Learning to Improve Employee Experience

Millions are being spent across the globe by organisations on trying to better understand their colleague’s engagement levels. This addiction to surveys has resulted in a huge level of complacency within organisations. Whilst you might be shocked with my statement, let me explain. Which organisation would allow a practice to continue which showed no, or very little improvement year after year, and in fact caused a huge disruption to the organisation each time? Yet, with annual surveys we distract businesses from what little time they already have, to firstly undertake them, and then to focus on the results that neither colleagues or managers feel little ownership with, after all, who decided these were the questions colleagues needed, or more importantly, wanted to answer? Managers then usually go through the painful task of holding focus groups with their teams, to define the actions required as a result of the survey findings. The added insult? We paid for this level of distraction and nothing is going to change (as demonstrated by the incremental improvements in engagement over the last two decades across the globe). Increasing the frequency of the surveys, won’t change anything by the way.

If you disagree with me, I would love to hear how your investment in time and effort has resulted in a 5% to 10% improvement in engagement levels over the course of the year, which has led to improvements in performance. I suspect my mailbox will be empty. The reason I am fairly confident of this, is because through my experience of working with organisations and having been in the role of heading up Employee Engagement for an organisation of 175,000 colleagues, I realised that our focus is disproportionately weighted on measuring engagement, and not on solving employee experience.

I’ve always said employee engagement was meant to be a measure of the ‘day-job’, not an industry on top of it. The measure was meant to drive actions to improve the experience of colleagues at work, removing obstacles getting in the way of their engagement, thereby improving productivity. Yet, over two decades we’ve made an industry out of measuring engagement and hardly a dent on the dial to improve it. Which business would be happy having spent millions across the globe (looking at global business as one entity), with virtually no impact? None that I know of, yet that’s what we’ve done.

The Challenge

Employee experience is impacted upon by so many variables, such as environment, organisational climate, context (pressures), but there are two factors that have consistently shown to be the biggest drivers. According to the company that runs The Sunday Times Best Companies to work for list, leaders and managers have consistently been shown to be the most highly correlating factors to engagement and therefore, experience. If you have any doubts, think back through your own careers. When you were sitting there on a Sunday evening with your ‘head in your hands’ wishing you didn’t have to go to work the next day, the chances are this was being driven by the poor relationships/ toxic culture created by leaders and/ or managers. Conversely, our best experiences have also been driven by them.

The challenge is, how do we stop focusing on just measuring engagement levels and focus instead on solving it, thereby improving the experience? To improve the experience across organisations, we need to create more engaging leaders and managers. So how do we do this?

We have seen huge advancements in our understanding of neuroscience and behavioural psychology. We often hear the quote that life doesn’t come with a hand book, yet, if it did, consider how much easier life might become. You are not legally allowed to drive a vehicle, until you have demonstrated competence through a driving test. Yet leaders and managers are responsible for the working lives of their teams and there is no uniform test of competence. Knowing the huge impact work can have on the mental state of employees, we need to focus on creating more engaging leaders, through upskilling them to create engaging cultures, thereby improving the employee experience.

We decided to address this challenge; we set about solving the problem of creating more engaging leaders. The challenge with any leadership intervention is time, attention and impact. In a world already time poor, how could we create something that didn’t rob leaders of valuable time, adding to their pressures? Being bombarded by so much information in a digital world churning out more data than we can analyse, how do we compete for attention to ensure learning sticks? Finally, how do we ensure learning is impactful, where leaders can see the value of the learning, enough to result in a sustained behaviour change (as defined by data driven analysis)? Whatever we developed, it had to be effortless. This wasn’t going to be an easy challenge.

The Approach

Who knew a few years ago, that most of the TV we would be watching, would be through the internet? Netflix and Amazon Prime have now become TV studios producing award-winning programmes that are competing with the established networks. They are creating imaginative content that can be accessed when you want to watch it. We know from the popularity of cinema from both Hollywood and Bollywood, the best films are the ones that take us on an emotional rollercoaster, and because they engage the emotions, they are memorable. Let’s face it, you don’t often forget what happened in the storyline of a gripping thriller – emotions stick! Now, imagine if learning was engaging, emotionally connecting and just thoroughly enjoyable to watch? If anyone has watched TED talks, you will know they last no longer than 18 minutes – to best engage people, short, sharp sessions work better than hours.

So, with this backdrop of information, we had the ingredients to develop a programme to create engaging leaders. We enlisted the support of a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter, to create a really engaging story, from training that we had put together incorporating neuroscience, psychology and our own expertise in employee engagement, to drive positive behavioural change.

The Result

We created a programme called ‘In Good Company’, which followed the lives of four characters at a fictitious software company called Emerson Software Solutions. A ten-part mini TV series highlights the journey of Steve, the office manager, who was promoted because he was the top salesperson. We focus on three key topics: being the best of me, creating a high performing team, and delivering amazing customer service (engaged colleagues, engaging customers).

Now, you might be questioning, why choose a software company as the backdrop? We wanted the story to focus on the interactions of the characters to allow for maximum learning (improving human interaction), as opposed to issues over what goes on in a particular organisation, within a particular sector. As tempting as it might be to create a drama based upon your sector, you might find that making the background environment as close to ‘wall paper’ as possible (there but not there), means the focus can remain where you need it, on the interactions between characters.

With the changes in how we interact and embrace technology, have access to neuroscience, psychology, and engagement research, we are able to create development that aligns with how we live our lives, leading to the creation of engaging cultures through engaging leaders and managers. Whether it’s L&D, employee engagement, HR, or any other function, one challenge you will hear is ‘how do we become more relevant?’.

We’ve got to shift the balance of energy away from measuring, to focus on improving employee experience. You’ve already got enough data you can analyse that can help you determine the behaviour changes required from your leaders and managers. Incorporating this in an effortless way of learning, that’s highly engaging, relevant and emotional, can mean we can align the agenda of L&D, employee engagement, the organisational strategy and productivity, to create high performing organisations. The biggest challenge we might actually be facing is not how do we become more relevant, but how do we work in collaboration across the organisation, to create a shared strategy to deliver the same agenda. Now wouldn’t that be a novel idea…

About the author Amrit Sandhar:

Amrit Sandhar is the founder of The Engagement Coach. He started a career in healthcare as a qualified Pharmacist, where he went on to oversee half of the UK’s Pharmacy and Optical units for Walmart’s UK operation, Asda. Having successfully worked in the healthcare sector, Amrit went on to head up Employee Engagement for Asda, before taking up a role with the prestigious Sunday Times Best Companies organisation, working at boardroom level, helping organisations improve their employee engagement.

Amrit is a qualified executive coach with an Advanced Certificate in Leadership and Executive Coaching with the Bristol Business School (ILM level 7 qualified in Executive Coaching & Leadership Mentoring). He is also a Walmart accredited AIM change trainer, Strengthscope accredited consultant, NLP Master Practitioner and has a CIPD Advanced Diploma (Level 7) in HRM/HRD.

Amrit is a happily married father of three children and lives in Warwickshire. He studied at Liverpool John Moore’s University as a Pharmacist and in his past he has worked as a ‘Special’ Constable with Warwickshire Constabulary.

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