“The pig is not the issue; it’s the colour of the lipstick on any given day that should worry you …”
There's a lot of noise in the HR Tech arena around Experience Layers or Platforms (sometimes called Digital Experience or Enterprise Experience). The supporters say we should become hyper focused on the experiences of our stakeholders, including customers and employees if we want to see improvements in overall productivity, remain an attractive employer and be competitive within our respective industries. It's rattling traditional HRM vendors and delighting established and new tech start-ups.
Let’s not think HR came up with this great idea, the concept of Experience Management is not new. In fact, it first surfaces some 25 years ago when Steve Haeckel and Lou Carbone wrote about the 'take-away' impression people formed when interacting with product, services and organisations. Today it's a complex field, which seeks to unify experience across many different aspects of business such as brand, products, supplier, customer, employee and other stakeholders.
But in the last few years, HR leaders have found themselves facing a people productivity conundrum. Even though they've been investing heavily into digital strategies and introducing new People Technologies; engagement scores, software adoption, real productivity improvements and employee retention rates remain largely unchanged. The 'Overwhelmed Employee', a term coined by Josh Bersin, is still prevalent in most organisations, in many cases worsening in newly created digital workplaces.
So, is adding Experience Layer software across your HR Technology going to save the day? - Heck no! there are far more fundamental changes you will need to make in the way you operate as a business, your culture, your values, your approach to innovation, being agile, flexibility, freedom, differentiating between digital and technology, asking 'why' instead of 'how', modifying your HR operating model and many other interventions.
This is not to say Experience Layers are worthless - in today's 'app for everything' world, these layers can be extremely useful. However, understanding what they are and what they are not is critical. I've compiled a list of key learning which may help you navigate this space:
EXPERIENCE IS NOT OWNED BY HR. Think about an employee’s day. Only a small percentage of their daily life has anything directly to do with HR or HR technology. An employee’s ongoing work experience is impacted mostly by non-HR activities. So, lesson one, is not to build an Experience Layer in isolation. It's doomed for failure. It must include all the experience touch-points across functions, roles and external interactions.
EXPERIENCE LAYERS ARE NOT PORTALS. I hear people referring to Experience Layers as 'portals'. Portals are really just 'Link Farms', a convenient place to launch a piece of software, access your intranet, retrieve or store documents or read company news. The only similarity between Experience Layers and portals is their starting point. Experience Layers are management tools to create, analyse and manage experiences. They do this by evaluating, implementing, integrating, and building experiences from fragmented technical and business landscapes. Experience management platforms compare multiple layers of data and analytics to enable you to identify experience gaps. They connect HR and other operational databases with human feedback, analysing respondents' emotions, beliefs, and sentiments for a holistic view of the experiences they provide.
EXPERIENCE LAYERS ARE NOT SINGLE TOOLS (yet): Based on point 2, there are a number of different pieces to the overall puzzle. Be aware that most vendors who provide experience tools, generally grew up with a narrow focus and are not mature across all experience areas. The general vendor categories are as follows:
Collaborators: These vendors typically offer solutions which encourae collaborative behaviour and easy sharing. Tools like #Slack, Microsoft Teams and Facebook's Workplace encourage interaction via API's with back-end technologies such as your HR, Finance, CRM, Procurement, IT and other solutions. Interaction can be via bots, voice and forms. They typically hide the software interface for some end-users.
Automation Management: These tools manage the process really well and aim to automate as much as possible in a controlled way. Products such as ServiceNow allow you to cut across business functions and manage the process experience across multiple software products. These tools can mimic human behaviour so long as there is clear logic to follow. Other forms of automation may be found in Robotic Process Automation using tools such as Automation Anywhere or UI Path and of course there are the emerging cognitive / AI tools which can be used to predict, analyse, decide and perform activities to augment human decision making.
Measurement & Analyse: These are analytic platforms which collect human and system data which can be analysed to inform future decision making. Products such as Qualtrics provide tools with specialist focus on the customer, products, employees and brand. Other tools such as KNOA aim to quantify every employees experience in order to make improvements and measure the success of your changes.
Other: There is a plethora of tools which are so diverse that I couldn't find a more inspiring collective name! They are generally very focused on improving a user’s experience is a particular area. Take for example Walkme, which provides a guided and contextual help capability for a software user. Another area is recognition, badges, awards - products like Kudos provide an array of these services. Culture tools such as Humu which leverage the concept of 'nudging' people towards improved behaviour. We are likely to see traditional vendors trying to build or integrate a lot of these solution objectives into single platforms, which will be helpful, but they may become slightly generalised rather than specialised.
EXPERIENCE IS PERSONAL: Building an Experience Layer can bring standardisation, but that's behind the scenes stuff. For the employee it's far more personal.
It’s not about putting your 'Lipstick on a Pig' anymore or trying to hide ugly and complex software from users.
Experience Layers become valuable when they incorporate personalisation based on user choice, but also the analysis of their unique human behaviour within the work environment.
Now it's about the user being able to choose their colour of Lipstick to put on your pig.
The well designed Experience Layer will adapt content, process, core services and choices in a unique way for every employee.
EXPERIENCE MANAGEMENT REQUIRES SPECIFIC SKILLS: Ultimately, creating an Experience Layer requires an array of technical, social science, data science and management skills. It’s unlikely these skills will be found in a single resource or business function. It's important to develop an Experience Strategy to support the overall business strategy, which will dovetail into an operational plan that incorporates an OD (organisational design) outcome. Leaders, managers and supervisors become critical to making this work and need to understand how their roles adapt in an Experience focused organisation.
EXPERIENCE IS CONTINUOUS: While this is obvious, it links to the need to operate in a continuously changing environment. This is not something you implement and leave until the next software upgrade. Implicit is the need for the appointment of a custodian of 'experience strategies' in your organisation. This could be an HR executive, but could just as easily be Marketing, Sales or Operations. Their focus will be continuous improvement in experience for all cohorts.
I have no doubts this emerging field is going to be tough to perfect. Bringing fragmented software solutions, processes and strategies together is never easy, let alone making it personal for each employee, customer or stakeholder. As these technology layers mature, things should get easier technically, but the technology itself is not the transformation catalyst. If we build a true digital environment, then we will empower people to achieve more and maximise their potential through technology rather than simply perpetuating their overwhelmed state by adding more tools.
Rob Scott is the Global Lead: Strategy & Innovation at Presence of IT.