How to Develop a Digital Employee Experience Strategy

Justin Daab Customer Experience Design, Experience Design, Strategy

The shoemaker’s children deserve nice shoes.

It’s a time-worn cliché. Businesses are so busy serving customers that they often neglect to improve the experiences of their own employees. Enter Digital Employee Experience design or DEX.

So what’s the formal definition of DEX?

Simply put, DEX is the sum total of the digital interactions between an employee and the business. As a design practice, it covers the implementation of technology and tools deployed to enhance how employees interface with the company—from how they are recruited and hired to how they are onboarded, how they find and manage resources and how they interact with each other and the business at large. DEX is about using technology to improve the overall employee journey and to support the corporate culture.

Why does DEX matter?

In general, the concept of improving the employee experience, digitally or otherwise, seems like an obvious point of focus. If done properly, it benefits employees, operations and HR, alike. In reality, employees are often faced with learning and navigating multiple disparate systems. That could encompass intranets, HR and benefits platforms, shared file storage and management, multiple communications platforms (e.g., email, Slack, etc.), business intelligence platforms, marketing automation and CRM, basic office productivity suites and more. And those myriad systems were likely sourced and implemented from different departments.

As a result, according to a report from PWC, 90% of the leaders choosing those various software solutions believe they are making their selections with the employees’ benefit in mind. However, only 53% of the staff in those companies perceive that to be the case. A similar mismatch occurs between IT and employees. 95% of IT professionals believe they are providing the digital tools employees need to be successful, but 42% of employees report they do not, in fact, have adequate tools.

But what about companies that are doing it right? According to data presented by VMware, companies who rate highly for digital employee experience are perceived as being more competitive by their employees, index 60% higher for annual revenue growth and engender a 41% higher net promoter score.

So what are some key focus areas in an effective DEX strategy?

The first rule of DEX strategy is that you MUST talk about DEX strategy. You need to generate understanding at the highest levels of the company of the benefits of a smart DEX strategy and the risks of maintaining a less-than-desirable experiential status quo. There’s no shortage of research on the potential ROI emerging. That being said, one way to understand where a solid DEX strategy might improve company performance is by viewing it through various stages of the employee journey:

  1. Recruiting, onboarding and HR
    It’s easy to overlook the fact that the first experience most employees have with your culture or environment occurs well before they’re actually hired. How frictionless is it for a potential employee to understand the position being offered? To evaluate their own qualification for that position? To submit an adequately detailed application for consideration? On the enterprise side of the transaction, how smoothly can HR managers sort, sift, search or categorize submitted applications? Once hired, does the digital entity the employee populated during the interview process migrate seamlessly into the digital entity they are now, as a new employee? How automated, convenient, intelligent and personalized is the onboarding? Can every employee easily review and select benefits offerings? How can they navigate approvals of PTO or family leave? A great recruiting, onboarding and HR DEX allows for increased autonomy, self-management for employees while maintaining governance, record keeping and control for the enterprise. A win-win for all.
  2. Culture and collaboration
    It used to be the best one would hope for in this arena would have been access to an employee intranet, email and shared network file storage. Thankfully, there is any number of enhanced tools available, from group messaging platforms, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, to cloud-based document collaboration and storage platforms, as well as videoconferencing and telepresence conference rooms. Each, individually, a massive improvement. But any advanced DEX strategy should take into account how those systems might seamlessly integrate, whether through a unified interface or portal.
  3. Assessments, skills training and education
    A recent survey showed 70% of employees indicated that job-related training and development opportunities influenced their decision to stay at their job. As part of any comprehensive DEX strategy, you should consider tools for employees to more easily assess their current skill levels; quickly discover what training is available to improve those skills and how that training relates to their career growth; and generally take greater control over their development.

Establish your vision first. Measure second.

According to a recent global DEX survey conducted by Australian consulting firm Step Two, responsibility for driving the DEX initiative in most companies was distributed across multiple departments, from IT to intranet teams, internal comms, HR and senior leadership, among many others. Given that result, it should come as little surprise what those same companies cited as the greatest challenges to implementing a successful DEX—organizational complexity, competing priorities and a lack of clear vision, to name a few.

To improve your chances of success, it isn’t necessary for a single department (e.g., IT, HR or Comms) to own the DEX strategy. But it is important to have an agreed-to vision of what that DEX will offer employees, how the experience supports broader business goals, what indicators define success and how you’ll objectively measure those indicators.

How can you improve your chances of a successful DEX?

As with any experience design project, the most successful begins with a deep understanding of the needs of those using the solution—in the case of DEX, obviously the employees. But they are not the only stakeholder you need to pay attention to boost your chances of success.

Create an interdepartmental task force.

As we’ve already seen, successful DEX strategy and implementation requires the efforts and input of stakeholders from across the company. You should establish, in advance, formal understanding of how those departments will be consulted or informed, work together and be held accountable for their success.

Engage senior leadership early and often.

Inevitably, creating, deploying and supporting a new DEX will require financial and human resources, as well as interdepartmental coordination. Having buy-in and support from senior leadership from the outset will unquestionably accelerate decision-making and conflict resolution along the way.

Dive deeply into the employee experience as it is today.

Empathy is the foundation of any truly innovative or transformational design project. Before you begin to draft solutions, you should understand the high points and low points of the experience employees undergo today. What they like or dislike about the available tools. What they might want or need to make their work more efficient or rewarding. Interview existing employees. Pore over any available analytics from your current intranet. In the end, you should have a general employee journey covering recruiting, onboarding and day-to-day interactions with current digital tools—all empathy mapped, with positive and negative moments of interaction around which your strategy should prioritize.

Craft a vision for what tomorrow’s experience should accomplish.

As with any project, understanding what success looks like is critical. Crafting a vision statement for your DEX delivers a number of advantages. First, creating a coherent narrative for what the DEX will accomplish for employees and the greater company helps build consensus. Further, there are literally thousands of decisions that will be made throughout the strategy, planning and implementation phases of crafting your new DEX. A clear vision provides an objective standard against which to evaluate or prioritize opportunities and challenges as they arise.

Determine key performance indicators (KPIs).

Your DEX should improve the everyday experiences of employees. And that improvement should be objectively measurable. The best DEX strategies define in advance what improvements will be measured. Those measures could span such indicators as employee satisfaction, retention rates, hours of training completed, etc. There are no default indicators that apply to every DEX or business. You just need to align those indicators with those measures that serve the goals of the employees and the business, alike.

So, why are we all suddenly talking about DEX?

Despite the recent surge in media attention, digital employee experience isn’t a new issue. It’s simply that we’ve reached “peak digital.” Meaning, the digital experience in the workplace is for most employees their primary work experience. How you experience the digital tools and environments provided are how you experience your job. Amplifying employee expectations is the reality that, unlike older generations whose digital lives were confined to the stationary PC or terminal on their desks, today’s workforce is fully immersed in a digital life outside of the office. So, those employees expect the same level of human-centered interaction design and effortlessness they feel when engaging with Lyft or Amazon as they do when trying to schedule a meeting room, navigate a shared document library or adjust their medical benefits. The companies that can deliver that same level of experience will always have an advantage.

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Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.

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