You Need to Improve Your Digital Employee Experience. Do You Have the Resources?
Economists like to talk about "productivity," and there’s a big problem with it right now.
Economists measure how much GDP is produced for a given hour of work — and in many countries that measure productivity growth has stalled, or even has moved backward. This means employees are working just as hard — or harder! — than before, but are producing less output with that effort. Combine this with a chronic staff shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, and businesses are under extraordinary pressure.
Taken together, all of this makes it critical that we help employees be more efficient, and improving their digital employee experience (DEX) is the best way to tackle this. By putting the "human in the picture," DEX gives a holistic view of where current problems in an organization are and what the real solutions should be.
But do organizations have the capability to make improving DEX a reality?
Taking a Strategic View
Created in the early days of the pandemic, the DEX Enterprise Framework puts shape around the otherwise nebulous concept of digital employee experience. As I've explained before, this framework comprehensively addresses considerations from leadership vision, to enterprise systems and the real-world lived experiences of employees.
While aspects such as leadership, strategy and technology often stand out as the priority areas, the inherent capacity and capabilities of the organization to deliver the change required are a major and less-visible constraint.
To move toward improving staff productivity (and GDP!), there are some key aspects of DEX capability to consider.
At the most fundamental level, systems and tools must be streamlined and usable if we’re to achieve a great DEX. Think about the user experience of the big ERP systems, and you’ll know how much work needs to be done!
The field of experience design (xD) provides a rich toolkit of tools and methods for improving user experience with all types of systems., including workhorse techniques such as card sorting, tree testing, prototyping and usability testing. Not just applicable to structuring content repositories such as intranets, these techniques have a three decade track record of improving business systems.
So if the methodologies are well understood, are they being applied to employee-facing platforms and systems? This is where we run into real trouble.
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The term “enterprise UX” is widely used in the industry. Sadly, however, this term has come to mean “conducting UX as a team, within a big enterprise” rather than “applying UX to enterprise systems.” The discussions are largely about navigating the complexities of big business so that customer-facing solutions such as websites can be meaningfully improved, not about how to fix the design of ugly ERP systems.
To address this situation, organizations should either:
- Expand the size and remit of existing UX teams to include enterprise systems (although it would still be hard to overcome the priority focus on customer- rather than employee-focused systems)
- Increase xD skills and capacity to digital workplace teams
- Establish a new “enterprise xD” team to tackle in-house needs
Digital employee experience resonates at a senior leader level as a strategic concept that ties together many streams of work that are planned or underway. As such, it should be included in top-line strategic priorities for businesses, alongside elements such as customer service excellence.
To make a real mark, however, leaders and managers at every level need to be knowledge and understanding of digital employee experience, deep down into line management of divisions and teams.
The bests ways to introduce a DEX focus into leadership and management may be by pairing it with existing change and training activities, such as:
- Adding DEX into leadership training and mentoring programs
- Including DEX in digital literacy programs
- Adding DEX to IT training programs
Rather than trying to pitch the concept of DEX directly — a trap knowledge management often falls into — the priority should be on building an understanding of foundational elements such as experience design and process optimization.
The common adage says “you can’t improve what you don’t measure”, and this applies to DEX. If there’s to be meaningful and ongoing change, then there needs to be regular assessment of the state of DEX across the business.
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There are multiple approaches to measuring DEX, which first and foremost look a the lived experiences of key employee cohorts. Their day-to-day experience of working with enterprise systems can be assessed qualitatively through interviews and focus groups, and quantitatively through carefully-crafted surveys.
The field of experience design also provides ways of directly assessing the ease of use of systems, such as the System Usability Scale (SUS). While this scoring system goes back longer than many of us have been working, it’s still very relevant in today’s enterprise landscape.
In the same way that employee engagement is routinely measured on a yearly basis, DEX assessments should be similarly regular to allow you to assess progress, resolve issues and report up to senior leaders.
If we’re to make real progress in improving digital employee experience, then clearly we will need more resources devoted to it. Going beyond just expanding intranet teams (or equivalent), a well-resourced digital workplace or DEX team will be needed.
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This team will need experience design capabilities, along with BA skills, technical knowledge and a strong stakeholder engagement focus.
Process optimization and lean management are also key skill sets for DEX teams, as highlighted by Cristian Salanti. These capabilities go to the heart of addressing the inefficiencies that exist within every business, delivering direct improvements to overall productivity (to the delight of economists).
In practice, DEX teams will need to prove their worth if they are to grow to the size required. Early wins will therefore be key to delivering a compelling business case to senior leaders and other key stakeholders.
Not Enough Staff? Improve DEX!
While measurement of productivity at the level of a country’s GDP is as broad as it gets, the evidence is clear that businesses are struggling to keep up momentum after the pandemic.
Employee productivity is falling — because we’re not willing to work both day and night from our homes anymore — and labor shortages are widespread.
Thankfully there’s a practical approach that offers at least part of the solution: help the employees we currently have to be more productive. As we’ve all experienced, the design of enterprise systems and processes can be a big barrier to achieving this.
By improving the digital employee experience of all cohorts of staff, we can apply tried-and-true methodologies to make a real difference — but only if we take the time to put the capacity and resources in place.
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