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A 5-Point Digital Employee Experience Manifesto

July 08, 2020 Employee Experience
James Robertson
By James Robertson

I’m delighted to see digital employee experience, or DEX, being picked up as a strategic concept by organizations and individuals around the globe. It’s already demonstrating its power as a future vision that engages senior leaders and as a methodology for delivering better outcomes for employees.

But, in more than 20 years in this industry, I’ve seen many concepts come and go, often after failing to meet inflated initial expectations. There’s a short window to shape a new concept before it becomes diluted and unclear. So to nudge DEX in a productive direction, here is a short manifesto:

1. DEX is an approach, not a product or platform

DEX is both a strategic vision and a set of practical methodologies, all with the intent of creating better experiences for all employees.

DEX is not a platform that can be purchased or a system that can be implemented. While new technologies will undoubtedly be required, DEX must be focused on the bigger picture and guiding decisions and designs.

While I appreciate that vendors can gain value from a new concept as much as organizations and consultants, there’s always a danger in slapping new labels onto existing offerings.

We’ve already seen this for employee experience where vendors sitting within the HR space have started describing their offerings as "employee experience products." These solutions often narrowly focus on just one element such as employee recognition, onboarding or engagement.

This is a trap we must avoid for DEX lest it become yet another devalued label that’s driven by vendor marketing rather than real-world insights and outcomes.

2. DEX must be about the human experience

The value that DEX brings to organizations is centered on the word "experience." In particular, the experience of humans.

This is driven by two fundamental focuses: the first being the ethical requirement to treat people well within organizations and to strive to better meet their human needs. We must stop considering them human resources and instead treat them as simply humans.

Secondly, DEX enables us to address the holistic experience that employees have within the workforce, again from the perspective of the human looking at the screen or device. This gives us a vision and tools to create a more joined-up outcome that works better for all involved.

At the heart of both of these drivers is experience, and every DEX strategy, model and plan must directly address employee experiences beyond technology elements.

Related Article: Does Your Digital Employee Experience Actually Look at the Experience

3. DEX shapes better outcomes but it’s not a strategic umbrella

Remember knowledge management? While it waxes and wanes in popularity, there’s no question there’s a need that must still be met within today’s organizations. Knowledge management provides an arsenal of useful concepts and techniques.

Knowledge management was always incredibly broad as a concept, however, and many sought to position it as an umbrella that sits over all other disciplines such as content management, information management, learning, collaboration and more. Countless diagrams were created to show this but the only effect was to alienate specialists in these other disciplines.

Learning from these mistakes, DEX should not be positioned as an all-encompassing umbrella but rather as an approach that helps shape better outcomes. It’s the glue that binds together other systems and projects as well as the mechanism that helps to keep humans at the center of employee activities.

4. DEX must be an organizational priority

Work on intranets, digital workplaces, HR systems and IT solutions happens at the level of practitioners. We purchase products, design solutions and deliver capabilities. A lot more work lies ahead of us as needs continue to evolve.

DEX, however, must be taken up by the most senior leaders of an organization if it’s to have the desired effect. It must become a strategic priority alongside others, such as delivering great customer outcomes and being efficient and cost-effective.

We’re seeing this happen already in firms as diverse as multinational banks and local government agencies. The goal must be for DEX, or employee experience more broadly, to be one of the 5-6 strategic priorities for every organization.

To achieve, this we need to speak the language of the leadership team and play an advocacy role with these stakeholders alongside our more practical projects and priorities.

5. DEX must be truly multidisciplinary

Most of those who are reading this are part of the usual crowd who discusses enterprise considerations. The same group of people — myself included — have endeavored to drive better outcomes in the fields of content management, knowledge management, intranet and digital workplace and beyond. While this is valuable, it’s not enough.

For DEX to really make its mark, there must be true multidisciplinary involvement in both initial discussions that are shaping the space and within organizations when planning and designing activities.

We must make every effort to engage our peers across human resources, internal communications, IT and facilities. The business itself must also be included as the divisions and groups that are responsible for actually delivering the product or service to customers.

DEX discussions must always seek to engage a wider perspective to ensure that strategic visions are truly meaningful and valuable. This engagement will be challenging at times but it’s the only way we’re really going to make life better for employees.

Reach Out and Join Up

In these early stages of DEX we have an opportunity to shape the direction it takes and to maximize the benefits it delivers. This must be a community effort, however, if we’re to meaningfully make our mark. So I encourage everyone that’s aligned with this DEX manifesto to add your comments, connect with me and others and make your voice heard.

About the Author

James Robertson is the originator of the global movement towards digital employee experience (DEX). Twenty years in this space, he’s one of the leading thinkers on intranets and digital workplaces. He’s the author of the books “Essential Intranets: Inspiring Sites that Deliver Business Value” and “Designing Intranets: Creating Sites that Work.”


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