Improving EX Takes a Different Way of Thinking

There’s a lot out there right now on employee experience (or “EX” as we call it). It’s not a new concept — as an industry, we’ve analyzed employee behavior and preferences for decades. But there’s a renewed focus on optimizing experience today as developments like an increasingly global workforce and rapid career mobility challenge retention and increase competition for talent. Providing a great EX is your smartest strategy for attracting, engaging and retaining the best people — and in turn, accelerating business success.

When organizations don’t design a thoughtful EX measurement program and focus instead on siloed, traditional HR metrics, they don’t see their blind spots or “experience gaps.” Experience gaps are discrepancies between what organizational leaders think is happening and what employees are actually experiencing.

These changes and corresponding advice around EX can be overwhelming for practitioners. Below, we review the five most important shifts — some in mindset, some in technology — your company should make to optimize EX.

1. Focus on experience, not engagement

Engagement felt like the ultimate people-metric a few years ago, and it is absolutely still a critical component of EX. But to truly understand EX, we need a more holistic view, including components such as internal company processes, work environments, manager/employee relationships, peer-to-peer interactions and technology.

What does a broader focus on the full EX look like? It involves:

  • Incorporating more in-the-moment measures of experience, such as employee onboarding or an individual’s job milestone (as opposed to only the once-annual employee survey).
  • Sharing those results with the relevant teams (as opposed to keeping them siloed in HR).
  • Acting on the insights as they’re revealed (as opposed to acting on potentially outdated information).

2. Implement multiple ways of listening

To get an accurate read on the holistic EX, you need multiple feedback checkpoints of various modalities. Beyond surveys and focus groups, there are many methods of gathering employee feedback — from text to email to chats. Here are some common ways organizations can collect EX data:

  • Always-on feedback — An on-demand, anonymous avenue for employees to provide feedback, insights, and raise issues such as a dedicated section on the company intranet. This ensures employees can provide feedback when they want – not just when the organizations want.
  • Ad-hoc surveys — Just-in-time employee feedback, such as input on customer-facing initiatives, organizational change or internal programs.
  • Pulse surveys — Regular, structured, quantitative measures of employee attitudes, such as a quarterly employee pulse.
  • Employee lifecycle surveys — Event-based, standardized measures of the employee experience at critical points in the employee lifecycle, such as onboarding.
  • Multi-rater feedback — Individual, employee-focused assessments that can range from pure self-development to formal performance appraisal, such as performance reviews.
  • Census engagement surveys — Traditional, robust measures of employee attitudes and the organizational practices that drive engagement.

You certainly don’t have to implement all of these — every organization is different. However, the purpose of implementing multiple feedback channels is to make it easier for employees to provide feedback and for leaders to receive them in a relevant and efficient way.

3. Understand the everyday experience 

The employee lifecycle model includes common transitional periods — interviewing, onboarding, exiting, etc. — that make natural checkpoints for measuring EX. These are not the only critical moments in an employee’s journey, though, and feedback should not be limited to these milestones.

What are some other “moments that matter”? Perhaps the end of the first week on the job, or a work anniversary or the conclusion of a big project — times that feel significant, but don’t necessarily align with the standard lifecycle stages. Think through when else you could ask employees for their thoughts and feelings. (This is where ad-hoc and pulse surveys really shine.)

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4. Use a mix of data inputs

While experiential data points — the feedback you gather by asking employees questions — provide valuable inputs, you can also learn a lot by reviewing other types of data available to you. Doing so may even shape the questions themselves.

A good example of this is operational data, which are organizational metrics that teams likely already gather. For example, you can ask employees for their thoughts on a training program, but you may have enough information already based on how quickly they moved through the course, how long they spent on certain pages or which points caused them to go back to an earlier screen.

These behaviors are indicative of an employee’s experience; having this additional info can help you ask different, more specific questions you might not have known to otherwise.

5. Move to shared ownership of EX

When an employee’s laptop breaks, whose issue is it? Is it a problem for the IT department? For HR? For the employee’s manager? It’s easy to see how keeping an employee equipped with the necessary tools is a shared responsibility among multiple parties, and the same goes for EX as a whole. While HR may lead and manage EX, the strategy should include shared ownership among various organizational leaders. After all, good EX is good business!

Modern EX is a multi-faceted concept, and the flurry of recent data and opinions only makes it more daunting. Focus on these five shifts, and you’ll have covered all the major points and be well on your way to a top EX.

Elizabeth is an employee experience leader at Qualtrics with a passion for helping organizations architect and implement effective employee listening programs that inform the creation of best-practice employee experiences and drive business outcomes. Prior to joining Qualtrics, Elizabeth consulted with Gallup, helping organizations to solve their most pressing business problems in both the employee and customer experience space. Elizabeth earned her B.A. and M.A. in Psychology from Vanderbilt University and is a member of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology (SIOP).

Liz is a Principal Consultant - Employee Experience for Qualtrics, supporting clients in building and sustaining employee experience programs. Prior to Qualtrics, Liz was Director of Organizational Development for Healthfirst and worked as a Talent and Organizational Insights Consultant for Towers Watson (now Willis Towers Watson). Liz earned her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Seattle Pacific University and holds a B.A. in Psychology from SUNY Geneseo. Liz is active in the Society of Industrial-Organizational Psychology (SIOP) and of the Metropolitan Association of Applied Psychology (METRO).

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