By Zipporah Maubane
JOHANNESBURG - We often hear the term employee experience, but how often do we think about what it means and what drives it in our organisations? This question is currently top-of-mind and has become more urgent, particularly with remote working becoming the new normal since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Put simply, employee experience is made up of the perceptions and feelings that employees have when they interact with their employer; the various touch points, if you will. These different touchpoints are driven by technology. Employees’ experiences are one of the key contributory factors to a great brand experience, and must be considered alongside other aspects, such as logos, colours, packaging, pay off lines, marketing campaigns, merchandise among others.
How people experience the brand is a mirror of culture: brand is how customers and stakeholders see the company from the outside, while culture is the way and how a brand is arrived at. This would include aspects such as how people work with each other, how they relate to one another, how they drive innovation, how they create an environment for others to flourish, how they go about creating an atmosphere of courage and fearlessness, how they promote openness and transparency, how they listen and speak, and how they hold each other accountable.
For example, if a retail outlet’s brand is meant to evoke feelings of warmth and happiness, but the store staff never smile and continuously argue with each other, the customers’ experience will trump the brand message, and the store will be seen as having a miserable brand.
While this is an obvious example, and perhaps one that the company can easily resolve, such cultural issues are not as obvious when employees operate more behind the scenes. Increasingly, especially with COVID-19, we are seeing less physical interaction between employees and their employer.
Interactions now take place online and, as a result, we are accessing the culture of the organisation through digital platforms. We interact with work and colleagues through emails and have meetings via Microsoft Teams and other similar tools. Performance management is driven through systems and the leadership addresses employees through live streaming platforms.
Since we are accessing places of work through technology, and becoming increasingly physically removed from each other, where does that leave culture? We should see technology as an enabler of a living culture within an organisation because we are increasingly interacting through technology.
Culture is not a static, never-changing, aspect of our lives. It evolves and this evolution is driven by technology and how it is used and implemented in our organisations.
This culture translates into what customers and stakeholders feel and see about an organisation. If the brand and culture are two sides of the same coin, then technology the metal between these two halves, bringing it altogether.
As an example, let us take two employees of the same company – one is based in Thohoyandou (Limpopo) and the other in Richards Bay (KwaZulu-Natal). What is it that makes them emotionally invested in their company other than their salaries? What is the glue that binds them to each other?
You would be right to say culture, but this culture must be made alive – it has to be activated. This is where technology comes in, providing the springboard for interaction and employee engagement.
As corporate South Africa, we ought to realise and appreciate the value that lies in the relationship of brand, culture, and technology. These three intertwined elements will force organisations to stop and look at what it means to use technology to elevate the culture they aspire to, enabling them to win in the market.
Not leveraging technology to build an awesome experience for employees means that organisations are missing out on building a strong army of brand advocates who will voluntarily talk well about their brand as well as live company values and, in the process, build a strong culture.
The same technology that enhances your culture inside the company extends your brand in the market. However, the conversation around your brand is no longer a one-way street as customers now have the power to communicate and speak directly to businesses. There are no longer any barriers to reach anybody, because brands must be active on digital platforms and websites are the key window into companies’ purpose, identity, leadership, culture, products and services.
Customers use social media platforms, to talk about their experiences of brands, or about them. And, very often, engagements on these platforms can take a brand-harming trajectory.
With technology increasing the rate at which change is happening in the world it is inevitable that, for the employee experience to remain consistently positive, leaders of business must invest in technological tools that drive employees’ feel-good feeling when it comes to working.
It is time for us to recognise that it is not the sales and marketing team or the human capital team that should drive the culture that builds great brands and generates business. It is a broader conversation in the entire organisation, starting with technology adoption and realisation of its power in building and sustaining employee experience in a changed world.
Zipporah Maubane is Group Executive for Marketing at Altron.