No Time to Focus on The Employee Experience? Try Checklists

No Time to Focus on The Employee Experience? Try Checklists

No Time to Focus on The Employee Experience? Try Checklists. I mean we’ve all heard the advice: “Don’t forget to schedule time to work on the big-picture items.” Sometimes, this guidance is packaged as: “Block out and schedule uninterrupted time to be creative and to work on high-value projects.” Yet, in a world that seems to place tremendous value on “inbox zero,” where does a leader possibly find the time to create, plan, think strategically, or focus on his or her value proposition?

No Time to Focus on The Employee Experience? Try Checklists

The answer may lie in the more effective use of checklists to minimize the brain power and effort we spend on routine tasks. Dr. Atul Gawande, in his book, The Checklist Manifesto (2009, Metropolitan Books), is a vocal advocate for this concept. For me, however, I became a believer in the theory after several coaching sessions with a young and talented business executive. Let’s call him Stephen. Stephen was responsible for a significant chunk of revenue, and he oversaw several key retail locations within an important territory for his company.

Stephen and I had been exploring his value proposition, both on professional and personal level. Finding a leader’s value proposition is a coaching exercise we go through that is designed to help leaders focus on those areas where they create the most value as opposed to focusing on tasks that might yield a lower ROI or which might be a distraction. Stephen was convinced that he could create far more value for his company by developing and training his team and direct reports than by focusing solely on the administrative and operational tasks that comprised the bulk of his job description.

For several weeks, we explored ways he could devote more time towards his goal of developing others while still maintaining an appropriate level of operational proficiency. Our efforts seemed futile. Then, one day he delightedly explained that he had found the missing ingredient; he had taken the time to create a checklist for each of the various operational tasks for which he was responsible. Then, with discipline, he had been carefully adhering to these checklists. His mental approach was to first take care of his daily, core items so he could then turn his attention elsewhere. It became a challenge: How fast could Stephen get through his checklist (in a competent manner) so he could start working on what he loved to do?

Employee Experience and Employee Engagement

What he found in the process were significant blocks of time that he could devote to training and developing his people. In other words, by becoming disciplined in his routine, he found the time he needed to focus on the extraordinary – those initiatives that might be “game-changers” for his company and his career. He also found another added benefit, as he was using less emotional energy on routine matters, which meant he had more passion and drive for the challenging projects that require brain power and resourcefulness.

Now to some, Stephen’s example might be construed as another suggestion along the lines of: “Improve your productivity and you’ll have more time to focus on the more important things.” You might be right, but I think that level of analysis is a bit too shallow. The idea is a bit more nuanced.

In Stephen’s example, it’s not that he became more productive by learning to perform his routine tasks faster, it was that his checklists helped him to maintain operational focus and avoid switch-tasking. His checklists helped him focus his energy, which also produced the side benefit of conserving energy. Stephen was then able to spend the balance of his energy account elsewhere.

A “bank account” is often used as a metaphor to explaining interpersonal relationships. We have “trust bank accounts.” We have “goodwill bank accounts.” And, I am going to add one more, which is an employee’s productive energy bank account. Energy is finite resource. It cannot be created or destroyed. This is the first law of thermodynamics in physics, and it applies to organizational and human dynamics. If energy cannot be produced, then one possible way to get more from yourself and those you lead is to better focus energy on routine tasks by using checklists.

This tiny nugget of advice holds true at the organizational level as well as the individual level. As you examine the Employee Experience for which you are responsible, ask yourself whether you have spent the time needed to create checklists, processes, systems, etc., to manage and improve those tasks and operations that must be done an ongoing operational basis. By taking the time to focus your organization’s operational energy, other energy will become available to work on creative endeavors and innovation.

Consider using checklists both at a personal and organizational level to organize and focus key activities. A disciplined approach to accomplishing the “must-dos” may lead to additional time to focus on those activities that support high-value activities and organization-wide objectives.

The Rise of The Employee Experience

Office Team Celebrating

The rise of the employee experience is the next topic human resources professionals should pay attention to and here’s why. Try this experiment. Go to LinkedIn and type in “Employee Experience” with the quotes in the search bar. As of November 29, 2016, I found:

  • 1,911 people with “Employee Experience” in their profile
  • 1,850 people with “Employee Experience” in their title
  • 2,222 jobs are available with the term “Employee Experience” in the title
  • 3,890 results appear for LinkedIn posts with the term “Employee Experience”
  • 6 groups with “Employee Experience” in the name- the most popular one has 879 members

When I did this same search about a month before, I found less than 1,700 people with “Employee Experience” in their title. More and more HR professionals are changing their titles to include this new term, and it seems to be senior HR leaders in reputable companies who are leading the way. Here are several examples:

  • Donna Morris, EVP Customer and Employee Experience at Adobe
  • Malcolm Berkley, Vice President, Global Employee Experience at UPS
  • Angela Heyroth, Managing Director, Employee Experience at Charles Schwab
  • Paul Davies, Employee Experience Leader at GE
  • Ryan Miller, Senior Manager, HR Knowledge Management and Employee Experience at The Walt Disney Company
  • Monika Fahlbusch, Chief Employee Experience Officer at BMC Software
  • Shauna Cort, Employee Experience Program Manager at Tesla

When you think about it, “human resources” does sound like an antiquated and non-politically-correct term. Are employees really the company’s resources? “Human resources” is a corporate term to specify the different inputs needed for a company to produce a product or service. When viewed as a cog in the machine of corporate gains, “human resources” really doesn’t do an adequate job of describing employees. After all, companies are really made up of a group of people that produce value for customers. It’s your people that ultimately drive the company’s success.

“Employee Experience” Shows a 140% Increase in Popularity

Google has a nifty tool to show how popular a term is on the search engine. Google Trends allows you to see the relative interest in a term over the past five years. If you do a search on Google Trends for the term “Employee Experience,” you will see a 140 percent increase in interest by comparing the average popularity value of 35 in 2011 to 85 towards the end of 2016.

Google’s description of “interest over time” is a little tricky. Google explains: “Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. Likewise, a score of 0 means the term was less than 1% as popular as the peak.”
If you compare interest in “Employee Engagement” you will see that “Employee Experience” has a ways to go to catch up. Nevertheless, the trend in interest for “Employee Experience” is still climbing.

What is the Employee Experience?

Simply put, the employee experience is the sum of the various perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work. These perceptions drive how employees feel about their work and how much effort they put into their job. The employee experience determines how effective your company is at attracting, retaining, and engaging your workforce.

The Employee Experience Revolution

Are we in the middle of a major shift in mindset when it comes to employees? I hope so. As the global economy grows and competition becomes more intense, the war for talent will only become harder. Attracting, retaining, and engaging top talent will be the key advantage successful companies use to win in this era, and it all starts with creating an amazing employee experience.

P.S. While posting this article, I did another search on LinkedIn and found 5,303 people with “Employee Experience” in their title.

Question: If you are in HR, will you be replacing “human resources” with “employee experience” in your title? Did you do so already? Why?


How to Shape Your Employee Experience Using Data

Employee Engagement Example Graph

As humans, we are incredibly good at grouping things. We are also very good at seeing patterns. Indeed, pattern recognition has been shown to be a clear evolutionary advantage for our species. That said, our natural penchant for patterns can sometimes obscure what is really happening. If you spend any time with optical illusions, you’ll quickly see how our brains distort reality by using innate patterns, or “shortcuts.” Predictable patterns mean our brains have to work less, and nature loves to conserve energy.

Read the Book: The Employee Experience

So, how does this observation apply to your organization’s Employee Experience (EX)? If we follow our brain’s preferred course, we might naturally try and create an Employee Experience that is nearly the same for each employee. As noted, we are wired to look for repeatable patterns and processes. Yet, this tendency may create a bias that works against our most important business goals.

Consider the following. Your organization’s EX is the sum of the various human-based operating conditions that surround and influence your employees at a behavioral and social level. In other words, your EX is that unique social environment in which your employees do their work.

Staff meeting with great employee experience

In designing your EX, whether at the team level or at the organizational level, the goal is to create an EX environment that supports your organization’s key business objectives. For example, if you need precision in your engineering team, then the engineering team’s EX should promote and cultivate precision. If another team’s value is derived from creativity, then their EX should be tailored to foster creativity, such as designing work schedules that allow for uninterrupted chunks of time.

There is also a secondary lesson to be gleaned from these two examples. The Employee Experience should not be the same for every employee. Certainly corporate values and ethics need to stay the same, but other components must differ if you are going to get the most from your organization’s talent.

Armed with these insights, the next step is to try and understand your organization’s current EX. Every organization has an EX. Some are inherited. Some EXs are carefully controlled and created. But most are haphazardly acquired, or the EX has been foisted upon the organization’s current leadership. But, you can’t shape and improve your EX unless you have clear understanding of the starting point.

How to Better Understand Your Employee Experience

Analyze the Survey Data

We suggest that one way to better understand your current EX is to analyze your employee survey data. But, we suggest you use it differently this time. Rather than focusing on traditional groupings and comparisons, dig deeper and use your data to help understand how and why employees are having different Employee Experiences within your organization. The key question to be looking for in your employee survey data is: Do my employees have different Employee Experiences, and, if so, why?

Sort Employees into Groups

Here is one possible way to tackle this process.  Start by sorting your employees into four groups based on how favorably they viewhow to shape your employee experience using data your organization. We suggest you follow a traditional bell curve. For example, the highest raters might represent the top 15%. These are the fully engaged employees that give your organization top marks. They are the most enthusiastic champions of the organization, whose excitement is palpable and contagious.

The second group could be the next 35%. This group likely represents your key contributors. These are the employees that meet performance expectations, the “strong-and-steady.” They get things done, but they typically invest limited time innovating, improving processes, or breaking from the status quo.

The third group might be the next 35%. This is an employee segment where there is a strong opportunity for improvement. They generally feel underutilized, spend a lot of work time taking care of personal needs, do enough to get by and not get in trouble.

The last group is your remaining employees, and this group represents those that are disengaged at work. These employees are bored and frustrated; say negative things about the organization and tend to blame others for their failures.

Once you have sorted your employees as suggested, the next step is to look at the following three metrics.

Look at Three Metric Types

Metric #1

Compare the overall favorability score each group gives your organization. What do you see? What do you learn about each group’s Employee Experience?  Then work at finding who are in these groups. For example, are they mainly women, engineers, line workers, etc.? Try and understand the forces that have shaped and molded these groups.

Metric #2

Based on all the survey responses, find the top three questions from each group. These are the questions where the group gave your organization the highest favorability rating. Compare those questions across the groups. Ask yourself, why does my top group care about one particular set of questions as opposed to what the other groups have indicated?

Metric #3

Compare each specific question within your top group against how the other groups responded to these same questions. In other words, you are examining the same question across each grouping to see how they responded. Where are things different? What insights can you find?
Armed with this data, a picture, although fuzzy, will likely emerge as to what your current EX looks like. This will serve as a good starting point.

But, you can’t stop there. Next steps might include targeted surveys that measure everything from what drives your employee value proposition to running exit surveys to illuminate why individuals might be leaving.
The key is to build an EX data analytics plan that is both comprehensive in its reach and targeted in its depth. Also, make sure your analytics plan covers multiple time periods as well as natural employee lifecycle landing points.

One last tangential point. During the analytical process, don’t just look for points where data converges; rather, look for points whether data diverges. Check your natural bias in favor of patterns by looking for instances where you see strong differences. Then ask yourself why those differences exist and what insights can be found.

In the end, by taking an analytics approach to your Employee Experience, you will be able to explore the nature of your EX and begin the process of shaping it to create a winning organization.

Download the Employee Experience Survey

Stop Blaming Millennials for Unrealistic Employee Expectations

Team brainstorming

Here’s a situation that may feel like déjà vu to some. You have just concluded a difficult conversation with Tim, one of your software developers; while Tim works hard, he is certainly not your best developer.

Yet, he just left your office wondering why he has not been given a raise in the last four months.  The irony?  Tim has only been with your organization for five. You slowly exhale, wondering how in the world you ended up with that set of unrealistic expectations.

Download: Employee Value Proposition Survey and Report

Stop Blaming Millennials for Unrealistic Employee Expectations

Your immediate answer is that Tim is a millennial, and that’s just what millennials do, right?  Well, check your privilege at the door.  The real reason is that we, as leaders, have become lazy in one critical area.  We fail to properly align expectations from the beginning.  One of my business partners teaches that when it comes to certain key conversations, do not communicate in order to be understood; rather, communicate so that you will not be misunderstood. In fairness, I think he was paraphrasing President William Howard Taft.

My other business partner takes a more academic approach.  His view is that in the absence of carefully explained employer expectations, it’s the employee’s expectations that will take over and control the relationship.

He’s right. Aristotle is credited with the notion that nature abhors a vacuum.  The same holds true with relationships, whether business or personal.  When there is a lack of expectations, then the parties will find some to use, regardless of whether they are fair, rational, related, or even intended.

So, back to my story.  It isn’t because Tim is a flannel-shirt-wearing, bushy-bearded millennial.  The reason is you! When Tim came on board, it was probably done in a rush.  Your fast-growing start-up couldn’t seem to find enough qualified developers.  You were just thankful he showed up at the appointed time and was ready to work.  You gave him a stitched-together employee handbook your sister-in-law copied from the credit union where she works, and you had him sign a non-compete agreement you found on the internet.  That’s good enough, right? You, then showed him to a desk in your offices, and you moved on to the next fire smoldering in your inbox.

What you didn’t realize is that you gave him a seat next to David, your star developer who happens to be employee #3 in your organization.  David was promoted three times during his first six months.  Mostly because David is talented and deserved it, but once because there was no one else to take the job.  Now that you think about it, it’s fairly easy to see where Tim might have gotten the impression that promotions and pay raises happen frequently around your place.

So, there you are­–– stuck with Tim’s expectations simply because you failed to carefully define your own.  Imagine, if you will, that you had taken an additional ten minutes with Tim on his first day.  You could have explained to him that you do not consider promotions or pay raises within the first year.  You tell him that you want to take that time to really see what he will bring to the table.  Not only did you just give yourself some runway to work with, but you also gave Tim a reason to stay motivated and hungry for a reasonable period of time.

My scenario with Tim doesn’t just happen in tech start-ups.  It happens with seasoned HR managers, as well.  Too often we fail to think about and then define our critical expectations.  This means that we will likely have to deal with the other side’s unilateral expectations in the future, whether we like them or not.

My point with all of this is that good leaders take the time to ensure that expectations are properly aligned, ideally from the beginning.  This includes employee relationships, but it also applies to other areas, such as mergers and acquisitions, system implementations, changes in strategy, and various other scenarios.  Good outcomes in business usually begin with expectation alignment, whereas bad outcomes are often created or made worse by unmet expectations.

In summary, take the time to align expectations.  It’s worth it! And, millennials will thank you for treating them like the adults they are.

DecisionWise Employee Value Proposition

Podcast: Understanding The 3 Employee/Employer Contracts

Employee Experience Triangle Model

DecisionWise CEO and author, Tracy Maylett discusses his upcoming book. He also talks about the three types of contracts employees experience when working for an organization including answers to the following:

1. What are the three types of contracts?
2. What are transactional components of The Contract and how do they work?
3. What are brand components of The Contract and how do they work?
4. What are psychological components of The Contract and how do they work?
5. How does a business leader manage these components to create a better work environment?

See how these contracts form your Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Download a sample survey and report.

Listen to more podcast episodes

Podcast on iTunes 

Podcast: Managing Expectation Gaps & Creating Expectation Symmetry

expectation gap

The Expectation Gap is the space between what an organization claims it will do for the employee and what the employee expects will happen. The less clear the communication channels, the more likely that gap will be filled with static, garbled messages, and broken promises. The result: resentment and disengagement.

Download your 360-degree feedback survey right here.

Expectation Symmetry gauges how closely the expectations an organization creates for its employees match what the employees expect to happen. The greater the symmetry, the higher the level of trust. And the more the employees trust that their employer has their backs, respects them, and keeps its promises, the more they will take the risk of becoming fully invested and engaged, transforming the customer experience with their delight and enthusiasm.

Listen to more podcast episodes

Podcast on iTunes 

Warning! Is Your New CEO a Square Peg in a Round Hole?

Manager showing digital tablet wit executives in office

DecisionWise - Square Peg Round Hole

In the corporate world, the revolving door for CEOs is constantly spinning. The same seems to be true for coaches of any sport, whether it is soccer, the NBA, or college football. Change is good. Too much change, however, is frustrating; not to mention disruptive and often counter productive.

Why, then, are fans and shareholders often anxious to replace the incumbent? The answer lies in the fact that a change at the top is the fastest way to modify, or even reset, an organization’s contract. Which contract? I am referring to the culture-defining contract that exists between the organization and its employees. This contract is so critical that when we talk about it, we use a capital “C.” An organization’s success is built on the Contract, and the organization’s chief executive officer is primarily responsible for building, maintaining, and modifying the Contract. This is item number one on the job description, and it’s the one aspect of his or her duties that cannot be overlooked.

The Contract is built on the unique relationships that exist between the organization and its employees. Some of those relationships are explicit (e.g., you work these many hours and the organization will you pay you for your services). Yet, like an iceberg, the explicit agreements communicate only a small portion of the story.

DecisionWise - Iceberg

Like the ice under the water, it’s the implicit agreements (the psychological contracts) that represent the bulk of an organization’s Contract. When built and managed correctly, an organization’s Contract is foundational in creating great products, great values, great customer experiences, and great returns.

Hopefully, it is self-evident that it’s a risky proposition to hand this crucial obligation over to someone who is new, let alone to someone who is an outsider. Yet, when the wheels start coming off the bus, our instinct tells us that something is wrong with the Contract. And, instead of taking the time to diagnose and find the source of the problems, our knee-jerk reaction is to place the blame on the CEO’s abilities and look for someone new to manage the Contract. Forget about mending the Contract; everyone starts looking for someone new that has an established brand and brings with them a whole new Contract – one that is shiny and fresh.

But, is an outsider always the right decision? Sure, there are notable success stories. Steve Jobs’ second tenure at Apple immediately comes to mind. Nick Saban, the American college football coach who led challenged teams to three national titles, is a demigod in the state of Alabama. The problem is that success stories like these are outliers. They’re not the norm. Because they are wildly successful, popular media makes them a story, which then reinforces the public’s belief that choosing an outsider is the right approach. This is a classic example of the availability heuristic—the phenomenon that explains why our most recent memories impact our decisions1. Likewise, looking for a new CEO, coach, or leader can be neurologically rewarding. Participants experience the thrill of the hunt, secure in their belief that the next “big one” is right around the corner.

Endorphins are everywhere. The potential rewards seem enormous.
Yet, statistical averages tell us otherwise. Remember that most of us are average, and, by definition, half of us work for businesses that are underperforming. Why do we expect the list of game-changing leaders to be long enough to save all the companies that need help? There simply aren’t that many Phil Jacksons to go around to save every team in the NBA.

While choosing the right leader may be the shortest path to success, a CEO change is no guarantee of success. Consider Marissa Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo. Most believed the “wunderkind” from Google would surely save the tech giant’s future. After all, an executive-level Google pedigree is enough to turn any company around, right? The scorecard, however, for Ms. Mayer is incomplete, and there are signs that Yahoo still lacks focus and discipline2. Patience is a virtue that receives more lip service than practice. With the hype and intrigue associated with a new CEO, shareholders, analysts, and boards of directors seem reticent to give the newcomer the time he or she needs to tweak, or even rebuild, the company’s Contract.

Marissa Mayer Yahoo CEO

When deciding on how to find the best candidate as your next CEO, you might consider the following before you choose. First, remember that an outsider may be at an immediate disadvantage. Expectations will already be too high. As such, a newcomer may not be afforded the time frame required to understand and define the changes that need to be made to the organization’s Contract. Second, an outsider might be set in their ways and too beholden to what worked at predecessor companies (i.e., forcing a square peg into a round hole). Or, third, statistics will rear an ugly head, and give you a candidate that is no better suited to the task than the three or four internal candidates that are available (and, quite possibly, have already developed a turnaround plan through an in-depth knowledge of the organization).

Extra care should be given when selecting an outsider. Can an outsider be successful? Absolutely! But for every Marissa Mayer, there is a Mary Barra. Mary Barra CEO GM

Ms. Barra has been with General Motors for years, starting her career with GM as a co-op student when she was 18 years old. She moved through the corporate ranks to become GM’s first female CEO in January of 20143.

Recently, she has been praised for how she dealt with GM’s ignition scandal, and many have suggested that Volkswagen should follow her lead as they deal with their current emissions quagmire4. Success can come both ways – from the outside and from the inside. But, before the allure and appeal of an outsider clouds all judgment, it’s also important not to overlook what may very well be within the walls of the organization. Sometimes, an outsider really is the right option. But, bringing on an outsider also carries a good deal of risk. And it’s precisely that risk that many companies overlook in their quest for the next organizational hero.

Employee Engagement Survey

[2] Nicholas Carson, The New York Times Magazine, December 17, 2014 –
[4] Jonathan Chew, Fortune, September 23, 2015 –

Star Wars, Expectations, and Leadership

Star Wars The Force Awakens

You know you have a problem when you start seeing leadership issues in everyday things, such as the new Star Wars Movie, Episode VII, The ForceAwakens. I guess that’s our lot in life.

Star Wars The Force Awakens
Our current research efforts here at DecisionWise are focused on the best way to define expectations in the workplace. We call it “The Contract,” which is the explicit and implicit contract (the psychological contract) that exists between an organization and its workforce. What we have learned in our research is that all successful contracts – whether it’s purchase orders or the psychological contract and expectations you have built with your team – are built upon a clear understanding of the underlying expectations.

So, what does this have to do with the new Star Wars movie? At first the film received near universal praise and acclaim. Then, as time went on, more and more bloggers, critics, and fans began to complain about the film. Their complaints ranged from a lack of character development to the notion that the film was a re-tread of Episode IV. How did the movie go from a “masterpiece” to one that “stinks?” Did the movie itself change? Of course not. But our perceptions of the implied expectations did. And it’s all in the expectations.

The film’s director (and co-writer/producer), J.J. Abrams, was tasked with “re-booting” the most beloved film franchise in history. He needed to create a link between the original film from 1977 and today. That was task number one. Next, he was supposed to set the stage for a variety of upcoming Star Wars films to be released by the Disney Empire (pun intended), which includes episodes VIII and IX, along with other films that are based on the Star Wars expanded universe. Abrams was not tasked with strong character development; nor, was he tasked with creating dialogue worthy of an Oscar.

In sum, his primary job was to send a “love letter” to Star Wars fans everywhere. This was Mr. Abrams’ “Contract” with a large segment of the human population.

In my opinion – job accomplished! The Contract was fully satisfied. As we look at the “contract” Abrams had between the viewer and the film, those that approached the movie from a perspective of satisfying the requirements above, contract fulfilled. In that light, Mr. Abrams should not be judged on a set of expectations outside this Contract. That’s why the movie received near universal acclaim at first. To those fans that mattered, those that waited in line for hours (probably in costume), he fulfilled the Contract. He delivered.

Now, for some armchair Jedi knights and part-time movie critics, there was another implied contract. To them, this contract was not fulfilled. Why? Because their perceived contract was different from the contract created in the minds of fans who felt the film hit its mark.

Now, my comments aren’t intended to be yet another film review to add to the tens of thousands already out there on this movie. Rather, it’s to point out another concept—that of “the contract.” We all go into interactions (movies, relationships, employment, business negotiations, etc.) with a contract in mind. Sometimes, as in the case of a business negotiation, much of that contract is formal and in writing. It’s explicit and clear (“you do this, and I’ll do that in return.”). However, much of the contract isn’t explicit, it’s implicit.

As in the case of an employee, the organization may very well be fulfilling the terms of the explicit contract. But fulfillment of the written contract isn’t what creates engagement. It’s fulfillment of the implied contract—the contract that says, “Look, there are certain requirements that we both know we need to fulfill, but what we’re really both after is _______, and I’m going to make sure we both deliver.” In the case of employment, when this implied contract is fulfilled, the employee engages. When it’s broken, the employee disengages (mentally, physically, or both).

What’s the lesson for today’s leaders? Know your audience and know your expectations, both explicit and implicit. Then deliver on the contract. The rest will take care of itself.

The new Star Wars movie will make Disney a ton of money. Why? Because Disney and Abrams knew the contract it had with its true fans, and they kept their side of the bargain. You need to do the same with your organization.

Willrow Hood /
Aaron Lim /