Who owns employee experience?

This article first appeared in DNA India on June 29th, 2017.

I was part of a panel discussion on employee experience in the recently concluded Confluence conference in Bangalore. One of the questions that struck me during the discussion was this – “Who owns employee experience?”. Now the glib (and easy) answers to this could either be that HR owns it or, on the other end of the spectrum, every single employee is responsible for creating a culture that enhances the overall employee experience. While nobody is denying the primacy that employees have in creating the overall organisational culture, the responsibility, accountability and ownership of the overall employee experience do not rest with the individual employees. However, before we can look at who owns employee experience, perhaps it would be expedient to define it.

I always look at customer experience as an apt analogy. All organisations take great care to provide a wonderful experience to their customers from the moment they search for their product on the web, to walking into a store to experience their product to finally purchasing it. In fact, organisations also pay close attention to the post-purchase experience sharing of the product by the customers on various social media channels by monitoring their feedback. Hence, companies look at every single touch point that their customers have with them and ensure that feedback is collected and acted upon at every step of the process.

So what does this have to do with employee experience? Employees have way more touch points with the organisation than customers do. An employee’s everyday experience is shaped by every single action or thing that he or she comes across during the course of their work. Just as organisations look to understand the specific pain points impacting their customers, they ought to try and figure out specifics of the policies, actions and cultural aspects that provide a great experience to their employees and more specifically, identify those that lead to unhappy experiences. An understanding of the enablers and pain points impacting an employee’s workday can go a long way towards helping organisations to provide their employees with a great working experience.

So who owns employee experience? In the futuristic novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, precocious little children are taken up into space academies to be trained as generals in order to fight an alien race. The most successful of those is a small kid called Ender who throws conventional fighting practices to the winds and wins his battles by enabling his troops to get together into loose formations, each with an overall goal but with the freedom to figure out how to achieve their goal. Such self-managed teams are, in my view, the way organisations will morph into from the current hierarchical, top-down HR-driven approaches. The fundamental accountability hence will increasingly rest more and more on people managing these self-driven, self-managed teams, namely, the line managers. Hence, in my view, the managers in an organisation ought to be the owners of the overall employee experience.

After all, Ender did win the final battle by means of his self-managed teams!

Image Credit: blog.hrn.io