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Stand out and stand firm: The power of a distinctive employee experience

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Today it’s common to hear organisations from across industries profess the desire to become a leading employer of choice. Everyone wants a ‘Best Place To Work’ award and good Glassdoor reviews are like gold dust. Consequently, many are investing in building employer brands and defining employee value propositions that tell the right story to attract and retain the right people. But once this foundation is in place, attention turns to delivery – how to embed and sustain value throughout the employee experience. Fundamentally, an employee experience should be built on what matters most to employees, align with the business purpose, and support the delivery of the desired customer experience. But to truly bring it to life, there’s another key ingredient – making it distinct.

Strong organisational cultures are not formed just by hitting certain criteria. While many attributes describe a great employee experience, the mix will vary from brand to brand. Tech players, established family companies and non-profits may all want similar outcomes – to build trust, pride, and an enjoyable employee experience – but how they deliver this will and should feel completely different. Similarly, what employees value will vary depending on their generation, the nature of the industry and the brand. The magic happens when a company homes in on these variables to create a truly unique experience.

When Slack’s employees meet a Slack channel

Slack’s purpose is to ‘make work life simpler, more pleasant and more productive for everyone’. It’s a rare example of a business where the employees use the product every day. If Slack can’t turn employees into fans through the experience, what hope is there to convince customers? To deliver a strong employee and ultimately customer experience, the business has to practice what it preaches in a distinctly ‘Slack’ way. Because the organisation recognises that collaboration and transparency are essential for a simpler and more productive work environment, Slack has a dedicated internal Slack channel for all employees to air product faults and glitches raised by customers. It could have been called #productfaultsandglitches, but it’s not. In making the channel open to all and naming the channel #beeftweets, it became a distinctive touchpoint that does a lot. It checks all three boxes of the purpose – simple, pleasant, productive – and subtly reinforces cultural hallmarks. It’s an inside joke that everyone is in on, and on top of that, it’s free. Even tech companies know that human and social interactions contribute to the experience as much as the digital.

Timpson making ‘upside-down management’ real

Distinctive employee experiences are not just the reserve of tech giants with cash to burn on fancy programs and unlimited perks. Many more established companies have been leading the way on this stuff long before the importance of ‘EX’ was on the radar. Timpson, the family-owned, fiercely independent, and proudly maverick high-street retailer has made, sold or repaired shoes for over 100 years. Its purpose to provide ‘great service by great people’ is built on the philosophy of ‘upside-down management’. While this is often a phrase that fails to translate meaningfully into the employee experience, Timpson deliver on this promise in a simple, powerful way. The internal employee survey or ‘Brand Happy Index’ measures only one thing – how managers rate the support they receive from their area team. Those who score highly on the Happiness Index are then invited to join the annual culture committee and given free rein to review and make changes based on the survey’s results. The next year, the committee changes. No needless bureaucracy, just great people empowered to deliver great service.

The key? Knowing what makes you special

At Caffeine, our Employee Experience survey measures both the importance and performance of attributes and compares the experience against what employees value and what the organisation is striving to achieve, allowing the context to inform the findings. We believe that an in-depth and crystal-clear understanding of these factors allows organisations to build truly distinctive employee experiences. The more you identify and elevate the memorable moments of the specific employee experience, the more distinctive and established the culture becomes. With this in place, the ability to hire for cultural fit, retain great talent, and increase employee advocacy naturally follow.

More insights and examples of distinctive employee experiences can be found in On Purpose by The Caffeine Partnership’s Founder Andy Milligan and Shaun Smith.

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