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Improve Business Performance Through the Employee Experience

Improve Business Performance Through the Employee Experience

by Kristin Barry, Nate Dvorak and Ben Wigert

Story Highlights

  • The employee experience ties directly to business performance
  • After significant change, revisit how you hire, onboard, manage performance and more
  • Employee wellbeing is now an imperative focus

To create a best-in-class workplace, leaders need to consistently deliver on the fundamental, unchanging elements of a great employee experience.

At the same time, leaders must ask smart questions in response to pressing demands (such as COVID-19) and strategically adapt their employee experience to accommodate those challenges.

This delicate balance is particularly crucial as workplaces begin to rebound from the pandemic and set goals for 2021. While the foundational elements of the employee life cycle are constant, leaders must review how they're engaging employees at each of those stages. For instance, how well are your digital onboarding experiences helping employees build thriving internal relationships?

That is, to build a productive, growth-oriented, future-ready workplace, leaders must evaluate and refine their employee experience to ensure it energizes workers and accelerates performance.

Here are five crucial areas to focus on during 2021 to keep your employee experience at the top of its game:

1. Hiring -- where leaders search for top talent has changed.

COVID-19 dramatically changed recruiting and hiring. Countless roles shifted from on-site to remote and the entire candidate process went virtual.

Changes like these have created opportunities for leaders. For example, without restrictions on work location, companies can search nationwide -- even globally -- for ideal candidates. But hiring changes have also placed new demands on leaders. Perhaps most significant, boundary-less candidate pools increase the competition for talent. Because top talent can be choosier than ever about their employer, leaders must provide a compelling, desirable employee experience.

This requires a clear and future-oriented talent acquisition strategy. To start, leaders should consider the following questions:

  • How has your talent acquisition process changed in response to the move to virtual recruiting? How can you capitalize on the efficiencies of virtual recruiting? As in-person interviews reemerge, how will you determine which roles necessitate that type of final interview?
  • How are you evaluating and categorizing 2021 job openings as fully remote, hybrid, or on-site? How has remote work changed your candidate pools? How can your organization capitalize on expanded candidate pools to recruit more diverse talent?
  • Do you have an influential, appealing employment brand, purpose and culture? How well are you communicating your EVP to potential hires and integrating it in your talent acquisition process?
  • How are you capturing and documenting the skills, knowledge and experiences of your current workforce? How are you using that knowledge to actively fill openings or prepare associates to take on new responsibilities or different roles?

2. Onboarding -- first impressions are still critical.

COVID-19 flipped onboarding on its head. Many new hires don't have the luxury of meeting their new colleagues in person -- or building relationships through hallway conversations and lunch outings.

This demands leaders' attention because onboarding new employees is the first, and most critical, opportunity to introduce employees to the work culture and lay a foundation for engagement. Successful onboarding experiences create positive memories -- and they shape employee expectations about what your organization values and how your brand meets customers' needs.

As onboarding experiences continually evolve in 2021 -- for example, with improved digital training sessions -- leaders must optimize their approach to ensure new hires can form meaningful connections. Here are critical questions your organization should address:

  • Can you create both an in-person and virtual onboarding experience? If so, how will you ensure both experiences are equally engaging and create connections to the organization for new hires?
  • Is your employee onboarding process creating a network that new hires will not only learn from in the short term but also be able to leverage six months or even a year into the future?
  • Are you continuing to listen and evolve? A crucial element of an agile onboarding program is frequent and specific feedback from managers and employees who work closely with new hires. Are you collecting and addressing feedback from these sources?

3. Performance -- driving your new expectations.

Business disruption and market uncertainty abound in today's work environment given the pandemic. In turn, many employees are suffering from unclear role expectations and reduced accountability. Communication and collaboration became increasingly difficult when over 60% of the workforce transitioned to remote work. And as some employees return to the office while others remain at home, hybrid remote teams will present new challenges in terms of how we work together.

These hurdles are significant because clear expectations, ongoing collaboration and consistent accountability are paramount to high job performance. More than ever, managers should empower employees to reset performance goals and priorities -- as opposed to relaxing expectations and accountability in 2021. Managers should also expect employees to create agile goals because adjustments will be necessary as needs and priorities shift throughout the year.

Most important, reclaiming performance management will require ceaseless manager support and coaching. When performance management is adaptive and designed for continual improvement, it is difficult to disrupt.

With this in mind, leaders should ask the following questions to recalibrate their performance strategy:

  • How will your performance expectations and metrics change? Have business needs or job responsibilities changed? Are certain metrics less relevant or outside of employees' control? Should you place more emphasis on short-term performance goals until your business has stabilized?
  • How can your performance management program become agile enough to navigate current disruptions and future uncertainty? Do your managers review goals and progress at least quarterly with each team member? Are they trained to have frequent and individualized coaching conversations with employees?
  • Are your managers prepared to lead remote teams to exceptional performance?

4. Development -- how will you paint a picture of growth for your employees?

Even before the pandemic, employee development was an underserved employee need. It has become even more difficult as business needs and ways of working changed because of COVID-19.

For instance, many employees are unsure how to acquire new skills with fewer opportunities to ask their coworkers and managers in-the-moment questions. Others might be wondering how they can advance their careers when their leaders don't actually witness them at work.

Employees need to know they have a bright future with your company and a long-term plan for achieving their growth goals.

Leaders should refine their employee development strategy with the following questions in mind:

  • Does each of your employees have an individual development plan and career path?
  • What roles and responsibilities have changed due to the pandemic? How do we upskill our workforce to meet our new needs? Are there new opportunities for employees to assume new stretch responsibilities or assist overburdened leaders?
  • How do we create networking and mentoring opportunities for remote employees who may be "out-of-sight, out-of-mind"?

5. Employee Wellbeing -- a new requirement of the modern workforce.

Wellbeing must become a top priority of the employee experience because the pandemic has caused record levels of stress and worry. For example, social connections are more difficult to maintain -- and remote workers are facing a new type of burnout.

More than ever, leading an engaged and productive workforce demands an increased emphasis on holistic employee wellbeing, with leaders who are committed to supporting all five elements of wellbeing.

Leaders should consider the following questions to help their employees thrive at work:

  • Are managers taught to focus on the whole person when they engage, manage and develop their team members?
  • How are we helping employees fight their COVID-19 fatigue and find work-life balance? What are we doing to prevent and fix work burnout?
  • What are we doing to create a culture of wellbeing? How are we addressing the five essential elements of wellbeing?

Change is endemic in today's workplaces. But some things are constant -- including employees' fundamental need for an authentic, meaningful employee experience.

The good news is that leaders can provide compelling, engaging employee experiences -- at every stage of the employee life cycle -- by following a research-based, proven approach. And when they do, they can fuel individual, team and organizational performance.

Create experiences that drive performance:


Kristin Barry is Director of Hiring Analytics at Gallup.

Ben Wigert is Director of Research and Strategy, Workplace Management, at Gallup.

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