People & Leadership

12 experts share their top tips for building amazing workforce experiences

What does an amazing workforce experience really look like? We spoke to 12 experts to get their thoughts on building a company culture.

Forget engagement – it’s all about experiences. Or, so we’ve been saying a lot in the sector recently.

Yet what does a great employee experience actually look like?

We know it’s not ping pong tables and free food. That’s what our research from 3,500 employees found. Instead, workers want to feel valued in the workplace.

We opened up the question to the likes of founder of Bersin by Deloitte Josh Bersin, and host of We’re Only Human podcast Ben Eubanks to see what they thought.

Ranging from HR leaders and engagement professionals to professors, analysts, bloggers and consultants, here’s what our 12 experts said.

1. Communicate openly and regularly

Susan LaMotte, founder and CEO of employer brand experience firm exaqueo, advises companies to communicate often.

She explains: “The best workplaces actively share information. They do so regularly with a clear cadence and voice. They’re honest and open, even when there is nothing to say.

“You may be in the middle of M&A [mergers and acquisitions] activity and can’t say much about what’s happening, but the simple act of acknowledging that, and, telling employees where you are in the process and when they can expect to hear more, builds trust and confidence.

“Your people will be engaged so much more than if all they hear is a scary silence.”

Perry Timms, founder and chief energy officer at PTHR (People and Transformational HR), echoes LaMotte’s view:

He says: “People kept in the dark – sometimes with the intent to protect them – breeds distrust and causes friction and tension unnecessarily.”

Timms believes listening to and talking with employees is vital to creating great workforce experiences so that company bosses take not just finance and efficiency into account when making decisions, but also belief and human factors.

Shally Steckerl, founder of the Sourcing Foundation and chief sourcing guru and founder at The Sourcing Institute, agrees, explaining: “Employees want to know what’s going on with the company with more regular updates, town halls, and direct access to leadership so they can ask questions.

“They may never ask any, but they want to be able to know that when or if they do, they will not be judged.

“Give them access to the fire hose of information so they can get the news they need when they need it, and not have to wait around impatiently for formal announcements.”

2. Treat your employees like customers

Lisa Rosendahl, human resources director at US Department of Veterans Affairs, suggests stopping for a moment and thinking about an amazing customer experience you’ve had, or the best things about a company you have worked for.

She says: “What was it about the experience or the company that stood out for you? That’s what employees are asking you to provide to them, or to enable them to provide to others.

“Think about how you can you do that.”

Her recommendations don’t have anything to do with ping pong tables or office games.

“Ensure employees have the tools to succeed; listen to employee needs, acknowledge them, and act on them; delegate decision-making to the customer-facing staff; and provide training and coaching for professional development,” says Rosendahl.

LaMotte adds that knowing what matters to your top talent – the employees you most wish to replicate and retain – is also crucial.

She asks: “What do they care about? Don’t assume you know what employees want because you were once in their shoes.

“Employment experience priorities should come from data and research, not from assumptions in boardrooms.”

3. Promote great people managers

“Promote people on the basis of how they manage people – not just on performance,” advises Gautam Ghosh, consultant for talent advisory services at VBeyond Corporation.

“Great people managers are the critical missing link to build a great organisational culture.

“The top leaders must articulate what the culture of the organisation should be and make it easy for everybody to understand what behaviors are needed to create a great culture.

“Critically, it also should clarify what are the non-negotiable behaviours.”

4. Listen, interpret and act

“Listen, listen, listen – act – and then listen some more,” says David D’Souza, head of engagement and London at CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

He suggests ignoring the fads and instead focus on how people are being led and supported to ensure they are able to deliver at their best.

He explains: “It helps to focus on the basics first, and then move on to how people feel and what they need. You need certain things during your first few weeks within an organisation [for example your log-in, your security pass], but how you are feeling is possibly disorientated and anxious.

“So solving the basics and then genuinely thinking about the experience is the key to building a joined up and enjoyable working environment.”

Jon Thurmond, regional human resources manager at Team Fishel is also an advocate of listening to your people.

He says: “Listen intently to employees and be willing to have crucial conversations when necessary.

“Follow up and follow through on commitments you make to the workforce. Be as transparent as possible. You can’t be all things to all people, so don’t try to be.”

Josh Bersin, principal and founder at Bersin by Deloitte agrees that the biggest tip he’d give is for leadership and management to take time to listen.

He says: “Employees will always tell you what you can do to make the business better, how you can better serve customers, and how you can make the organisation more productive, but you have to open your eyes, give them a voice, and truly listen with an open mind.

“Many of the topics, suggestions, and issues employees bring up might be hard to hear, but if you listen and respond you can continuously improve the experience.”

5. Provide flexibility and accessibility

Shally Steckerl says employees want to be able to take work on the road when necessary so they can keep up with our fast-paced society and still balance work-life.

He says: “They need to be able to leave the office early to run an errand and finish their workday from home; and take meetings from the coffee shop, parking lot, train, aeroplane or while riding in a cab.

“Sometimes they want to be able to come in late because they have a morning appointment at their kids’ school, doctor’s office, or their parent’s assisted living facility.”

He points out that all the Boomers leaving the workforce are being replaced by a relatively smaller population of Generation X, Y and Z workers who “need to be able to access their employer’s work systems from portable devices so they can work from anywhere, any time, and be better able to take care of longer-living ageing parents while raising kids and keeping their jobs”.

6. Understand the existing employee experience

Gemma Dale, senior HR professional and co-founder of The Work Consultancy, says: “How do people really feel about working for you, every day?

“You cannot tell this from a percentage score in a survey. You need to get out there and talk to people and make the effort to understand this deeply.

“You need to look at every part of the employee lifecycle and every touchpoint, from the first contact when someone sees a job advertisement, and understand how they make people feel.

“Then decide ‘what is the experience you want to provide?’. What do you want people to say about working for you, how do you want them to feel? Then plan to bridge the gap between today and tomorrow.”

7. Help employees find meaning in their work

According to Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and co-founder and principal at the RBL Group, employees are increasingly seeking meaning from their work.

He says the key is to help employees find meaning which enhances their experience.

He adds: “Make employees agents who are accountable for finding the meaning. Business leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith has done a wonderful job by asking employees, ‘to what extent did you do your best…’ when asking about employee experience.

“The responsibility rests with the employee to find meaning.”

He highlights the seven sources of meaning and suggestions for managing these.

  1. Purpose: Create a purpose driven organisation based on being socially responsible as well as economically viable.
  2. Identity: Help the employee create a personal identity based on their work.
  3. Relationships: Allow employees to find positive and affirming relationships at work.
  4. Work environment: Establish a positive working environment that serves customers.
  5. Work itself: Help people match their personal skills and interests to the job they do.
  6. Learning and growth: Ensure that employees have a chance to learn and grow from their work.
  7. Fun: Have fun and experience joy at work.

8. Create an employee journey map

“Building a smooth employee experience begins with mapping their journey just as marketing does for a prospect, or product does for a product roadmap,” says Aadil Bandukwala, former evangelist of predictive outbound hiring solution Belong and now APAC marketing director at HackerRank.

He explains that an employee journey map is a visual representation of the different stages your talent goes through as part of your recruiting, retention and promotion cycle.

“It is dissected by the channel that they came from and enables you to understand the emotional journey that your employees are going through,” says Bandukwala.

“Building employee journeys help give you a sense of predictability and also control over your retention and talent attraction funnel.”

9. Don’t overlook the small opportunities

“One of the easiest ways to craft a phenomenal employee experience is to find small opportunities to make life better for workers,” suggests Ben Eubanks, principal analyst at the Lighthouse Research and Advisory and host of ‘We’re Only Human’ podcast.

“In a recent hackathon I was leading for HR professionals, I had them focus on areas like onboarding, training, and leadership development to find small ways to ‘hack’ the processes and improve outcomes.

“One team took onboarding from a transactional process to a highly social interactive session that helped new employees feel connected to the mission and culture of the company from the earliest days on the job.

“These kinds of changes deliver more value to the workers and embody what it means to offer a great workforce experience.”

10. Be a people custodian

Dr Tanvi Gautam, founder of the Leadershift Inc, believes HR needs to see itself as the custodian of the potential of its people.

She asks: “What would you as an HR person do differently if you saw your role not as a job, but as a responsibility to the people in your company?

“How would you talk to the employees if you were an enabler of ‘potential’, rather than a keeper of records? What if employees saw HR as their biggest advocate rather than an adversary?

“In other words, for a great workforce experience HR must reimagine its own role and brand. HR needs to reinvent itself both at a mental model as well as an executional level.”