EX Should Be a Team Sport

Feb 2 / Hannelie Pretorius
Picture yourself as the striker in a football match, where your team's victory depends largely on your ability to pass the ball to a teammate for the winning goal. As an HR manager at the front of the offence, you often find yourself in a similar position, feeling the weight of the game's outcome resting squarely on your shoulders.

However, just like in football, success relies heavily on the strength of the team. Each member brings unique skills and perspectives to the table, contributing to the collective effort towards achieving common goals. Whether it's a positive work culture, resolving conflicts, or driving organisational change, collaboration is key to EX success.

In a webinar hosted by The TCM Group | Putting People First™️, Perry Timms, the visionary behind People and Transformational HR, shed light on the crucial need to cultivate a positive workplace culture in our daily operations to bring out the best in our team. Perry acknowledged the hurdles we face in this endeavour, urging us to set ambitious goals in shaping a thriving culture. He raised thought-provoking questions: Are our expectations high enough? Are we too comfortable in our routines? Are we focusing on the right areas? Perry emphasised that sustaining an energised culture requires consistent effort.

Let's think about the typical employee journey, which involves about 50 touchpoints, from ‘start to part’. Each touchpoint deserves careful attention for its potential impact, whether positive or negative, on the employee experience.
Our ultimate goal is to nurture engaged employees and tap into their discretionary effort – that extra drive and enthusiasm that directly influences our success. According to Gallup, prioritising Employee Experience (EX) leads to a 17% increase in productivity, a 20% rise in sales, and a 21% boost in profitability. Prioritising EX isn't just about being nice; it's about smart business decisions.

But here's the catch, the effectiveness of our efforts hinges not only on our strategies but also on the commitment and unity of our team. HR has been the driving force behind changes in the workforce experience. But the shift to remote work, thanks to the pandemic, has cranked up the need for collaboration. It's not just HR in the driver's seat anymore. Your whole people team across the business needs to be included in the strategy and planning.

In her article 'Who "Owns" the Employee Experience?' Beth White, the CEO of MeBeBot, highlights the crucial shift – creating a positive Employee Experience is no longer just HR's job. Now, teams in IT, Operations, and management are all hands on deck, working together to ensure their colleagues thrive, and the business keeps ticking. It's a collective effort that goes beyond traditional department boundaries to achieve a (you need to read it in your crowd cheering voice) “Laduuuma” moment.

But instead of playing as a unified squad, we're stuck in rigid positions, limiting our passing and teamwork. It's like trying to score goals blindfolded with your shoelaces tied together! How can we rewrite the playbook to encourage collaboration, and inclusive play, so that every member of the team feels empowered to make their winning contribution? 

Before we look into potential solutions, let's examine common pitfalls.

Here are the five biggest mistakes companies make when setting up an EX-team according to Nayan Leadership, a coaching and training consultancy.

  1. Overlooking diversity and inclusion - failing to create diverse teams stifles innovation and creativity.
  2. Ignoring skill gaps - teams need a balance of expertise to tackle challenges effectively.
  3. Disregarding personality and communication styles - understanding team dynamics prevents conflicts
    and fosters collaboration.
  4. Lack of clear roles - ambiguity leads to duplication of efforts and decreased productivity.
  5. Neglecting team development - without ongoing training and support, teams stagnate and underperform.

Your EX-team, integral to modern HR, risks scoring an own goal (describes unintentionally harming one's interests or objectives) by making one or more of these mistakes. This only adds to the stack of challenges we already face while working with our clients: limited funds, resource shortages, a lack of diverse talents, and little prioritisation from higher-ups.
Shakil Butt, CEO of HR for Hire, noted that many HR professionals misunderstand employee experience as mere rebranding. He emphasised its holistic nature, including engagement, wellbeing, branding, and messaging, simplifying it as "the way you make me feel," quoting Michael Jackson.

Demotivated employees can lead to a flaccid bottom line. Your team craves DE & I, opportunities for growth and upskilling, crystal-clear roles and communication, and dynamic team development, all bundled up in neat package with a huge slice of wellness. And hey, don't forget to make it look pretty!  

Here’s how you start to create those “Laduuuma!” moments

Resource up your EX-division and create a cross-functional team to own and drive the EX-journey. 

The individuals from different departments can contribute substantial value to the EX-journey through their unique expertise.
The IT department, by optimising technology and integrating innovative tools such as employee self-service portals or AI-driven solutions, enhances communication, collaboration, and overall workflow, thereby empowering employees.
The Operations team plays a pivotal role in identifying and improving operational processes, ensuring alignment with the desired employee experience for a seamless work environment. Their expertise in resource allocation positively impacts day-to-day experiences.

In big companies nowadays, you often find a Business Information team on the scene. Their job? Keeping top brass in the loop about what's going down in the business. They're like the company's detectives, especially when it comes to understanding how EX affects everything. Armed with data analysis skills, they paint a vivid picture of what's really going on across the board.

The HR department, with a focus on talent management and employee engagement, ensures the acquisition, development, and retention of the right talent, implementing strategies like wellness programmes and recognition initiatives.

The Marketing team brings your innovative ideas to life with captivating words and visually stunning content. They make sure your initiatives stand out and resonate with employees, sparking excitement and engagement throughout the organisation. In short, they're the ones who make your ideas come to life.

Let’s not forget to include the GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance) department in the mix. They make sure everything runs by the rules and ethical standards, managing risks and ensuring we stick to laws and policies.

A great way to connect with these individuals is through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These are lively communities formed by employees, bringing together people who share similar interests, passions, cultures, or life experiences. While ERGs are commonly known by this name, you might also hear them referred to as Affinity Groups, Business Resource Groups (BRGs), Employee Business Resource Groups (EBRGs), or by a unique name within a company.

ERGs can greatly benefit cross-functional teams by fostering collaboration, sharing knowledge, improving communication, supporting professional development, enhancing employee engagement, and promoting diversity and inclusion. Through ERGs, team members from different departments and backgrounds can come together, share insights and best practices, and develop stronger relationships, ultimately contributing to the success and effectiveness of cross-functional initiatives within the organisation. 

When you bring together a team with different skills and perspectives, they're more likely to shake things up and come up with better ways of doing things

In an insightful article from Atlassian.com, achieving success for your cross-functional team, or what's aptly termed 'Group Genius,' involves ticking off specific items on your checklist. When selecting individuals for your team, consider these essential factors:

  • Figure out what skills you need and who in the team has got them.
  • Look beyond just skills, think about what personal qualities make someone a great team player.
  • Check if anyone has experience working together in different teams before – it's usually a plus.
  • Make sure the team can work on their own and isn't afraid to share ideas or make decisions.
  • When kicking off a project or making a decision, think about who really cares about it - get them on board. Make sure all the different groups who care about the project or decision have someone from the team representing them.

According to HqO's 2023 edition of The State of Workplace Experience, they offer valuable strategies to enhance employee engagement. Their report predicts that by 2024, companies maintaining a dedicated cross-functional team for workplace experience strategy will be 80% more likely to achieve high employee satisfaction levels with their workplace.
Creating a cross-functional team involves prioritising adaptive leadership, team coaching, diversity and inclusion, digital collaboration as well as incorporating agile methods ensures strategic flexibility. This approach equips the team to navigate the challenges your company faces.

If you found that a bit wordy, just imagine how your employees might feel amidst all the changes and uncertainties on the path to improvement. Which brings us to the next point. 

People are change-fatigued – consider appointing a dedicated Change Management resource in the EX Team to manage the people side of large organisational change and embed the EX

Adding a dedicated Change Management expert to the EX Team is a game-changer for your cross-functional squad.
We get it – change can be overwhelming for everyone. Having someone who specialises in managing the human side of big organisational shifts is key. This expert helps things go more smoothly, ensures everyone stays in the loop, and makes sure the whole team has a positive experience, even during significant changes. Their know-how makes new initiatives fit seamlessly into the team, making it easier for everyone to adapt and reducing any resistance to change.
Lisa Bodell rightly states, "Change cannot be imposed on people. The best way to instil change is to do it with them. Create it with them." A dedicated Change Management expert is the perfect ally to navigate this transformative journey alongside your people.

Change management is not just about implementing new processes or technologies; it's about guiding individuals and teams through the journey of transformation. A dedicated change management professional possesses expertise in assessing the organisation's readiness for change, identifying potential resistance points, and designing interventions to address them effectively.

They understand that change can be disruptive and unsettling for employees, and they are equipped with strategies to mitigate resistance and foster acceptance. Communication plays a crucial role in change management, and a skilled practitioner knows how to craft messages that resonate with different stakeholder groups, addressing their concerns and highlighting the benefits of change.

Moreover, change management involves creating a supportive environment where employees feel empowered to voice their opinions, express concerns, and participate in the change process. This participatory approach fosters a sense of ownership and commitment, leading to smoother transitions and better outcomes.

Additionally, change management professionals monitor the progress of change initiatives, gather feedback, and make necessary adjustments along the way. They understand that change is not a linear process, and that flexibility and adaptability are key to success.

In essence, while project managers excel at planning and execution, change management requires a unique set of skills focused on navigating the human side of change. By recognising the importance of dedicated change management expertise, organisations can navigate transitions more effectively and ensure that changes are embraced rather than resisted.

To reinvent the approach to EX, we must allocate resources, budget, and give it top priority within the business. Elevating the status of roles within the EX-team and offering incentives can attract top talent. Embracing the unconventional—individuals with non-traditional skills and a passion for the topic—can bring immense value.

The cherry on the cake though - leadership buy-in, support, and sponsorship are the keys to the success of the cross-functional team dedicated to workplace experience strategy. When leaders champion EX initiatives, they set the tone for the entire organisation, fostering a culture where employee engagement thrives. After all, with leadership support, we can "EX"ceed expectations and make the workplace a true "EX"travaganza! (Couldn't resist it) 

But the burning question remains: when do we find the time? How can we create space for these initiatives?

Who doesn't wish for more hours in the day? It's a universal wish, fairy godmothers always seem to vanish when we long for more time. But imagine if you could unlock a substantial chunk of time—perhaps up to 20% of your workday—to concentrate on the tasks that truly make a difference.

Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen in their article 'Make Time for the Work That Matters'  tell all. They spent three years studying how workers can become more productive and found that the answer is simple: Eliminate or delegate unimportant tasks and replace them with value-added ones. That elephant is starting to look tasty hey?

They applied this intervention with 15 executives across various companies, and the results were remarkable: they significantly decreased their engagement in low-value tasks. To boost productivity, knowledge workers need to be mindful of how they spend their time. It's about thinking which tasks truly matter to them and their organisation. By consciously picking what to focus on – aligning with personal goals and what the company needs – and letting go or finding smart ways to outsource the rest, they can make their work more effective and satisfying. 

What your people can do

Julian and Jordan’s approach, a twist on the classic Start/Stop/Continue exercise, to assist your people in making small yet impactful adjustments to their daily work routine. They applied this method with the 15 executives mentioned earlier, and the outcomes they achieved were quite remarkable.

Spot the tasks that don't add much value. Take a moment to reflect on your daily routine and figure out which activities aren't really crucial for you or the company.

Now, decide what to do with those low-value tasks. Sort them into three groups: quick kills (things you can stop doing right away with no negative effects), off-load opportunities (tasks that can be passed on with minimal effort), and long-term redesign (work that needs a revamp). Their study participants found this step made them really think about their actual contributions to their organisations.

Now comes the tricky part, off-loading tasks.
Many of the participants shared that delegation was tough at first but turned out to be pretty satisfying.

The aim is not just to be efficient but effective. So, the next step is figuring out how to make the most of the time you've freed up. This is where a slot for EX opens up. Jot down two or three things you should be doing but haven't had the time for, and then keep a log to see if you're using your time more effectively.

Then commit to your plan. While this process is entirely self-directed, it's vital to share your plan with a boss, colleague, mentor or more importantly the dedicated EX team. Explain which activities you're letting go of and why and agree to check in on your progress in a few weeks. This step is key to prevent slipping back into old habits. (PS. You don’t need to book an hour session, 15 minutes should do the trick)

Check out the Eisenhower matrix (say it quick!). It's your turbo boost for decision-making, and it plays so well with Julian and Jordan’s approach. Dwight D. Eisenhower summed it up perfectly: "I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." Think of the Eisenhower Matrix as your decision-making fairy godmother. It neatly categorises tasks into four boxes, guiding you on what to hit first, what to hand off, and what to kick to the curb.

Asking yourself the right questions and taking action makes room for dealing with the bigger elephant in the room – reinventing your EX. 

So, who “owns” EX? 

Every player has a position and responsibility, the ownership of EX isn't confined to one player or department. It's a team effort.

At the risk of being cliche; “for the people, by the people”. Abraham Lincoln had a good point. Your employees should play an active role in deciding their experience. In conclusion, reshaping EX demands a shift in mindset and a commitment to collaboration across departments. The formation of cross-functional teams and the inclusion of a dedicated Change Management expert are pragmatic steps toward clearing a path to score the goal. Emphasising the status of EX within the business, allocating resources strategically, and embracing unconventional talents bring tangible benefits. Take the ball away from just HR and hand it over to the ‘group genius’ to play the field, to focus on what truly matters.

Eyes on the prize. Let's keep our eyes on the practicalities, ensuring that our efforts translate into a workplace where individuals thrive and contribute meaningfully. The journey may be ongoing, but the destination is a workplace that truly works for everyone. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together which is why having an EXpanded (couldn't resist again) team makes all the difference in EX.