Ever notice how companies with the best service also have the happiest employees? Maylett and Wride say that’s no coincidence, and in this book they lay out their arguments for why putting your employees first doesn’t just make sense – it’s arguably one of the most important decisions that you can make.
That’s because your employees are your most valuable resource, and investing time and money to keep them happy will dramatically improve their performance on the job. It’ll also reduce employee turnover and cut down on the amount of money that you spend on training and recruitment.
But keeping employees happy isn’t always easy, and many people aren’t sure where to start. The good news is that Maylett and Wride have a wealth of experience to tap into and they don’t shy away from providing actionable advice as well as the general theory that you’ll need to adhere to.
Ultimately, the advice in this book comes down to the fact that your employees deserve to be treated with the same amount of care and attention that you’d give to your friends and family members. We spend more time working than doing anything else, and if you’re able to improve the working environment and to provide a true experience for employees, they’re going to be loyal to your company for the months and years to come.
But there are other benefits, too. Providing a top-notch employee experience will also help you to attract the best workers in your industry instead of just leaving you with whoever’s unemployed and desperate enough to take any job that’s offered to them.
Building a kickass team begins with recruitment. After all, if you’re attracting the best possible employees, you’re already off to a good start. Then you can focus on training and retention while providing a truly engaging employee experience for every single person at your company. It’s hard to get it right, but once you’ve nailed it, you’ll know. You’ll be able to see it in the results that your company receives. Good luck.
Let’s take a little look at the lessons that they have to share with us.
The Employee Experience kicks off with a quote from Magic: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement by Paul Warner and Tracy Maylett:
“Engagement is a fundamental human need. It is a power that resides in most people, waiting to be unlocked. People want to be engaged in what they do. If employers build the foundation, employees will do the rest.”
This is arguably the perfect way to start the book, especially because Maylett and Wride go on to talk about how most people are “digging in the wrong place”. In other words, they spend so much time and effort focussing on customers that they forget to spend time on their employees. This is counterintuitive because while it’s true that there can be no sustainable company without a steady flow of customers, those customers can’t be sold to in the first place if the company has no employees.
Maylett and Wride say that employee experience and customer experience go hand in hand. “You can redesign stores,” they say, “roll out cool new products and engage customers on social media: there’s nothing wrong with those steps. But without employees who care about customer service, a beautiful store is just a pretty shell. Without people incentivised to take risks, where are those cool innovations coming from? Don’t even get me started on the dangers of having jaded or clueless staffers meeting customers on Twitter. In other words: To create a sustainable, world-class customer experience, an organization must first create a sustainable, world-class employee experience.”
“Expectations are served up with a side of emotion and healthy dollops of trust issues and feelings of entitlement,” the authors explain. “That’s why the age-old marketing and customer service maxim, ‘Underpromise and overdeliver,’ remains in use.”
Maylett and Wride explain that we all have expectations, and that extends to when we accept a job offer and join a workforce. As employers, it’s our responsibility to make sure that those expectations are met, and as employees it’s our responsibility to make sure that those expectations are as clear as possible.
“The old-fashioned transactional contract (you come to work and I pay you) that employers have slid across the table to employees for decades simply doesn’t cut it anymore,” Maylett and Wride say. “The old-school ‘employees should just be grateful to have jobs at all’ mentality doesn’t work today. Remember, employees have choices. If you want to keep great people, create an environment in which they can choose to be engaged and turn that engagement into a profitable Customer Experience (CX). You’ve got to look past pay and perks to their hearts, spirits, minds, and hands.”
Your employee experience will be derived from your foundational beliefs and your core values, factors which will influence the trajectory of your company as a whole. Maylett and Wride say that a focus on employee experience will change the responsibilities of every stakeholder, from entrepreneurs and founders through senior execs, vice presidents, managers, supervisors and employees.
They also cover the idea of a brand contract, which is essentially the agreement between a company and its employees which lays out what both parties can expect. These can be actual physical contracts or they can be verbal contracts. It doesn’t really matter as long as both parties honour the agreement – and as long as they honour it in spirit, as well as by following it to the letter.
“When you violate the brand contract,” the authors explain, “employees conclude that the organization’s promises are little more than window dressing designed to attract customers. It’s a few short steps from there to being perceived as hypocritical, and hypocrisy does not earn loyalty. In short…”
- Honoring the Brand Contract = Commitment
- Violating the Brand Contract = Disloyalty
This section on the brand contract is arguably one of the most important parts of the book, and it’s really the hook that holds the rest of it together. As a great example of a brand staying true to itself, the authors point to outdoor clothing retailer REI, which announced that it would buck tradition by closing its stores on Black Friday, giving all 12,000 employees a paid holiday to celebrate. There was nothing in employees’ contracts to make them expect this day off, and so it came as a nice surprise and helped to strengthen their relationship with the company.
Not every company can afford to do this, but they can afford to spend some time getting to know their employee value proposition (EVP). To help you to do this, they share the following set of questions:
1. What is our organization’s brand?
a. And what are the outcomes of having that brand?
2, Why would someone choose to work for us? (What is the value we offer?)
b. And what will it take to attract these people?
3. Why would someone to choose to stay with you?
c. And what can you do to keep them?
4. Are there any gaps between what people expect and what you can deliver?
d. And if so, what can you do to change that?
The chapter on transactional contracts begins with a quote from political scientist and Harvard professor Joseph Nye: “Leadership experts and the public alike extol the virtues of transformational leaders – those who set out bold objectives and take risks to change the world. We tend to downplay transactional leaders, whose goals are more modest, as mere managers.”
Maylett and Wride argue that it’s these more modest, transactional leaders which make all of the difference, and they use grocery chain ALDI throughout the chapter to show how this works in practice. The idea behind a transactional contract is to outline what employees and the company agree to provide for each other, and if there’s a breach in this contract then relationships are unlikely to last for long.
“ALDI values its employees and treats them well,” the authors explain.
“Positions throughout the company pay industry-leading wages, and the company invests heavily in the growth and development of its people. ALDI district managers are provided a lucrative compensation package, put through an extensive training program, and given responsibility for a multi-million-dollar district. Included in their rewards package is a fully expensed AUDI A3 (remember, it’s a company with German roots) and an iPhone.”
This chapter is where the book starts to get interesting. The brand contract and the transactional contract are usually more explicitly spelled out by both employees and employers and so it’s easier to tell when the contract has been breached. The psychological contract is something that we ourselves are often not even aware of. It’s the subconscious expectations on the part of both the employer and the employee, often in terms that can’t be quantified. It could be as simple as, “This job is going to make me happier.”
An example of the psychological contract in action comes via two different CEOs, both of whom had built big technology companies worth hundreds of million dollars. “On one occasion,” the authors explain, “our friend had been walking in New York City with one of the CEOs and his team. As the group walked, the executive unconsciously lined his people up according to rank, with the next most important person in the company walking next to him and the subordinates following behind.”
The story continues: “Later, our friend found himself in a similar situation in San Francisco, observing the second CEO as the group walked to dinner. But this time, as the entourage began walking, some of them started to hang back. The CEO stopped and invited all members of the group to catch up, stay close, and walk with him, not behind him. Two similar stories, two completely different psychological contracts. It’s not hard to see why both CEOs were respected but one was beloved.”
The third and final section of the book focuses entirely on trust and the way that trust makes the brand, transactional and psychological contracts workable in the first place. And yet trust can be difficult to measure, an intangible force for good that only really makes its presence known in its absence. And yet at the same time, it’s also one of the most vital assets for any brand to have access to.
The authors illustrate the point by pointing to Uber and Airbnb. When Uber driver Abdo Ghazi was punched and stabbed on the job, Uber refused to pay any form of compensation because of their strict stance when it comes to their business model. Ever since they were first established, they’ve insisted that drivers are independent contracts and therefore not subject to benefits such as workers’ compensation.
By contrast, when one Manhattan-based user of Airbnb rented out his apartment in March 2014, he discovered that it had been used for a rowdy party that went on all night and which threw its doors open to the public. In response, Airbnb “sent the host to a hotel for a week, sent a locksmith to his apartment to change the locks, and wired him $23,817 to pay for repairs and clean-up”. All within 24 hours.
Airbnb could have done what Uber did and refused to do anything. Instead, they realised that they need the trust of their users if they wanted to stay in business, whether or not they regard them as true employees. People who rent out properties using their service are still agreeing to brand, transactional and psychological contracts whether they realise it or not. The same concepts apply, and it falls to you as a businessperson to identify every single party that you’re dealing with and to make sure that you have contracts in place accordingly. Just focus on your employees first because if you get the employee experience wrong, you’re nothing.
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