Best Practices for Every Stage of Employee Experience: Stage 5, Perform
Employee experience is a complex thing. It goes beyond employee engagement, satisfaction or happiness, instead encompassing the entirety of a person's professional relationship with an organization.
With the rise of digital work — more than half of Americans have the opportunity to work from home — the definition of employee experience gets a little murkier. Suddenly, there are new ways (and places) to communicate and interact. And new requirements for leading and working effectively.
The Employee Journey: Seven Stages
Ultimately, the employee experience breaks down into seven stages, which make up the entire employee journey or employee life cycle:
Organizations that want to learn more about the employee journey often turn to employee journey mapping, which looks at each stage of the employee's journey with the company, in an attempt to better understand and address needs, wants, pain points and opportunities for improvement.
In this series, we look at each stage of the employee journey and see what the experts have to say. In parts one, two, three and four, we covered best practices for attracting future employees, hiring top talent, mastering the onboarding process and boosting employee engagement.
This week, we’ll look at stage five: the perform stage.
Employee Experience Stage 5: Employee Performance
“Employee experience is now brand, and brand is employee experience,” said Dean Carter, chief people and purpose officer at Guild Education, who believes companies that treat people well will be rewarded. “Those that treat them poorly will be punished by the market’s sensitivity to reputation.”
But crafting a positive employee experience doesn’t end once you’ve hired someone or onboarded them to the organization. It’s an ongoing process.
The perform stage is all about employees who are fully integrated into their roles. They may feel a sense of belonging and have great relationships with their managers, but they’re ready to reflect on their performance and improve.
Employees crave feedback and recognition during this stage. They want to have a good sense of what’s expected of them and know that they’re meeting those expectations. Unfortunately, employers seem to be coming up short.
Only two in ten employees, according to Gallup, strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that encourages them to do outstanding work. And 79% of employees feel their performance metrics — the ones that dictate to management how well they’re doing — are out of their control.
So, what can employers do to ensure they’re not dropping the ball?
Employee Experience Stage 5: Best Practices
Organizations can boost their employee experience strategy — and, as a result, business outcomes — by implementing some of the best practices below.
Give Equal Access to Information
All employees should have equal access to information, whether they're in the office every day, some days or never, said Tamara Sanderson, co-founder of Remote Works and co-author of “Remote Works: Managing for Freedom, Flexibility, and Focus.”
If you’re in the office, talk to your colleagues, have those important conversations over coffee, she said. But organizations still need to document any critical decisions related to work on the company's knowledge base afterward.
Why? Because everyone in the organization has access to that information and has the ability to participate in discussions, regardless of where they’re at physically.
“Ultimately, it’s all about consideration and thoughtfulness,” said Sanderson. “How would you feel if you were permanently left out, especially when your job was at stake?”
Keep Connection and Community
Everything has to be rooted in connection, said Carter.
“Despite its popularity, WFH is far from perfect and poses some big strategic challenges, including how to reinforce positive community, culture and collaboration."
Human connection and community, he said, need to stay at the center of work — whether that happens in-person, remotely or a mix of the two. “Something very special happens when we break bread together, even if that happens remotely.”
At his company, said Carter, they’re working on launching community groups to strengthen community, inclusion and belonging among employees. These groups will provide opportunities for both virtual and in-person events.
In the first year, he said, the program will focus on regional in-person and intentional virtual community-building. The company will also measure the program's impact by capturing the employee experience before and after participation.
Related Article: Employees Crave Connection: Here's How to Build It
Set (and Maintain) Expectations Regularly
It’s crucial to establish regular discussions with employees, said Amy Dufrane, CEO of the HR Certification Institute.
“First, set goals and expectations and then regularly talk about successes, roadblocks and opportunities to improve,” she said. “Employees want real-time feedback, so keep it short and simple. A regular cadence is key.”
Research backs this up. Gallup found that only 30% of managers involve their employees in goal setting. But when managers do involve employees in this process, those workers are 3.6X more likely to be engaged.
The frequency of these check-ins and goal-setting meetings will depend entirely on the employee, said Dufrane. With a new employee, she explained, frequent check-ins are best — a few times a week until they acclimate, ideally. For more formal check-ins, aim for something each quarter.
“Our businesses are all moving at lightning speed, and we must ensure that performance expectations are met,” she said.
Offer Remote Workers Autonomy
People place a lot of value on autonomy over where and when they work. In fact, a flexible working arrangement (including the ability to work remotely) is one of the top three motivators among people looking for a new job, according to McKinsey.
We all become managers over our workflows and environments when we're distributed geographically, said Sanderson.
“Traditionally,” she explained, “a manager ensured that others complied with the when, where and how of working. But technology has changed all of that." Now, employees are distributed and have more control over their workflows, meaning more autonomy.
Many tasks a manager previously covered, she said, like delegating and reporting to other stakeholders on business performance, can be replaced by remote best practices. Things like documentation, asynchronous updates and a culture of transparency.
“Likewise, decisions that were previously made universally, like office location and norms, no longer apply in a remote setting. Instead, employees are tasked with creating work environments that suit their skills, working styles and personal preferences.”
Focus on the Outputs
The shift to a “remote work mentality” is not just about where we get the work done but also about how we evaluate that work, said Ali Greene, Sanderson's co-founder of Remote Works as well as co-author of the book, “Remote Works: Managing for Freedom, Flexibility, and Focus.”
“Companies need to stop relying on ineffective and outdated models of performance management (such as valuing hours worked or "butts in seats") and focus instead on the outputs: the quality of the work itself,” she explained.
With that shift, companies can improve their ability to define employee expectations and performance goals.
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But to do this effectively, said Greene, organizations need to have clear and easy-to-understand responsibilities. “I recommend using a rubric-based approach to goal-setting and performance management."
Some tactical ways to incorporate this into business processes include:
- Creating a set process for assigning work to all employees
- Outlining success metrics and defining “done” for each project before it kicks off
- Designing an output-based advancement schema or rubric for promotions that outlines what performance looks like at each level of the organization across different metrics (e.g., timeliness, project management, adhering to standard operating behaviors, etc.).
- Incorporating feedback and recognition models that speak to the work itself or the promotion rubric — and not other factors.
“Having these clear and objective measures is uniquely important for hybrid work environments, where remote colleagues may be negatively impacted by subconscious bias such as the mere exposure effect or proximity bias ('out of sight, out of mind’) compared to their in-office counterparts," Greene explained.
Related Article: Employee Engagement Hit an All-Time Low: Here's How to Revamp Your Strategy
Meet Individual Needs With Flexibility
We need to create systems and ways of working that are built around the needs of your employees and the realities of their work — not an idealized one-size-fits-all approach, said Carter.
“When your team’s work informs your approach, it creates a natural bridge to the new expectations and the updated ways-of-working,” he explained.
His company splits time into “heads up work” and “heads down work" to empower team leads and set ways of working tailored to the reality of each team’s day-to-day. He categorized these types of work as:
- Heads down work: Heavy focus time, whether writing, coding or emailing. This type of work doesn’t require an office or other people. In fact, it might be easier to do outside of that setting.
- Heads up work: More collaborative, team-oriented and best done in person. Something like a sales kickoff, product brainstorm or planning session with marketing, communications and policy teams.
“Our offices are now primarily retreats for heads up work,” said Carter. “We now host on-sites in Denver near weekly for different teams, but desks are fairly irrelevant.”
Create a Culture of Feedback and Recognition
At the core of many employee motivation theories is a need for mastery of the work itself, said Greene. And feedback and recognition both play a role in facilitating mastery. They're crucial for building the skills and confidence that impact performance.
To build a company culture of feedback and recognition in a remote environment, she added, feedback and recognition need to be baked into the work itself, where communication already occurs.
“For example,” she said, “post-mortem meetings to share feedback on projects after completion offer a systemized way to share feedback in a synchronous meeting, with the lessons learned documented in a knowledge base to easily refer back to throughout the year.”
Recognition can also be built into the tools you use to communicate, she added. Think of specific celebratory emojis for company Slack channels.
Dufrane offered other opportunities for recognizing employees and driving performance:
- Town halls to publicly recognize team members
- Spot bonuses when someone achieves a goal
- Weekly CEO communications reinforcing positive performance
“Feedback and recognition of positive goal attainment are excellent for the organization to hear,” she said.
Opportunity-driven feedback, on the other hand — when somebody needs to improve on something — should be done quickly and privately, she said. “When the employee makes progress in overcoming that opportunity, tell them you see their progress and that you appreciate their focus on this growth.”
Measure the Right Things
When it comes to employee engagement surveys, you get what you measure, said Carter. “Our profession as a whole must ensure that we’re measuring the right things.”
When done right, he said, these tools let you look closer at the employee experience.
“When you ask questions that put things into the context of people’s lives vs. traditional extractive questions, you learn things about engagement and belonging that traditional survey questions hide, particularly around the experiences of marginalized communities.”
The most important question you can ask employees if they agree with, he said, is: As a result of working here, this company puts more into my life than it takes out.
“That can mean a lot of different things to people,” said Carter, “and it's important to measure the impact of benefits, rewards and the employee experience with this more human lens.”
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Improving Employee Experience: One Stage at a Time
A well-rounded employee experience is essential to keeping top talent who are invested and passionate about their work.
“We remain in a competitive job market, and organizations need to continue investing in their people or they will find another organization to share their talents and gifts,” said Dufrane.
By utilizing an employee experience strategy that looks at every stage of the employee journey — including the perform stage, a time when employees require feedback and connection — organizations can eliminate frustrations and ensure positive experiences that put employees first.
About the Author
Michelle Hawley is an experienced journalist who specializes in reporting on the impact of technology on society. As a senior editor at Simpler Media Group and a reporter for CMSWire and Reworked, she provides in-depth coverage of a range of important topics including employee experience, leadership, customer experience, marketing and more. With an MFA in creative writing and background in inbound marketing, she offers unique insights on the topics of leadership, customer experience, marketing and employee experience. Michelle previously contributed to publications like The Press Enterprise and The Ladders. She currently resides in Pennsylvania with her two dogs.