“Customer-first” mantras have become a trendy guiding light for businesses of all shapes, sizes and industries. But for businesses that truly believe people are at the heart of digital success, the human focus is also directed inward, toward their employees. To deliver a winning experience for people outside the company (customers), businesses also need to deliver a winning experience to people within the company (employees).

This is particularly true today, with digital talent in short supply. With talent magnets in high-tech hubs luring the best and brightest with the promise of innovative cultures and workspaces, traditional organizations need to create an employee experience that – even if it doesn’t fully measure up – at least projects an awareness that culture matters. As a senior HR leader at one of our clients (a retail company based in Silicon Valley) puts it, “We compete intensely for talent. Our aspiration is to provide our employees a branded, personalized, consumer-like experience.”

But even if talent were more abundant, the employee experience would still be a key differentiator, particularly with millennials moving up the corporate hierarchy. Workers from digitally native generations seek an intuitive, personalized experience that’s responsive to their needs. And with the tools and data available to provide a more personalized employee experience, there’s increasingly no excuse not to provide one.

Reimagining the Employee Experience

Smart tools and fancy offices aren’t the only way to offer a compelling employee experience. While touch laptops, cloud access, open office spaces and the latest collaborative software are certainly important components, other ingredients are key to attracting and retaining talent:

  • Purpose-driven leadership. Many employees today want to know that the work they do contributes to the purpose of the company. They seek leadership that’s not only visionary but also communicative, engaging and accessible to them in their everyday work to make them feel intrinsic to realizing the business’s goals.
  • Data-driven career advancement. Just as big data and analytics are changing how business decisions are made, employees increasingly desire a bias-free, fact-based environment when it comes to being managed, valued and promoted. Using analytics, businesses can identify and address common employee complaints to boost retention; understand employee strengths, weaknesses and current skills to improve performance; analyze what motivates employees to increase engagement; and conduct common HR tests with high-performance employees to establish patterns that you can compare with those of potential candidates, thus improving hiring success rates.
  • Open policies, processes and systems. Especially with so much information readily available online, transparency has become a key component of gaining employee trust. Businesses need to openly communicate their policies across the gamut, including, “Can I use my own mobile device at work, can I work remotely, can I access tools that enhance my productivity?” The BBC is a good example of this. Although more than a century old and quasi-governmental, the famed broadcaster is known for its open policies, including publishing details on the salaries and remuneration of top executives, as well as the expenses and gifts made to senior managers earning more than £150,000.
  • Co-located workplaces. Although many employees want the option to work remotely, they still want to convene with their peers periodically, such as for social events, team-building and collaborative sessions. Many are also less willing than in the past to relocate to the mothership. As a result, companies are increasingly setting up innovation centers where the talent hotspots are, such as Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Austin (Texas) and others. Walmart, for example, has created an innovation center in Silicon Valley to give its workers there the chance to try things out without the pressure of being part of the large retailer. (To learn more, read our white paper “The Future-Proof City.“)
  • Reskilling and upskilling. As AI infiltrates our everyday lives and jobs, employees need to be trained to partner with intelligent machines. AT&T, for example, has initiated a $1 billion reskilling effort after determining that nearly half of its 250,000 employees lacked the necessary science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) skills needed to keep the company competitive.
  • Empowered decision making. With more innovation occurring at the edge of the organization, employees need to be empowered to make decisions in their everyday jobs, rather than only following edicts and mandates from someone higher up in the hierarchy – and farther from the customer. This requires flatter organizational structures that allow more streamlined, flexible, cross-functional ways of working. This is reflected in the DevOps and Agile style of working in IT that favors continuous updates and releases rather than projects that incubate for months or years. (To learn more, read our report “Space Matters: Shaping the Workplace to Get the Right Word Done.”)

Getting to Work on the Employee Experience

Succeeding in a digital landscape requires changing the organizational culture and the employee experience. That’s why, in addition to these key elements, we’ve developed a blueprint defining six levers businesses can pull to nurture the flexible and malleable culture needed to accommodate the changing nature of work. And we also offer an assessment for organizations to gauge their maturity level when it comes to using talent intelligence to create a competitive employee experience.

It’s time to focus on the human element of the future of work – both inside and outside the organization. As Richard Branson has said, “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.” Many businesses have worked diligently on the customer experience, and now it’s time to apply the same focus to employees.

Vijay Raman

Vijay Raman

Vijay Raman is a Digital Change Adoption and Workforce Transformation Leader with Cognizant’s Digital Strategy practice. In his 20 years of experience,... Read more