change to stem the tide.
In my own work on both sides of the equation, as a consultant for several Fortune 500 companies then as an executive coach helping hundreds of mid-career Fortune 500 execs transition to their dream jobs, I’ve seen a fuller spectrum than most of the practices that work and others that fail miserably.
Here are the best practices I’ve found.
1. Help each employee proactively “find themselves,” then extend the experience to candidates.
Empower each employee to figure out his or her life mission, values, ideal client outcomes and preferred role. Then, help them create a detailed career action plan and a clear priority list of ideal incentives, including compensation, appropriate health and financial benefits and other perks to help them thrive. Preemptive alignment between projects, people and goals on personal, team and organizational levels gives the enterprise a win-win.
Going one step further, provide the same tools to potential hires, helping them filter themselves out organically up front. Showing you actually care is great for your brand, even while it helps your bottom line by investing in the right – not just the best available – talent.
2. Listen to each employee carefully, thoroughly and regularly, rather than dictating to them.
Poor communication is the main reason employees become stressed, burned out and gone, regardless of how good a job is otherwise.
Lend an ear, not a survey. Make them feel safe, healthy, focused and empowered. Ask what makes them tick, what they want out of their career and life, and their personal development priorities. Then give them work they like, and the pay and personally relevant incentives they want. Help them progress quickly in their career through personal development and constant opportunities to grow. Be transparent about everything going on in your company, and treat everyone like an adult. If you fail at that, you’ll find they quickly leave.
3. Understand all the various motivations and mindsets of each person in your organization.
The C-suite most wants to maximize financial performance, set and evangelize the vision and empower everyone else to execute on it. Middle management looks to steady the boat through enforcement and consistent performance. HR filters out candidates, negotiates incentives and avoids compliance problems. Each has its own incentives and disincentives in communicating or holding back.
An effective internal communication strategy acknowledges and leverages each of these sets of incentives and continually seeks transparency around the organization and mutual alignment on vision and mission.
4. In your HR strategy, embrace and leverage structural shifts happening quickly in the economy.
This includes automation by artificial intelligence (AI), outsourcing and increased mobility between jobs and industries. Acknowledge the writing on the wall. And if you love them, let them go. Enable rotation programs, apprenticeships and secondments to other firms. Create an internal innovation lab and funnel top talent and serious resources to making it thrive. Provided you make a later return an attractive option, these are actually great ways to retain and grow your investment in each employee.
Create a consistently great EX, and top talent will come back with additional training and experience from elsewhere. Word travels fast, whether it’s good or bad.
5. Treat employees like VIP customers.
Create a safe environment for giving and receiving feedback, and make sure the feedback is regular. Make both anonymous and direct feedback available. Celebrate wins both big and small and help team members recognize each other publicly for both.
6. Help each employee become the best version of him or herself professionally and personally.
Help them work smarter, not harder. Get them the best tools they need to work quickly and flexibly. Create a tech and learning-and-development budget, relevant software, and other tools to help them continue to improve themselves. Streamline, automate and outsource to improve quality, save time and costs.
7. Make remote and flexible work easier, beyond the usual 9 to 5 face time.
This is a must to keep millennials around longer, save on transit costs and improve morale, family and personal life.
8. Set apart dedicated time for everyone to work on outside projects, be safely vulnerable when needed and fail forward and iterate quickly to get better.
All people need autonomy, trust, health and financial well-being, plus mental safety from their bosses and management to do their best work continuously.
Instead of “letting the inmates run the prison,” the best HR strategy is giving professionals everything they need to thrive, then getting out of the way and letting them make you look good.
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