People Manager
July 30, 2020

No One Owns the Employee Experience

There’s a lot of new attention focused on the employee experience and the experience of working remotely. Suddenly, everyone cares about the state of their organization’s digital workplace, because we’re all using it every day — everyone from new hires to the most senior executives are figuring out Zoom and Teams and Slack and trying to find people and documents in the cloud, without our usual in-office support systems.

If you work on employee experience, be it in HR or IT or ops, you’ve been thinking about the digital workplace for a long time. But how would you answer this question?

Who owns the employee experience?

Is it you? Is it your boss? Is it someone else who you couldn’t quite name? Is it…everyone?

Here’s why I’m asking. I’m obsessed with understanding how an employee experience gets created and reconfigured and fine-tuned. For all the people beating drums about the “future of work,” here’s the secret I’ve figured out — the trail I’ve been following for years: Our experience at work will only evolve and improve if we reconstruct the processes, the infrastructure, and the roadblocks in the corporate architecture.

This isn’t light and breezy stuff, and it isn’t glamorous. But I’ve peeked under the hood at big organizations that are rebooting their digital workplace, and I’m telling you, the secret is in the details.

OK, so in my exhaustive search to understand the back-end of employee experience, I came across this recent report about the state of the digital workplace from CMSWire.

There are plenty of important trends and takeaways in the report, but in my opinion, they buried the lede. The true aha moment is in this survey data in the middle of the report:

Who makes the investment decisions about employee experience? Who holds the financial power?

IT and the C-suite

But who “owns” the employee experience? Who is responsible for the outcomes?

HR. But also…everyone?

Two Problems with the Corporate Architecture of Employee Experience

I see two clear problems here.

1. There’s a Disconnect Between Investment and Outcomes

The people who are making purchasing decisions — who have the power to actually fund the employee experience — are not responsible for the outcomes. IT is leading the roadmap (purchase planning) but the people who own the outcomes of the roadmap are missing.

If HR is taking the credit or blame for the employee experience, they need to be in the room when purchasing decisions are made.

2. When Everyone Owns Employee Experience, No One Owns It

Here’s the report’s answer to “Who owns employee experience?”:

“Employee Experience Still Has No Firm Ownership Pattern

HR seemed a clear contender for ownership, with 19% of organizations identifying it as the owner […] But with nearly a third of organizations reporting that ‘everybody’ owned the employee experience, ownership was mixed across departments or they didn’t know. There’s clearly still room for movement here.”

In other words, if everyone is responsible for the work, no one does it — and no one is held accountable. And there’s the rub.

How to Bring More Ownership and Accountability to Employee Experience

I see one simple solution to the two problems above: more collaboration. In order to have a true influence on employee experience, HR and talent leaders need to work more closely with IT and executive leaders when they’re making decisions about digital workplace platforms. HR and IT need to work together to create an employee experience strategy so that we don’t end up with people strategies and tech solutions that aren’t pulling in the same direction.

If you’re an HR leader and you feel like you’re beating your head against the wall, the way to get your voice heard is to build a partnership with IT. Make your case to IT, and roll up your sleeves to help them do the messy work. Help them! Lead the people side of implementation. Become a resource IT wants to work with.

Once you’re used to collaborating — once you’re in the same (virtual) room — you can work together to map out a clear strategy for employee experience that’s focused on both tools and outcomes.