Agencies need a holistic understanding to create an employee experience strategy

Good process and technology enable better service and this is often the primary focus of citizen experience (CX) efforts. However, what truly drives a good citizen experience are the people — those that believe in the process, engage in the relationships and are enabled by technology.

So it stands to reason that happy and engaged employees are the key to happy and engaged citizens. The same concepts that apply to the design of citizen experience can (and should) be applied to employees to create the environment that will enable good citizen service.

josh plaskoff
Josh Plaskoff, director of learning and technology service development at HighPoint Global

Why is this important?

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Research has shown that higher employee satisfaction and engagement are linked to better business outcomes such as productivity, retention and profit. Employee satisfaction has also been strongly correlated with organizational commitment.

Many organizations say they put people first or view people as their number-one asset, and rightly so. Unfortunately, the levels of federal employee satisfaction are low and on a steady decline. One study showed a drop of over more than 10 percent from levels a decade ago, and the recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey indicated that satisfaction was only at 60 percent. If everyone is putting people first, why are the numbers so low? Truth is that according to research, fewer than 12 percent of organizations will actually do what it takes to put people first to improve their organization’s performance.

Moving to employee experience

How many times have you heard a leader say that we need to re-engineer our human resource strategy? Or employees referred to as assets of the agency? Thinking about employees as assets helps to remind us of the value they bring to the operation.

At the same time, it hides some underlying assumptions that get in the way of producing good employee experiences. People become inanimate objects that need to be managed in much the same way that we manage our equipment or our technology. These objects are “used” to achieve the ends of the agency and are exchangeable and expendable.

In the same way that we must expand our view of the citizen from a single interaction to a series of interactions, we must do the same thing with employees —  their relationship with the agency derived from their full relationship with the agency, the employees, the leadership, former employees and even contractors who work with the agency.

It starts even prior to their first day of employment, when prospective employees are considering entering government service and seeking positions, applying, interviewing, offered a position and accepting, and continues throughout their full tenure with the agency and any additional government positions they have.

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The quality of the employee experience, which has a direct influence on employee satisfaction, engagement, commitment and in the end performance, is dependent on a holistic understanding of the employee — not as a resource, but as a human being with needs, wants, fears, emotions and thoughts that drive actions.

This requires approaching employees in a different way from the traditional “transactional” human resources strategy. The same tools applied to the citizen experience, such as journey mapping, personas, empathy mapping and design thinking, are helpful in forging an employee experience strategy. The goal of this strategy is not to provide services to employees, but to design an experience that demonstrates care for the employees and addresses, in the words of Daniel Pink: “purpose, mastery and autonomy.”

What is necessary is not a new human resource strategy but a new employee experience strategy — one that views the whole person in the context of his/her works, looks holistically at all aspects of the work environment (personal, social and physical) to meet both the needs of the agency and the needs of the employees simultaneously.

The three Cs

The path to creating an environment that moves toward better employee satisfaction and can impact CX is achieved by recognizing the influence of three sets of contrasting C’s:

Care – Coldness: Organizations have struggled with emotions at work. Often they view them as taboo or dangerous. Emotions can get in the way of good decision-making and can create tension among employees. However, taken to an extreme the employee environment can become cold and distant. If we want agency employees to care about the citizens they must also care about each other. This care must extend both horizontally and vertically throughout the agency.

Consistency – Contradiction: Contradictions in organizations negatively affect employees, whether they are conscious of it or not. When words do not match actions, when decisions do not match values, employees lose trust and commitment to the agency. For example, if the agency says that teamwork and collaboration are primary values of the agency and an employee known for being a non-team player is promoted and recognized, the contradiction diminishes the impact of the value. This is particularly important for leadership. Some leaders do not realize how much the employees pay attention to their actions and words to help define the values of the agency. Employees do as leaders do. Consistency, a keen alignment between values, actions, words and the systems of the agency, is critical to maintaining trust and commitment to the agency’s mission and values.

Commitment – Compliance: Some compliance is required — compliance to laws and certain policies. However, when compliance becomes the norm rather than the exception and allows employees little autonomy to make decisions, take action, be creative or use their potential, it becomes a barrier. What leads to greater employee satisfaction and engagement is developing commitment to a meaningful agency mission and vision, to meaningful personal goals, to significance and purpose in their work and to the people around them.

Moving in this direction is not easy. Spending time to understand employees, design their experiences and have the persistence to follow through on the change necessary to achieve them has significant payoffs in the end for both employees and the people they serve.

Josh Plaskoff is director of learning and technology service development at HighPoint Global.