The Employee Experience Equation

Did you realize you were making a contract this very moment? Not a formal one, but in your mind, you made the choice to read this article and you naturally came in with some expectations. This “brand” contract is based on what you know about me or the source through which you found my work. Additionally, you’re filling in other expectations from past experience that go beyond just what’s been implicitly promised so far. This “psychological” contract is formed when those expectations you’ve drawn up in your mind get paired with the time you give up to read this article in exchange for the assumption that I’ll provide you with something that makes it worthwhile. So, thanks for your trust – I’ll do my best!

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Unfortunately, if I don’t meet those expectations, you are going to be unhappy. So now the pressure is on for me; I have to meet your expectations, but chances are, I haven’t even met you! So what ARE your expectations? I’m guessing you want to learn something. Maybe leave with just one thing that’s useful. You probably have an expectation of readability, although maybe you’ll forgive some awkward turns of phrase if I can at least provide useful content.

The point is you have expectations. And those expectations inform your experience. Maybe this is a decent article, but a friend recommended it as “life-changing,” so you were ultimately left disappointed. Maybe a smart friend passed it along so you could both have a chuckle at how rudimentary my command of words is, but I managed to exceed your expectations a bit, leaving you satisfied with your time invested. Objective experiences are a myth, so we need to start embracing subjective experiences.

In fact, your entire life is a series of expectations that are being either met, exceeded, or violated. And your “experience” is a combination of both acute experiences that dramatically shape your paradigm and small, chronic experiences that add up over time. You could even quantitatively frame your experiences as the difference between your expectation and your reality. I walk into a performance review expecting the worst and instead receive glowing praise and a raise; expectations exceeded. Experience? Very positive.

On the other hand, let’s say I was expecting a big Christmas bonus, as usual, so I could build a pool in my backyard but instead got only a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. You could argue that I’m better off than I was before the bonus, so economics predicts I should be happy. But anyone who has seen Clark Griswold’s reaction to this scenario in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” can attest that happiness, most certainly, is not the outcome.

But not all experiences are created equal. My experience with favorite childhood cartoons rebooted as gritty movies is nowhere near as important to me as is my experience regarding the health of my spouse.

And there is one last piece of the puzzle. None of this exists in a vacuum. You enter every experience with the sum total of your prior experiences in play. Are you a generally happy person? One moderately bad experience isn’t going to change that and you might even remain net positive through it. Are you a Negative Ned? Well a good experience might not be enough to swing you out of the doldrums.

Putting all this together, we have the product of your expectations (E) and the reality of how well they were met (EO), all multiplied by how important (I) the moment was to you, all added to your general disposition (GD). Or, more concisely:

I(E*EO) + GD = Experience

Try it out! Start with something easy, like the last movie you saw. How would you rate it?

Your Expectation (E) ? The Expectation Outcome (EO) ?
4 Very Low -3 Drastically Did Not
2 Low -2 Did Not
1 None 1 Met Expectations
2 Some 2 Exceeded Expectations
4 High 3 Drastically Exceeded
The Importance (I) ? Your General Disposition (GD) ?
1 Not Important -5 Fairly Negative
2 Somewhat Important -3 Slightly Negative
3 Important 0 Even-Keeled
4 Very Important 3 Generally Positive
5 Vital Importance 5 Annoyingly Chipper

Where does your score put you?

1 to 15

Scores in this area describe contentment. Generally a positive experience but not enough to elicit much emotion. Maybe worth a mention if a friend asks about it or if it’s been a slow social media day.

-1 to -15

This might cause a vigorous eyebrow raise. Maybe a verbal scoff. Inconvenience, frustration, irritation. By itself, no big deal. But watch out if these experiences start to add up.

16 to 30

We’re getting into emotion here. This is creating enthusiasm and genuine positive emotion. Here you share your experience willingly with friends and acquaintances. This experience fosters enthusiasm and forces you to recalibrate your expectations.

-16 to -30

The emotion here is strong enough to inspire behavioral change. Something needs to be done. Doubt, discouragement, and worry. These are experiences that need to be shared with comforting friends and food.

31 and higher

These are experiences that can shift your whole paradigm, redefining expectations. Joy, passion, and love fall here. You’ll share these experiences with anyone who will listen.

-31 and lower

Watch out! These are the experiences that bring about major life changes. If you see someone acting in anger, fear, or despair after one of these experiences, everyone would completely understand.

What separates this equation from a fluffy Cosmo quiz? With this in hand, now you can identify the pain points in your organization. Are certain departments or demographics having drastically different experiences? Do you need to meet their expectations, or recalibrate them? By asking questions about different categories of experiences, you can pinpoint whether employees are having good social experiences but bad personal ones. Good customer moments but bad bureaucratic ones. Maybe someone else is dropping the ball or maybe you have unnaturally high expectations.

If you find a part of your job that isn’t necessarily a Greek tragedy but consistently fails to live up to expectations, you’ve identified something that has the potential to erode your experience until one day you’re fed up and you can’t even point to a single reason why. Better to see it coming and course correct.

Now that you understand how identifying and measuring expectations is the key to creating an elite employee experience, give it a whirl with some job-related scenarios! Here are some prompts to help you start identifying where your expectations aren’t being met.


Your most recent performance review Your previous job
Your relationship with your boss, significant other, kids, or peers The last project you completed
Your last dispute with a colleague Your last compensation discussion

Did you rate an experience that didn’t quite fit? We would love to hear from you and how we can improve.

Call to Action - Employee Experience Book Bestseller

VIDEO: 5 Tips Towards Setting Actionable Goals

In the VIDEO: 5 Tips Towards Setting Actionable Goals, Dr. David Mason covers five points and five tips to create actionable goals to further your professional career. 

1. Be clear about WHAT you want to accomplish.

The very first step, before anything else, towards setting actionable goals is to be incredibly clear about WHAT your goal actually is. The reason is that poorly made goals can be gamed.

How about being a better listener? That’s a noble goal to pursue so I make my goal and one of the ways that I put it into action is to not interrupt people when they’re talking. So I sit back, let someone talk and then say what I was going to say anyway. I wasn’t really listening; I was just NOT talking.

What about losing weight? There’s a goal we’ve all tried at one point or another. If I just want to lose weight, I can still eat unhealthy, just less of it. I’m not really any better off health-wise and in fact might even be worse off.
In fact, the fastest way to lose weight is honestly just to cut off a leg. But that would be ridiculous, right, even though it reaches the goal?

Figure out how to cheat. If you can cheat, then it wasn’t a good goal. Be more specific about the actual WHAT that you want to accomplish.

2. Determine WHY you want to work towards this goal.

Be brutally honest. The goal should never actually be your goal! What is the result you hope to achieve? Remember, the goal is a tool and a measuring stick designed to help you arrive at that result. 

Ask yourself, “who benefits?”  If the answer isn’t a resounding “ME!” then you need to have a reckoning. Saying you want to be a better listener is one of those things that sounds great, but if your honest answer is because your boss told you to, or that it keeps the peace at the office, then you do not have a strong enough motivation to sustain you when the going gets rough.

If your motivation is not aligned with the goal, you need to find a way to bring your motivation closer to the goal, or your goal closer to the motivation. But in either case, don’t proceed until this part is in place.

Now let’s say you made this big hairy audacious goal and you’re super excited about it. That’s great! Shoot for the stars I always say. How do you plan on doing this exactly?

3. Determine HOW you will reach this goal.

Let’s take your awesome goal. You have a great goal which is super clear in purpose and you’re pumped to accomplish it. Now, take that goal and chop it in half. Now, chop it in half again. Now, chop it in half again. Go ahead and keep your super goal, but you’re going to need to create some sub-goals along the way.

Think like a video game. That is to say, make your goals manageable. Video games are so addictive precisely because you are always accomplishing something. If you finish a day and you don’t feel you made progress on something important to you, then you don’t have manageable goals.

align expectations phone

You know what video games also do incredibly well? They track your progress and give you constant feedback. In real life you need to ask yourself, WHEN will you know you have succeeded? This actually accomplishes two things:

  1. It gives you a deadline
  2. It forces you to be specific about the goal

Otherwise when the time came, how would you know you actually accomplished it? The terminology we use is “actionable steps” or “tangible tasks.”

4. Plan WHEN will you do it.

To help you with the WHEN, is to redefine the WHEN. For example, think of the different types of time you can use. You could make a deadline, or you could make a period of time to accomplish something, like Q2; or the WHEN could be an event, like team meetings or every morning when you walk in. Every goal is different, so I can’t give you suggested timeframes. This should be a discussion where you bring someone in to help you.

5. WHO do you need to help you?

What resources will make your goal seeking behavior more fruitful? Research shows that goals are much more likely to be achieved when there is someone else involved, even if that someone else is just a social support, cheerleader type.

Don’t ignore the WHO when trying to find resources. I phrased it this way on purpose. Most of the time we think in terms of keeping goals to ourselves or pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But this is the wrong way to approach it. Always find someone else to help you in some way.


So to recap, don’t forget the WHAT, WHY, HOW, WHEN, and WHO and you will be well on your way to successful, actionable, goal achievement.

Take a look at more videos to assist in building a better organization:


Podcast: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC Five Keys To Unlock Power Of Employee Engagement

MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement

David L. Mason, Ph.D.

Listen as David Mason, Ph.D. discusses the five essential ENGAGEMENT MAGIC keys (Meaning Autonomy Growth Impact Connection) that managers need to cultivate lasting employee engagement with their teams.

These keys are taken from the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement.

Download your employee engagement survey right here.

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