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Get your CEO to prioritize EX

Author - Thomas Vestergaard. CEO

As a company, now is the time to start working with employee experience (EX) on a strategic level, to position yourselves on the market as best possible. This requires that your CEO believes that EX is the way forward and is convinced that it is a good idea to spend time, money, and energy on generating the best employee experiences.

It is an outdated notion that a greater focus on improved employee experience cannot be associated with the KPIs that you have selected with respect to growth, innovation, and the bottom line.

Within recent years, we have moved further and further away from the perception that the employees are resources that can be replaced. Quite the contrary, we consider employees as an important asset in the company, which has a significant and direct effect on company performance. Therefore, EX should not be regarded as an area that conflicts with other important strategic areas, but rather it should be a foundation that can generate improvements across the organization’s other strategic areas. Therefore, EX and the company’s other different strategic agendas are, in reality, two sides of the same coin.

 

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However, a true transformation of the employee experience requires the support of the company’s managers, led by the CEO. You might be thinking that you are already prioritizing employees highly in your organization – you might have a skilled HR organization, a staff association and your managers might be focusing on the employees in their day-to-day work. A radical EX transformation and being a strategic priority means that the entire management system must be on board, and sponsorship and ownership must be ensured with the most critical stakeholders, as EX affects the entire organization. According to our EX survey employees are only a top-3 priority in one fifth of all organizations.

In the same EX survey, 20% of the 548 participating organizations state that they have a strong EX vision, while 55% have no clear vision in this area. The survey also shows that the organizations with an EX vision have been better at improving the employee experience over a 3-year period. In general, the work with customer experience (CX) is more recognized and evolved in many organizations. If you ask the numerous organizations that are already far in their CX transformation, the majority will say that if the CEO is not enthusiastic about it and believes in CX, it will not succeed – and the same applies to EX.

The question then is how do you get employee experience at the front of the line with respect to other important priorities, and how do you convince the CEO that it is necessary and a good idea to spend additional energy, time and money on being the best in this area?

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Get your CEO to prioritize EX
I think I have always had an employee-oriented approach to my own leadership style, and yet only in recent years has EX become a strategic area on par with e.g. sales, customer retention and innovation at Ennova. Employee experience has shifted from consisting of classic and fragmented activities, like 1-1 management and various HR agendas, to now being a defined and strategic line on par with other company agendas.

Skilled managers and HR can perform the work with employee experience to great extent, but the strategic anchoring of EX is critical if it is to truly change something in the company and become a competitive advantage. Based on the knowledge and data from the area as well as our own experience with employee experience, there are some specific dimensions that you can benefit from focusing on if EX should evolve from being a good intention to a strategic agenda at your company.

1. Believe in it
Some companies are lucky to have executive management where the focus on employee experience automatically occupies a large part of the management approach, and therefore, the argument to prioritize EX even further is not a difficult one. If that is not the case in your company, it is HR’s task to nudge the CEO and get her/him to believe in it. The CEO must be convinced about why it is necessary to do some things radically differently.

The CEO’s work is often measured in short-term results, which can be seen on the top and bottom lines. Therefore, it is critical that the CEO is made to understand how the new EX initiatives should ensure growth or improve effectiveness, innovation, etc. This can be done through rational arguments and financial data, which you should use to demonstrate the connection between employee experience and other parameters relevant to your company. For instance, this could include customer retention, sales figures, sickness absence and work & process efficiency, innovation rate and time to market.

That said, it is also necessary that the CEO chooses to trust that an increased focus on employee experience leads to a return on investment in the long run. It is a long-term plan, where the link to the top and bottom line is hard to see right away; therefore, initiating EX as a new, strategic direction actually requires some courage.

2. Designate an EX responsible
Our experience is that it can be a good idea – maybe even a necessity – to appoint someone to be in charge of EX. A person that can set up the EX program and head the radical EX transformation.
Experience with successful transformations shows that it may be appropriate to set up a steering group and a work group. The steering group should be headed by the CEO, and it should establish the general goal for employee experience and decide on the structural initiatives that can achieve the desired goals. The work group can consist of HR and the employees from the business, and it should ensure that the different lines and initiatives of the EX program are promoted and executed daily.

This way, you can try to minimize the risk that EX becomes deprioritized relative to other tasks that the executive management is prone to prioritize ahead of EX, as it is easier for management to deal with an existing EX program than to design one themselves.

A steering group and work group must structure and execute the initiatives, but the EX transformation must, of course, be implemented with the assistance of the whole organization and be anchored in HR. To anchor the EX responsibility with HR is a paradigm shift from the traditional perception of HR’s function. Going forward, the employee experience will be a strategic turning point for HR, which can set the EX agenda and guide the business towards the prepared goals and EX vision.

3. A bottom-up structure
It is critical that the transformation is carried out together with the employees. The employees must be seen and heard, and it is important that management has insight into the specific dimensions that make employees happy and generate motivation. What is a good employee experience for your employees? You will only discover this by involving them and asking questions in the company. The EX transformation should be prioritized at the management level, but it is just as important to understand the employees early in the process, so that the EX initiatives achieve the desired effect.

Get things moving
The first step towards your EX transformation is about convincing management and your CEO. It’s “just” about getting started. Make sure to collect the rational arguments and financial facts to document that employees should be regarded as your new customers, and work actively from this viewpoint. Here, it may also be a good idea to ally yourself with the CFO or other financial colleague who may be helpful in generating overview and a connection between employee experience, customer experience and the top and bottom lines at your company.

Consider also why this is the time when your organization should increase focus on its employees. This is certainly a question management will ask.

The start-up phase can be difficult, and you may meet great resistance, but it is important not to give up. Going forward, the best employees will gravitate towards the workplaces that offer the best employee experience.

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Thomas Vestergaard. CEO
Author

Thomas Vestergaard. CEO

Thomas’ blog posts are based on his 20 years’ experience as a consultant for some of the largest companies in Scandinavia. He often consults at top-management level at the crossroads between organizational strategy, surveys and behavior among customers, managers and employees. On a daily basis, Thomas is CEO of Ennova.