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Management Development

Leading employee experience

Leading employee experience
Published: March 17, 2020
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Helping managers and leaders to deliver superior employee experience

As the race for talent intensifies across the globe, all organisations are trying to position themselves as an employer of choice. Companies are exploring ways in which their employer brand can help them attract, retain and develop talent in the face of demographic shifts, skills shortages and dynamic forces for change.

But, as ever, success lies in getting the details right. The increased focus on employee experience represents a great wake-up call to companies to understand the relationship between the everyday experience of employees at work and the ability of companies to execute their strategies.

Are we at a watershed moment?

As the principles and practices of employee experience have developed, it feels as though we are at a watershed moment. Companies working on transforming their employee experience have done all the obvious stuff: the compensation and benefits systems, the flexibility on work arrangements, all the structures and rules stuff. But what still needs to be done is to align leader and manager behaviours so that their actions enhance rather than distract from the employee experience.

What does the research say?

In our recent survey of global employee experience professionals, the number one issue they said is standing in the way of their success is the behaviours and attitudes of leaders and managers. This reflects a finding from LinkedIn research into employee experience that the biggest roadblock was that ‘not enough people are dedicated to it’, with 57% of respondents citing this, and 43% citing ‘leaders not prioritising’ as the problem.

The LinkedIn research also highlighted the need for companies to radically improve the effectiveness of management generally, as a key part of getting the employee experience right.

Changing leader and manager behaviour

How do we improve the quality and effectiveness of management and leadership so that companies can demonstrate that they are walking the talk of enhancing employee experience?

The answer for some is training; but not training as usual. The normal training approach would be content-led communications work, as companies try to get the employee experience message across to leaders and managers. Sometimes these are accompanied by lists of required behaviours of managers and leaders. In my experience these approaches hinder rather than help. Why? Because they fail to shift actual behaviour, whilst simultaneously raising employees’ expectations of management expertise. These failures embed cynicism and make the work of enhancing employee experience much harder. Changing leaders’ and managers’ behaviours is one of the most difficult challenges facing any organisation trying to move the needle on commercial performance. So what do we need to do differently?

Learning with not learning about

Learning to manage and lead others is not something that you can just read about or watch a video on. If it was that simple then we wouldn’t have such a widespread problem. The other problem is that these content-push types of learning interventions see learning as a solo activity (the learner sitting alone at a screen), when the performance context is social and relational. What works is experiential learning: connecting the learning and the work together in a seamless whole. Improving the ability of leaders and managers to deliver an effective employee experience requires the development process engaging teams with learning, not staff sitting alone learning about something.

Experiential learning works

Our experiential methods are designed to integrate real work into the learning design. Our solutions propel leaders and managers into real-life situations, armed with new insights, new methods to test, and new capabilities that connect learning with deliberate and intentional practice. We have been working with some of the world’s biggest and most demanding global companies to transform the capabilities of their leaders and managers, and their relationships with their direct reports, teams and colleagues. Our solutions are effective across the delivery spectrum, from inspirational face-to-face events through to a range of virtual and dynamic digitally enabled experiences. For example Sony's Leading Innovation development solution, which includes virtual peer coaching, group review sessions, a dynamic innovation project, an In-Market Journey and custom-designed webinars; propelled by air™.

We will not transform the employee experience in organisations unless we transform the quality and effectiveness of leaders’ and managers’ actions and behaviours. Standard training and development methods will struggle to respond to this challenge and leave companies stuck. I believe that experiential methods work, provided that they are expertly designed and delivered and are focused on what managers and leaders do every day that enhances the employee experience for everybody.

More about virtual experiential learning.

Grahame Broadbelt is Impact's Head of R&D.