Ben WhitterBen WhitterMarch 12, 2020
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26min1564

The COVID-19 – or coronavirus – outbreak has been named a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organization (WHO).

On making the announcement, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also said that he was “deeply concerned” by “alarming levels of inaction” around the world. However, companies that have embraced Employee Experience (EX) are setting themselves apart from the rest and are at the forefront of the global business recovery.

Naturally, we are assuming the “inaction” that the Director-General refers to does not include parts of the world – including the UK and Australia – where people have been proactively and expertly building stockpiles of toilet roll, pasta, and hand sanitiser!

A compelling survival toolkit, but perhaps an indicator that news can frequently travel too far and too fast in the modern world, creating unnecessary panic.

An inconsistent truth

The focus of global attention has moved on now from China as things begin to escalate in Europe and the US, and there is a perception that significant inconsistencies have emerged in the response to the outbreak. It is always great advice to wash hands and maintain good hygiene levels, but the problem has been here for a while and it is only now that serious dialogue begins about stricter measures such as ‘social distancing’ and the banning of large events.

Right or wrong, the experts have some big calls to make!

As an Englishman, I support the NHS and it appears that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, does too with his proclamation that the NHS “will get everything it needs” during the crisis. This is reassuring and I am semi-comfortable with the calm response from Sir Chris Whitty, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, although things are placed firmly into perspective with the news that he is readying colleagues in the NHS to deal with unfamiliar and very different ways of working to deal with the expected and intense pressures on the health system.

Generally, there is much debate about what measures should be introduced and when in society. Being led by experts is acceptable for politicians, but as they well know, society often runs on emotions, not logic. A lack of action can spark fear and unhelpful behaviours.

I fully expect the remote working practices that many employers have already adopted will scale, and schools and universities will soon follow suit.

On the BBC a few weeks ago, I advocated for a global response and appealed for calm heads to emerge. I like facts and evidence as much as the next person, but humans are emotional powerhouses too.

It’s good to read reassuring quotes, but much better to see decisive actions. That’s why, during that discussion, I also stated clearly that the best place to be at that time was China, despite Wuhan being the epicentre of the crisis.

I felt this way simply because I have experienced living in China for three years. I have countless examples in my memory bank of what happens when China, at a central level, decides to do something. In short, stuff gets done and all necessary actions move forward, usually at lightning pace.

From rapidly building new hospitals to restricting movement, the WHO has praised China’s containment of the outbreak and the evidence appears to support this praise with a dramatic decline in new cases. There were only 15 new cases yesterday (March 11) in mainland China. I’m inclined to believe that decisive and massive action makes a big difference.

In business, there has been a mixed response to the outbreak and companies are getting found out. Indeed, there has been an awful lot of talk about “purpose over profit” in business in recent years, and how organisations now need to stand for something more than just money.

Well, now is the perfect test of that rhetoric. Through this pandemic we are watching something else unfold – we are seeing the true colours of employers of all sizes…

Do they really care about people?

Are the values genuine and authentic?

Can they uphold and live their values in a truly human-centred way through a crisis?

Employers are being tested and assessed by their workforces in real-time every day.

The employer response

Actions, based on evidence and data, are ideal to lead the workforce through a crisis, but time-and-time again as I speak to employers and CEO’s, the justification for action has often not been wholly based on data – it’s been based on doing the right thing.

In some areas there are zero cases, but employers have already embraced remote working, for example. People mean everything. The economics of decisions has been cast aside by the very best employers.

They have been proactive in playing their role in society and the community. Because of this, they will prosper in the long-term.

Starbucks China springs to mind. The response on the customer and employee side was exemplary. I’m glad I chose this company as a case study for my book Employee Experience.

Yet again, they have made business decisions through the lens of taking care of their people and upholding their values. This meant store closures and enhanced support (financial and otherwise) for staff alongside extensive and proactive support for people in society. The company made itself part of the solution.

Belinda Wong, Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of Starbucks China, summed up her approach to leading people through crisis, saying: “One of the biggest things I learned was how to handle 58,000 people’s emotions, to really empathise and care for them, and also uplift their spirits in a difficult time.

“It changed how I communicate. I bring them along on every step. If they have a question, I answer it personally, no matter who they are.”

In a more purposeful and experience-driven economy, the race is on. Not to protect the numbers, but to show an extraordinary level of care and concern for people. This is what differentiates and defines high performance in 2020 – the financial and human outcomes, as Wong suggests.

“This whole experience is not a lesson of business disruption, but of leadership and humanity,” she said.

“I’m comforted when I look back and see what we did and know what we mean when we say we are a different kind of company.”

Embracing the ‘experience’ of work

Not every company thinks this way. Unfortunately, this is still not normal.

This outbreak is showing the huge experience gaps that have opened-up between companies that have and have not focused on their people as a priority. The economic impact cannot be understated. This crisis will create long-term consequences for companies worldwide, and it will also hit the pockets of people working in less secure roles as contractors, hourly workers, and across the gig economy.

Technology companies have been leading the way in differentiating themselves as employers that stand apart from the rest by proactively offering enhanced benefits to their workforces, including full pay protection for hourly workers whose jobs may not be required as remote working practices come into effect.

Notably, Microsoft and Amazon have been at the forefront with this, while many from other sectors have already done the same in supporting their workforces. Others have done the groundwork in balancing technology and people to drive business growth, and are in very strong positions to quickly adapt their business models.

Wiktor Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Netguru, detailed how his company has moved fully to online/virtual working to handle the COVID-19 situation, whilst closing offices and suspending business travel. Working remotely was already a key part of its existing EX.

Within this, a long-planned ‘Ask Me Anything’ session with the whole company changed to an online format. In the past, he said, the company “would run each AMA partially onsite, gathering all available core managers in one place (with employees)”.

“This time, we had to do it 100 percent online, with each of us sitting at home. And it was the best AMA session we’d ever had. Working remote has always been at the very core of our culture. Because of that, we’re fully prepared to work online,” he said, emphasising that this was the case whether there was a virus out there or not.

Holistic & human-centred actions

For employers, it’s ‘all-hands-on deck’ to deal with this crisis, and the very best people professionals will be getting out and working directly with staff.

Colleagues like Lisa Dillon Zwerdling, Chief Employee Experience Officer/VP of Internal Care Coordination at Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, based in New Jersey. Lisa is currently working on the COVID-19 taskforce for her organisation, which includes educating all clinical staff who will have contact with patients in their homes through mandatory training, taking part in office cleaning, provision of protective and hygiene products to staff, and the operation of a reverse 911 notification system to keep everyone well informed and connected.

The taskforce is also rolling out new ways of working, including home-working and acts as the liaison between local, regional, national, and global bodies.

The need for holistic thinking and human-centred leadership is never greater than at times of crisis. Lisa, as an HEX Practitioner, demonstrates this by focusing on supporting people in a variety of strategic and operational ways. Indeed, at times of crisis, HEX Practitioners will be constantly thinking and acting with people in mind:

  • How can we support people more?

  • How can we co-create solutions and proactive actions with our teams?

  • How can we leverage the resources we have (including technology) to maintain a healthy connection with staff?

  • How do we exemplify our values within and outside of our organisations?

Those companies that have already embraced a greater emphasis on the EX will be reaping the rewards. Their HR professionals may right now resemble something more akin to an ‘Experience Architect’.

Those ahead of the curve will benefit from years of wise investment in technology, co-creation, and creating the conditions for people to experience their unique Truth (purpose, mission, and values) every day. This crisis offers an opportunity to enhance and deepen this connection. For others, it will not be as straightforward. Years of under-investment and a lack of focus on the things that really matter in work will be hitting them hard.

There will be some real learning coming down the line from the crisis.

Experience is everything

Employee Experience remains the number one business and HR trend because everything is part of our experience in work, whether it is a positive or negative one.

Employers may well be making decisions based on the numbers rather than the people, and harming the employment relationship in a profound way, as Robert Pender, HEX Practitioner, suggests.

“As an HEX Practitioner, while it is encouraging to see some companies take steps to support their people, it appears many organisations still don’t have a plan in place and seem to be waiting on governments to dictate what the appropriate responses should be,” he said.

“Whilst there are potentially huge financial ramifications for organisations, and aspects of legislation may help align how the business world responds, waiting passively for directives does not represent the behaviour of a human-focused organisation.”

Taking part on a virtual panel this week, the discussion focused on how HR will be fundamental in business recovery following the outbreak. I reinforced what many of us are thinking.

As usual, this crisis is all about people and experiences. It’s about creating and maintaining connections. It’s about caring for and demonstrating a deep commitment to people.

Interestingly, at times of crisis, we see the best and worst of humanity, and the destructive power of fear and selfishness. With many employees sharing their real-time experiences online, the commentary offers ample evidence that things need to change. In this context, it’s a time where the influence and impact of our companies (and ourselves) as a force for good in the world becomes crystal clear.

There remain critical issues in the way that companies develop themselves and their relationship with people. Related to this, there are significant challenges in the way that companies set themselves up; research I summarised from The Economist pointed this out last year – a lack of alignment, accountability, and human-centricity is getting in the way of healthy experiences in work.

The yet-to-unfold effects on business and human outcomes during the outbreak will be hard for some to bare. Employees may not be having the experience that they want or need, and it is a huge failing on the part of employers if that is the case.

Living purpose, mission, and values during a crisis

In the long-run, businesses that uphold their Truth during a crisis will come out stronger, richer, and healthier as a result.

A caring, decisive, and proactive approach from employers is required. Leading employers may be asking staff to self-isolate as part of the “biggest remote working experiment of all time”, but what they’re really saying is that they care about the health and wellbeing of their workforce. They will be doing whatever is necessary to support their people. This, and actions like it, will be remembered forever.

This is about creating a positive connection for life, not just through a crisis.

This article was originally published on the World Employee Experience Institute website.

CXM Editorial TeamCXM Editorial TeamOctober 24, 2019
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2min2476

A new e-book on successfully implementing tried-and-tested Employee Experience initiatives is available for free from the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI).

Ben Whitter is the founder of the WEEI, and the world’s foremost expert on Employee Experience. Successfully leading the Employee Experience (EX) Masterclass, Ben has also authored what has become the go-to guide for helping organisations maintain staff productivity, Employee Experience: Develop a Happy, Productive and Supported Workforce for Exceptional Individual and Business Performance.

Now a new publication is available as a free download, based on research carried out with Holistic EX Practitioner and CCXP Robert Pender.

Ben Whitter (left) and Robert Pender

In it, readers will learn practical tips on establishing EX foundations and specific considerations for EX practitioners to implement. Full of tips and valuable EX insight, A Practical Guide to Implementing and Succeeding with Employee Experience is essential reading, and available absolutely free of charge.

 

 

 

 


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthAugust 12, 2019
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19min2460
Gethin Nadin is a world-renowned Employee Experience expert, who has lent his knowledge to the judging panels of events including the UK Employee Experience Awards.
 
A psychology graduate, Gethin understands the thought process behind what brands need to ensure effective employee engagement, and his new book, A World of GoodLessons from Around the World in Improving the Employee Experienceis teaching organisations the steps required to make any workplace a happier place to be.
 
Fellow EX visionary, author, and Employee Experience Masterclass leader, Ben Whitter, has offered his seal of approval to Gethin’s book, describing it as “a great read and a great message to the world”.
 
Gethin, who is Director of Employee Wellbeing at Benefex, spoke with Customer Experience Magazine to discuss A World of Good, his inspirations, and why Employee Experience continues to be of vital importance for business.

Hi Gethin, tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background

After graduating with a psychology degree, I worked in television for a few years for the BBC, Channel 4, and a stint in local radio (even racking up some production credits on IMDB). Struggling to get work in the media, I got a job working in pensions at Legal and General. Five years later I was managing the key accounts team and had developed some strong pensions knowledge as well as CII and ILM qualifications.

After leaving L&G, I moved to Barclays, where I started working in employee benefits technology for clients like GSK, Coca Cola, and British American Tobacco. Fast forward a few years later and I set up the employee benefits department for (at the time) one of Europe’s largest insurance brokers.

I then moved to Benefex, where I have been for eight years as part of the senior management team. My time at Benefex is when my interest in Employee Experience really took off. As well as working closely with organisations like EY and PwC, I started writing and speaking publicly to share my growing knowledge of ways to improve EX.

Benefex has given me the opportunity to help some of the worlds biggest brands to develop their employee engagement, experience, and wellbeing strategies. It’s also give my own best Employee Experience to date.

What led you towards the world of Employee Experience? Did your own previous experiences influence you positively or negatively?

For years I was passionate about improving engagement at work and was lucky enough to help great employers do amazing things to get their people more engaged. But while all of this was going on, there was a growing trend for employers to take a different view of engagement – that it was a psychological product of how we designed employees’ experiences.

In the same way organisations had focussed on how great Customer Experience led to better sales and loyalty, the most progressive ones had now realised that a carefully designed Employee Experience was the best way to boost employee engagement. At the time, Jacob Morgan’s book, The Employee Experience Advantage, really opened my eyes to how the most experimental organisations were achieving this.

When I started to think about my own experiences, I started to realise that historically, when I had been disengaged at work, it was as a result of lots of things – difficult commutes, poor technology, uncomfortable offices, lack of autonomy, etc. I’ve had some of the best and worst experiences that both had an impact on my wellbeing. I wanted to make sure that I could help as many employees as possible have a great experience at work and this started by writing my thoughts down in a book.

Tell us about the book and your inspirations/influences in writing it.

Aside from my own experiences, I became really taken with the idea that employment in general has a significant effect on humans. Work has become a big part of our lives and rightly or wrongly, plays a part in how we identify ourselves and how we define success. The lines between home and work life rarely exist anymore, which means the way we feel about our experiences at work have a big effect on how we feel about our lives.

The more I read, researched and wrote about people’s experiences at work, the more I found the growing body of evidence for how treating employees well leads to business growth. I also found that the more time I spent with employers, the more I realised that lots of this knowledge wasn’t well known.

In 2017, many employers were still treating employees unfairly. However, what did start to happen at that time was that the media was paying close attention. As whistle-blowers started to expose poor employment practices, we saw well known brands dragged through the mud.

This started to have a big impact on consumer behaviour for those brands and so suddenly, lots of organisations really started to see that they had to treat employees better if they were going to deliver the kind of Customer Experience they needed to. At the time though, the big issue seemed to be that many organisations didn’t know how to improve the Employee Experience. Most organisations couldn’t afford to be as experimental as the likes of Google, so I saw an opportunity to help these employers improve the experience easily and with little investment.

As I started writing the book, I realised that so many of the new and progressive EX practices companies were using were actually really old. In some countries, they were hundreds of years old!

That’s when the format came to me – I could use lessons from different countries and cultures all over the world as a way of telling a story I could then back up with academic research. Where possible, these would be stories that could help organisations take a different view of their employees’ experiences and the impact old ways of thinking were having.

Since its publication, the book has hit the Amazon HR bestseller list and won an award. But the most rewarding achievements come from the messages I receive from the people managers who tell me they’ve changed their EX after reading the book. In some cases, decades old HR policies have been binned in favour of ones that improve the lives of their employees. I never expected that would happen!

Employee Experience is now a deciding factor for job seekers. Can you tell us where many firms are going wrong when it comes to attracting and retaining talent?

One of the most popular reasons employees give for leaving a new job is that the experience didn’t match up with the expectation. Many employers spend huge amounts of effort developing an employer brand and an employee value proposition, but if the reality is that their employees are struggling at work, it becomes wasted effort.

We live in a world where your employment practices can be publicly discussed. Organisations can now analyse your employer brand to see how ex-employees talk about you online. Employees can also rate and review their employers.

We have never had transparency like this before!

Add that to low unemployment and a shortage of talent and suddenly, the job is the product and the employee is the consumer. The employee now has the choice and ease to decide who they want to work with. This means employers have never had to work harder to recruit and retain employees. 

Where lots of organisations are now going wrong is that they aren’t thinking about how their experiences are being designed. Your EX shouldn’t be something that just happens; it should be something you have carefully designed.

This begins with empathising with your employees. Take something like changing jobs: when an employee has signed a contract with you and quit their old job, they are an engaged employee in their prime. They are excited, but they are also nervous. Changing jobs is stressful and ridden with anxiety, yet many organisations don’t empathise with these feelings.

We make potential employees wait weeks to hear from us after an interview and then after we’ve signed their contract, we don’t speak to them again until their first day. Then we give them lots of paperwork to do and so rather than a fun, exciting first day, it’s usually full of admin that could have been done weeks before.

World view: Gethin Nadin, author of A World of Good: Lessons from Around the World in Improving the Employee Experience

On a more positive note, what are your experiences of interacting with organisations that are getting Employee Experience right?

Its probably the question I get asked most: “Who is doing Employee Experience well?”, but it’s not the question employers should be asking.

We are obsessed with wanting to know what other companies are doing in a desire to do it better than them. When it comes to EX, every employee has different wants and needs and what employers should be concentrating on is developing the best experience they can for them. A unique experience that you can deliver will be your USP. A potential employees’ best experience to date will be their benchmark, so you should be focussed on making an experience that is better than that, rather than a competitor. Every company is unique, so the kind of experience you can offer should be too.

Where I see organisations with great employee experiences, there is trust. I believe its at the heart of any great experience at work. When real trust exists, employers can get the employees to design their own experiences. When we trust employees to make the right decisions, great things happen.

Employee Experience naturally leads to better Customer Experience. Can you tell explain why this is the case to any organisations that might not yet realise this?

When I come across organisations that are doing the experience right, I can really feel it. I notice this more as a consumer than I do as someone working in the industry. We can’t expect employees to deliver the best CX unless they are cared for and treated well themselves. You can follow a great Customer Experience backwards and find a great Employee Experience. The best CX will always start with Employee Experience!

There are some really good examples of where great EX has enabled employees to do great things for customers. A UK bank gives employees a discretionary budget each to empower them to make their customers’ day great. I’ve seen them buy pizza for a hungry customer visiting the bank on their lunch break, and deliver flowers to a customer that was having a difficult day. As humans, we love to do things for other people and when we make others happy, it makes us happy.

We are also seeing how some major brands are now using their EX to market themselves. When John Lewis re-branded as ‘John Lewis and Partners’, it was to reflect the key role their staff play in the company’s success. An expensive advert campaign declared ‘When you’re part of it, you put your heart into it’. Brands now know that the way they treat their staff will play a part in whether you want to buy their products or services. When organisations have struggled to realise that, they’ve felt the damage. We’ve seen this with Uber, Amazon, and Sports Direct.

As I write in the preface of the book – more than ever, a company’s front line affects their bottom line. Improving the lives of employees should be a priority for every employer. Nowhere is this more important than with those who deal directly with your customers.

 


Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthAugust 5, 2019
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6min1974

There isn’t a lot that Ben Whitter doesn’t know about when it comes to employee engagement and getting the best out of a workforce.

Known throughout the UK and further afield as Mr Employee Experience, the founder and Chief Experience Officer at the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI) also shares his expert knowledge at the Employee Experience Masterclass, the next of which is taking place in London this October.

Now Ben (pictured left) plans to reach an even wider audience with the publication of his debut book – a text certain to become required reading for HR staff, CEOs, and more across the land as ever more firms switch on to the benefits of providing an exceptional Employee Experience – for the benefit of both staff and the company’s bottom line.

Succinctly titled Employee Experience, the book is described as a guide to developing a “happy, productive and supported workforce for exceptional individual and business performance”. As the author outlines, Employee Experience (EX) is “every experience and interaction an employee has with a business”.

It is a broad, strategic approach that is challenging every support function to define what really matters to a brand and ensure this is reflected in its how its employees interact with the business. If this is optimised, people can perform to the best of their abilities.

Ben’s new book is a practical guide to achieving this through embedding EX in your organisation’s processes and culture, from the moment an employee sees a job advert until the moment they leave the company.

Full of tools, tips, and advice to help HR professionals and business leaders motivate, support, and develop their staff, Employee Experienceincludes a foreword by Global Industry Analyst Josh Bersin and case studies from companies including Airbnb, Starbucks, and Sky.

Praise for the book has been forthcoming from business figures including Bruce Daisley, Vice-President of social media behemoth Twitter.

“Navigating the complexities of Employee Experience has become the biggest differentiator of great workplaces. At last, a book that gives us a routemap,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ben himself told CXM of his hopes for the book as it reaches a global audience.

“After being immersed in EX for so long, I thought it was about time I put pen to paper for my first book,” he said.

“This is an outcome of an intense and lengthy period of focus working with brands and colleagues worldwide to determine how EX is being successfully applied and scaled in practice. As a result, I present a new model and lens, the holistic employee experience (HEX), that can be used by all business and HR leaders to deliver exceptional human and business outcomes.

“It’s based on the evidence I have been exposed to across many countries and cultures, and the book shares the key elements of EX and how they can be connected to powerfully shape and drive business growth. My concept of the HEX helps companies and colleagues to successfully establish, sustain, and scale a positive Employee Experience.

“Now in book form, I do hope that HEX goes on to inspire many more people and leaders around the world, at every level of the economy, to fully embrace EX as part of their core business strategy. This is great for business, humans, and society as a whole.”

Employee Experience by Ben Whitter is out now, published by Kogan Page.




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