Employee Experience Journey: Ten Key Points

Employee experience is the number one human capital trend in 2017. No question.

Why? With more companies than you can count opting to fully embrace this new future, not just for HR, but for the whole business, the time for this renewed and energizing focus on the quality of our experiences in work has come. And guess what? It’s not just technology firms leading this workplace revolution.

What exactly is employee experience?

Employee experience is the intentional design and engineering of a high value, integrated and end-to-end employee experience. From pre-hire to retire, using the experience as a lens, we can maximize all the interactions an individual has with an employer over the long-term to create a deep sense of belonging and co-create high performance and stronger business outcomes.


This is not for everyone; it takes real commitment to provide a superior workplace experience. This is evident in the investment in HR technology, tools, and physical infrastructure as well as the progressive design of key HR and management practices.

All of this is aligned and coordinated to have maximum impact in translating the vision and values of the business into a day-to-day reality to drive great business outcomes.

Just ask GE, Lazada, Aurecon, Harrods, GSK, Riot Games, Nike, Maxis, Atlassian, Commonwealth Bank, DBS, and of course, the tech icons are all in there too with LinkedIn, Cisco, Facebook and Airbnb charting an experiential path.

The Chinese ‘Big 4’ are also locking experience into operations with Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba, and Huawei proving to be top pick for talented graduates who want to create history through a compelling mission and purpose.

Does your organization have an all-consuming mission? It should, and employee experience is there to bring that to life.

Why should HR be concerned about employee experience?

It has been my pleasure to co-design, keynote and introduce employee experience to hundreds of colleagues in May/June at the HR Summit Asia 2017, Australia’s first employee experience conference in partnership with PwC, and through my masterclasses around the world. What has become clear, as I digested the talks, conferences, meetings, and my other work with clients is that the experience of work is the only conversation that matters.

Experience is at the forefront of the discussions within business and HR. Yet, it still feels like we are just warming up in some markets. We need to change that picture and get ahead. I’m here to help you do just that.

So how does an employee experience approach reshape the structure of a business? Well, one model we are seeing being rolled out now within global businesses is that of a Chief Employee Experience Officer who has oversight, authority and accountability over the entire holistic employee experience. This mandate includes all or some of the main employee-facing function such as HR, recruitment, L&D, marketing, IT, estates, catering and internal communications.

With a strong business leader at the top of that, the experience is being positioned as a strategic imperative. Other organizations are leading coalitions made of internal services that have collectively fostered a team around the employee experience and have a key sponsor in place from the top team. The proof around which approach is best will be in the outcomes.

What I have also observed on my travels is that HR is in serious danger of missing a huge opportunity as the employee experience mandate is being given to a range of internal functions to lead. Every part of the corporate world is positioning around employee experience and for good reason.

That’s because the end-to-end journey of the employee experience is critical, from the way people are hired and then on-boarded, to how they learn and develop with the organization, and how their overall contribution is measured and rewarded. In the past, much of this has been fragmented or focused on short-term, unaligned, and not very strategic engagement activities. Not anymore.

Employee experience is about the whole 3D Employee Experience™ – being able to define, design and deliver workplaces where people belong, find meaning, and create astonishing human achievements. This is what we are focused on at the World Employee Experience Institute.


Ten key points to note about employee experience

So how do you get started on the employee experience journey? Here are 10 points of focus:

1. First things first.

Progressive companies understand that the ‘people’ thing matters more in this economy as a significant competitive advantage. Take it seriously. Position it as a priority. “People are our asset” – Mean it. Breathe it. Lead it.

2. To restructure or not restructure? That is the question.

The business needs to be accountable for the employee experience in some way whether through the board or other mechanisms. Jeff Bezos of Amazon famously has one empty chair at his management team meetings. I would recommend two. You know who the other chair represents. Keep the customer and employee experience together – they are best friends and will thank you for it.

3. Quite frankly, it is time to sharpen the responsibilities and remits around employee experience.

Bring the full employee experience into the play by consciously shaping and guiding its development across functions and roles. If you can, ensure this is led from or at least sponsored by the entire top team (Idealistic) or by one named accountable senior executive (more realistic for a lot of organizations).

4. At the outset, focus on the ‘experience’ points that matter most to staff and prioritize them.

Employee experience is a long-term, strategic approach. Most organisations don’t have the resources or mandate to go 100% employee experience immediately (if you do, great, enjoy!), so work with staff to figure what needs to be developed early within the experience at your organization and narrow the focus on some data-informed pain points that you can get to work on straight away.

In that sense, I would say that you don’t immediately need to worry about what you can’t change, control or influence. Make sure your immediate attention and energy are directed towards the things that you can control or influence. Every employee journey begins with the first step. Get started and get ready for the long-haul.

5. Within early employee experience approaches, we do need to find the believers – the ones who really get the point about people making the difference and creating the real value within a business. Work with them. Bring them into the movement alongside employees to co-create something special, together.

The days of developing ‘employee engagement’ activities within one function of corporate HQ’s are gone. As Cisco did, you may want to break some stuff along the way like they did with the HR function, and why not. Break it, then build something better. Real transformation starts from within. If your HR function is uninspiring, do something about that issue early. Where you see processes, we see experiences! Make them count.

6. What is happening in practice right now is driven by in-context research and solid people analytics.

Practitioners must understand the context and build something within it. Everything must enhance or strengthen internal capacity and capability. We don’t need to be dependent on outside providers unless real value is being added. How do you know if it is? Check your results and the feedback from staff and data also talks wisely. It could be engagement or brand outcomes, or if you are really moving ahead, go straight to the business performance data and work backwards!

Data is key. How engaged is your workplace? How are the HR metrics doing? Where are you up to with strategy and performance outcomes? Develop capabilities to ensure that you can harness all the data in a compelling way. Utilize it to build either a better experience for your staff, or a superior experience within your sector. This depends on the appetite and leadership of your business.

7. Within employee experience we have a new approach to benefits, rewards, and perks, so introduce free food, free parking and every other perk you can think of.

Actually, don’t do that. Get yourself into a place where you can step back and think about the overall design of the experience. The employee experience must be authentic and in harmony; in that respect, everything needs to relate to your overall strategy, approach and brand. Don’t just introduce free food “because Google does it”.


8. A big part of experience is the actual design of the workplace.

There is heavy investment in infrastructure projects right now especially within large organizations that have or are experiencing high disruption within their industries; consider the physical and technology workplace infrastructure and how it can better serve the needs (and wants) of your employees to get their jobs done well and enjoy doing so.

I met with over ten major banks and consulting firms recently who attended my events or met me for private chats, and the scale of their investment in the employee experience is eye-watering and simply incredible. They are getting ready for the future right now to attract the best talent and the best clients. (Hint: this is not just about funky furniture, pool tables, and slides.)

Employee experience is all about creating a deeper connection between your staff, your customers, and your business. The design of the workplace is a helpful facilitator of that connection and should, when done well, easily and naturally ooze what is important to your organization.

9. Employee experience unlocks serious wins for talent attraction, retention, and engagement.

Employers can’t leave this to chance and need to channel a lot of energy into communicating the employee experience, inside and out. This will bring talented people and talented people leaders to you in droves. It will also be the biggest way of differentiating between you and other organizations.

10. Crucially, leadership remains a critical factor within the organization; find the best and develop great leaders who do not see the employee experience as a secondary matter. The great leaders integrate employee experience into their business practice; poor leaders do not and that should also be addressed as part of the employee experience approach.

Think about this. How would you rate the experience of working with your organization on a scale of 1—10?

If you rate below an 8 or a 9, then I would encourage you to get started on the points above right now this second because if your competitors are not already investing in and positioning their employee experience to compete with yours, they will be doing very soon, and that is very smart business indeed!

Artificial Intelligence and Employee Experience

The impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace has been seen mostly as a negative, and as a threat to employees. Economists line up to offer dark prophecies for the future of work, whereby AI systems replace humans and take over almost half of all jobs in the next ten years. As this narrative monopolizes the current public debate around AI, the opportunity for AI to transform work and working lives for the better is often missed. This is a great pity, particularly for leaders in HR who care about employee engagement and experience.

So let's pause for a moment and reflect how employees feel today, and ask what AI can do to improve employee experience. But before we do that, let's define the problem, by recalling the immortal words of Clarence Francis, Chairman of General Foods in 1950s, on the "philosophy of management":

"You can buy a person's time, you can buy a person's physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour or day. But you cannot buy enthusiasm; you cannot buy initiative; you cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds and souls. You have to earn those things."

What I particularly like about Francis's little gem of wisdom is the dichotomy he makes between the "mechanical" and "emotional" aspects of work. This dichotomy fits well with what AI can do in transforming business. For the "mechanical" aspects of work, such as the "measured number of motions", AI can provide near full automation; which is something to be welcomed. There are too many boring and tedious tasks that we all do, and we should welcome the opportunity to pass those tasks to the robots. In many ways, we have been acting as robots ever since the first industrial revolution, so it is about time we passed these tasks to their rightful owners and focus on the more substantial aspects of work, the parts that are quintessentially human, the "emotional" aspects of enthusiasm, initiative, loyalty and devotion of heart, mind, and soul - to quote Francis. The truth is that, as business leaders, we have been trying to focus on those aspects for decades, but with little to show for our effort so far. Research is consistently finding low levels of engagement among employees across all industries. So why is that so? And why is it so difficult?

Failing to connect with employees

In my recent talk at the Artificial Intelligence and Employee Engagement Directors' Forum in London, I argued that one of the main causes for low employee engagement is the bad experience that employees have when they interact with a company's information systems. I focused on the employee-as-a-user because, as companies become more "digital" - by encouraging collaboration between remote teams and remote working, or by introducing self-service via websites or portals - systems reflect a company's culture and define how it engages with its employees. Meanwhile, employees become increasingly frustrated by their user experience, because of the following:

 Lack of personalization: every employee is different, however companies organized in traditional hierarchical and bureaucratic ways are inevitably forcing everyone to fit into a one-size-fits-all mold. In the digital world, where diversity of personalities, perspectives and ideas is essential for business success, systems must adapt to users and not the other way round. We need to rethink, for example, how we review individual performance and how we personalize rewards to fit individual lifestyles; and Artificial Intelligence can really make a difference by learning about what individuals really need and helping optimize personalized solutions.

Systems are fragmented and out of easy reach: Companies have been struggling with legacy systems for years.  Single-sign-on is a patch that can hold for so long. The introduction of portals is a step in the right direction, but more must be done to combine data and serve the end user what they really need, when they need it, by removing the onus currently placed on them. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can reduce much of this onus, which is usually a great number of tedious, manual tasks; and then Artificial Intelligence can take over and vastly improve employee experience by being proactive rather than passive. Just imagine how better life would be if employees felt that systems were there to really help their work and lives, rather than restrict their creativity.

Systems solve for the wrong problem: when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. The "wrong" problem that systems usually solve for is the need for users to comply with an automated process. But what if we rethought systems as enablers instead of compliance enforcers? An example where AI can make a positive impact is career navigation. As organizations become more flat career opportunities are harder to envisage, unless we allow people to easily navigate through organizational complexity and easily identify the projects and the kind of work that will advance their skills set and propel them forward. Talent platforms, powered by data and machine learning algorithms, are an example of how AI can create a new win-win between successful business outcomes and happy, loyal, employees.

 Systems are ugly: As consumers we are used to beautiful and intuitive user experience design. As digital assistants and chatbots begin to proliferate we are becoming accustomed to conversational type of interfaces as well. Compare that to the dull, back in the 1990s experience that many companies provide to their employees when they access systems. Introducing chatbots in HR is a necessity and an easy win.


Four challenges to transform employee experience using AI

If you are an HR leader about to embark on digitally transforming your employees' lives for the better, here's a list of four challenges you may wish to consider as you formulate your strategy:

  1.  Remove obstacles: the biggest obstacles in business organizations are the silos. Creating a transformation task force made up of mixed teams is a prerequisite of digital transformation success.
  2.  Think-out-of-the-box: from my experience, after many years of working as management consultant, organizations find it difficult to really think out of the box because they find it difficult to ask the most obvious questions about themselves. The best way to remedy this is to invite the perspective of outsiders. How did others solve the same problem? What if we invited the CEO of a cool startup that solves a similar problem to present and challenge us?
  3.  Design and deliver engaging digital experiences: IT should be a resource for creativity, not the source of pain and anguish. In other words, IT leaders must work together with HR and organizational psychologists to create an ecosystem for digital creativity, where everyone can contribute. Going cloud-native and building a system of composable microservices for scaling agile teams, makes sense.
  4.  Combine data and gain employee trust. The only way that AI can make a positive impact in employee experience, and therefore productivity, is by doing what Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple do, so successfully: exploit the digital traces of their users to provide unique value propositions. But although, as consumers we are willing to share our personal data with these digital behemoths, our feelings change when it comes to sharing our personal data with our employer. That's what makes this challenge the greatest of all. The only way to resolve it is by building, or renewing, trust with your employees, and demonstrating the win-win while ensuring the outmost level of data security and privacy.

 Setting the strategy and vision

By developing the right strategy, and making the most of AI and data, successful companies will be able to deliver a new vision for digital employee experience around employees’ personalized needs, moments, tribes and empowerment: 

My Needs: making the experience "consumer-grade" by using conversational AI (chatbots) and beautifully designed UX.

 My Moments: contextualizing the experience both in time (at the right moment) and space (at the right place).

My Tribes: socializing the work experience by enabling connections and collaboration

My Empowerment: enabling the achievement of professional and wellness goals.

Learn More

To learn more about how AI is changing business and society visit my blog in the Huffington Post, or buy my book "In Our Own Image: the History and Future of Artificial Intelligence".

Are Gallup’s Engagement Numbers fake? At least they are heavily cited.

According to Gallup’s recent worldwide study in 2017 only 15% of all employees in the world are engaged. Since years Gallup shares the dramatic news, around 8 out of 10 employees are either not engaged or (even worse) actively disengaged. Taken this seriously, you are probably not engaged. Most of your colleagues, friends, and relatives are not engaged. Most employees you meet at stores, airports, hospitals, and universities are not engaged. Even the majority of Gallup’s workforce might not be engaged, maybe.

Disengagement sells. Gallup did a great job over the last few years to gain executives’ attention built on news, which probably are misleading, dare I say it, fake. This seems to be another version of the here-is-the-problem-but-luckily-we-have-the-solution-business-model.

The statistical or scientific basis of what have become one of the most cited studies in management has never been disclosed. 

I have spent hours reading reports, news and even articles published in scientific (peer-reviewed) journals written by Gallup fellows and have not yet found any definition of what "engagement" or "active disengagement" means in statistical terms. The statistical or scientific basis of what have become one of the most cited studies in management has never been disclosed. It has been kept as a secret. Why is that? Obviously 100s or 1,000s of keynote-speakers, consultants, executives, and bloggers sharing the dramatic output delivered by Gallup do not exactly know what they are talking about.

100s or 1,000s of keynote-speakers, consultants, executives, and bloggers sharing the dramatic output delivered by Gallup do not exactly know what they are talking about. 

What we do know is the following: Since years Gallup is using its Q12-Questionnaire, which consists of 12 questions. Those 12 items did never change substantially, for reasons of comparability of course. Speaking of these questions, they reflect a kind of outdated and hierarchical view on leadership, anyway. For instance, one question goes like this: “I know what is expected of me at work”. Respondents then have the choice to select one option out of five ranking from 5 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree). The same applies for the remaining 11 items such as “I have a best friend at work” or “This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow”. What initially had started as a tool for workplace auditing (Gallup Workplace Audit) miraculously transformed into a tool supposed to measure employee engagement without having substantially changed its content. But, working conditions - as measured by the Q12 - and employee engagement are two different concepts even though there might be a connection between the two. Even Gallup reports a correlation of limited magnitude only between what the Q12 measures and business outcomes on business unit level. I guess employee engagement sells better than workplace conditions.

Working conditions - as measured by the Q12 - and employee engagement are two different concepts 

I have spent years in the employee survey business and have been involved in dozens of global surveys using similar items like Gallup does, which by the way, I would never do so again for multiple reasons even though I have published two books on that particular practice of satisfaction and engagement surveys (but this is a different story). Once you ask employees to evaluate their working conditions or estimate their satisfaction with whatever it is at work, you more or less receive a bell curve with a slight tendency towards the positive end.

It is quite astonishing how constant and stable these results turn out when asking a big enough sample. One might seperate different responses as shown in the following picture:

There is always a minority of employees considering themselves as being totally satisfied. Working conditions are seen as perfect. There is a majority in the middle with a slight tendency towards the positive end of the continuum. To those people working conditions are fine but could be improved. And, of course, there is always a minority of employees, which is kind of pissed-off. They evaluate their working conditions as bad and expect significant changes.

While the Q12 measures employees' view on their working conditions Gallup strangely translates results into what they name employee engagement

Now it comes the critical question: Where does Gallup make the cut between the so called engaged, the not engaged and the actively disengaged ones? What is Gallup’s definition? We simply do not know. Wherever Gallup is doing the cut, probability is high that a picture is drawn, which is more dramatic than reality actually is. Even though Gallup has never been clear about the cut, they offer a definition of how employees in the different groups behave. Gallup describes "not engaged" employees (the middle segment) as follows: “Employees are essentially 'checked out'. They’re sleep-walking through their workday, putting time – but not energy – or passion into their work”.

This is even more confusing, since there is literally no reason to draw such extreme conclusions or characterizations based on the content of the Q12-questions (working conditions). And again, Gallup refuses to explain, where this typology actually comes from. It definitely sounds more like arbitrary horoscope than as insights based on serious social science.

Gallup is an institute of top reputation. Its founder, George Gallup, has been a leading pioneer in its field, really a great man and a role model for generations of social scientists to come. What surprises me though is the fact that, Gallup is keeping a secret around its most cited outcomes. What is going on here?

Empirical methods and outcomes not being communicated in a clear way are useless in the eyes of the scientific community. 

So, why is this bothering me? I am a social scientist and expect clarity as all good social scientist do. Published scientific results must be replicable so that others could repeat studies in the same manner. Empirical methods and outcomes not being communicated in a clear way are useless in the eyes of the scientific community.

In times of fake news we have to be careful, as we all have learned in the last few months and years. Whenever I find myself listening to a keynote even of reputable speakers, chances are high to again hear about Gallup’s disengagement drama. Then, my first thoughts are always: Fake, fake, fake. I cannot hear it anymore. Should I stand up and ask the speaker: “Hey, have you read the report? Could you tell, how these numbers you've just presented have been calculated?”. I better don’t, but silently I continue questioning myself whether or not I should seriously take home the remaining parts of the keynote.

Gallup draws a picture of the global workforce, which probably is worse than it actually is. 

Above all this, what bothers me most is the way Gallup dares to slap billions of employees all around the globe. Gallup draws a picture of the global workforce, which probably is worse than it actually is. By doing so, Gallup consciously hurts global economy, while filling its own pockets. Executives who believe in the Gallup drama treat their people accordingly. Considering employees as being lazy, dumb “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” (as Gallup puts it) might lead to management practices that will not move companies forward.

In certain ways, Gallup actively prepares the ground for mistrust and control. 

In certain ways, Gallup actively prepares the ground for mistrust and control, which is the opposite of what many companies and employees desperately need. We all could imagine what results delivered by Gallup do to a regular executive. He/she might think: "I never thought how dramatic things are". According to the hindsight bias he/she might add: "But somehow I felt it in advance". What might be the consequences? More trust? More autonomy and self-determination? Probably not.

The new faces of employee engagement in the digital age

Disruption: trending near you.
If your organisation hasn’t been disrupted, be alert, soon it will be. That’s the reality of the digital economy. It requires businesses to continually respond to threats of new technologies and agile digital native companies. It means transforming how they work – and not just once. Organisations need to embed this ability to change into their DNA, so they can continually respond and become digitally sustainable. In this article, we explore what this means for employee engagement.


It could be a merger or acquisition, a new CEO or a period of rapid growth. Or it can be a response to the disruptive power of digitisation, the complexity of globalisation or increasingly demanding customers. It doesn’t matter what type of change your organisation is going through, one thing will always apply: organisations don’t drive change. People do. Trine Ronningen, global specialist of organisation and culture at telecoms multinational, Telenor, explains that “You don’t transform a company through its structures, systems and processes alone; you do it through people – all of whom go through their own personal transition.”

In such times, employee engagement becomes even more critical for success. Korn Ferry studies have shown how organisations with higher levels of engagement can achieve up to two and a half times more revenue growth. This is imperative during times of change when the company needs engaged individuals to deploy their discretionary efforts to fight for the cause while excelling at their jobs. Organisations cannot transform, and keep day-to-day business moving, if people are only willing to do what’s expected. But organisational change, like earthquakes, can be hugely disruptive deep into a company’s core, disengaging employees and reducing their confidence in employers at a critical time.

Our data indicates that employee engagement suffers when organisations are undergoing large changes. CLICK TO TWEET

We recently analysed information from our global employee-opinion database which includes responses from more than six million employees, comparing results for organisations undergoing large-scale change with corresponding global averages. Our findings indicated that employees experiencing major change were increasing doubtful that their company:

  • Can retain high-quality employees: 27% lower than global average
  • Encourages staff to take reasonable risks (trying new ideas or new ways of doing things): 18% lower
  • Organises and structures itself effectively: 13% lower
  • Addresses poor performance generally and effectively: 16% lower
  • Manages itself effectively and is well run: 11% lower
  • Keeps employees informed about the business’s performance: 19% lower

Engagement suffers during periods of uncertainty. Employees can be nervous about change, and feel insecure or demotivated when the goalposts are unclear. Their need for information outstrips what management can provide, damaging confidence in the leadership and direction of the firm. In addition, companies need to ask more of employees to get through change. This can harm perceptions of the exchange between effort and reward.

All this poses a huge challenge for engagement professionals today because in a digital economy, disruption, uncertainty and change are the norm. So, how do you keep your people engaged in the digital age so that your company can navigate the waves of change that will inevitably hit your business?

Before we answer this question, let’s take a closer look at the workforce impacted by the digital economy.

The changing face of the global workforce

The world’s population is ageing. In Australia, the fastest growing age group is the over 65s and they are starting to retire. The ‘born digital’ millennials have come to prominence in the workplace. Demographic change is a trend that is fundamentally changing relationships between businesses and employees today.

For businesses, an ageing population means a growing skills shortage. With the baby-boomer generation hitting retirement age, experienced talent will be at a premium. This puts pressure on organisations to invest time and effort now to develop the next generation, and make sure they’re ready to lead the company into the future.

Businesses now need to understand, lead, manage and motivate teams made up of five generations, all with their own needs and motivators. CLICK TO TWEET

However, companies must proceed with care. There is a risk of over-promoting young workers before they have the necessary skills and experience, and leaving them with nowhere to progress is a clear recipe for disengagement. Developing multiple career paths can help avoid this pitfall.

An ageing population also brings the challenge of managing an increasingly age-diverse workforce. For over a decade now, we’ve been aware of the need to retain the knowledge, skills and experience of our older employees. And we’ve seen older employees increasingly wanting to stay with us beyond retirement age. Businesses now need to understand, lead, manage and motivate teams made up of five generations, all with their own needs and motivators.

Organisations will need to foster a culture and conditions that motivates and enables staff of all ages and cultures to perform. This means working with different groups of employees in different ways. Insights from our extensive employee opinion database shows that what engages younger staff looks very different to what older workers demand. To gain a better understanding of what would best engage their younger employees, Kimberly-Clark, the consumer products multinational, instituted a reverse mentoring program in which millennials were teamed up with senior executives. The program is also removing the traditional barriers of top-down hierarchy and promoting a healthy, free-flowing exchange of ideas amongst the different generations.

Younger employees focus on the future. They want opportunities to progress, to build and test their skills in as many areas as possible and regular and constructive feedback on performance. Not only will organisations need to react to this to keep employees engaged, but doing so will become critical in order to fill the leadership pipeline as the baby boomers leave the workforce. For their part, mature employees tend to look for security. They need to know they are working for a strong, successful organisation, with a clear and compelling strategic direction. Confident in their abilities, they seek a fair balance between their contribution and reward.

It’s clear this demographic change is shifting how we work, what we care about and what is required from employers. And to succeed, businesses need to rethink how they engage, enable and earn the loyalty of their employees.

Six things your organisation can do:

  1. Understand their motives

With so many disparate needs and motivators, find out what drives the different age groups in your workforce. Analyse employee feedback, for example through your employee survey, to identify both common and divergent needs and motivations.

  1. Understand the implications

Audit what demographic change will mean for your organisation, in terms of:

  • How to get the best from each age group’s skills, knowledge and experience.
  • The learning and development needs of different groups of employees.
  • The career paths and HR policies required to meet the needs of each age group.
  • Your reward packages (compensation, benefits, well-being programs and so on).
  1. Tailor training

Adapt learning and development to the needs of each age group. Establish age-diverse workgroups to enable mutual, intergenerational knowledge sharing. Create processes to help managers lead junior team members, for example by providing more direction, support, and continuous feedback.

Train leaders on intergenerational management – including performance management, coaching and developmental planning.

Inter-generational learning and understanding is needed to help an age-diverse workforce to work together, and to foster a two-way knowledge transfer. Younger staff can help older colleagues understand new technologies; while older workers pass on the knowledge and skills they’ve built up over years. For example, Tesco established a mentoring scheme for this purpose, and to enable knowledge transfer between age groups. This scheme works well for both ends of the age scale: younger generations thrive on connections, while older staff are happy to leave their legacy. This sort of mutual collaboration should tap into the motives of all groups. The opportunity to learn from and network with senior colleagues will appeal to younger employees, who are driven by skills development and fast career progression. Whilst older team members may relish the challenge of helping junior staff, and the prospect of leaving a positive legacy when they retire.

  1. Adapt your policies
  • Support the needs of different generations through flexible working arrangements.
  • Understand the career aspirations of different generations, and develop multiple career paths which take employees in and out of different business areas. Make sure to communicate what this involves.
  • Analyse and adapt to the different reward needs of each age group via tailor reward packages. For example by offering a flexible ‘benefits menu’.
  1. Establish trust

‘Age-friendly’ policies send a message that you trust your staff to work in different ways and continue to give their best. Meanwhile, intergenerational teams will help create a climate of trust and respect between the different age groups.

  1. Plan for the future

Identify your most critical roles and skills gaps, and ensure you have succession plans in place.

For example, Starbucks puts a strong emphasis on strategic workforce planning (SWP) – the coffee-shop chain has a dedicated global SWP team. Its purpose is to help leaders think beyond short-term reactionary hiring, and focus on medium and long-term planning in line with business strategy.

To effectively engage employees in the digital age, organisations need to understand and acknowledge the composition of their workforces and build a great place to work by motivating and satisfying the needs of employees in all generational groups.

To learn more about how to prepare your business for the digital economy, download: Build to last: The Journey to digital sustainability.

The 4 Guiding Principles of a Successful Continuous Listening Program

The concept of ‘Continuous Listening’ has been increasingly gaining traction, turning into something of a buzzword among business leaders and HR professionals. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a unified definition of the term – neither on a conceptual, nor on a practical level.

Some organizations use the term when moving from an annual engagement survey towards more frequent pulse checks, still others see it as capturing insights from all the key employee experience touchpoints and tracking the impact of the changes they make.

While it is perfectly fine for companies to differ in their level of ambition and maturity objectives in regards to Continuous Listening, I believe it is time for the field to develop a common standard and understanding of the concept.

In this article, I provide a definition of and a conceptual framework for Continuous Listening. Both reflect a synthesis of my main takeaways from years of working with organizations on designing and implementing Continuous Listening programs. Furthermore, they highlight the components that I believe are crucial for deriving tangible results from Continuous Listening – organized using 4 C’s.

A Definition for Continuous Listening

I define Continuous Listening as a: “Coordinated and Cross-functional effort to Continuously Collect and Combine a variety of critical data sources to drive and enhance Company performance - by applying the same Customer-centric mindset, analytical techniques, and interventions to employees as those used in the field of marketing in relation to customers.”

The 4 C’s of Continuous Listening

1.     Coordinated and Cross-Functional Programs

 To capture real benefits, organizations must make Continuous Listening a comprehensive, dedicated, and integral part of their operating model. Continuous Listening should be centrally coordinated and cross-functionally executed.

I often see organizations struggling to break through their internal structures when implementing Continuous Listening programs. Each department tends to develop its own methodologies and tools to capture feedback: marketers are primarily after employees’ input on perceived brand alignment, service delivery examines transactional feedback, while people analytics teams deal with the issues of engagement, leadership, and communication.

It often gets even more chaotic than this. I have met a number of organizations in which centrally managed surveys, spearheaded by HR, were running in parallel with numerous isolated surveys within individual business units, divisions, or local entities. Such a decentralized and uncoordinated approach runs into numerous risks and leads to a range of negative consequences, including:

-         A disengaging experience for employees, including survey fatigue;

-         Limited ability to combine & leverage employee data centrally and thus, to drive holistic change;

-         High costs & inefficient use of resources due to the multitude of vendors and solutions employed;

-         Risks of data security and privacy breaches (GDPR)

I would therefore really encourage organizations to centralize listening efforts where possible. This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be flexibility for countries or units to run their own listening initiatives. However, try to create maximum synergies and avoid overlap by collaborating closely across functions and establishing a central coordinating body.

2.     Continuously Collect and Combine a Variety of Different Data Sources

The real value of Continuous Listening is derived from continuous and comprehensive efforts that collect and combine a variety of different data sources and connect them with HR and business metrics.

Running annual engagement surveys doesn’t even come close to the concept of Continuous Listening. The term itself emphasizes the need for continuity of measurement. It is consistency and continuity that allow organizations to gain timely insights into employees’ mood, behavior, and attitudes.

While it’s natural to want to start your journey towards Continuous Listening by increasing the frequency at which you survey employees, be mindful of the risk of over-surveying them, which, in itself, can contribute to their negative experience.

Achieving a comprehensive and unbiased view of employees’ experience and motivations requires a systemic analysis of direct feedback (what people say when they are being asked), indirect feedback (what people say without being explicitly asked), and inferred feedback (how people behave, which can often times contradict what they say). A failure to combine a diverse range of data sources will inevitably lead to the oversimplification of multi-faceted relations that develop and exist in a complex environment.

Finally, employee perceptions, behavior, and experience data must be linked with HR and business metrics in order to identify what works, for whom, and why. It is this knowledge that will allow organizations to continuously improve and adjust their initiatives, delivering tangible results.

Read: Three basic conditions for employee experience success using data and people analytics

3.     Company Performance

Continuous Listening programs should be deployed with the purpose of gaining an extensive understanding of employees in order to achieve sustainable, high performance habits and deliver upon strategic business objectives.

The bottom line for any organization is to grow and improve its performance. Continuous Listening is not a “feel good” concept. It’s a deliberate effort, which, if designed holistically and executed rigorously, helps to reinforce your business objectives and growth targets. 

In order for your investments in Continuous Listening to pay off, ensure that what you measure has a proven link to business performance, as backed by either scientific literature or your independent analysis of these links. Do not buy into the generic, commercial survey packages or listening solutions. Instead, focus on asking questions that are relevant to your organization’s strategic or transformation objectives.

4.     Customer Centricity

Continuous Listening programs should embrace the same approach in terms of frequency, diligence, speed, and depth as marketing initiatives that target customers.

Customer-centric thinking has clearly found its way to HR. Employees expect their voices to be heard and concerns addressed in the same manner as organizations listen to and address their customers’ feedback. Impactful Continuous Listening programs uncover employees’ needs, pain points, and motivations. This information is then used to design personalized targeted interventions that keep employees engaged and productive.

From segmentation, to driver analysis, to impact analysis, HR must adopt the same analytical approaches as their colleagues in marketing in order to gain the same in-depth understanding of employees as an organization has of its customers.

Read: Why HR Analytics is Critical to Employee Experience Success


We hear a lot about the ‘Future of Work’ and what it is going to look like. However, when it comes to re-defining employee engagement and creating personalized, data-driven employee experience programs, that future is here. It has arrived. Deloitte’s study of Global Human Capital Trends reports that almost 80% of executives identify employee experience as an important area of business, yet only 22% consider their organizations to be excellent at building a differentiated employee experience.

If you are one of the 78% of organizations on the other end of this spectrum, the risk of being left behind is very real. Continuous Listening is a bridge that leads to a transformative data-driven approach to employee experience, which, in turn, helps businesses deliver on their business objectives. It’s time to get started!

Also read:

Why Data-Driven Employee Experience Should Include a Continuous Listening Strategy

The Number 1 Challenge to Data-driven Employee Experience Success and How to Start Addressing it.


Employee Engagement is So Over! Ok, Maybe Not Quite

For anyone who is paying attention, it doesn’t take long to tell that prevailing management dogma of the 21st century is that the future is uncertain, that change is the new normal and that change will only continue to happen faster than it ever has before.

In response to this, two predominant views about the modern workforce have emerged. The first is that having the best talent is essential to the future success of any organization. The second is that having a highly engaged workforce is the most effective route to mobilize that talent to deliver what is needed. The outcomes of these beliefs are easily seen in the initiatives and job titles found in HR functions around the world. Indeed, even the annual conference for the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology has been dominated by these topics for at least the last 15 years as academics and practitioners debate research about the right way to approach them.

And yet after more than 20 years of focusing on both talent and engagement the challenges associated with adapting to a constantly shifting business environment do not seem to have been solved. In fact there are now more questions than ever about how to build and manage a workforce that is sustainably competitive – one that has the energy to deliver what is needed today and the foresight to reinvent itself for tomorrow. Current approaches to Employee Engagement and Talent Management do not (yet) seem to have been the solution for either of these problems.

So what value has the study and practice of talent management and employee engagement brought to us? Have we learnt anything useful from all the work that has been done in these areas? I would argue that the answer is yes and there are three reasons why we will continue to see employee engagement and talent management as continued areas of focus for most organizations:

1.      The natural consequences of human hierarchy

The first reason is that many leaders are still seeking help to overcome the feedback imbalance caused by the power dynamics of hierarchy. As long as human communities have existed, they have had hierarchies - people with different levels of status, usually based on how much power and influence they hold. While hierarchies have proven to be a relatively useful organizing principle for getting things done, the power imbalances they create often mean that people with more status (e.g. leaders) are less likely to hear what frustrates people at more junior levels. Indeed as we have noted before, it is very unusual for employees to feel that they can honestly and openly criticize their bosses without paying the consequences. As a result leaders reach for management information systems to provide better data and greater transparency into the way their organization is functioning. In recent times employee engagement programs have become a critical component of these systems, especially for larger companies. I would argue that the relevance of this sort of employee experience data will only become more important as companies seek to build more agile teams that thrive on feedback to drive their performance. We can probably attribute the recent uptick and interest in pulse surveys to this as managers and HR functions look for a more consistent stream of insights and ideas to serve a more dynamic business environment.

2.      Uncertain times require a sense of optimism 

The second reason is that many employees find the uncertainty caused by a constant sense of change to be rather uncomfortable. Indeed, another truth about the nature of human nature is that most people crave consistency and predictability. In times where those things are in short supply, an environment of anxiety is likely to prevail. Research suggests that the outcome of this will be people who are more stressed, less healthy and more narrow in their thinking (i.e. less creative and open) - which has real consequences for long term growth, sustainability and innovation. As a result organizations have woken up to the idea that they need to be building a stronger sense of confidence, optimism and community in their workforce. For example many forward thinking people analytics & HR teams have been focusing on finding out what keeps people really motivated and engaged at work, especially in fast growing businesses where change happens very quickly. The result is that many now aim to foster a work environment where people are committed to a cause, contributing to success and captivated by the future. Most current employee engagement practices are in service of all these things.

3.      Work that isn’t engaging is hardly worth doing 

The third reason is that people in the 21st century value their subjective experiences very highly and so expect their engagement to be important to their employer. In addition, research shows that people often underestimate the importance of intrinsic motivation at work and overweight the long term benefits of their career or lifestyle opportunity. The outcome is that people will often start a job or career because they believe it will give them what they want in the medium or long term, but then become disengaged when they find the day to day experience of it disappointing. They promptly blame their employer for this poor experience and quietly start to check out at work. This is why talent management, engagement and to some extent emerging technologies really do overlap. It’s very difficult to have an engaged workforce if you are not getting the right talent into the right job – and a big component of that is ensuring that the talent will actually like doing the work. Emerging technology also gives us the opportunity to eliminate transactional tasks (which people hate anyway) and really reinvent the nature of work to make it more engaging. The organizations that get the talent and technology equation right have the biggest opportunity to create engaging work that is really worth doing.

Thoughts for the future

The predominant paradigm for people performance in the 21st century has been the search for the right combination of both talent and engagement at work. As new ways of working emerge, it’s possible we will see the evolution of these ideas as we strive to find ways to really help people thrive at work. My view is that organizations will reshape their focus on talent to take a much stronger interest in the personal and professional growth and potential of the people who work for them (the emerging focus on “growth mindset” is a good indication of this). And in order for that growth to be sustainable, organizations will also reframe how they think about engagement, focusing more on helping people feel a sustainable sense of vitality at work. When organizations get growth and vitality right they will really see the benefits of a thriving workforce