The Employee Experience Checkup

by Tom Devane

It’s common for organizations to take stock of their employees at the start of the New Year. They celebrate extraordinary performance and vow to fix the areas that are broken. But the New Year is often crowded with lots of other priorities. And as a result, attention to the employee experience gets lost in the shuffle.

At Energage, we see an alternative. Consider conducting a mid-year Employee Experience Checkup so you can track progress, stay focused, and see the impact of your changes.

In this post, we present two organizations as case examples. These companies (like many out there) lost focus on employee experience and were suffering the consequences. But with the help of an Employee Experience Checkup, they were able to get back on track – and with impactful results.

Case 1. Things were going great (but were they really?)

In June 2017, a $140 million midwestern manufacturing company was enjoying a year of record growth and profits. They introduced two new products and entered a new geographic market.

Even though the sales and financial aspects of the business were going swimmingly, Karen, the CEO, wanted to make sure that the employee experience was one that would keep employees coming to work and giving their best each day. So, Karen did the right thing: She surveyed all employees to find out what was on their minds.

Insights save the loss of valuable talent

The results were sobering. Because compared to a benchmark of her company’s peers, Karen’s company scored in the 20th percentile on the culture drivers that contribute to positive organizational performance.  

How could it be that 8 out of 10 organizations scored higher when the company was enjoying great financial success? Survey insights uncovered the problem. Employees were confused about the new direction, burned out by long hours, and felt unappreciated for their efforts. The company was headed for a drastic fall.

Out of the entire workforce, 80 percent of Karen’s employees admitted they were looking for a better job. And if that turnover had happened, the result would have been a nearly unrecoverable talent drain.

Early warning initiates vital company focus

The Employee Survey Checkup provided a valuable early warning signal that something was wrong, despite the outstanding financial performance. The company addressed each of the focus areas. For instance:

  • Senior leaders took time to develop a crisp direction statement and cascaded it to all levels of the organization.
  • Managers embarked on a “listening post” strategy to collect employee concerns and then act on them.
  • C-suite leaders – as well as managers – actively looked for opportunities to show genuine employee appreciation and recognize employees in meaningful ways.

Back on track

Six months later, the company’s human performance matched its financial performance. To ensure they were on the right track, the company administered interim pulse surveys. Each of them showed a move in a positive direction, with overall satisfaction up by at least 20 percent.  

Only seven percent of employees said they were looking for a new job, compared to the 80 percent the previous June. Thanks to a CEO that took both human and financial aspects of performance into account, the company is still number one in its market space as of June 2019.

Case 2. Things were going poorly (but why, really?)

In July 2016, a financial services firm in Pennsylvania had struggled to meet its targets for three consecutive quarters. It would have been easy to “round up the usual suspects” and apply blame. The instability of financial markets. Consolidation in the industry. Increased regulatory burdens.  And, of course, non-traditional Fintech companies that were disrupting the industry by the smart application of technology.

But Robert, the CEO, wanted a more comprehensive, data-driven approach to get at the root cause of the firm’s failure to perform. He turned to Energage, who over the past 13 years has collected “big data” from over 19 million employees from more than 57,000 organizations.

The trouble with inconsistent actions and misaligned values

While Robert discovered that some of the “usual suspects” in the external marketplace had indeed contributed to his firm’s woes, what alarmed him most was the revelation that the culture drivers were way out of line with others in the financial services industry. The survey uncovered that the working environment was preventing his employees from performing at their very best every day.

He discovered employees didn’t believe the company was acting congruently with its values. These were the same values that had been in place since the company was founded 75 years ago.

Finally, there was evidence in the data scores and comments that suggested cross-department collaboration was low and that new ideas were discouraged. The irony in Robert’s mind was that the firm’s culture needed these qualities to compete in the marketplace. And yet, while collaboration and innovation were clearly stated as company values, they were not being demonstrated or encouraged in the day-to-day workings of the organization.

Culture crisis leads to a much needed overhaul

Robert had a culture crisis on his hands. He decided to take advantage of the survey insights and develop a new path for the organization’s culture, starting with updating and socializing a new set of company values.

As part of his culture overhaul, Robert took special notice of what was working well. But he became ruthless about changing parts of the culture that didn’t support the company’s strategy. He took care to make sure employees in every department would discuss the local behaviors that demonstrated the company’s values.

Culture change is a group effort

And there was one more notable element of Robert’s culture overhaul. He knew from past experience that culture change mandated from the top of the organization didn’t work because employees don’t buy into the changes. He also knew that culture change from the bottom lacks critical strategic connections, so it most often falls flat because it is not relevant for the business. His culture roadmap ensured:

  • Strategic connections made at the top of the organization.
  • Energy from the bottom of the organization to implement the changes.
  • Coordination efforts and tools from the middle of the organization to effectively shape and manage the new culture.

The Employee Experience Checkup – and two powerful paths forward

The survey data collected at the start of the Employee Experience Checkup contains a treasure trove of information about employee likes, dislikes, and suggestions for what the company could do to improve the culture. It also illustrates how your organization stacks up against others in your industry. Organizations can use this rich data to proceed along one of two paths:

  1. Develop tactical action plans that address issues specifically uncovered in the survey.
  2. Develop an overall culture roadmap that plots how to move from the current culture to one that better supports your strategy.

The Employee Experience Checkup consists of:

  • A survey administered to all employees.
  • Expert interpretation of the data.
  • A conversation about the most desirable path forward.

Though different in their approach, both plans provide actionable steps to help an organization address cultural issues and foster an environment of positive growth.

The Tactical Action Plans That Address Survey Issues (TAPTASI), used by Karen in Case 1 above, consists of:

  • Plans to improve systemic, organization-wide issues.
  • A strategy for addressing localized issues within departments.
  • Coaching for selected executives on their results.
  • Facilitation of selected departments to develop solutions for especially challenging issues.

The Culture Roadmap, used by Robert in Case 2 above, consists of:

  • A succinct statement of the aspirations of the new culture, and what it will take to get there.
  • A list of current improvement initiatives and strengths that can be built upon for the future.
  • Establishment of processes and structures to move from the current situation to the desired one.
  • Overall plan and timetable for culture changes.

Workplace culture, like any well-oiled machine, cannot run continuously without occasional repairs and fine tuning. One of the best ways to be intentional about culture is to check in with your employees – not just once a year, but on a more regular cadence.