Manager Mysteries & Mishaps Podcast

Exploring the employee experience. [Interview]

This episode focuses on the employee experience - what it is, having it as a corporate strategy, and embracing a culture of evaluation.


Way back in the third episode of this podcast, I defined employee engagement at length, breaking it down into its various parts. I also briefly explored what employee engagement is not, with it not being the same as employee satisfaction or happiness. I'm mentioning all that because of how some organizational topics are treated. Some, like employee engagement, gradually become very popular, to the point where they're part of the foundation of people strategies within organizations. Over time, however, those topics often get mischaracterized, misrepresented. Things are lumped in that don't belong.

For example, employee satisfaction and happiness are both related to employee engagement, but that doesn't mean they're the same as engagement. That leads me to the topic of this episode, employee experience. I think this is one of those topics that has become rather popular in a short period of time and will probably continue to become even more popular. But like employee engagement, it seems like the topic of employee experience has been misrepresented almost from the get go. I'll get back to that point later in this episode.

Right now, I want to focus on the viewpoint of someone who specializes in the employee experience. To offer a picture of what it's like to craft the employee experience, I interviewed Megan Johanneson, Senior Manager of Employee Experience at Marvin Windows and Doors. Megan talks about what the employee experience is, having it as a corporate strategy, and embracing a culture of testing and learning.



To make sure everyone's on the same page, what is the employee experience?

Okay. So for our company, the employee experience is about how our employees experience the offerings, the programs, their workspace, technology, the cultural environment, how they experience everything. So it's applying work that we do. It's about applying the employee lens to everything that we do and create, from the end user experience perspective.


And so how is that different or evolved than things like organizational culture, employee engagement, things like that?

Here's what's really different, or how we're thinking about it. Engagement for us is sort of like our health report that tells where are we on fire? Where do we have opportunities for improvement that we need to address? Or we're not going to get better. The experience perspective is how we enhance the experience based on the feedback and inputs that we get from our employee base. What are the moments that we create? How do we make improvements that impact the way that they work in the environment that they work in?


What are some ways that you capture those moments?

Some of the more tactical things, or the approach that we take, is from a human-centered design lens. So we spent a year. The team immersed in human-centered design work and problem solving. And so we brought that back to our organization, and are now applying that to how we problem solve and create experiences. So instead of coming from the lens we take the employee engagement survey results, and then what we learned from that, we then go out and ask our employees to provide inputs on what does that mean to them, and what does good look like, or what would they like to see us do to solve for that? So we create empathy interviews, and then we take that feedback and try to solve those problems based on inputs from them. We're designing for our employees.


How do people managers play a part in designing employee-centric moments for employees?

One of the things that we learned from our employee engagement survey was that our number one focus was around making sure employees felt valued. And so we spend a lot of energy addressing our customers' experience with their product, but now we're looking at it as though our employees are our customers. And so for our people managers, it's about designing, creating, and supporting with a people first mentality.


What can people managers do to help think about the design from a people first mentality?

Asking the employees what they want and actually doing something with it. So right now, we're gathering those inputs and we're designing and building things to address those wants. The more tactical things would be mothers' rooms. So we have mothers out in the plant who don't have access to an amazing space that makes them feel comfortable and celebrated and supported. And so we're creating and testing pop up mothers' rooms. We're bringing in hot meals and pumping in skylights to bring in natural light so that they have an experience that's not like typical manufacturing lunch room space. We're providing wellness programs and initiatives. We have onsite clinics, different fitness programs. These are all based on the answers our employees have provided. To us. It's just us taking action and creating it for them.


So if part of the design of that people-focused, people-centered mentality is for people managers to gather that feedback, what can they do to help then create, kind of realize that feedback?

It's about listening and then taking and doing something with it, that feedback that we've learned. So employee experience for us doesn't roll up through HR. It actually rolls up through corporate strategy and design. And so it's really about having employee experience as a part of our corporate strategy, versus something that's specifically rolled to human resources. So employee engagement comes with that.

One of the things that we've learned about ourselves as we've been on this exploratory journey in employee experience and human-centered design is that in past life, or what we're trying to change culturally, is that we have typically come from a space of gathering centers of excellence, or subject matter experts, and prescribing an approach that we deem to be the best, or where we've seen past successes. What's changing and shifting is that we're now asking our employees for the answers to the test, and designing based on what they're telling us is the answer, not us telling them. They're a part of our decisions, which is incredibly powerful.


So rather than kind of a bottom down prescriptive approach, it's more bottom up inclusivity?

Yes! It's welcoming a test and learn culture, where in the past it's been, "Here is the strategy, or here's the program, or here's the approach that we'll take." Now it's very much we're testing that with our employees. Let's test. Let's learn. Let's try it. Let's fail. Let's win and implement, or bring it to scale where it makes sense. So at home, we're testing and learning, doing prototypes that we hope, after gathering input and doing empathy interviews, that we can then bring to scale at an enterprise or company-wide level.

One of the ways that employee experience shows up for us is in our workspace. So recently we've really moved away from sort of that cubicle setting, head down, closed office doors. And how we think about our new purpose statement, which is around improving wellbeing, creating amazing spaces to enhance life for people, is all focused on how we create an environment that people enjoy working in, that inspires collaboration, and more closely models the employee experience and how you come to work and feel excited and invigorated, versus maybe siloed or closed off.


And how have those workspaces been changed or modified to be more collaborative, more people-centric?

They're very open floor plan, a lot of windows. You can move them. You can design the space to accommodate the meeting group or the setting that you're trying to create. It's a beautiful experience where you look forward ... The idea is that you come to work excited to fix your cup of coffee amongst your peer group and to connect with people. There's drop zones for impromptu meetings, collaborative workspace where you don't have to make an appointment. It's not a closed door. It's open windows, bright lighting, fresh, Nordic, modern. It's true to our culture. It represents our history and our traditions, but it's also refreshed.


What do you think has been the greatest challenge that you've found when trying to make all those changes in the name of employee experience?

The most interesting potential barrier is that employee experience and applying that lens to the work that you do is impacted by everything. People think, "Oh, this is an employee experience. I should call that team. I think they can support." So if it's hosting meetings, or hosting events, or communicating new things, it's everything from onboarding, to the employee engagement survey, to company-wide held events, brand transitions. The employee experience is really everything that we do. So the barrier is that if you're setting up a department focused on employee experience, how do you define what that is and where that shows up? Because it's so broad, potentially so broad.


How did your organization, set up those boundaries of the employee experience, given how broad of a definition, how broad of a term, experience is?

Here's the exciting part. They're not totally set up. So we're in a transformational period where we did the employee engagement survey, learned that feeling valued was something that was impactful for our employees, and that here are the places that it showed up. So what we learned from that, we recognized the need to enhance the employees' experience when they come to work, to make it a great place to work. We updated our purpose to imagine and create better ways of living, and so we owed it to our employees to do the same for them.

And so it's testing, and learning, and having the conversations with people as the requests come up, to help educate them on what it is and where it shows up. So it's not necessarily in the every single day tactical pieces. It's in those pieces if those pieces can be brought to scale. So ultimately, it's an enterprise-wide department that's testing and learning at home, so that we can take some of these really neat learnings at this point in our journey, because it is so early on, to think about how we can bring that to others and throughout the company.


Employee experience is such a hot and kind of new topic right now anyway. It's difficult to think about the future necessarily, because it's just kind of getting its foot in the door right now. But have you seen anything, heard anything, thought of anything that you're kind of excited for over maybe the next year, even five years, of the potential for the employee experience?

Absolutely. So I mentioned a few of the tactical approaches, some of the little things that we're testing and learning. The ultimate goal is that we're taking our home office, and we're remodeling a wing to an updated workspace that is all about the employee experience. But that's just the space. Then it's how do we live in that space and bring these things to life? And so to bring that to scale, one of the things that we're doing from an employee experience perspective is exploring what employee concierge might be.

And so it's this brainstorm list of ideas that would make people's lives better while they're at work and outside of work. So it's offering services. We have many employees who work odd shifts. We have many employees who work core hours during business days. We're in a small town. You can't go do your day to day tasks. You can't ship. You can't go to get your driver's license. You can't order flowers. You don't have time to go the grocery store. So how do we bring some of those services to life in the workplace, provide wellness so you can do onsite fitness?

There's really this this dream list that we'd like to bring to fruition and do that by prioritizing it based on what employees say they would love to have most available to them so that they can be more present when they're at home. The other piece is technology. So as we look ahead to the next one to five years, it's how do we create the tools and resources to make all of these experiences better, faster, more fluid?



From my perspective, the most important thing that Megan said was about embracing, or at least welcoming, a culture of testing and learning, or a test and learn culture. This is a strategy in which decisions are often built from the bottom up based on employee perceptions and feedback, rather than only being determined by the opinions of senior leadership. Likewise, it's about testing, learning, trying things out, failing and winning, and finally implementing what wins at scale in a way that makes sense for your organization. To me, most every organization should attempt to operate in this way, or at least adopt certain principles from it.

Now at the beginning of this episode, I made a point about how I view the employee experience. What I wanted to say is that I've seen tons of comparisons between employee experience and employee engagement, often along the lines of something like, "Move over employee engagement. Now there's employee experience." Or, "Employee engagement is dead. Long live employee experience," things like that.

In a very technical definition, employee experience encompasses the overall emotions, attitudes, interactions, and observations made and felt by employees, often through the curation and optimization of employees’ technological environments and physical workspaces. So the employee experience can be thought of as a design-oriented way of framing and interpreting organizational culture. And just as employee engagement is a part of, and influenced by, organizational culture, so too is the relationship between engagement and experience.

In other words, the level of connectedness employees feel toward their places of work, their engagement, is part of their unique experience. And that connectedness is influenced by other experiences employees have within their organization. So what I'm trying to say is that employee experience as a topic should not be thought about as a replacement of employee engagement. That's misrepresenting both topics.

Instead, I like what Megan said in the interview, that engagement is more like a health report, and experience is how employees' time in an organization is enhanced and improved based on that health report. Long story short, employee engagement and the employee experience are not enemies. One isn't better than the other. They're complementary, both being parts of a greater system to make organizations better places to work.

And that's it for this episode. Join me next time on Manager Mysteries & Mishaps, where I'll discuss some challenges of being a new manager.

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