Employee Experience is Customer Experience
Too many of us know what it's like to start a work day and shrink at the thought of how many barriers we'll face just trying to get our email to work, share a file for collaboration, complete a simple process like submitting our timesheets, knowing what internal messaging app to use, or how to get connected to the network printers. People are left at an incredible disadvantage and companies are suffering an enormous loss of competitive advantage because of the lack of attention to employee experience (EX). At the same time, there's a ton of hype in our organizations and companies about improving the customer experience. Which isn't wrong, but it's short-sighted. If your employees are struggling, your customers ultimately feel the impact. There is a tax associated with poor EX; conversely there is a return on investment for good EX.
The government and the non-governmental organization spaces are no different. Last week, I had the privilege of participating in two sessions at the NetHope Global Summit in Puerto Rico that covered different aspects of the conversations around employee experience. Workplace by Facebook's Abby Guthkelch hosted one in which I was a panelist discussing strengthening culture by overcoming organizational challenges, and I moderated another panel on modernizing workforces in the nonprofit space. The themes that emerged from these sessions, and throughout the summit were clear:
- Both the people we solicit funds from and the people we aim to alleviate suffering for have outpaced us in their use of technology; and we're not keeping up with their expectations
- Low employee digital literacy within our organizations is a challenge that limits our ability to drive meaningful change at scale
- Large, older organizations who haven't kept up with the pace of change and the opportunities technology offers face an existential fight to not only catch up with the present, but prepare themselves to be viable into the future
- Partnership with IT departments is a critical factor for optimizing employee experience; IT isn't just a service department - they have to be a partner to business and have a seat at the table with executives
- It doesn't matter what your strategy is if you don't have the culture, action, and people with the right skillsets aligned to support it
So - what do we do about it? There's hope.
Create a Shared Sense of Purpose & Vision for the Future
Martin Mbalu, Global Service Delivery Manager at Oxfam International, provided the moment of inspiration for us all when he taught us a single word, “Ubuntu”. Ubuntu means “I am here because we are”, and it signifies we are all connected in purpose of humanity towards others. The work we do in technology is typically seen as a supporting role or service (and often IT is viewed as the “Department of No”). Adopting an Ubuntu-driven philosophy builds a sense of investment in each other's success. Focus on employee experience guided by this philosophy to bring employees' needs to the heart of your work. Create ownership as people see their ability to succeed as dependent on each other in identifying and driving solutions - instead of IT just figuring it out and implementing it for them (and usually not done to their requirements). Define what a better future looks like with your employees, and empower them to champion and build on that vision. Also people, learn from your shadow IT - employees are solving problems every day because they face challenges our “official” solutions aren't addressing.
One Organizational Strategy - Ditch the “Digital”
Technology buzz words need to be a thing of the past. A lot of people throw around terms like “digital transformation”, “agile”, “iterate”, and “MVP” without understanding what these words mean, and more importantly what it takes to actually implement them. Digital strategy is another one of these casually tossed about buzz words - especially amongst executives. Jean-Louis “JL” Ecochard, Chief Innovation Officer at NetHope, underscores the need for organization's to integrate technology into their strategic planning rather than have a separate “transformation” or “digital” strategy. Organizations need to see technology as THE enabler for their strategy. I like to call it a multiplying force - or a way of super charging your workforce for maximum business impact.
Here's the thing though, “digital” and “IT” are two entirely different beasts. You can't make advancements in technology and transform your business without having a solid IT foundation - and they require different skillsets of your people. Being digital-capable requires your technical people to have a baseline of business skillsets, and it requires your business people to have a baseline of technical literacy. Finally, you need to ensure that your culture—who you are as an organization, your core values, behavioral norms, and what and how you do it—are aligned to support your people accomplishing what your organization aims to achieve.
Start with the Basics
Establishing credibility and earning the trust of your employees and executives is key to building momentum and being granted the resources you need to be successful at scale. Focus on the quick wins and keep a narrow scope. Listen to people. Find out their pain points. Solve the basics first. To do this, you need to partner with HQ business units like HR and Finance, but you also need to find partners closest to the program work and find out where their employee experience is making it difficult to get their job done. For me, it's frustrating spending up to 3 hours trying to manually submit a travel expense report via an Excel sheet and multiple email attachments for my travel itinerary and each taxi/Uber/Lyft receipt, and let's not even talk about the struggles ensuring a positive on-boarding experience to set a new employee up for success. People don't care about the shiny new thing on the block if they don't know how to (or can't) share a file for collaboration—or connect to the internet reliably.
Jim McGowan, Director of Information Management and Disaster Response at The American Red Cross, has done a remarkable job of starting with the basics and empowering his people to drive their own solutions. He manages a “workforce” of over 90% volunteers for disaster response. In order to coordinate volunteers and get help when and where it's needed, they have built an application to track and manage incident responses - going from what used to be an arduous, time-intensive manual process in Excel for full time employees, to a volunteer-created (they built the code, and it's open source on GitHub) instant online application complete with SMS capability.
Benchmark & Measure - Be a Storyteller
Ok—so you're getting stuff done! How do you know if it matters or how well you're really doing? Karl Lowe, Chief Information Officer at Catholic Relief Services, suggests:
- Set clear goals and continuously measure.
- Compare yourself to others in the sector to evaluate how well you are doing against peers
- Compare yourself to benchmarks outside of the sector to evaluate how well you are doing against best in class organizations.
So if Amazon is dominating the supply chain game—that's our private sector mark. That's not to say we're going to beat Amazon. We can learn tremendous things and push ourselves beyond what we realize is possible if we strive to emulate the best, learn from the model they've set, and perhaps have breakthroughs within our own sector.
Continuously measuring and getting really good at telling the story is key. Jean-Louis insists measure velocity of a project, not just acceleration… and measure linearity so you understand what's happening over time and can identify why. Measure against clearly defined outcomes and don't change your metrics if the results you get are less than desirable. Be transparent about where you are, where you're going, and how you plan to get there. Unsure of what to measure? Ask yourself why what you are doing is important. Then ask, how do you know if you made a difference in the direction you're trying to go on that issue.
Measurement is about continuous improvement. It's about opportunity. You need data to gain insights into opportunities to improve. If you can do this well for employee experience, the next thing is to use your data to tell your story. This is how you gain credibility and buy-in. And this is where those business skills are essential for technical people. Show employees on the business side how data and technology can help them, in language they understand and in relation to ROI that matters to them. For executives, provide a compelling narrative backed by data that evidences the impact to business driven by improvements to your employee experience.
Collaborate Across Organizations & Industries
Jim mentioned several times at the NetHope Global Summit that we all think we have this thing that makes our organization so uniquely special that we have to problem solve on our own. But particularly in the NGO space, we're all working for the same purpose - to alleviate human suffering. We face similar challenges, especially when it comes to employee experience. Rather than reinventing the wheel or developing solutions that are so highly customized that they only work for one organization, we need to do a better job of coming together around common challenges, openly sharing knowledge, and identifying solutions that scale.
Find meaningful ways to optimize your employee experience. Organizations that do this benefit tremendously. Your employee experience directly impacts your customer experience - be they consumers, donors, or beneficiaries. It's not an option, it's an imperative.