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Nine Key Insights to Build an Engaging Employee Experience

How to Maximize Your Employees’ Ability & Willingness to Perform at Their Potential

We always talk about building an environment where people can thrive with the right tools, resources and environment. Where does it start? What does it look like?

Keynote speaker, author, employee engagement expert and workplace culture consultant Jason Lauritsen defines employee engagement as “the degree to which an employee is willing and able to perform up to their potential.”  During an interactive Q&A session Jason explored the foundations of an engaging employee experience that unlocks that potential. Here’s a synopsis 9 key takeaways:


1. Differentiate engagement from experience

In HR we do a lot of rebranding. We take employment and make it recruiting. We take recruiting and make it talent acquisition. But that’s not what’s going on with employee engagement versus employee experience. They are certainly linked but they are not the same.

Engagement is an outcome measurement. Experience is something the employee is immersed in every day.  Employee experience is the kind of thinking we’ve been waiting for to break us open on engagement. It moves us into a proactive mindset. We start to think about how we can design and create our workplace for great employee experiences as opposed to how we can measure our workplace to see how engaged we are and THEN go back and try to fix the brokenness.

What’s essential to remember is that no one individual or department can own this by themselves; the organization as a whole has to design and create the experience. Communication and HR and IT play a role. Management and leadership play huge roles. Our fellow employees play a role.


2. Shift from a contractual to a relational mindset

Organizationally we treat work largely like a contract with the employee. Almost all of our management and HR processes are designed around enforcing that contract, making sure we’re getting our money’s worth. Performance appraisals and job descriptions and policy manuals and all of those things are really about the organization saying: “Hey this is what we’re going to get back from you in this contract.”

Yet the data on engagement tells us that what employees need to feel good about working are things like feeling valued and cared for and trusted and accepted and embraced. All of these things are not contractual in nature. They are relational in nature. Employees don’t experience work like a contract. They experience work far more like a relationship.


3. Build from a foundation of healthy relationships

The work of creating circumstances that maximize a person’s ability and willingness to perform at their potential, whatever their ceiling is, begins with building a foundation of healthy relationships.

For that to happen we have to think about how we design processes, how we design how a manager should interact with employees, how we coach managers. It has to be built from an understanding of how healthy relationships work. It’s about creating positive moments of recognition. It’s about reinforcing someone’s social worth. It’s the things we knew were important from the data but we didn’t understand necessarily why. It’s important in a relational context. And it’s important to emphasize support going in both directions, the idea of reciprocity. We expect employees to be loyal but we don’t always demonstrate loyalty back to them. In a healthy relationship it’s reciprocal. It goes both ways.

Start with the most central unit or source of the relationship – which we know in most organizations, is our relationship with our immediate supervisor and our close peers. If employees are going to feel like they’re in a good relationship at work they’re going to need to feel like they’re in a decent relationship with those people.

engaging employee experience - relationship with direct manager

4. Connect on a deeper level

A good place to build your employee engagement foundation is to require managers to have a one-on-one with their people at least monthly depending on the nature of their work. Help managers understand how to have a good conversation. That alone can start to transform how people feel.

Think about where you commune, where you build relationships. What do we do around team meetings or huddles or when we’re together? What does that look like? What does that feel like? Is it very contractual, very one-way?  Or are we using it to foster relationships?

It comes down to things like the kinds of programs, communication, and tools we offer to everyone in our organization so that we can all more freely and readily share appreciation with each other. Appreciation is so core to a healthy relationship. Ritualize appreciation as part of almost every meeting structure; build it into employees’ most frequent interactions or touch points every day.


5. Make communication king

If we want to have a better relationship with employees it requires a lot more communication. It requires a lot more dedicated time. This is why the employee voice has gotten to be a big deal. It’s not just asking. It’s truly listening. It’s asking better questions, it’s really being present in those conversations.

If there were something wrong in one of your personal relationships what would be your first instinct as to what to do? Dedicate time to it? Talk to them, right? That’s something we overlook in the workplace.

Teach managers to have better conversations. Teach employees to have better conversations with each other. Teach how to have good feedback conversations, or conversations in general. Asking and listening and acting are super important; to establish a better foundation for employee engagement those are thing you’ve got to get really good at.


6. Listen, really listen to feedback

We all use tools like surveys and focus groups and one-on-ones to get feedback. But for some organizations getting input can be like pulling teeth. That’s not a feedback problem. That’s not an employee problem. It’s not a question or a voice issue. It’s a trust issue. In these situations you’ve got to find ways to start re-establishing trust. Demonstrate you really do value opinions, you really do want to hear it: “When you tell us something we’re going to listen and we’re going to take some action on it.”

If there’s been some kind of breakdown in that cycle in the past where people were upfront and honest and nothing happened (or they perceived that nothing happened), or they’d been burned by feedback coming back on them somehow in a bad way – why should they bother again? Find ways to address communication gaps, remembering that it’s not just about pushing information out.

Communication’s purpose is to reduce uncertainty, create greater clarity and trust. Whether it’s a large employee population or small, think very fundamentally about what lies behind relationships and what we can do through communication, whether it’s one-to-one or one-to-many.

engaging employee experience - employee feedback

7. Think and ACT like a computer hack

If you think about computer hackers, they go into a string of code and manipulate that code to try to make the whole program do something different. It’s about identifying small changes they can make to have a fairly sizeable impact on the outcome of whatever the process is.

Engagement hacking is about taking a bigger problem and breaking it into smaller pieces to find something you can take action on now.

Say something surfaces and we hear we have a team trust issue. What hacking does is to take that problem and start breaking it down to identify all the different things that could be going on, or all the different components that lead to team trust. It could be expectations, the manager’s behaviour, the people on the team, the way the team meets. Then identify one thing to start experimenting with, make changes, take some action, try it and see what happens. If nothing changes throw it out and try something else.

Leadership trust and communication are always common survey issues.  Those are long fixes. What’s a small change you can try quickly? Do that and then find another one next and another one after that and so on. That’s the magic of hacking. Break it down, find a small thing you can take action on, and go.


8. Amplify the impact

Every executive group is different in terms of what their hot buttons are. A good tactical way to get leadership buy-in if you’re going to be talking about engagement is to talk about performance.

Customer experience design is something executives have been reading and thinking and knowing about for a while. Talk to them about the customer experience, why we spend so much time thinking about how we want customers to feel or the experience we want them to have, and then connect how the same dynamics are at play with the employee experience.

We try to engage customers, we try to listen to them, we try to make sure they never leave us through loyalty programs. If we take the constructs of how we look at our customers and relate that to talent they can start to see the picture you’re painting.

Experience is also showing up in software. User design experience is well developed so you can use that also to help leaders understand and think about designing an experience for employees that more naturally guides them toward performing better. Anchor the employee experience work you want to do with concepts from other parts of the business that are already accept to be true, and point it back to performance.  Don’t talk about happiness or well-being or discretionary effort, which leaders aren’t really familiar with, talk in terms that matter to them and connect back to the bottom line.


9. Draw from your own personal relationship experiences

Does the way that you have a relationship differ for young people versus older people versus what year they or you were born? Sure, the way we communicate with our grandparents is different than the way we communicate with kids. But they all want to be appreciated, they all want to be heard and seen.

Reflect on your personal life, see how it feels. Through your own experience that’s where you’ll find a lot of employee engagement answers including how to deal with a multi-generation workforce. Start putting the things you do at work through that personal relationship filter.

Think about performance appraisals and how awful that process is as both an employee and manager. Would you do something like that to your kids or parents or life partner? So why do we do that to people at work?

It’s pretty simple when we start stepping back and realizing we’re doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t build relationships very well. Set aside the annual appraisal and start thinking more deeply about how we manage work throughout the year so that employees can be better in every moment.

“We’re dealing with humans, and I’ve never met two single human beings that are the same or do relationships the same, which is also the complexity of the work environment,” Jason reminds us. “We have to be conscious of that. Engagement and experience exist on a unit level, and that unit is the human being.”

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!


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