ICology: The future of work and the employee experience

Ep #16, Jacob Morgan with The Future of Work

Smart companies are investing resources in the customer experience. But even smarter companies understand that the employee experience is the bedrock of the customer experience. Jacob Morgan is at the forefront of this conversation.

Jacob is an author, speaker and futurist. But perhaps more important to this conversation, he is the co-founder of The Future of Work Community, a brand council of forward-thinking organizations. 

In this episode of ICology, Jacob talks about his recently created the Employee Experience Equation. It's a helpful model to help those not only understand the employee experience but also the important/critical elements. 


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Episode Transcript

Chuck: Today's topic some might think does not directly relates to Internal Communications but I'm going to disagree with them. Because I feel there's a new conversation taking place in companies, that internal communicators need to be involved in. The smart companies out there have been and are focused on this thing called the customer experience, there's nothing new about this. But what is the customer experience without the employee experience? Well, it's not much of one or it's a very bad one.

And it's my belief that the employee experience is the bedrock of the customer experience because we're all consumers and we know that when we have great experiences out there as shoppers or diners or visitors, it's typically driven by an employee interaction. And it's the conversation about the employee experience, that internal communicators can begin to own, because it's not just about engagement. In my opinion engagement's really just a by product of the employee experience and companies that have a robust and supportive employee experience, well I'm guessing they also have engagement from employees from all levels of the organization. Because the employee experience isn't about a score. With engagement we got hung up on this number. Well that's not what employee experience is about. It's about treating the employees right, giving them the tools that they need and truly empowering them. Not delegating, but empowering them to make decisions and this is why this is so exciting for the world of internal communications and why I'm so glad to have a gust today, Jacob Morgan, who is a key note speaker, author, and co-founder of the Future of Work community. Jacob, welcome to ICology.

Jacob: Thank you very much for having me.

Chuck: Well as I, we've talked a little bit, you're a man of many titles as I shared there at the beginning, so give us some history and background on you and on the Future of Work community. 

Jacob: Sure. Like you said, man of many tittles, I do many, many different things. I'd say that primarily what I do can be broken down into few different buckets. So the first is I had a best selling book that came out of the end of 2014 called "The Future of Work" so a big part of what I do is travel the world and speak probably at around 30 to 40 events every year, for organizations, private events, conferences, etc., on various themes related to "The Future of Work." These could be around technology, around evolution of HR, how the work place is changing, all sorts of stuff.

Second thing that I do is I run something called The Future of Work Community, now this is a collection, today we have around over 60 brands from around the world, it's a private community that we've created. We host two conferences for them every year and it's a group of senior leaders at the these organizations from around the world and they share what they're working on, what they're challenges are, what they see happening. And so they provide me with an enormous level of insight and information into what they are doing and I think it's something very unique that not many people have access to, so lot of my ideas get shaped by what these organizations are doing and by what they're sharing with me and people that are interested in that can always visit fowcommunity.com, just to see what I'm talking about.

And I think the third bucket that I fall into or the third bucket I'm involved in, is just around content. And this can be content in the form of thought leadership that a vendor might want to work with me on, webinars, whitepapers, videos, ebooks, kind of stuff like that. And it's also content that I just happen to create for free that I put out out there to try to educate people on how the work place is changing. So podcasts, videos, articles, newsletters, all sorts of fun stuff. And I think those things are pretty much what I do.

Chuck: Well I think that's actually how I came across you when your profile was a Forbe's article that I saw you had published and that's what sort of led us to this conversation today so nice work there on those.

Jacob: Thank you.

Chuck: And as I mentioned in the beginning, we talked about this word, employee experience, and it's something that in reading, a lot of the stuff that you have out there and you've published, it's clear that we both believe in this growing or at least now recognized importance of employee experience. So what's Jacob's definition of the employee experience 

Jacob: Mine is actually very simple. It's a combination, and I have something called the employee experience equation which is kind of like a math problem that you can add these things up to define it. So my definition of employee experience is corporate culture plus physical environment plus technology equals employee experience. And these are three environments, three components that make up every single employee experience. And as I said, it's pretty simple.

Chuck: Well, and I like it I saw this employee experience equation I think it's great because sometimes there's a lot of concepts, I mentioned employee engagement in the intro, that sometimes leaders or influential people can sometimes struggle putting their arms around and really understanding what it looks like, but I think your employee experience equation, both the concept behind it as well as the graphic itself, certainly has a lot of merit for helping people understand it so let's go into those three things that you talked about. The first one is culture, so what does a culture piece play into the employee experience?

Jacob: So I've been in the process of doing research for an upcoming book that's all around designing employee experience and basically my goal is to answer that exact question and I'll tell you kind of where I am now and at the moment I'm actually asking more questions than I am providing answers and doing a lot of interviews, I'm hopefully going to launch a survey on this in the coming weeks to try to understand and explain what these things are. We always hear that purpose is kind of the number one thing for culture, but the more executives I speak with and the more employees that I speak with, I realize that purpose is great and it's part of it but it's not what defines culture. In fact so far I've identified you need a couple of different things. You need a sense of purpose, employees need a sense of worth, they need to feel that they're being treated fairly, and there needs to be some level of flexibility and freedom.

So purpose is important but it's only kind of one component of what I think defines and creates corporate culture. Corporate culture is a very broad, big topic, it includes everything from leadership styles to how your organization is structured, whether it's a hierarchy or kind of a flat environment. So my goal is to figure out what are the questions that we can ask organizations, a few questions, not 60 questions, not 40 questions, maybe 3 to 5 questions that we can ask employees in each one of these areas that will help organizations understand what the employee experience there looks like? So for now, for culture, those are the things that I think are important and this will change by the time the book comes out but it's, do you have a sense of purpose? Do you feel you're being treated fairly at work? Do you have a sense of worth? And I think those are all very, very important, and also, do you feel valued?

Chuck: Well I think the approach that you're taking is great because it's really the same approach that any company should take when they're determining what their culture is. I mean so often you hear these stories of where it's sort of a down from above, like, "No, our culture is this," and it doesn't really resonate with employees because they don't believe that's what their culture is, their leaders have never asked them. So much like you're doing, I think that's where communicators can step in and help leaders talk to employees and understand what's the value of culture and then what do they think the culture is?

Chuck: The next element in your equation is technology, that's the one that's a little bit more near and dear to my heart, I've been in the tech space for a long time. Even when I was a day to day communicator I sort of gravitated naturally to technology to come up with creative ways to communicate to employees. So what role does technology plays in this experience equation?

Jacob: So when I look at technology it's kind of like the central nervous system of the organization. It enables a lot of these components and themes around the Future of Work to be possible. So when you look at getting rid of annual employee reviews, when you look at flexible work, real time feedback, a lot of that is not possible without technology so technology is kind of like the central nervous system of what powers a lot of these things for the future of work. And a couple of questions that you can start asking yourself or your organizations around technology are, number one, is the technology being, or is it consumer grade? It's not enterprise grade but consumer grade and what I mean by that is, is the technology so good and so useful that you can see yourself using it in your personal life?

 So, you know, we use twitter, we use something like Facebook and if there was something like that for organizations, we'd probably be very, very comfortable using it. As opposed to most legacy technologies which are, outdated, they're clunky, the UI doesn't look good, it's confusing, it's convoluted. So the idea with this concept of, is the technology consumer grade is, is it something so good that you would use it as a consumer not just as an employee. And a couple of other questions you can ask is, is the technology available to everybody and is the technology focused more on employee needs versus business requirements? And I think those are good foundational places to start.

Chuck: Yeah, that's interesting you bring up that idea behind sort of that consumer grade technology because I never thought about it that way, because people do want to, they think of enterprise as strength and security and covers the masses, but you're right, if it's something they wouldn't use on a personal basis then they're probably not going to use it on a professional basis.

Jacob: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And you're right, enterprises always had this connotation of strength and all these wonderful things attached to it. But it's not like that anymore. I think we're now moving towards a world where organizations want consumer grade technologies, they want technologies that emulate the social and collaborative and fun tools that we use in our personal lives.

Chuck: Mm-hmm. And then the last element I'll say is one that the communicators probably have given the least amount of thought to when compared to culture and technology, is the physical space. So what role does that play?

Jacob: Here the physical space is of course the third piece of the equation around designing employee experiences. And it's important because this is the environment the you see, that you taste and touch and breathe in, it's the food that you eat, it's the office that you sit in, it's the art that hangs on the walls, I mean it's huge, right, because this is what we are surrounded by, what we see while we are working. And it's a huge component that oftentimes organizations don't spend enough time thinking about. In fact, oftentimes what companies do is they'll spend time thinking about one of these areas, maybe two in best case scenarios, but never three. So the physical environment, a couple of questions to ask is, do you offer multiple modes of working? So not just an open plan or a a cubicle but do you offer multiple ways to your employees to get the job done? Does the physical space energize the employees, does it foster creativity? And lastly, does the physical space emulate or reflect the values of the organization? And I think that's where we often times see a big disconnect. We see organizations say that their values are things like collaboration and being open and transparent, meanwhile the physical space that employees are a part of connotate the exact opposite of what their values are actually trying to demonstrate. So I think those are good places to start.

Chuck: Well, I think that a challenge sometimes some companies have is that they hear are what people describe as these case studies or world class scenarios and such and such company is going through an open office environment and that's going to do all these amazing things and impact productivity and help retain employees and every other company is like, "Oh, oh, oh, we should do that." And when they themselves, like you just said yourself, haven't really looked at their employees to see would their employees survive in an environment like that? It's not just like a latest and the greatest trend but you got to look at your people to see if that's an environment that they would relish in and not necessarily that they're for or against but does the culture and values and personalities fit the physical space? And I will say, I don't think that's something that a lot of communicators have thought, sort of maybe what role and impact they can play in the physical space.

Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. Totally agree.

Chuck: The other thing you've done which I like is you've sort of taken this next step, you've got this equation in place, now you've identified four different types of companies that focus on the employee experience and the initiatives that each of those companies take. So we're going to go through these four and you sort of explain to the listeners where they fit. So the first up is the engaged company, and some people would think, "Oh, I want to go, I want to work for an engaged company." So who is the engaged company?

Jacob: As a side note, I think engagement as a metric is a terrible way to measure your organization, and we can talk more about that if you want, but I think engagement is on it's way out as being sort of the metric we'd be looking at. But engaged organizations are typically those that focus on a great cooperate culture and they have a great physical environment but they lack in the technological environment. So employees may like the people they work with, may like the offices, but they're not empowered and enabled with the right technologies to be able work in the best way that they can.

Chuck: And we certainly do agree, I mean I wrote a blog post on Linkedln about, I said the worst thing we did to engagement was assign it a score. Because it became something that we began measuring against other companies when it's not something that's even really relevant at a numerical level.

Jacob: Well, there's so much I can say on engagement. One of the big problems of the engagement is that if you look at engagement and how we classify it, there are three categories of engaged employees, or, I don't even want to say engaged employees. There are three categories in that engagement index. First one is the disengaged employee, actively disengaged. The second one, I believe, is just a regular not engaged employee, and then the third is engaged employee. And so what we've done with that constrict is that we sort of measure down. What I mean by that is that actively disengaged employee is essentially like getting, it's a fail. A not engaged employee is a D, and an engaged employee is what I would consider to be a C. At the minimum you, when you interview people, that's part of who you hire, right? You want people that are engaged, people that care about the company, people that like being there, that's a minimum, that's a C level employee, somebody that's engaged.

And so with these traditional measures of engagement we have fail, we have D, and we have C. We don't have B, we don't have A. In other words, what we do is we start at the C level and we measure downwards. We have no classification and no categories of measuring up. So who are the super fans, who are the highly, super engaged employee's in your organization? We have no way of measuring that. That's the big issue with engagement. 

The second thing is something, I guess I'll mention two more things. Second is engagement is something that can easily be manipulated. So when I speak with Chief Human Resource Officers they always say, "Oh yeah, if we want a boost in employee engagement, we simply measure and we conduct the surveys on a sunny day. And if we do it on a sunny day we notice they're on a 10 point boost. If we do it on a day it's raining or it's cloudy, we get worse scores." And so there are a lot of other factors that contribute to the engagement score that have nothing to do with what's going on inside of your company, something such as the weather.

And the third thing, and you can tell me when to shut up because I can keep going on and on about this. The third thing with employee engagement is, we seem to be very comfortable nowadays with admitting that annual employee reviews don't work. Measuring people’s performance once a year is not effective. Why then is measuring engagement once a year, twice a year, any better? It's not. So just because you're measuring engagement once a year or twice a year, doesn't really mean much. I don't think that is valuable or valid in any way. And the last thing I will say about engagement is, we look at it as kind of like an adrenaline shot. In other words, and I did a video about this, I said, "The best to keep employees engaged is to keep them engaged when they start working there." Because what is when you interview an employee, when they start working there, they start of genuinely wanting to be there. They are engaged, they are excited, it's their first day, they want to be there.

Over time the organization breaks them down which is why I like to think of organizations as disengagement factories. So over time the employee gets broken down and then the organization, the management team says, "Hey wait a minute, our engagement levels are down, we got to do something." And they give the work force a kind of adrenaline shot. They'll say things like, "Okay, let's start thinking about bonuses, let's redesign the office, let's do something." And engagement goes back up as the adrenaline shot kicks in and then it wears off again and management says, "Uh-oh, it wore off again, we need another adrenaline shot." So it's kind of like manipulating employees and being disingenuous about the the organization is actually doing. And it's just not a good way, I don't think, of looking at what's going on in your company which is why I think employee experience is much more valuable.

Chuck: I agree. Great little gospel there, sermon on engagement, because it is, we've dumbed it down, what I always say, sort of to a number, but I agree with your point around so the engaged employee is the C level student and we're not really looking at, even evaluating the A and B and you're right with the adrenaline shot, that's a great analogy because companies are guilty of that and that was something we talked about in an earlier episode, is that anything that can be measured, some leaders will attempt to manipulate, especially if they've got incentives built around it. So I agree a 1,000% when it comes to that, to the engagement topic. So we talked about there are four types of companies, the first one being the engaged company which focuses on the culture and the space but forgets the technology. What is the empowered company? That was the next one.

Jacob: The empowered organization is one that has great tools for employees to use, it's got the technology component in it, it has a great cooperate culture, but the physical space is sort of like, showing up trying to work in a hospital. So the physical space just isn't there and in that type of organization, employees feel like they have the ability to do their job but they're just missing that kind of physical space where they actually want to show up to work. So technically they're empowered, they have the things that they need, but they just kind of don't really want to show up to work because their space is kind of, unmotivating and uninspiring.

Chuck: And then what's the enabled organization? That's the third one.

Jacob: And the enabled one is the one where employees technically have all of the resources they need to get their job done: they have the tools, they have the best technologies, they have the great office space, they have everything that they technically need to get their job done. Sort of like trying to build a house, trying to do anything physical. You might have all the tools you need but if you're working with people that aren't engaging and inspiring you and there's a lot of office politics and bureaucracy, it doesn't matter how great the tools are or how beautiful the space is, you're not really going to feel like you belong, I mean you don't have that sense of purpose, you don't feel like you're being treated fairly, you don't have that sense of worth. And so enabled organizations are lacking in that cultural environment.

Chuck: And then the last and fourth one, is the experiential organization.

Jacob: Yes. this is the direction that I think all organizations have to go if they want to be able to attract and retain top talent. The experiential organization is the one that focuses on all three areas of the employee experience equation. Technology, physical space, and cooperate culture.

Chuck: And then, are there examples or how do you think a company can best approach, because you're talking about, you know, the company might be engaged and so they've got to go after one other sort of bucket but how are they sort of able to balance all three of those at the same time? I'd assume I'd be getting all the employees involved in the process?

Jacob: Sure. A lot of people always ask for examples and I'm always hesitant to give them just because I don't want to call any organizations out as lacking in one or the other of the areas so, you know, when I first came up with this framework, I originally had kind of negative words. If you notice, empowered, engaged, enabled, those are positive words, right? I mean they're not kind of like, you suck, you're missing this. So originally when I thought of this framework, those definitions or those terms were going to be a little bit more negative. I purposely made it positive because I didn't want organizations to feel like I'm kind of calling them out. So there are a lot of good examples of organizations that fall into each one of these buckets. Again, I'm always hesitant to name them but I can touch on a few of them.

Good example of one might be F5 Networks. Company's got thousands of employees, probably nobody's ever heard of them. But this is the environment where employees have the latest and greatest tools, they the great cooperate culture, yet everybody works in a cubicle. I mean, the physical is space is nothing that is amazing at all. People sit in cubicles, they work 9:00 to 5:00, they commute to the office. But people love working there. And that's not a bad thing but that's an example of an organization that I would consider to be empowered. Great culture, great technology environment. There are other organizations that I probably shouldn't name because they'll take offense to it. 

Chuck: I'm not going to put you on the spot.

Jacob: Maybe...

Chuck: That's all right, you don't have to.

Jacob: Yeah, there are other organizations out there like Airbnb, for example, doing a phenomenal job with culture and physical environment but I know for a fact that they're in the process of reevaluating the technologies that they can use to enable and empower their employees. So it's not to say that if you're doing one or two of these thing it's bad, it's to say that you can do better and that when you think of what the employee of the future is going to care about, it's crucial to focus on all three. So I don't want companies to feel like if I mention them that they're terrible or anything like that.

Chuck: Well I would say, and this even goes back to our engagement discussion before, I think that when those companies that go out and recognize they've got a deficiency or gap or problem, should be applauded, because then they know they need to make the necessary improvements versus those that put their blinders on and pretend to the world everything is great and that they don't need to change and everything's perfect. Then we really that that's not really accurate. But I did read something once where you talked about that a lot of times leaders will just want to focus or target on one of the areas, they just want to focus on technology or focus on culture. But you pointed out before that this is basically a quick path to failure if they just dial in and laser focus on one of them.

Jacob: Yeah, I mean, a good example is, years ago I got called into one of the world's largest grocery retailers and they were very focused on this culture component, they said, "We want to become collaborative, we want to become communicative, we want to have this great cooperate culture." And I said, "Okay, wonderful." So I went to their offices, this is company that has a hundreds of thousands of employees and I show up to their offices, everybody's wearing this suit and tie even though they have non-customer facing roles. Their employees are sitting in a cubicle farm unlike one that I've seen in a long time, just a massive cubicle farm. And they're just so quite there that you can hear pin drop. Now this is an organization that's focusing on, well, actually they were focused on the technological environment. They were really trying to deploy collaboration tools and then they were trying to figure out why no one was using the collaboration tools that they were deploying. And so they had a great technology environment, they had great tools, nobody used them. That's because all they did if focus on the tool. They thought that if they simply give people the right technology to use that people will use it and they neglected the culture aspect and the physical aspect. And that's just a classic example of focusing on just one of these things will not get you very far.

Chuck: Well Jacob, I want to thank you for, especially talking through the employee experience equation because I think that's something that, again, communicators can begin. If the conversation isn't happening at your work place, either it is happening and you're not a part of it, or communicators can now start to lead that conversation at organizations. And again, that's culture, technology, and physical space, all being a part of this employee experience equation.

What is a final piece of parting advice you want to share with listeners today?

Jacob: Final piece of advice. It would be to focus on the employee experience. It would be to focus on those three areas, learn as much as you can about what other organizations are doing out there, and understand that at this point in the game, it is probably more valuable to ask questions than it is find answers. So ask the questions first.

Chuck: Good piece of advice. All right. And where can people learn more about your Future of Work Community as well as listen to your podcast?

Jacob: So the best way to, I guess my digital home online would be thefutureorganization.com. On there you can find the book link to Amazon and bunch of other places, you can find the tab for the podcast. If you're interested in learning about the Future of Work Community, I would go to fowcommunity.com. And then people can email me anytime, my email is jacob@thefutureorganization.com.

Chuck: Well Jacob, I want to thank you again for being a guest on ICology and sharing your story. ICology is a listening post for communicators, a place for them to hear stories from professionals like you who can inspire them to be better communicators and business leaders. Because I think we can all be better communicators and leaders, much like your piece of advice your father shared. Please follow ICology on twitter @LearnICology, to pick up show announcements as well as other internal comms news. If internal communication is your passion, ICology is your podcast. Thanks for listening.

Jacob: Thanks for having me.