Dec 17, 2020 Bogdan Udrea

Part 1: The secret sauce to delivering great digital employee experiences

Employee experience continues to grow as a trend but, more importantly, as a key driver behind any digital transformation program for enterprises. But why do so many employee experience programs fail to make lasting change?
The secret sauce to delivering great digital employee experiences

Oftentimes I sit down with customer executives, IT subject matter experts and users within various organizations, engaging in fascinating conversations that always revolve around the same question: “How do we tackle, in the right way, the myriad of things that impact the worker’s experience?”

This broad question is usually followed by ideas and suggestions of either discrete or strategic approaches that have the same problematic starting point: The assumption that IT knows and can prescribe a correct approach to what users need, irrespective of the context, with a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Why do we even care about the employee experience?

I always think that it’s important first to understand what the underlying core needs are behind this increased focus on employee experience programs or efforts. They have and will always stem from the same three business-level, interconnected demands:

  1. Maintain (but ideally increase) productivity
  2. Increase engagement
  3. Retain and attract talent in the workplace

Depending on the enterprise’s industry and current economic or social circumstances, the above three demands usually grow or decrease in their underlying importance, but they are always present as an expected, measurable outcome of a positive change in the overall user experience.

Why is experience in the purview of IT?

Inevitably, all experience-related conversations start centering on Workplace IT, as users interact and spend a lot of their time navigating processes that are homed and supported by various IT-supported ecosystems. There is always great discussion around various models, approaches and, sometimes, entire programs designed to drive enhancements in the overall employee experience, backed by examples of both discrete successes and “legendary” failures of such efforts.

Across all these failures there seems to be consistent pattern of negative outcomes, as seen through the eyes of the users:

  • Enforced self-service ability that no one enjoys
  • Automation that hinders the users, rather than helping them
  • The same unwieldly processes, just in a new tool/platform
  • A general perception that IT takes an IT-centric prescriptive approach to many of these programs or efforts

The trick is to take an inward-out approach

Stepping back, I always aim to refocus the conversation on the basic needs and expectations of end users as it relates to the engagement with IT overall (which could refer to systems, devices, applications or support.

At a baseline level, there are four key expectations from this “relationship”:

  1. A non-intrusive IT experience. To put their rallying cry simply: don’t prevent me, as a consumer of IT, from doing my work by any means.
  2. This essentially means the ability to perform their work however they see fit within a construct of IT systems and processes that can dynamically adjust to this need.
  3. Self-help that is unobtrusive and not enforced through a single channel that seems to fit only some user profiles. The basic principle of any “self-service-ability” program and mechanism is: users should be able to use it through methods of engagement that they are accustomed to and prefer.
  4. Any engagement with IT should be frictionless and, ideally, personalized. This essentially means replicating the concepts we have seen in the B2C world. Employees expect IT to understand who they are and fit their structure around employee needs.

A two-pronged approach to meeting employees’ expectations

In the context of the above expectations, I see two approaches to address, either strategically or within tactical efforts, these needs:

1. Persona-driven evolution

The first one is the attempt to profile employees and associate them with personas, around which IT then starts to configure ecosystems, ranging from devices, software products, systems, services structure and associated processes.

This is one of IT’s most preferred user experience enhancement approaches, because it provides them, among many other benefits, with predictability regarding workplace evolution.

However, it is also one of the approaches that fails very frequently for three reasons:

  1. While many of the persona mapping programs are launched as a 360-degree, profiling-centric exercise, it usually ends after arriving at a set of basic definitions/rules centered on user devices, user software and some service access entitlements. It very rarely goes and touches on processes and workplace journey transformations, which continue to remain one the most friction-full components of the user experience.
  2. Persona mapping tends to be a one-off, point-in-time exercise, never to be repeated any time soon or at least re-baselined on a regular basis. This inherently means that over a short period of time, all the definitions become inaccurate. Employees are expected to evolve within the construct of their personas, despite changing needs, and so remain confined in a definition that induces constraints.
  3. Strictly correlated with the reason above is the inability to address “real-time” persona changes. More simply put, we’re talking about situations where a subset of users requires a different set of IT services for periods of time. Often, they’re not entitled to these services based on the “standard” definition. The best example here is represented by departments such as finance or accounting which, due to events like end of month, quarter or year, have different needs from IT at different times.

2. An ungoverned approach

The other approach, more rarely taken, is to provide ungoverned choice. In this model, IT essentially opens the door to employees and provides them with anything they desire, whether we talk about devices, software, systems, processes or engagement models. While this model appeals to end users, it has often created a conflict with some of the key mandates of IT, the most prominent of which is cost efficiency.

Which road should you take?

The right answer for any enterprise usually consists of a combination of these two models. In my next blog, I’ll be exploring how to strike the right balance in your approach to ensure success.