Building a Future-Ready Employee Experience

In this brand-new era, the spotlight on employee experience is brighter than ever. Colleagues are being asked to adapt like never before, and they’re performing in ways they never knew they could. Unsurprisingly, they want their newfound flexibility to be forever. But for many organizations, this presents a real challenge.

At Daggerwing, our role has been to help our HR clients respond to changing expectations and stretched budgets while aligning to their CEO’s vision for the future. To do so, we’ve researched what the future-ready employee experience needs to look like in 2021 and beyond.

When I introduced this research to a client recently, I drew a comparison to Star Trek. Just hear me out for a moment…

At its heart, Star Trek is a story about people (and yes, other lifeforms) who overcome almost impossible crises by bringing the best out of each other. This got me thinking about the impact the pandemic has had on the world of work and how organizations have had to respond. As more often than not in Star Trek, the right solution to a crisis isn’t always theoretically the best one.

If you’ve seen it, or even if you haven’t, you might be familiar with the scene where Spock and Captain Kirk are trying to rapidly problem solve. Spock’s logic focuses on the theoretically best solution, whereas Kirk looks at the context and is willing to adapt. This combination usually results in the right solution.

Based on our research and conversations with clients (and okay, a bit of Star Trek), we’ve identified that organizations should not focus on what’s the theoretically “great” or “best” employee experience: it’s about finding the right experience that aligns to the strategy and context in which the organization is operating. 

Of course, this may sound surprising. For years, we’ve been taught that there is an ideal state that we all need to aim for. And there still is. But in today’s current context, it’s about making choices that make the most sense for your people and for your organization. This will drive greater ROI, especially if budgets need to stretch further.

Here are three overarching areas for HR leaders to focus on to drive engagement and productivity as we enter 2021:

1. EXPERIENCES MUST BE BOTH PERSONALIZED AND CONNECTED 

We already knew that the ability for employers to harness data and digital, while creating a human experience, was important. But now it’s become more critical than ever. To improve productivity, collaboration and knowledge sharing, colleagues must have a personalized and connected experience. But what does this mean in practice?

Personalized relies on moving away from a one-size-fits-all model. It’s about building a customized employee experience for each individual. Whether it’s ‘just in time’ learning to support an individual when they most need it, quarterly performance management that’s responsive to change, or flexible career development paths that cater to different motivations.

Connected is about enabling rapid collaboration and knowledge sharing (top-down and across the organization) to drive transformation, boost productivity, and positively impact the customer experience. At the heart of this lies the enhanced use of social technology and AI.

Personalized and connected experiences are both made possible by the current acceleration of digital transformation. And the sudden increase in virtual working not only heightens the urgency for this type of employee experience, it also quickly reveals the compelling business case for it.

2. PURPOSE AND CULTURE ARE STILL REALLY IMPORTANT

Before COVID, studies showed younger generations wanted to work for more purposeful companies. That hasn’t changed. While in the short term, many people are looking to just stay employed, over the long term there is no doubt that ‘purposeful employment’ will persist. This means you can expect a greater focus on sustainability, societal impact, employee wellbeing, and ethical business obligations beyond the shareholders.

More than defining a compelling purpose and culture, organizations need to make sure there is a clear connection between employees’ day-to-day and the bigger picture. To achieve this for our clients, we’ve used storytelling to help connect the dots between purpose, vision, brand, strategy, and culture. Communicating a clear and cohesive narrative to employees, while creating a dialogue within teams and across the organization, gives meaning to everyone’s work. This feeling of having a meaningful impact improves engagement and ensures the cultural values and behaviors are lived.

For our client at a giant biopharmaceutical company, we did this using the principles of psychology to tap into why people would want to believe. We tested and refined our approach with a global audience of leaders and employees. The result was a visual and verbal storytelling approach, combined with a strategy component that resulted in both higher employee engagement and productivity.

3. ORGANIZATIONAL ADAPTABILITY STARTS WITH EMPLOYEES

2020 has made it clear that organizations need to be highly adaptable to cope with the ever-increasing volatility and complexity of change. This means being able to pivot quickly, to take advantage of new opportunities or deal with disruption. As you might imagine, the employee experience plays a critical role in making organizational adaptability the norm.

It starts with attraction and making it clear to potential talent that the work environment will require adaptability, which is beneficial for their own development and engagement.  We have helped a number of our clients redefine their Employee Value Proposition this year – making sure it ladders up to the cultural behaviors and values needed for success in the future of work.

Embedding adaptability also needs to be a tangible part of the employee experience. For example, Amazon has created a culture that is ruthlessly focused on the customer and ‘the best place in the world to fail.’ Each employee can propose innovations for review and development, and there is a broadening of employee skillsets through investment in retraining.

So, how can you take action now?

We believe it’s the right time for HR leaders to help their organizations reset expectations for future-proofing the employee experience. Based on our research, we have developed a fast and practical benchmarking approach to help HR leaders prioritize precious budgets and create a plan that is grounded in reality to meet the CEO’s business vision.

You can learn more about the diagnostic here.

So, how future-ready is your employee experience? And where should your 2021 people strategy focus? We’re ready to help you find the answers.

Kieran Colville, Principal

Kieran Colville, Principal

Kieran Colville is a Principal at Daggerwing Group. Alongside leading projects Kieran specializes in employee research and analytics to help organizations predict and measure the impact of change and communications. Kieran helps our clients generate powerful insights to inform their planning and decision making. His work also focuses on the ROI of change and communications, demonstrating impact on employee engagement, customer loyalty, and financial performance. Having a Bulgarian wife means Kieran has learnt some Bulgarian folk dance steps which he would be delighted to show you as long as you promise to take part!

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