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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Happy Employees
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.

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Podcast: Transition Into Management – Part 1

The transition into management can sometimes be difficult for new leaders. In EP007 Leadership Intelligence Podcast – Transition Into Management Part 1, DecisionWise COO and author, Matthew Wride, talks about what it takes to make the management transition successful. Learn about the five Ps of transitioning into management, motivations for moving into management, 10 myths about taking a management role, and how to navigate the “unfreezing” and “jelling” stages during the process.

Download 360-degree feedback sample survey to help new leaders.

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In EP006 Leadership Intelligence Podcast – The Trust Factor in Leadership we discuss what is often overlooked as a leadership competency because we take it for granted. We assume we can trust other people until that trust is compromised or broken– then everything is suspect. During this podcast we will discuss the specific components of trust, research on trust and effective leadership, and how to build trust to be a better leader. Join Brad Taylor, VP of consulting services at DecisionWise, as he shares his experiences and examples of building trust.

View “Trust Factor in Leadership” webinar on demand.

During this podcast Brad will share case studies on the important components of trust:

• Building trust during rapid growth
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Where Do You Fit On the Engagement Resistance Curve?

Gears and cogs

Employee engagement begins with the individual employee. If the organization, corporation, not-for-profit, university, sports team, what-have-you—is the entire organism, then each employee is like a single cell. Change may appear on the scale of an entire organism, but change begins at the level of the single cell. Let’s look at the process of growing a more deeply engaged organization by looking at the role that you, the employee—play in your own engagement.

Download employee engagement survey.

At this point, your position and title are irrelevant. Even if you occupy a glass-walled office in the C-suite, you are first and foremost an individual, working for the benefit of a wide range of stakeholders: your colleagues, shareholders, customers, and family members, to name a few. Even if you are at the managerial or executive level and have the power to shape and set organizational policy, your greatest impact on the level of employee engagement within your organization will be how engaged you are personally—how strongly you find ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®, meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in where you work and whom you work with.

To that end, it’s worth reiterating a critical point about employee engagement: Being engaged is a choice.

Even if you are the policymaker, engagement doesn’t just happen. Remember, the organization’s job is to create the conditions optimal for its members to engage with their work, their mission, and each other. Once that fertile soil has been laid down, it is each individual’s responsibility to say, “Yes. I will trust, I will commit emotionally, and I will embrace opportunities to flourish in my organization.” It’s important to remember that engagement involves hearts, spirits, minds, and hands. This means that you must choose to both feel and act.

While some of the keys to engagement are based on innate qualities that are not always under your conscious control—you probably don’t have complete control of what you will find meaningful—how you choose to act on those stimuli is very much a conscious choice. That’s why, in any organization, all employees fall somewhere along what we call the, Engagement Resistance Curve.

Engagement Resistance Curve

Some individuals engage more easily and eagerly than others due to both innate personality characteristics (autotelic personality, high self-esteem) and learned behaviors (high levels of trust, past positive workplace experiences). Others engage grudgingly, if at all, due to the same factors, from poor self-esteem and cynicism to issues like undiagnosed anxiety disorders.

Simply put, some people are wired for engagement, while others aren’t. Most of us, however, fit somewhere between these two extremes. We choose to be engaged (or disengaged) based on the environment we are in and where we find the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®—meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection—in that environment. It’s a 50-50 proposition. The organization builds the ball field, and we choose to bring our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands to the game.

Most of us approach employee engagement with varying degrees of resistance. The engagement resistance curve doesn’t rank people’s current levels of engagement, but their propensity for becoming engaged. It looks like this:DecisionWise Engagement Resistance Curve

  • Auto-engaged (5%): This employee is innately inclined to find meaning, purpose, connection, and fulfillment in almost any work. She quickly and easily embraces organizational efforts to increase levels of engagement. She tends to be optimistic, confident, self-aware, and enthusiastic. In short, she will be engaged in nearly any environment.
  • Engagement optimal (20%): This employee does not engage as instantaneously as the auto-engaged employee, but he does not require a great deal of encouragement to do so. He will respond positively to organizational opportunities to engage, provided they are authentic and promises are backed by action. He also tends to be optimistic, confident, self-aware, and enthusiastic, if not on quite the same “walking on sunshine” level as the auto-engaged person.
  • Motivationally engaged (50%): Most of us will fall into this category. These employees are willing to engage if their motivational and satisfaction needs are met—if they are paid fairly, given appropriate perks, feel emotionally safe in their roles, shown potential paths of advancement, and so forth. They are not cheerleaders, nor are they saboteurs. They are potentially effective employees who can fully engage and deliver excellence under the right conditions.
  • Engagement hesitant (20%): This employee would rather not engage, but is not opposed to it, either. She is likely to regard her job as something that pays her expenses and nothing more, and she is likely to regard efforts at engagement with a jaundiced eye. Relationships with organizations are transactional—quid pro quo. She will respond to engagement efforts only if they are persistent and personal, and she tends to step in and out of engagement. She tends to be naturally somewhat jaded and pessimistic about work.
  • Auto-disengaged (5%): These are the lost causes, the people who are unlikely to engage regardless of what the organization does. This employee cannot view work as anything more than a paycheck, and he is likely to hold an adversarial view of his employer, whether that attitude is justified or not. He is likely to be cynical, suspicious toward his employer’s motives, and a negative, indifferent clock puncher.

Sometimes, if the conditions aren’t right for an individual to engage, that also means speaking up and saying, “This is what I need if I’m going to engage.”

So where do you fit on the Engagement Resistance Curve? Remember, you are responsible for your ability or inability to engage, regardless of your position within your organization or your organization’s efforts to “get employees engaged.” Engagement may be a 50-50 proposition between employer and employee, but the individual has as much power to drive employer engagement initiatives as the top decision makers do. Don’t wait for your employer to come to you, because doing so presupposes that your employer (1) understands engagement; (2) realizes that you and others are not engaged; and (3) knows the unique factors that will engage you, the individual.

Do you simply knock on your superior’s door, complain that you’re not feeling engaged, and demand (whether implicitly or directly) that he do something about it? Of course not. The process begins with YOU, not your employer. So where is your current engagement level? To find out try taking this online ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® Self-Assessment. It’s completely free and you will surely gain insight into how engaged you are, you’ll also have a much clearer idea of how engaged you wish to become and what to do about it.
Employee Engagement Survey

INFOGRAPHIC: What Do Engaged Organizations Look Like?

This infographic provides a comparison of employees and their behaviors in engaged and disengaged organizations. Which type of organization do you work for?

So what DOES an engaged organization look like? Heck, what does a disengaged organization look like? Satisfaction, motivation, and happiness are like seeds, soil, and water. Without them, you can’t grow engagement. But on their own, they don’t create engagement. To grow crops, you need one more thing: the sun’s energy. To grow engagement, you need energy of employer and employees communicating, collaborating, building trust, and promoting shared values. That’s when magic happens.
Download: Sample Employee Engagement Survey

This infographic is based on information from over 14 million survey responses presented in the book ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations.
DecisionWise Infographic Engaged vs. Disengaged Organizations

More infographics:
INFOGRAPHIC: Employee Engagement vs. Satisfaction. What’s the Difference?
INFOGRAPHIC: 5 Personal Employee Engagement Wins
INFOGRAPHIC: Where Do You Land on the Employee Engagement Spectrum?
Employee Engagement Survey