Experience architects

28 Jun 2017

Experience architects

A new type of HR leader has arrived, concerned with experiential and emotional activity all designed to create a unique workplace. Matt High reports.

How would you describe your employees’ experience? What do they enjoy or dislike? What drives them to succeed and what do they expect from the business, and from you as a leader?

When you’ve considered those points, ask yourself this: have you created a meaningful place to work? If you believe that your organisation’s culture dictates the responses to those questions it may be time to think again.

That’s because a significant shift in the focus – and in the delivery – of traditional human resources functions means that your employees, their fulfilment and their experiences of your organisation are becoming essential.

Driven by a more engaged and demanding millennial workforce, rapidly developing disruptive technology, an influx of digital solutions and a changing dynamic between employer and employee, HR leaders are evolving.

No longer is the HR Director an arbiter of paperwork and processes. Instead, a new type of leader is emerging, one dedicated to crafting unique workplace experiences that reward, entertain and enrich in equal measure. One who focuses on emotions and relationships and who uses innovative technology to build the workplace of the future. Welcome to the world of the Chief Employee Experience Officer (CEEO).

According to Áine Hurley, Head of the HR Practice at Odgers Berndtson, London: “Organisations are moving away from HR’s primary focus being about people strategy and core processes towards a much greater emphasis on what might be termed the complete employee experience.”

Driving this shift is a changing dynamic between employer and employee, a result of the emerging millennial workforce. Some 55 to 60 percent of today’s workers are under 32, and they bring higher expectations of workplace rewards, a desire to shape their own learning and development, as well as a strong sense of career progression and work/life balance.

“The shift in HR is being driven by employees,” Hurley explains. “The new generation wants more, and they desire a different relationship with their employer. To do that HR needs something different; it needs a new kind of leader.”

That new leader is the CEEO. The role is concerned with removing the traditional nomenclature around HR and replacing it with something new, a workplace that is experiential, and which uses technology, innovative design thinking and digital applications to provide a close, consultative relationship with employees.

"A great experience is something that's meaningful, impactful and personalised."

Donna Morris is Executive Vice President, Customer and Employee Experience at Adobe. Discussing this new approach to HR, she says: “Moving forward and not being stuck in the past is an imperative. A great experience is something that’s meaningful. It’s impactful. It’s personalised. It could be ensuring that employees have a really good onboarding experience, or that they have the opportunity to grow and develop their careers here, or have the opportunity to build strong relationships with their manager.”

Innovation lies at the heart of the CEEO function. In a workplace that has become increasingly complex as a result of the influx of disruptive technology, the newly christened ‘experience consultant’ is using digital HR design – an emerging trend that focuses on employee-centric solutions and strategies – to create a compelling experience.

Gone are the spreadsheets and payroll programmes of old. In their place are digital learning and e-learning modules crafted by the employees themselves and which are offered together with online content that puts experience at the heart of development.

The work environment has also changed. Mobile technology and social media are used to facilitate dialogue between employer and employee – an essential aspect of successful engagement and a notable demand of millennial workers. Similarly, the CEEO is using advanced behavioural programmes and people analytics to define working parameters, to craft fast-moving networks of teams and to dramatically reconfigure the working environment.

Airbnb was one early proponent of crafting its employee experience. In 2015 its then HR Director, Mark Levy, changed his title to Chief Employee Experience Officer and subsequently set about the task of revolutionising the company’s approach to its workforce.

According to Levy, every aspect of his role is about creating “memorable workplace experiences” that foster a sense of active engagement. The business values training and lets employees craft their own bespoke programmes in which they can develop according to their own values. It also encourages social media as a tool for employees to communicate with each other and with the organisation.

“We are focused on bringing to life our mission of creating a world where you can belong anywhere, by creating memorable workplace experiences that span aspects of how we relate to employees, including how we recruit them, develop them, the work environment we create with the them, the type of volunteer experiences we offer them and the food we share together,” said Levy, discussing his role with Forbes.

Levy is not alone in his mission. The business has evolved its HR function whereby the employee experience is controlled by a team of individuals known collectively as ‘ground control’. Alongside Levy, they are responsible for guiding workers through their work life by ensuring each aspect creates an extraordinary physical, emotional, intellectual and aspirational experience.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it gets a little spiritual too. According to Levy, Airbnb also provides employers with a ‘life dojo’, who helps to coach them on what they should consider important in both their personal and professional lives. And it works. According to one engagement study, 90 percent of Airbnb employees recommend it as a great place to work.

Alongside Airbnb, other businesses such as Tesla, GE, DuPont and Nando’s are embracing the experiential and evolving their HR function.

Looking ahead, Hurley says: “I think that a growing number of CEOs are looking at the traditional HR model and thinking ‘it’s had enough, we need a different voice’.”

By enabling workers to feel closer to your brand you are improving your organisational culture, increasing staff retention and influencing your customer experience at the same time. It seems that after all a happy organisation really is a healthy organisation.