Employee experience

do you prevent great talent from applying?

road closedThere is so much being said about the “war for talent” right now. So much new technology. So many vendors out there ready to help. Plenty of snazzy tech solutions to automate much of the hiring process. Unfortunately, we often forget that even the best technology is a tool, not a solution. And like all tools, it can be used poorly.

The other day I spoke to a human resources professional who was “in transition” and looking for work without much luck. It wasn’t the difficulty getting a job that had her most frustrated; she was surprised and appalled at how badly candidates were treated by companies. She’s not alone.

I’m amazed there are so many companies that simply don’t comprehend: 1) there is a huge advantage from a great candidate experience; and 2) you build a great candidate experience the same way you create a great customer experience – by thinking about it from their point of view and making it as simple and painless as possible. It’s as though they have a 21 Century mindset for competing for customers and a 1930s belief that employees are completely interchangeable cogs and should be grateful the company would consider hiring them.

Great talent has more options. They generally don’t have to put up with a poor candidate experience. AND that candidate experience is their first look at what it’s like to work for the company. Difficult, arcane, indifferent, condescending, black holes? Cyabye!

I am a big fan of rigorous selection systems. I believe companies should hire as though their future success or failure depends on the people in the organization and their decisions and actions (hint: it does). Technology (theoretically) enables us to automate much of the drudgery and makes it easier to connect with candidates, simplify the application and selection process, and make communication a breeze.

Or, technology can be used indifferently to automate the wrong parts of the process, make applying complicated and difficult, and turn communication into a meaningless checkbox activity. Some examples:

  • The careers section of the company website is difficult to find, confusing, or has contradictory information about how to apply.
  • The position description is vague, confusing, or doesn’t provide enough information. This isn’t a fault of the technology, but can lead to other problems when the technology makes it difficult/impossible to learn more.
  • Expressing interest in a position and trying to find out more requires setting up an online account (because we all need another password to remember) and going through the entire application process. Which requires providing sensitive personal information. The potential applicant has to reveal birth date and social security number just to find out if the job is actually something they are interested in. No. Major fail. Great talent will simply move on and continue looking elsewhere.
  • If a computer glitch happens, there is no way to contact a human to get it sorted out. Locked out of your application? Too bad.
  • Otherwise qualified candidates are automatically screened out by the system because they don’t meet a rather arbitrary set of qualifications. Too often, the nice-to-have qualifications are turned into must-haves that reject otherwise outstanding candidates.
  • Otherwise qualified candidates are automatically screened out because their resume doesn’t have enough of the specific key words the system is looking for.
  • Generic communication is sent out in batches. This is a time saver. It’s also a great way to send rejection letters to candidates with an offer in hand or reject someone who bowed out of the hiring process a full month ago.

What else? What other candidate experience failures are out there? Failures that would be soooo easy to correct if someone thought about the process from the candidates’ point of view?

It’s easy to think this doesn’t matter because there are plenty of applicants. But, are they the right applicants? Is technology making it easier for great people to apply or is it driving them away? Fortunately, if you have a lousy hiring process and a miserable candidate experience, you’re not alone. So many companies fail at this that many just consider it normal. That’s a low bar and an easy one to hurdle.

The nice thing about so many companies being so bad is that it’s really easy to stand out.

[Photo Credit: Sarah Korf via Compfight]

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would you get inked for your company?

128px-NicksGunSo much of what is on the cutting edge of building employee engagement is really just applying well known customer service principles with employees instead of customers. Most of it is just about creating human connections and treating others at least as well as we’d want to be treated (wait, you say that’s not a new idea?).

There’s a next level though. A level of engagement where people are happy to accept less-than-the-best pay; where people would eagerly move across the country for the opportunity to be an employee; where it’s not unusual for employees to enthusiastically get tattoos of the company’s logo.

Think long and hard about that. What would it take for you to identify with your employer so strongly that you’d get inked? Heck, what would it take for you to proudly wear clothes with the company’s logo when you weren’t working (and still had clean laundry)? What are these companies doing that is so different?

I have some thoughts, but they come with the caveat that it’s just my thoughts and observations, not the results of a scientific study. I’d love to hear from people who actually work at a company that creates such an intense connection. [Two quick thoughts about the tattoos: 1) I’m just using them as a dramatic example, but there are other ways people demonstrate a strong personal connection with their employer; and 2) at least one company out there gives employees a raise if they get a logo tattoo – that’s not an example of love for the company, that’s a business transaction – and it doesn’t count.]

Creating Next Level Engagement

How could we attempt to create the kind of loyalty and love that has employees wearing their heart on their sleeve? What is so different?

Establishing Identity / Culture. These companies have a very strong identity that’s echoed throughout their culture. They don’t try to please everyone by offending no one. Rather they have a strong flavor that probably isn’t for everyone, but is loved by a few. Think “death by chocolate” ice cream to the typical corporate plain vanilla.

Valuing Individuality and Diversity. Employees are free(er) to express themselves through their clothes, appearance, desk decorations, etc. No one feels they have to conceal or downplay non-mainstream interests. No need to leave important parts of themselves at home or strap on the identity straightjacket when they come in to work.

Getting Selection Right. They use their strong identity as a first line of selection by turning off those who wouldn’t be a good fit and creating a strong attraction for those already in tune with the culture. Then they make hiring the right people a top priority instead of an afterthought and take a rigorous approach to selection.

Creating Internal Communities. Employees have fun together and intentionally build internal communities that create strong connections between employees based on common interests, company sports teams, charity work, fun runs, etc. They might also strongly encourage cross-departmental collaboration, both formal and informal such as mixed or open workspaces, eating lunch together, etc.

Encouraging Championing. This isn’t the right name, but I don’t know what else to call it. These companies want their employees on social media and vocal in the community. They are more concerned about people not sharing their passion for the company and its mission than they are about people saying the wrong thing. Yet, how many more typical companies actively smother any love their employees have for them by not trusting and discouraging/preventing people from speaking up, speaking out, and sharing their love?

Shedding Blood. People support those who support them, sacrifice for those who sacrifice for them, and shed blood for those who shed blood for them. Few things build loyalty faster than knowing the company is unquestioningly behind them when things get tough.

Celebrating the Love. These companies proudly show off their employee’s love. They have pictures of the tattoos, custom or homemade t-shirts, or whatever on the website and actively use that love to further build the brand identity and culture. Contrast that with companies that would cite the logo tattoo as being against dress code and a violation of the company’s trademark (“Did you get use of the logo approved by marketing and compliance?”)

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your ideas or examples of what these rare companies do that’s so special.

[Photo Credit: By THOR via Wikimedia Commons]

what if it’s not about employee engagement?

Work SucksEmployee engagement is a HUGE issue. But… maybe the problem is we’re focused on the wrong thing. Maybe disengagement is a symptom and we keep trying to fix people rather than addressing the underlying causes. Maybe it’s not as hard as we think. Maybe it’s not even really about engagement.

What if it’s about the employee experience?

Computer programmers place a big emphasis on creating a great user experience. They call it UX and know if the user experience is poor, people will stop being users and go find better software. Marketing and sales folks spend time fretting over the customer experience (aka CX). They know that customers will stop being customers if the experience is too difficult. UX and CX are huge issues and are given considerable attention.

Companies are slowly (oh, so slowly) catching on to the idea that they are competing for candidates. Talented candidates have options and if the application process is too painful, they’ll immediately go somewhere else. So, we’re hearing more and more about the candidate experience.

But we don’t hear much being said about the employee experience (call it EX). EX is made up of all the things that help or get in the way of employees getting their work done: management, their supervisor, rules and policies, work processes, work environment, culture, co-workers, etc. Does their daily work experience make them feel frustrated, angry, defeated, or hopeless? Or do they feel empowered, responsible, supported, and valued?

This is not just a human issue, not just an engagement issue, this is a business issue. Business gets done for, through, and by people and it’s been said that the customer experience never exceeds the employee experience. It’s a simple formula: CX<EX. How a company thinks about and treats its employees has a direct impact on how employees think about and treat customers which has a direct impact on how customers thing about and treat the company which has a direct impact on business results. In short:

Employee Experience >>> Customer Experience >>> Customer Behavior >>> $ (or not)

If you were going to improve the employee experience, what would you do? Here are a few ideas:

1. Start where you are with what you have (and stop digging). It’s easy to think of engagement as being too complicated or someone else’s problem. It’s easy to think it’s only for the VP of HR to worry about or that you can’t do anything because you’re not Zappos or Google. But the truth is, we can all make a difference in whatever organization we’re in.

Think about it this way: Are there things that you personally could do right-now-today that you know are 100% guaranteed to cause a terrible employee experience or spread disengagement throughout the company? (Yes!) If you have the power to have a negative impact, you also have the ability to have a positive impact. And if you know the things that make it worse the obvious strategy is: Don’t do that.

There’s an old saying: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. If you’re fighting against disengagement, creating an award winning workplace is a fantastic goal, but the first step is to simply stop doing things that create a terrible employee experience and cause disengagement. Don’t worry about making it better (yet), just quit making it worse.

2. Recruit and hire like it matters. If you want engaged employees – people who give a damn about results – start by hiring engaged people. Recruit, select, and hire people as though the future success of the company depends on it (hint: it does).

The software company Valve is a great example of an organization that truly understands the importance that hiring the right people has on business results. From their employee handbook: Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe. Nothing else comes close. It’s more important than breathing. So when you’re working on hiring… everything else you could be doing is stupid and should be ignored!

3. Invest time, money, and resources into developing people. This is kind of a big deal. People who care about their results tend to enjoy new challenges and hate stagnating. They want to learn, grow, develop and won’t stand for watching life pass them by or resigning themselves to a career where every day is the same. You hired great people, help them continue to be great. Oh, and the world is changing quickly. If your people aren’t developing new knowledge and skills every year, your company is sinking into the past.

4. Pay attention to culture. We’ve been told, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” and that sounds really impressive, but what is culture? The best definition is comes fromTerry Deal and Allan Kennedy: culture is the way things get done around here. Beliefs, policies, values, rules, unspoken norms, etc. all manifest in how things get done. So when it’s said that culture eats strategy, it doesn’t mean strategy is unimportant, it means that how you do things (the culture) must be in line with and support what you want to do (the strategy).

Likewise engagement efforts can be completely supported – or devoured – by culture. Do you have the culture you want? Does how you do things support people being fully engaged and at their best or does it shut people down?

5. Get rid of stupid policies. Speaking of how we do things around here… Stupid policies prevent people from doing good work, degrade the employee experience, and get in the way of results. They are generally the result of two situations: 1) someone did something dumb once and a policy was created rather than dealing with the situation and treating it like the anomaly it was; or 2) a policy was created to address a once valid situation that is no longer important, relevant, or valid.

Do something radical. Find out which policies are causing frustration and preventing people from getting their work done, then change or destroy those policies.

[Check out the book Kill the Company by Lisa Bodell for more thoughts on eliminating stupid policies.]

6. Provide employees with good managers. It’s said that people leave managers, not companies. Managers make or break the employee experience by making people feel supported and valued, bringing out their best and challenging them to be even better. Or NOT. Leading is a tough job most managers simply haven’t been prepared to do.

People usually get promoted into management because they’re good at the technical parts of their job and then are suddenly expected to be able to lead people. And it’s just not that easy. Leading is a distinct and completely separate skillset and like all skills it has to be fostered and developed.

If engagement and the employee experience is important and if managers can destroy them, then it makes sense to intentionally develop great managers and provide the support they need to make good decisions and do great work. Actually, if you did nothing else, having managers who don’t destroy engagement daily will provide tons of bang for the buck (bonus if they can actually build engagement).

7. Value people. This is at the heart of everything we’re discussing. This doesn’t mean everyone gets a trophy and it doesn’t mean coddling poor performance. And it REALLY doesn’t mean hollow, insincere lip service to “our employees are our greatest asset.” But it might mean believing and acting as though people matter. It might mean a bit of gratitude, a touch of understanding, a tiny amount of empathy, and the sense that the company cares about the individual. All employees will have joyous, painful, exhilarating, scary, and very human moments both at work and home. How the company, team, and leaders react tells people all they need to know about how they are valued. Few things will cause a person to disengage quicker than realizing no one cares.

So what’s it all mean?

Ultimately, improving engagement and the employee experience isn’t about improving a survey score, it’s not magic, it’s not a program, and it’s much bigger than HR. It’s about doing things that support your employees and managers at being their best and eliminating the things that cause them to stop caring.

Sounds easy. Sounds simple. Yet very, very few companies have it figured out.

[Photo credit: michelhrv via Compfight]

why so serious, HR?

The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility!

The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility!

HR has a credibility gap. We just don’t get the respect we deserve. Or, at least, it seems HR likes to think HR has a credibility gap. There is no shortage of HR folks who think they don’t get the respect they deserve. Maybe they don’t, but it’s interesting to see what they think will create credibility.

I attended the Illinois State SHRM conference recently (a great conference that’s worth crossing state lines for) and a participant, fairly new to HR, expressed concern that we weren’t allowed to have fun in HR. Um, pardon? Apparently her boss and other HR leaders in their community felt that having fun destroys credibility. They believed executives wouldn’t respect HR if we were ever viewed as having fun.

A significant part of my career has been in leadership development and I’ve traveled around and spoken to and worked with leaders in many companies, in many industries, in many countries. Never once did any leader say, “You know what destroys leadership credibility? Fun! I hate it. When I’m looking for strategies to get the most out of my employees, forget someone who can link selection, development, and retention to solving business problems, I want an HR leader who is bitter, dour, mean, and boring. Get me someone who can put fun to the side and make this a culture where our employees hate being here. That’ll solve our business problems!”

Fun doesn’t have to mean frivolous. Fun doesn’t have to mean silly. Fun doesn’t have to mean you don’t know what you’re doing. Fun doesn’t have to mean you don’t take serious issues seriously. Fun can mean that people create significant results and enjoy doing it; that although they take their jobs seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. It is entirely possible to be outstanding at what you do AND have fun.

Work isn’t always fun. Often, it’s difficult, complicated, and unpleasant. Which is why I think it’s doubly important to bring fun to it when we can, to find ways to make it more enjoyable, to find the joy in our work. If nothing else, to have fun working together. To look forward to being around our teams. HR can’t make every day a great one for each and every employee, but there is so much we can do to create a positive culture, a great employee experience, and a strong employment brand.

It saddens me to think about the culture and employee experience and business results these anti-fun HR managers are creating. No one looks forward to going to work, giving it their all, and staying around year after year in a miserable environment. I can only imagine the recruiting, retention, and performance problems these companies have.

And they think “fun” will ruin their credibility? Too late.

 

branding, HR, and the customer experience

Want to build your company’s brand? Give a close look at your HR department.

That’s not how we typically approach it, is it? There are a ton of articles on branding, but far too many that discuss it as though it’s a separate activity, as though it’s a shiny bit of chrome that gets bolted on to make the company look nice. Company leaders just decide how they want the company to be known by customers, then they create marketing to support that and it’s done, right? Um, no.

In reality, branding is deeply woven throughout the entire organization, despite our attempts to reduce branding to some eye catching advertisements. It’s a circular “chicken and egg” problem that has to be addressed as a whole and looks something like this:

Brand –> Values/Culture –> Hiring/Retention/Development –> Employee Experience –> Customer Experience –> Brand

 

Brand. The company decides what it wants to be known for and how it wants to be viewed by its customers. Highest quality, best value, best service, the choice of people in the know, whatever.

Values/Culture. Not the stupid mission statement nailed to the wall that no one can remember and everyone ignores. Not the list of safe values that shows up in the “About Us” section of the webpage but how things actually get down and the (unwritten) values the company uses to make decisions and set priorities. (Lest we forget: Enron’s posted values included “Integrity” and “Excellence” but those clearly weren’t the values underscoring their day-to-day operations.)

Hiring/Retention/Development. I cannot emphasize this enough: business gets done for, through, and by people. What the company stands for and how it operates is determined, supported, and reinforced by its people and the behaviors that are encouraged (and tolerated). The ideals written on the wall are irrelevant if they are not fully supported by who gets hired, who is allowed and encouraged to stay, and what they are taught through formal training AND daily interactions with managers and peers.

Employee Experience (EX). I’m not convinced we can create employee engagement or motivation – that’s one reason why who we hire is so important – but I’m very confident that we can utterly destroy it through the daily employee experience. Is the EX one of support, growth, and pride or terrible manager, toxic peers, inane policies, and a dehumanizing culture? Or, is it trapped in between and a daily dose of apathetic meh?

Customer Experience (CX). The customer experience determines how they think of your company. Your definition of the brand is meaningless next to the customer’s. Who determines the customer experience? It’s a combination of your culture (i.e., how things get done around your company) and your employees. It’s been said the customer experience will never exceed employee experienced (I like to think of it as: CX<EX). That makes sense. It’s ridiculous to think we can make our employees’ lives miserable and have them turn around and create a wonderfully fantastic experience for the customer.

Brand. Yep, all of this leads right back to brand. Not the one you want, but the one you actually have.

None of these operate in isolation; they all feed into each other. You can’t build the brand without linking it to your people and how you expect them to operate day in and day out. So how is you HR department supporting the brand?

Might be time to give it some thought.

HR math: CX<EX

For all the talk of customer experience, very little is given to the employee experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in creating a great customer experience. It’s crucial for any kind of repeat business and long-term success, it’s critical for word-of-mouth endorsements and buzz, it’s a necessity to differentiate from competing businesses. And so what?

It’s been said that the customer experience never exceeds the employee experience. I shorthand that into a simple math formula: CX<EX. If the employee experience is unpleasant, micromanaged, and rigid I can hardly expect the customers to receive a warm, open, uniquely customized experience. On a scale of 1-10, if the employees have a “1” experience, the customers will NOT receive a “10” experience.

It’s funny how we talk so much about creating the customer experience, but the employee experience seems to be an afterthought or we take a shotgun approach.  We forget that, no matter what our intentions, strategy, or CX metrics, it’s the employees who deliver the customer experience. Yes, work has to be done, high standards need to be met (exceeded), profits must be made. But somewhere along the way we get confused and think that work, standards, and profits are at the expense of the employee instead of because of the employee.

The great thing about employee experience is that it doesn’t have to be based on hope, chance, or luck. We can actually design it. We can give focused intentional thought to the experience we want them to have and how to create it.

We don’t often think about creating an intentional employee experience, so if you want an easy place to start ask yourself this: What is our ideal customer experience? How do we want customers to describe their experience with us to their friends?

Now build that experience for your employees.