Humanizing Human Resources: Focusing on Employee Experience By: Keri Fleming

It is quite interesting to offer this article during the present social climate. With COVID-19 – the coronavirus – introducing surprises at every turn, not the least of which is an upending of our normal social interactions, the notion of “humanizing human resources” seems quite the conundrum. How can we be more human when the connections and interactions that define us are being redefined at best – and removed at worst – for our own well-being and perhaps survival? How can employers contribute positively in the face of so much adversity and negativity? Some of the answers lie in the crux of this topic: Focus on the employee experience.

Follow the Marketing Approach

HR’s marketing colleagues have been focusing on the “experience” for quite some time. They have established best practices and methodologies to attend to the customer experience, also known as CX, which is the customers’ holistic perception of their experience with a business or a brand. It is important to recognize that this perception is not a one-shot deal. It does not result from one great or terrible experience. In fact, it does not result from a few. It is the total of every interaction a customer has throughout entire interaction with an organization.

In parallel, employee experience (EX) is your employee’s holistic perception of his or her experience with your company - and “employee” goes beyond just those presently on your payroll. It includes prospective employees and former employees (so pretty much everyone!). Think of these “employees” as your customers. EX results from EVERY interaction that an individual has with the company, from research done prior to joining to the application process to navigating the intranet to taking a leave of absence to being recognized….and so on and so on.

It is undisputed that most HR professionals are attentive to individual milestones on the employee journey – Think onboarding, talent development, performance management, promotion, compensation, open enrollment – but often in silos. A bit later, in measurement methods, we will get to the criticality of breaking down the silos. Additionally, as Dan and Chip Heath in their book “The Power of Moments” discuss, there are potholes that need repair, and there are peak moments. Inordinate amount of time spent on filling potholes will leave employees with a “whelmed” feeling, and, while this will deplete a lot of effort and energy, it will not significantly impact the holistic experience in a positive way. Create some peak moments, and now we are talking. That will have an tremendous exponential impact factor.

So, you are on board, but where to begin?

First, know your customers (employees). OK, right now you may be saying, “I’m an HR professional. I know more about the employees at our organization than anyone else - perhaps even the employees themselves!” While this may be true, how you aggregate information about your employees is very important. 

In marketing, customer segmentation is the process of dividing customers into groups based on common characteristics so companies can market to each group effectively and appropriately. This process relies on demographic data and can include such items as age, gender, marital status, location, life stage, etc. Segmenting allows marketers to create a more unique and personalized experience for the customers, eliminating a “one size fits all” approach, which is good since we know that one size often fits next to no one. In HR, we often group our employee data by department, geo location, level, etc., so this is not an unfamiliar exercise. However, if we are truly practicing good customer-segmentation hygiene for our employees, we need to place the employee at the center of the process (not the HR practitioner or the business leader) and determine what segmentations will be meaningful to them. The objective is to create cohorts that will benefit from a similar message, product or service. Also, don’t forget about those often-overlooked groups like prospective and former employees. Their experience is very important for your sustainability and your brand.

Once the segmentation is done, customer profiles should be created for each grouping. This includes the general demographic information that was used to create the group, as well as any other similar attributions of the population. The profile should also contain a description of the things that are important to this group. This information can start as hypotheses that your team constructs or that research suggests but should always be validated with individuals within the segment. Collecting feedback on the accuracy of the profiles will help ensure that you are heading in the right direction!

Lastly, once you have grouped your employees and articulated the attributes of the groups, it is important to know where they have been and where they are going. Journey mapping in marketing is the process of identifying all the steps in an end-to-end customer experience. From a macro standpoint, you can think of it as the “hire to retire” (or perhaps even pre-hire) journey for employees. On a more micro level, it could be the experience of going out on and returning from a leave of absence. 

In journey mapping, the milestones are identified and customers’ behaviors, thoughts, and feelings along the way are captured as well. It is not enough to know the destinations at each juncture. For example, it is one thing to know that Joe, a member of the sales team and frequent traveler, will be engaged in open enrollment each fall. It is quite another thing to know that Joe has sales deadlines involving heavy travel that will fall squarely in that period of time, and, for that reason, he will be quite anxious about digesting all the information, sharing it with his spouse, and making these important decisions. Context is key and the emotional components are important elements to understand.

Agility Is Key

Once you know your customer, you are all set, right? You are very well informed, have put your employee in the center of your program design, and can set it up and launch, right? Whew! Good to go. 

WRONG. While it may be quite desirable for HR professionals to “set it and forget it” with program design, development and execution, continuous improvement must be a part of overall process to have success. This is the reason why having clear program ownership with an embedded expectation for analysis and redesign is critical. As illustrated in the design loop below, participation in an initiative by employees must be followed by collection of employee-response sentiments and analysis of the feedback. This is an ideal time to engage in collaborative ideation, crowd-sourcing, scrum meetings and more. 

Note that the infinity symbol is used to illustrate how the process is never-ending; HOWEVER, it is possible to backtrack or go out of order in the loop. For example, if after employees participate it is determined that there was an issue with the launch, you may have to go back and re-launch in order to correct. After you analyze information that was provided, you might determine that you need more input in order to fully contemplate re-design. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, but don’t feel that you must progress in a linear form just because the loop says so!

Employee Experience Loop


Measurement matters, but what does success look like?

Now that you are focused on agility in your design and execution, how do you know if it’s impacting your overall employee experience? Certainly, we can use the traditional data of time to fill, candidate conversion, turnover, exit survey, etc. Let’s add to these with equivalents to those our marketing counterparts use:

Customer Effort Score = Employee Effort Score. This assesses how much effort (time, brainpower, steps, layers, starts and stops, etc.) an individual must go through to accomplish a task or process on the journey. It is no surprise that the simpler and easier a process is to navigate, the more positive the experience. Simply ask on a scale of 1 to 5, how simple and easy was it to solve the problem/get the answer/finish the task, etc.

Net Promoter Score = Company Ambassador Score. Simply stated, how likely are you to recommend this product or service? On the employee front, it can be associated with a learning and development offering, an HR program or even with the company overall. If employees are likely to recommend your organization to someone else, their experience is more likely a favorable one.

Customer Satisfaction Score = Employee Engagement Score. How satisfied customers are with a company, product or service is reflected in this metric. Organizations often launch employee-engagement surveys to gather this information about the workforce.

Time to Resolution = Employee Productivity. In marketing, this metric reflects how long it takes for a customer’s issue, transaction, question, etc. to get resolved or completed. For employees, the equivalent would be hold long it take for them to move through a process, have a decision made, complete a task, etc. The faster the time to resolve an issue or complete a task, the more productive an employee will and the more positive the experience will be perceived.

There are many more metrics that can be used in order to chart progress and gauge effectiveness. In order to determine the best measurements, be sure to have a strong idea from the very beginning of what success will look like. Once you have this, it will be easier to determine the best ways to measure for those success indicators. As you prepare for measurement, be mindful that integrated evaluation of key milestone metrics is necessary. Metrics reviewed alone can yield conclusions that are vastly different than when viewed together with others. Consider engaging holistic employee-journey analytics in order to get a comprehensive assessment.

Conclusion: Communication, Communication, Communication

There is one more key element in the effort to humanize human resources: Communicate. Tell the story. Don’t assume that people know what is being done and why. Make sure that information shared is consumable and can be understood inside and out. Determine and articulate the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) for all the employee segments you identified when you segmented (One size does not fit all.). Listen to feedback and the then explain when you have made modifications or adjustments as a result of what you hear.

During this time of global pandemic, with broad-based quarantine, social distancing, work from home, and remote schooling (just to name a few), understanding the customers that are our employees can truly make all the difference. Being transparent, compassionate and responsive is a winning formula. Adopting a human-centered design thinking approach in all the ways described above will allow us to become more and more agile and able to tackle vast and great challenges that might arise well into the future.
Keri Fleming

Keri Fleming is a Senior Human Resources Executive who thrives in environments of transformation. She most recently served as the Chief HR Officer at Benjamin Moore & Co. where she created outstanding employee experiences by designing and executing human centered strategies and initiatives aligned with...

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