An old mainstay around brands and brand experience strategy is that brands are best envisioned from outside-in and built from inside-out. This basic starting philosophy is what leads to some of the leading business and experience evangelists to focus on improving the global state of employee experience. Many people, including myself, trot out examples such as Southwest Airlines and Zappos as archetypes of this philosophy and give details as to why this philosophy creates customer loyalty beyond an individual transaction. There is, in my mind, some uncovered ground as to the nuances of human psychology and behavior that can both help to explain why this model works and to give insight into additional lines of reasoning when you are battling for corporate budgets against the bean counters.
In almost every large company, senior leadership understands the truism that authority rarely wins the day in making actual progress in terms of making significant change. It is not openly discussed, but the constant management of internal communications strategy and perception is a direct effort to remove plausible deniability from groups of people both inside and outside the enterprise. This drama plays out across industries at least in part because there is a culture of bidirectional gamesmanship and resignation rather than a bidirectional culture of accountability. (If you doubt this conclusion, examine the statistics that detail how private sector workers under 35 have an average tenure of employment under 3 years).
Keepin' It Real
Many companies talk about creating a culture of accountability but in practice lack the knowledge and/or the discipline to do what is necessary to create and sustain it. A realistic understanding of the current disdain that many line-level knowledge workers hold for executive management requires that employers take a dramatic first step to shift the conversation from guarded defensiveness and ire to open dialogue and empathy.
Almost every company across America says the same hackneyed cliche: Our people are our strongest asset. Almost every company in America is not doing what's necessary to make thier employees believe that their employers actually believe this. Marketing and brand leaders know that all good brand promises include a reason to believe and yet it is a constant battle to get budget focused on improving employee experience in the design of productivity tools from intranets to core work applications (case in point, when was the last time you heard an employee say "our expense system rocks!"). If employers want employees to be accountable on following corporate direction, the first step is simple: Be accountable to your word.
How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything
One of the most powerful concepts in human motivation is the desire not to be a hypocrite and its flip side, the desire not to be a sap. When people see incongruity in the words and deeds of others, they assume hypocrisy and they apply a deceitful motivation. There is a subconsciuos trigger around incongruity and ensuing cognitive dissonance in many people that biases thier emotional reactions. When employees try to make sense of the incongruity in lofty statements and lackluster tools, the reflex conclusion is that the lofty statements are the exception and the half-hearted efforts in the tooling are the rule. The employee then concludes that the employer is inauthentic at its core.
When employees are given substandard tools to do their jobs, the tacit message is clear: Your time and energy are not worth conserving. When poor tools are the rule rather than the exception and there is no visible progress being made to improve the state of the toolset, employees lose connection with the overall mission of the company because the logical scenario plays out in the subconscious of the employee:
- My tools are substandard
- My employers only care about profit
- I am unimportant in the eyes of my employers
- My efforts are therefore not valued
- My efforts are therefore unimportant
- My employers don't really care about how well I service the people I interface with
- If my employers don't really care, why should I?
Authenticity Begets Authenticity
If employers really desire a greater sense of listening and commitment from employees, employers must flip the script and make the first move and put a priority in improving employee experience close to, if not on par with, consumer experiences. This does not mean that you have to pour all your resources into state-of-the-art toolsets across the board. It just means that you have to pass the red-face test (can employers say they care without their faces or their employees faces tuning red). To do this, companies have to put their money, time and effort where their mouths are.
Enterprises must put some real focus on employee experience, stop saying "pour more monkeys in that barrel!" (that is a direct quote I have heard from a telecom CIO) and start reserving budget to redesign key employee touch points while unflinchingly applying the same best practices from CX and UX disciplines to EX projects.
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