child playing with legos
PHOTO: Kelly Sikkema

Employee experience has become the new knowledge management. What does that statement make you think? What message do you think I am trying to convey?

Rather than rely on your psychic powers to understand my intent, I will do what my wife tells her students to do: use my words.

Employee Experience Is Traveling a Similar Path to KM

Knowledge management as a concept has been through rough times. It's gone through various cycles of popularity and general disparagement. To those who understand its value, it is a simple enough concept, and they sometimes wonder why everyone else doesn’t get it. 

As a concept it can get caught up in debate between academic purists and practitioners who focus on tactical, real word benefits. Arguments arise about where it should sit in an organization and who should “own” it. Yet in some industries and organizations it is a well understood organizational function, and in general, people “just get on with it” as part of their core day to day work.

In some respect I feel the concept of employee experience brings out many of the same discussions and arguments: what is it, who owns it, who pays for it, why is it important, what can it do for us? And just as many equate knowledge management to information management, and then make the leap directly to technology, I feel personally I am guilty of saying “employee experience” when what I really mean is digital employee experience — the employee’s user experience (UX) element of technologies, the digital side of our workplace, aka the digital workplace! 

As always, we have a tendency to trip over our own acronyms. Is employee experience (EX) more closely aligned to, or derived from customer experience (CX) or user experience (UX) worlds?

Related Article: Social Collaboration Mediated Knowledge Management

Defining Employee Experience

WhatIs.Com provides us a definition of employee experience:

“Employee experience is a worker's observations and perceptions about his or her employment at a particular company. Experience is often influenced by the company's physical workspace, the work-life balance the company provides and technology that enables productivity.”

I like this definition, it is nice and broad, and mentions three major elements of our life at work that mesh with technology provision:

  • The physical workspace: The interfaces between the physical and digital workplaces, and the lack of friction between them (hooking up your laptop in a meeting room).
  • Work-life balance: How does technology enable a flexible approach to working enabling the individual to tailor and fine tune their work to non-work life balance?
  • Technology that enables productivity: Not technology for technology's sake or because the geeks among us think it's cool.

Given this broad definition, in terms of "ownership," employee experience belongs in the same home as KM — it is the purview of the HR group / division / department. However, other stakeholders have a strong influence, especially in bigger organizations, where the physical workplace elements may sit in a Corporate Real Estate (CRE) group for example. Certainly, one Canadian bank has setup a multi-disciplinary Workplace Experience group with representation from CRE, technology and specifically digital transformation teams, learning and development specialists, etc.

Related Article: Digital Employee Experience Still Not Viewed as Business Critical

The Digital Workplace Fits in Where?

Back in the days when we just talked about intranets, in my work as a consultant I would tell people it didn't really matter which department or division "owned" the intranet, as long as there was an executive steering committee with appropriate membership including major stakeholders like HR, technology, corporate comms and major lines of business. It always comes back to governance, and one structure that might seem a little bizarre to some organizations may work very well in another.

So is employee experience subordinate to digital workplace? Based on the definition and discussion above, absolutely not. The digital workplace is part of the broader employee experience. Should the digital workplace team(s) be subordinate to the employee experience team? Why not? The answer depends on your organization, the governance structures in place and the executive portfolios. However it makes a lot of sense to me to have a high level digital workplace steering committee reporting in to an executive level employee experience committee. Executive support is key. 

For some years now at intranet and digital workplace conferences we've been hearing about the more advanced organizations that put employee experience before customer experience, based on the theory that happy, enabled employees will always provide a good customer experience. Which brings us back to the idea of having a User Experience expert or team within your digital workplace team, to ensure optimal digital employee experiences.

So there you go then: your DW group should have a UX function, and it could sit within your EX group, and if not, could still be in your EX governance structure. At least our alphabet soup of acronyms have gone from three letter acronyms to just two!