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Culture and Employee Experience are clearly closely interrelated. If you’re not thinking about both you may be missing out on an opportunity to build a more coherent, high performing, organisation.

If you change the culture of an organisation, you will inevitably change the employee experience. If you change the employee experience, will you change the culture? Probably.

If culture is an expression of the organisation’s values, through behaviours, practices and processes, then achieving meaningful, consistent changes in the employee experience implies that the culture will also change.

Does that mean that culture and employee experience are the same thing?

Let’s look at an example of a ‘touch point’ in the Employee Experience that we can all probably related to: Expenses. (Note that I’m not restricting Experience to HR processes.)

The Employee Experience

Ask a sales person about their corporate expenses system they might say:

“It takes me ages to do my expenses and the process is a nightmare. I have to carry around mounds of receipts until I’m next in the office, chase the approvals and when I get them approved they get questioned by Finance. It’s very time consuming and frustrating. I have a job to do, creating value for this company, and it involves travelling a lot.  It makes me feel like my time isn’t valued by the company and I’m not trusted.

You can’t deny the experience of the sales person. It’s real, and they’re not happy. However, if you take a different perspective and ask the person who administers expenses they might say:

“I hate our expenses system. It’s ancient and it has never changed. We know it’s frustrating for people, but when we’re under so much pressure and we’re under-resourced. We know that managers don’t look at the claims properly before approving them so we end up having to act as an auditor. The leadership just doesn’t do anything about it, it’s broken and I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall raising it as an issue. I guess I’ve just given up”.

Two different employees, with different perspectives. One doesn’t feel valued or trusted. The other feels disempowered and has become apathetic. Both of these negative experiences undermine the relationship with the company, in different ways. Of course, one is the user in the process, and the other the operator, but they’re both employees!

What do these interactions say about the culture?

If we look at the above narrative we can start seeing some clues about the culture. Obviously, the example is hypothetical, but we might make some inferences – hypotheses if you like – about the culture that we could test further, such as:

  • Inefficiency is tolerated by the leadership of the organisation
  • Leaders are not aware of or are unconcerned by the frustration of employees
  • People don’t speak up about issues affecting the business
  • There’s a lack of trust in the business
  • There aren’t clear processes for proposing investments and gaining approval

In other words, understanding the Employee Experience helps us to make inferences that will help us to understand the culture.

The link between Employee Experience and Culture (and indeed Strategy)Values as a link from experience to culture and strategy

At 8Connect we work extensively and are influenced by Reversal Theory, which is a psychological framework that seeks to explain human experience. At its core, it describes a set of eight motivational styles, which are like lenses through which we see the world. Each of these motivational styles is linked to a basic value and each contributes in practical and strategic terms (for example to creativity, planning, change, innovation and collaboration). Motivational styles also combine to create emotional experiences.

What does it mean in practice?

What this means at a practical level is that if we can get employees talking about their emotional experience (which is not easy but can be done!), or at least their motivations and how they are satisfied or not, at different ‘touch points’ then we understand the Employee Experience.

When we set out to design the Employee Experience, we should do so with a sense of how we want them to feel (emotions), but also how it connects to strategy (the practical contribution) That’s what gives the Employee Experience some coherence and priority, rather than just “fixing stuff” in no particular order.

When we understand the ‘as is’ and design the ‘to be’ Employee Experience, therefore, the link from emotions to motivations to values also allows us to describe the ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ (or aspirational) cultural values of the organisation using a common language.

Therefore, while the Employee Experience and Culture are not the same thing, they are closely related and, arguably, two sides of the same coin.

Why is this important?

Well, for one, culture is often seen as elusive and hard to change.

I’d argue that the Employee Experience is both more immediate and ‘fixable’ than culture. However, even if ‘fixing’ interactions one-by-one it’s worth starting with the end in mind (as Steven Covey would say).

A common language that provides a direct link between the experience that employees have at different ‘touch points’ with their employer, and the culture of that employer is a huge help towards a co-ordinated and coherent attempt to build a desired culture by looking at both the macro (culture) and micro (experience touch points) through the same lens.

Fix the Employee Experience, with an eye on the culture that you want to create – and you’ll eventually create the culture that you want to create too. Do this in parallel with the more ‘strategic’ culture change initiatives and, I’d argue, you’ll give your efforts a real boost.

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