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The new role of HR as ‘experience architect’

15 Jan 2020 By Ben Whitter

Employers need to take a more holistic approach to business to improve employee experience, argues Ben Whitter

There is only one trend that really matters to HR and business in 2020, and it’s employee experience. This relentless and seemingly unstoppable shift to humans and experiences will continue to grow in strength and numbers in the year ahead. The vast majority of forward-thinking corporates have already started their work on employee experience. It’s not that this field is new, it’s that it is now showing clear signs of maturity and others are racing to gain some form of parity with the early pioneers. 

Why? Because it works. An abundance of research has been published this past year that has helped document success and provide clear evidence of tangible business and human outcomes. Yet, the playing field is not fair at all. Those with access to the best resources, expertise and talent have made giant strides, while others continue to bounce from conference to conference trying to figure out exactly what employee experience is and how they can apply it in their business and HR functions.

An army of consulting firms have wasted little time in building the models and the frameworks that help people map journeys, moments that matter and anything else they can place a fee against. But the result is a lot of wasted time on workshops and exercises that are designed once again to take the pain (and the power) away from internal practitioners, usually at great expense. My long-held belief is that the real experts are employees and the practitioners who work directly with them – that’s who we need to develop, grow and support. The workplace is more human than it’s ever been so a renewed focus on human values and principles is a given for ambitious and progressive companies, and this includes HR professionals.

Not that building an employee experience ecosystem is a bad thing. It’s just very different in the context of employee experience, or should be. Employee experience focuses on the unique context of a company. We are less concerned about ‘best practice’, but more about getting into tune with ‘our practices’ and the results they deliver. This presents a compelling opportunity for companies and HR colleagues who can add value to this space and help companies rediscover themselves and make improvements where it counts.

The true nature of the employee experience is that it is a multi-systemic and multidisciplinary field. This requires a modern type of professional that is something more akin to an ‘experience architect’ to expertly leverage, maximise and amplify the outcomes from a wide range of seemingly disconnected activities and trends that come into the corporate agenda from different angles. On their own, they may not be as impactful; with an holistic approach to shaping better and healthier experiences for people in work, we can see beyond the immediate limits of our functions.

This is true in the most challenging parts of the employee journey: think about the way people leave companies. Even in a redundancy situation we can lead with empathy to design experiences that meet the needs and wants of our employees. It could be extra support or the way we communicate with employees or making it easier, often with the help of technology, to process the paperwork and move things along. How can we be more human rather than organisation-centric is a key question, and how can we maintain a strong connection with our people? A major change in thinking is required here for HR professionals.

Organisations can achieve the outcomes they seek through a genuine and holistic approach to business. Holistic in the sense that everything is connected, and the overall brand experience is an outcome of a collective approach led from the top, the bottom and across companies. This is one reason we are seeing tremendous growth of roles such chief employee experience officer. Companies are missing the point if they do not strategically connect their initiatives with a deeper purpose, mission and a shared, and lived, set of values. That’s the truth. If they preach wellness, but overwork and unhealthy levels of stress are common, it won’t be too long until they get found out, by their employees and their consumers.

A healthy business is an outcome of healthy everyday work practices and positive experiences. Which is more powerful, a one-off workshop on mental health or a psychologically safe working environment that is experienced daily? A place where people can share and care openly without fear and receive support, feedback and encouragement from the colleagues around them when they need it.

Ben Whitter is the founder and chief experience officer at the World Employee Experience Institute and the author of Employee Experience

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