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We at the Engagement Zone sat down with #Engagement101 fellow – Ben Whitter of the World Employee Experience Institute, otherwise known as Mr Employee Experience. Whitter’s insight into employee experience has been celebrated and adopted by companies all over the world with his seminal article Bye, Bye HR attracting over 600,000 impressions making it the most viewed HR article. We ask Ben his top tips for engagement as well as effective strategies he has seen.
EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you?
BEN: Employee engagement is an outcome. Great organisations achieve high engagement from their employees, which contribute to performance, productivity and customer satisfaction through the intentional design of an integrated, high value, and compelling employee experience. Similarly, poor organisations achieve low employee engagement outcomes through a consistently mediocre, incongruent, and misaligned employee experience approach.
EZ: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement in their organisations?
- Genuinely put your people first by formally committing to deliver a great employee experience through a clear mandate at top team level; make someone accountable for the holistic employee experience and the quality of it.
- Reboot your support functions, especially HR, and get them facilitating the employee experience in a thoughtful and human-centred way.
- Define, Design, and Deliver an authentic employee experience that is locked into business strategy and outcomes. Get to work and co-create this with employees prioritising identified pain points within the employee experience journey.
EZ: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should look to avoid when executing their engagement strategy?
BEN: Having a strategy in the first place. Organisations should have one business strategy. Everything else is there to deliver it. There should be no gap between the business mission/vision and employees. Bind your approach to the employee experience (and ambitions for engagement levels) into the business strategy. Design and iterate. Avoid short-termism, fads, and stuff that you don’t really believe in, but feel compelled to do – this is the most persistent error within employee engagement. With the correct mandate, you will no longer spend years trying to get buy-in from passive middle managers.
Focusing on the holistic employee experience means that managers become facilitators of experience, which is a key requirement of any leadership role. If they don’t get it or don’t understand why building a great team and workplace matters then they should be quickly developed, supported or removed from the privilege of management.
EZ: Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?
BEN: Because they have heard it a thousand times and are rightly fed up with the status quo. Too many broken promises and a high level of cynicism based on…..yep, their experience as an employee! The very question of securing buy-in indicates failure and a failed approach. If employees have to ‘buy-in’, it’s too late and you should start again with the employee very much in mind. We do this through co-creation from the outset, not at the consultation stage, which is typically the case for any new policy. Employee experience is about creating something that employees want or need. Build it together and those engagement outcomes are on their way.
EZ: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?
BEN: The really serious players (and winning organisations) are investing heavily in human-centred leadership, design thinking, coaching and mentoring, and facilitation. This is underpinned by skills in behavioural economics, people analytics, digital and employer branding and marketing.
EZ: You’re a judge for the Employee Engagement awards. What will you be looking for in the entries?
BEN: The outcome. What has changed as a result of the engagement work and how well aligned and integrated is it within the business context. Is this long-term, intentional design, and built with employees rather than for them? Too much engagement work starts and stays in the same central department.
I would like to see fully inclusive, employee-led initiatives which have secured a strong commitment to solving problems that employees have identified themselves. In this sense, I enjoy really well defined, designed, and delivered experiences.
Innovation is always good to see, but so too is taking a well-established idea and then really executing it well within the organisation.
EZ: How important do you think it is to connect Employee Engagement to Customer Engagement and why?
BEN: Massively important. They are a reflection of each other. The more engaged your employees, the more engaged your customers. The correlation is well documented and researched, and you can’t build one without the other. There should be no separation between the two and hopefully, your staff are also your proudest and most vocal customers! If your employee experience is in full flow that will be the case.
EZ: What’s the best EE idea you’ve seen a company roll out/attempt and wish you’d had that idea yourself?
BEN: The very best ones are the old ones! Making sure the values of the organisation count in everything the employees experience at work. This is beautiful to see and very, very engaging when combined with a great purpose, mission, and vision. Not many companies do this well, but the ones that do outlast and outperform the competition over the long-term.
EZ: What’s the worst and glad that you didn’t?
BEN: I do not like employee engagement panels and they are usually formed straight after another historically bad practice of once-a-year and off-the-shelf surveys. Imagine asking your customers for their views on your product in one survey, once-a-year and then forming a customer engagement panel? It’s a modern day travesty and employees deserve better.
Once a year deep research using a survey you have built with staff is different, but feedback, as part of the employee experience, should be continuous, loud, and never-ending!
EZ: Since you entered the world of work, what’s the best experience you’ve had?
BEN: The best experiences I’ve had are always tied to working with great people on a great, big mission. Yes, you win awards and plaudits along the way, but it is the journey that counts and remains memorable forever. This is what experience is all about – the moments, the meaning, the cause, and the success you achieve together. I’m grateful for many wonderful things in my career so far and a diverse range of experiences around the world. I’m writing a book about some of them, but to narrow them down to one is next to impossible.
EZ: What’s the worst?
BEN: I try to learn from everything and everyone so you won’t hear me complaining too much about any negative experiences, but I am the same as everyone else in that working with a poor manager or within a poor working or team environment is not the best situation to be in at any stage of your career.
EZ: Which person (dead or alive) would you love to be able to come in and speak to your workforce/colleagues?
BEN: Jack Ma (Ma Yun) of Alibaba. I know a lot of the senior team in Hangzhou, China, and Jack is a remarkable motivator and visionary figure within and beyond the business. A few hours with Jack would do nicely for any team.
EZ: Favourite song to crank up after a tough day at work?
BEN: Human by Rag N Bone Man
EZ: Best place (s) in the world you have visited?
BEN: Really, really tough question. I find these ones the most challenging so as the user of this question set I will redesign the question and add an (s). That’s better. I would say Shanghai, Guilin in China, Sanya in China, Pacific Highway 1 in California, Santorini, Lake District in England, Bavaria and Berchtesgaden.
EZ: The place you’d most like to visit?
BEN: Canada is still on my list and I’m keen to have a look around Scandinavia.
EZ: Thank you, Ben!
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