A woman interviews a man at a job fair. Is it time for your organization to hire a chief employee experience officer?
Is it time for your organization to recruit a chief employee experience officer? PHOTO: COD Newsroom

Today's digital workplace has become so competitive that organizations must nurture their talent and that requires a special kind of leadership, someone who can build an employee experience much like businesses build customer experience. Enter the Chief Employee Experience Officer (CEEO), the person who will ensure your organization is building a compelling employee experience that's culture and career driven.

Customer Service, Employee Focus

It doesn’t take much to find statistics on disengaged employees who report poor workplace experiences. Fixing the problems start by developing an “ethos of customer service and employee focus” for employee-facing teams like human resources, IT, finance and facilities, according to Ephraim Freed, who runs Freed Employee Experience Consulting and serves as employee experience manager for Regent.

If those teams focus on their own operations rather than employees, “the broken status quo will persist,” Freed told CMSWire. “Appointing a CEEO may be the route to creating this change,” Freed added, “but it's the change itself that's important and simply appointing someone to the role may not be enough.”

Freed discussed the concept of a chief employee experience officer in a 2015 blog post for the Digital Workplace Group. Then, he said the new role would “thoroughly alter the way operational functions are perceived and work together.” He also wrote that the CEEO would shift executive responsibilities from narrow functions to better aligned employee programs.

Digital Workplace Experience graphic showing results from the question, "What are your organization's biggest workplace challenges?"
Would a chief employee experience officer help solve these workplace challenges?PHOTO: 2017 State of the Digital Workplace Report
Freed, told CMSWire, he still believes in the CEEO role provided they execute on two key initiatives:

  • Oversee all employee-facing functions and build a culture of customer service towards employees
  • Develop a product management/program management practice that pulls together cross-functional teams to build innovative, holistic solutions to employee experience needs. 

“Building up an employee experience practice is not about ripping out traditional departments and implementing new structures,” Freed added. “It's about shifting those departments' ways of thinking and creating matrixed employee experience teams that include all the right capabilities.” 

Employee Experience Appointment Not a Fix-All

But back to the question of the need for a chief employee experience officer. Gerry McGovern, CEO of Customer Carewords, often writes and speaks about employee experience. Asked if organizations need a CEEO leading the employee-engagement and happiness charge, he said, “I don’t think so.” The more pressing issues? McGovern cited a “huge neglect of the employee experience” within most organizations because of things like intranet teams struggling with small budgets and junior resources. “Management needs to invest more,” McGovern told CMSWire.

Dion Hinchcliffe
Dion Hinchcliffe

The problem is they’re investing more into things like customer experience or big data/analytics, “the hottest topics right now,” according to Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. Hinchcliffe finds organizations where HR partners with IT to foster technological digital workplace initiatives. The synergies are welcomed but the result, Hinchcliffe said, is a digital workplace that tends to focus on the technology rather than people.

“Unfortunately, there are probably few realistic short term solutions to this situation, other than creating a Center of Excellence for digital workplace or Chief Workforce Experience Officer,” he said. “But those are still relatively nascent solutions, especially the latter.”

Airbnb Hired Employee Experience Officer

Many organizations today are invested in the position of chief employee experience officer, or least a version of that. One of the more notable moves in this arena came from Airbnb. It hired Mark Levy as its global head of employee experience. Forbes reported in an interview with Levy that his role “blurs the lines between the functions of marketing, communications, real estate, social responsibility and human resources.”

A quick LinkedIn search revealed several companies that have at least one position dedicated to “employee experience.”

Who Should Lead Employee Experience?

If your organization is entertaining the creation of an employee experience officer, the big question is who should be in charge of employee experience? What are the skills required?

Results from Digital Workplace Experience 2017 survey to the question, "Who makes digital workplace technology purchase decisions in your organization?"
Who leads the charge when selecting digital workplace technology?PHOTO: 2017 State of the Digital Workplace Report

Matt Laurenceau, community strategist at BMC Software, told CMSWire that role could be filled by IT (rarely the best approach), HR/Corporate Comms (what many companies do, he said), the COO (“kinda makes sense, but really far from current job,” he said) or Marketing (because of the UX and BI skills.).

The employee experience role now seems to be “up for grabs,” according to Carrie Basham Young, CMSWire Reader Advisory Board member and principal and CEO of Talk Social to Me. She often sees the chief human resources officer and CIO at the top of the funnel here but she's seen cases where “no one wants it even though it affects each of them.”

Linda Saindon, fellow CMSWire Reader Advisory Board member and founder and principal consultant a Alchemic, said a multi-functional team should probably lead employee experience efforts. Pilot and test employee experiences and recognize, she said, that it “takes a village.”

The question of "who" is not so much about which department the CEEO comes from, but rather the person's way of thinking and leading, Freed told CMSWire. “In some ways,” Freed said, “the CEEO is a product manager and mini-CEO focused on employee experience, with employees as the customers.”