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July 14, 2022 //  //       //  Opinion

Advancing the understanding and measurement of employee experience

For a long time, organizations have thought about employee experience (EX) as an internal mechanism. It’s been about winning “Great Place to Work” awards, retention in the face of the Great Resignation and cultivating a great corporate culture. But brands have had an awakening and begun to realize EX is not just about industry recognition and finding amazing talent it’s also about making employees active ambassadors for the brand itself. 

Nearly half (48%) of marketing leaders who responded to Forrester’s 2021 “Global Marketing Survey” said improving EX will be a priority over the next two years. Additionally, employee activism around company practices has risen, and consumers now hold companies accountable. For example, Forrester’s September 2021 “Consumer Energy Index and Retail Pulse Survey,” 53% of U.S. online adults and 59% of UK online adults said they would likely boycott a brand if it mistreated its employees.  

Put simply, employees are the first touchpoint for most of your customers, happy employees deliver the best customer service and consumers choose brands that treat their employees well. So, brands cannot afford to focus solely on customer experience at the expense of EX. 

Our EX strategy 

At Allison+Partners, culture is critically important and it’s an exciting year for us in our EX efforts. We’re now ramping up for our big annual EX survey to get a sense of where we stand. When we designed our EX survey model several years ago, we sat down with all our senior stakeholders to figure out what the levers are for our EX -- what key categories impact our employees’ experience.  

They are: 

  • Senior agency leadership 
  • Local office culture 
  • Practice group culture 
  • Direct manager 
  • Career progression 
  • Professional development opportunities 
  • Compensation, benefits and systems 

While the annual survey is a valuable tool that gives senior leadership a lot of fodder to make changes throughout the year, we also recognize it’s important to have consistent feedback. 

This year, we’re adding pulse surveys, so every other month, a random sample of the agency will get a much briefer survey so we can track any ongoing issues and see anything new that's popped up. Everyone will get invited to only one pulse, so we don’t overwhelm them with surveys. But it gives the employee another checkpoint to feel heard throughout the year, and it gives us another checkpoint to hear what's happening on the ground. As they make changes, senior leadership will have a good sense of whether those actions had the desired effect.  

To ensure everyone has a chance to always be heard, we’re also launching an “always-on” feedback mechanism where employees can provide feedback at any time. Of course, employees have many routes to provide feedback – through their direct leadership, via HR or direct outreach to our team of global partners – but this simply adds another way for employees to share what they’re thinking and feeling, in a way that is confidential and anonymous.  

Key learnings 

One thing we’ve discovered from several annual surveys is the need to put real thought into presenting data to senior stakeholders. Often, they can get distracted by the anecdotal, even if the quantitative overwhelmingly points in a different direction. While we want them to see all the data in full, we have a uniquely open and honest culture, which means employees write their true and strong feelings in the survey and sometimes one vocal employee can hijack the sentiment around an issue or question. 

We now take all the open ends and then use AI- and machine learning-backed tools to code those answers and help remove the human bias. So, our stakeholders don’t just read through pages and pages of open ends, like many company leaders still do. Our stakeholders see quantifiably the issues that come up when we examine a question across the board. While they still read the open ends and can see what individual employees feel, they can see the big picture – the opinions that emerge by the numbers. They don’t get sidetracked by who speaks the loudest. 

Another key has been the ability to use annual survey data to pinpoint the moments in an employee's life cycle where they're most at risk. For us as an agency, we discovered the biggest moment of danger is when people hit the two- to three-year mark in tenure or when they make the transition into management for the first time. We know those are the points where people have a drop across all the metrics we track, and they become less engaged in all our drivers. Therefore, we know those are the moments when we need to have the biggest interventions and can take preventive actions to avoid that at-risk moment. 

And it might be easy to look at the drivers and say the lowest satisfaction was this driver, so that’s where we must focus. Instead, we examine the statistical relationship between how people rate the drivers and our key metrics, which for us is intent to stay with the agency – and a metric we call our “employee engagement score,” which is a combination of employee NPS (the likelihood to recommend us as an employer) and satisfaction. We look at the statistical relationship between how people rate the drivers and those metrics. Even though overall satisfaction might be lowest with X, we can see it might be a bigger relationship between a direct manager and how happy someone is or how engaged someone is. So even though satisfaction is generally higher with those direct managers, we also know we’ll have a bigger impact if we focus on still improving that direct manager bucket.

New EX frontiers 

One thing that excites me about EX is something we’re both helping clients with and implementing for our own agency. EX has traditionally lived as a standalone survey, meaning  the operational data about actual outcomes – like who left the company and when it happened - were separate. It’s often siloed elsewhere and doesn’t interact with the EX results. We’re working on fully merging those two data sets, which is where the data gets really exciting because we’re combining what people are thinking and feeling with what actually happened, the real outcomes. For many organizations, this is where the predictive power of EX data can be improved. 

We’re also working on doing the same thing on the client experience side and having all those data sets talk to each other so we have a holistic understanding of experience across the agency. We know happy employees lead to happy clients, but we cannot quantitatively prove that yet. But we will soon, and more importantly, we’ll be able to pinpoint how to create more engagement for clients and employees. 

Whether a brand’s goal is more recognition, attracting better talent or improving customer experience, it will pay to focus on the growing new frontier of EX. 

Katie Malark is Senior Vice President, Research, at Allison+Partners. She is passionate about quantitative research and using data to enable better decisions.  

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