The Employee Experience: An Interview with Authors Tracy Maylett and Matthew Wride
We recently talked with authors Tracy Maylett, Ed.D and Matthew Wride, J.D., P.H.R. about their new book, The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results. The book explores what is shaping up to be the hot HR topic of 2017—the employee experience. Maylett and Wride are chief executives at DecisionWise.
S&S: What’s behind the momentum in organizations to begin evaluating their employee experience? How do we know it’s not a management fad?
Maylett: We can thank the recent push in employee engagement for a good part of this momentum. Organizations have discovered clear ties between engagement and operational performance. Engagement has become more than a nice-to-have, HR-sponsored idea. When something has financial measures, ROI, profitability, quality, attrition, etc., tied to it, that tends to get the attention of the entire organization.
The Employee Experience, or “EX,” is the sum of perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work. Organizations now realize engagement is only a part of the human equation regarding these measures. Sometimes EX is positive, sometimes it’s negative. But it’s always there. EX directly impacts performance. The way in which employees perceive their experience is a strong predictor of organizational performance. Emphasis on performance certainly isn’t a fad, so it’s important to understand all the indicators associated with that performance. Understanding EX is foundational.
S&S: What trends do you see regarding the connection between employee experience and customer experience?
Maylett: There has been a great deal of attention focused on creating a stellar Customer Experience (CX). There is no doubt customer satisfaction is rocket fuel for the bottom line. However, today’s organizations are burning billions in fruitless efforts to create a profit-boosting CX. Many companies fail to recognize their employees create the customer experience. The employee is the face of the company. The Customer Experience (CX) is a direct result of the Employee Experience (EX). CX = EX. We call this the “Law of Congruent Experience.” Employees will deliver a Customer Experience that matches their own Employee Experience. And some organizations are finally realizing the sole focus on CX is a backward attempt to delight customers.
Wride: Over the past several years, the trend has been to focus intently on customer experience while many times ignoring those who interact with the customer on a daily basis: the employees. We try and remind business leaders to lay a foundation built on a well-functioning employee experience rather than obsessing over whether a customer spent 32.3 seconds on the website as opposed to 36.9 seconds last year. If you want a superlative customer experience, start by creating an environment that fosters and promotes an engaged workforce.
S&S: Talk about the role employee expectations play in the employee experience. What are other important factors?
Maylett: There has been a great deal of research in both clinical and organizational psychology that points to the fact that expectations form the basis of relationships. Every relationship, be it husband and wife, parent and child, boss and subordinate, or company and employee, has a “Contract.” This contract is a set of expectations for all parties involved.
Some of these expectations are explicit (“You will work X hours per week, and I will pay you Y amount”). Others are implicit (“I will work extra hours on this project because the company will take notice next time promotions come around”). This set of expectations, or a contract, is always being reinforced, violated, or renegotiated. Our research shows whether this contract is honored has a greater impact on the relationship than does the environment in which that relationship operates.
In the workplace, this means one’s engagement is less dependent on foosball tables, Taco Tuesdays, benefits, and compensation than it is on whether the individual’s expectations are met. Much of our EX perception is based on how well expectations are fulfilled. If expectations aren’t aligned, an expectation gap is created, causing disengagement.
Wride: Expectations are these ephemeral atomic elements that either build or destroy relationships. Yet, we don’t spend nearly enough time worrying about them. Instead, we focus on getting down to the “real work” of the day that might consist of meetings, memos, spreadsheets, and forecasts. Of course, that stuff is incredibly important, but not at the expense of building alignment within one’s team.
S&S: Whose responsibility is it to have a positive employee experience—executives? Middle management?
Maylett: In our book, MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement, we state that engagement is a 50/50 proposition. 50 percent of the responsibility is on the company. The organization must create the environment that encourages employees to choose to be engaged. But it’s still a choice; employees must choose to engage.
Similarly, the employee experience is half of the responsibility of the employees. Many leaders can point to employees that will constantly chose to have a negative employee experience (remember, EX is all about perceptions), despite any management effort. However, the organization is still responsible for the other 50 percent.
Managers and supervisors are the foot soldiers with the direct connection to employees. They are the beginning and end of in-house EX management. In other words, we are ALL responsible for creating and maintaining a positive EX (even the employees).
S&S: What role does the Employee Value Proposition play in engagement?
Wride: The Employee Value Proposition is simply one component of a well-functioning employee experience. It’s what we call the “brand contract.” It’s those expectations an organization has about what it needs from future and current employees, intertwined with expectations these same people have about what it will be like for them personally within that organization. (Sorry, that was a long-winded answer). To the extent an organization’s EVP properly bridges the chasm separating the organization’s needs from the employees’ expectations, that organization will be more successful in attracting and retaining the type of talent that will help it win.
SA&: Where do leaders go astray when intentionally developing their employee experience?
Maylett: Leaders are most likely to go astray when they fail to intentionally design an EX at all. A poor EX most often is created when leaders neglect the EX, or allow an EX to form unintentionally and without concerted design. EX must be intentional. EX is like culture; it will develop, whether it’s planned or not. When an organization purposefully creates a positive EX, rather than letting it unintentionally develop, the EX more likely will reflect the positive values of the organization.
Wride: It’s like parenting. When I became a parent, I was cocky. I thought I had the natural ability to be effective. Wrong! I had to work at it, and I needed to make it an intentional area of focus. Most leaders are high achievers, which makes them believe they are talented across the spectrum. They fall into the same trap I did with parenting. They erroneously believe prior success in other areas means they have the inherent talent to manage, motivate, and engage human beings. For a small percentage, that might be true. But our employee survey responses tell us for the clear majority of leaders, they need to improve their people skills.