At DecisionWise, we are in the business of driving employee success through experience and feedback. When working with organizations, we focus on their employee experiences, which we define as an organization’s culture understood through the eyes of its employees. Put differently, the employee experience is the way in which employees perceive and are impacted by their work, their supervisors and leaders, and the other various touchpoints they encounter within and around an organization.
When I first started writing and talking about employee success, I tried using a definition that equated the employee experience with what I called “deliberate culture.” This definition, however, proved to be too narrow and a bit over simplistic. Instead, our ongoing research at DecisionWise has led us to discover that there are three, vital interrelated concepts, of which the employee experience is just one component.
These three elements are:
Culture can readily be understood as “the way things are done around a particular place or within a certain group.” Organizations, civic leagues, clubs, families, etc., all have unique cultures. When addressing an organization that has employees, we define culture as those values, norms, guiding beliefs, principles, and common understandings that are shared among members of the organization as the proper way to behave, think, and approach the organization’s work and mission. An organization’s culture is either organic, such that it is created by a myriad of interactions with little shaping by senior leaders. Or, alternatively, culture can be designed and managed – by the organization’s senior leaders – to support and sustain the organization.
2. The Employee Experience
The employee experience is the impact an organization’s culture has on its individual employees. The employee experience is that intersection where an individual bumps into the organization’s culture, either for good or bad. When dealing with an employee’s experience, we are seeking their perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs about what it is like to work at a particular organization or company. Again, the experience tells us how the organization’s shared norms and values are impacting the employee, and when we aggregate the employees’ responses from surveys we send them, we uncover an array of insights that help us know how we might change or strengthen the culture.
3. Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is the positive emotional response employees have to their individual employee experiences. If alignment between the employee experience and the individual’s personality, viewpoints, values, etc., is high, then the individual will bring more of themselves to the organization’s mission and purpose. They will engage in moving the organization forward in a constructive manner. Thus, employee engagement is an outcome; an outcome that is derived from both the organization’s culture and the way the organization’s culture is experienced by its employees.
For years, many of us in this space spoke of an umbrella concept that we called “employee engagement.” The challenge with this approach was that it gave the impression that employee engagement was something you worked on independent of your culture or the corresponding employee experience. What we now better understand is that these three elements do not exist independent from each other, and that the first two elements are drivers of the third element.
For us here at DecisionWise, being precise with our definitions has helped us better deliver value to our clients. We have improved our ability to both measure employee success at various levels and to learn precisely where our efforts have the most impact in growing engagement. I deliberately use the word “grow” in this context. Employee success is not something you build; it is something you grow by carefully cultivating your culture.
How does an organization improve its cultivation efforts? Improvement is found by consistently measuring employee experiences at various points in time and at various stages within the organization. Fundamentally, it’s about taking the time to listen, then seeking to understand, and then acting with genuine intent to improve the culture so that employees can thrive and bring their best selves to work.
Nowadays, we spend much of our time helping our clients understand their cultures by providing them with the data, insights, and recommendations they need to build the right culture for their organization. The reward? Successful business outcomes that are driven by highly engaged employees who are benefitting from rewarding and fulfilling employee experiences.