People, Planet and Purpose: The Key to Successful Employee Experience (EX)

Zone’s Rianna Mitchell shares the key takeaways from our EX webinar, where our AVP, Patti Alderman, and other industry professionals, discuss how brand purpose can facilitate a successful employee experience.

Following the launch of Zone’s EX50 report in partnership with People Management and Management Today earlier this year, we hosted a webinar to explore the essential factors to successful employee experience (EX). The discussion provided insight into the importance of purpose in an employer value proposition (EVP), practical ways to balance obligations to shareholders alongside wider society, and how a brand’s purpose inspires growth.

Facilitated by People Management’s Philip Smith, the panel presented Patti Alderman, AVP at Zone; Sue Round, CIPD Board Member and Founder and Partner at Lodestar Talent; David Blackburn, Chief People Officer at Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS); and Sarah Perry, Director for People and Organisational Development at London Legacy Development Corporation. The EX-leading panellists explained how an explicit brand purpose propels business culture and employee and customer attraction, while demonstrating how businesses can successfully discover and refocus their purpose.

During the webinar a poll was launched for attendees, posing the question: What is your top priority when boosting your company’s employee experience (EX)? Most participants chose career development as their number one priority, at 40%. Next in line was health and wellness support, which received 20% of the votes, tying with onboarding for new starters.

According to Alderman, it was not unforeseen that career development was the front runner. “We know that career development is super important to retain talent,” she said, and therefore a focal point for many businesses. Supporting the career development of employees can foster greater job satisfaction and the hunger to learn and grow, as well as increase motivation and productivity. But what makes career development even more important for retaining talent, is that businesses can struggle to source the “right talent with the right skillsets”, leading to a vicious circle of consequences, such as understaffing, work overload, and burnout for employees. Alderman expressed that “reskilling and doing career development for our teams is really important.” As EX evolves, she also shared that Zone is considering how it’s ensuring leaders understand the significance of their roles in developing talent to drive progress in this arena.

`Similarly, Blackburn was not taken aback by these results, as he shared that FSCS’s own data over the last three years has displayed identical top priorities for EX. He believes that “pay is not the way to attract and retain candidates,” and that’s why career development matters most.

In Alderman’s perception, health and wellness support came in the right spot, particularly because of the pandemic. She believes that as businesses transition out of the pandemic it is still a primary focus, with employees working in hybrid settings and taking on different types of work that has unexpectedly evolved. It’s no surprise “that we are keeping a pulse on how the health and wellness of our employees are.” Perry echoes this but stated she would have placed health and wellness support even higher if she had participated in the poll, focusing on wellbeing and psychological safety to help with a sense of belonging, believing this to be paramount for better employee experience.

For onboarding for new starters, Alderman believes that many businesses will want to prioritise a process that acclimatises new employees to their new working environment. “With all the talent coming into businesses, we know that onboarding has a really important activity in talent retention,” she says. She also reveals that approximately 90% of people will leave a company if they have a bad onboarding experience. However, retaining talent through onboarding is not the only thing on the agenda for businesses, but encouraging new starters to be advocates and ambassadors for the brand.

In contrast, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) was left at the bottom of the list receiving just 2% of votes, signifying this area for many businesses is the least important. Round was surprised DE&I failed to secure one of the top positions and was undesirable to participants. “If we roll back a little more than a year to after the tragic events with George Floyd, DE&I shot up the agenda,” she said, expressing her concern that DE&I has become a “knotty challenge”. She believes that as organisations press forward into the changes that need to be made, there can be resistance to make those fundamental changes. “I worry that we’re experiencing some DEI fatigue,” as inclusion and a sense of belonging, she believes, is key for employee engagement and a good employee experience.

Round sees a correlation between DE&I and career development for improving EX, enforcing that representation at all levels for career progression is pivotal, particularly for minority groups, and requires heavier focus among businesses. Perry thinks DE&I and employee wellbeing are also linked. When speaking about psychological safety, Perry wonders whether people are thinking about “integration with culture and sense of belonging” in that respect.

For Round, it seems that although we have moved on from COVID, despite it still being present, it has had a lasting impact: “There is a long shadow in people feeling quite drained, as it was an intense periodwe have a national version of PTSD and have not had much time to reflect on it.” Consequently, she tells us that this level of exhaustion has brought on the Great Resignation, as people are leaving the workforce in search of flexibility and balance. “As we rush up and down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, some people just want to earn a living just to pay their bills, which is a noble sense of purpose and tough place to be.” She reinforces that one size doesn’t fit all, as people are in different places in their lives.

Alderman agrees, although she believes despite everything changing as we come out of the pandemic, the same challenges workforces experienced pre-pandemic still exist. She highlights that we have always understood the importance of EX and how key it is to business success and differentiation. The issue for workforces now is that “we’re feeling the crunch of underinvestment for years,” hence businesses are now struggling to equip their employees to be their best at work.

Businesses are finding themselves in a state of reflection as they deal with concerns around whether they have provided their employees with the right tools, and if their systems and policies align with current affairs. Alderman also puts forward that purpose may be a luxury for some businesses, as the cost-of-living crisis pushes people to make tougher decisions. We will see a broader spectrum of businesses finding that “keeping the lights on” are an important aspect of their day-to-day, meanwhile feeling the tension of the desire to provide more for their employees and establishing a bigger purpose at work.

Over the last two years, Blackburn says that his company have been on “massive support mode” as a profession. “What we’ve been doing is putting our arms around our people”, he said, to ensure employees have a smooth transition out of the pandemic and to provide support and nurturing in response to their challenges. He believes the pandemic has incited a new set of demands as we are “navigating new landscapes”, such as hybrid working and the industry becoming a candidate-driven market. He shares a conversation he had with a large global recruiter, where they had said to him, “we keep thinking about the war for talent; talent has won the war,” indicating that retaining talent is the new challenge. He also mentions that businesses are still navigating the psychological contract about the employment relationship, as people manage their own challenges and concerns.

Perry is a strong believer in the psychological contract, particularly as we deal with uncertainty. As personal life and work life have become more intertwined, she says people are trying to balance their needs and desires and revaluate their lives and choices. “We have to understand what makes us up” and find what’s missing. She warns that this will be different for everyone, so businesses can offer what they believe is a “fantastic” employee experience but must consider the different factors and understand it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

FSCS’ EX strategy has been recognised at the CIPD PM Awards among many others, and Blackburn puts this success down to the concept of purpose. In Blackburn’s view, businesses need to think about how they unlock the energy and excitement around culture. He vouches for a “clearly, articulated employee value proposition”. For FSCS, this centres around a very strong connection to social purpose, understanding their salaries are competitive but not market leading, simplified corporate narratives that home in on their mission, vision and values, and encouraging employees to connect to these. They give their team insight into what the organisation is doing and achieving, and ask valuable questions in their people surveys, such as: “I understand how my role contributes to the success of this organisation”, where 90% of people said they understand.

He continued that his company values are congruent with employees’ values, as they create values with their people. These are the factors, Blackburn believes, that have driven the most significant change for his organisation. “Organisations need to engage, they need to listen, and they need to act,he stressed. His concern is that often many companies will do one or two of these things but not all three: “They take action based on no data whatsoever, they engage but don’t listen to the feedback, or they engage and listen to feedback, and they take no action.”

When it comes to the fundamental elements that people should consider when improving EX, Alderman suggests applying the 3 Ms: Mindset, Methods, and Measures. To foster the right mindset in employees, it’s “important to get it simple and clear.” Sometimes organisations overcomplicate situations by allowing “every layer of the business to put their spin on things”, which can subsequently confuse employees. Keeping things straightforward and uniform and “investing in the change to get the mindset activated in people” helps employees understand, especially if it’s required to adopt a different mindset than before. Alderman advises that businesses need to think about how they can support employees through the changes and provide psychological safety in ensuring they understand that their work can still be successful, despite being performed or managed in a new way.

Methods involves how leaders run the entire business, from the policies established to the tools provided to employees to carry out their roles proficiently. “It goes beyond agile techniques,” says Alderman. The focus should be on the way the workforce is equipped to get things done, and companies need to ensure it aligns with their purpose.

As for measures, Alderman suggests it’s important to have incentives that drive the right behaviours businesses are seeking. For example, leaders stress how collaboration is important but only incentivise people based on individual performance. Businesses need to also consider that what they speak about and what they measure shows what they value as a business. If revenue and profit, for example, is the only thing being discussed, that’s what’s going to appear most important, and shouldn’t be the only thing celebrated or used to drive energy.

Balance between the three Ms is essential to driving any business transformation, whether it be employee experience or customer experience. She also expresses that when these are aligned with brand purpose and what businesses are trying to achieve, that’s where success comes in.

If you would like more expert insights and advice on how to improve your company’s EX, watch the full webinar on demand here.

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