Transforming the Employee Experience – Difficult in Manufacturing Companies?

Talking about digitising HR systems and transforming the Employee Experience (EX) in global or multi-country companies, I am often asked how this could work in the manufacturing sector or more operational driven organisations. Meaning, when having more blue-collar workers than white-collar workers. Even when they have ‘Employee Experience’ and ‘Digital HR’s as a focus on the strategic HR agenda for the coming years, manufacturing companies seem to have some understanding that they are less-ready to operationalise this, compared to white-collar worker organisations. And hence struggle on how to manage such transformation

As I like being disruptive, my answer might not surprise you; I believe they often are readier than they think they are! To me it is more about building on what employees are already used to in their private life (and sometimes in other parts of their working life), having a strong programme in place to deliver on this strategy and truly walk-the-talk.

What is Employee Experience?

According to the market, EX can be seen as a worker’s observations and perceptions about his or her employment at a particular company with that experience often being influenced by the company’s physical workspace, the work-life balance it promotes and the technology it provides.1

Or, the EX is the sum of the various perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organisation in which they work. EX is based on the totality of perceptions, both good and bad.2

Or, as what an employee received during their interaction with careers’ elements (e.g. firms, supervisors, co-workers, customer, environment, etc.) that affect their cognition and attitudes and leads to their particular behavior.3

Or, EX is a concept that encompasses all the different factors that influence how your people think and feel about your work environment.4

We, at ServiceNow, believe that EX is the sum of everything an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to the organisation — every employee interaction, every moment that matters to them, from the first contact as a potential recruit to the last interaction after the end of employment. It is everything they experience from a company culture perspective, the technology that is (or is not) being used and the workspace or work environment they are in.

You might have noticed that neither ‘the market’, nor we at ServiceNow, talk about white- or blue-collar workers or that we think EX is only relevant for specific industries; EX is always around, it is a part of the life of every organisation and every employee! The trick is how to embrace it, how to deploy in organisations that typically have many blue-collar workers, and how to bring it to the next level.

What does it take to get there?

The question still is how this could work in a manufacturing or operational environment. After all, blue-collar workers don’t usually have desktops or laptops available for their daily job, and often don’t have a company email account. From a cultural perspective, management is sometimes even convinced that their workforce is not ready to take more control on the moments that matter to them, that they will not be able to find the information they need and that it is difficult to initiate any required action to it. Well, as I said before, I think differently.

To answer the why and how, let me explain a bit more about three critical phases that will drive the ultimate EX: Lay the foundation, Extend your knowledge and Make it easier for employees to be employees. Critical, as these will ultimately bring the full Employee Experience that companies are looking for.

The first phase, Laying the foundation, will bring structured work for your HR system and will allow your company to operate efficiently and at scale.

Structure allows you to get clarity to the work you are doing, it will enable you to become a strategic service partner and assure that your HR system will be there for the moments that matter.

Being more efficient in the operations will enable you to align on the right problems that need to be solved, continuously drive scale and value in your organisation and will establish trust with your employees

The second phase, extend your knowledge, will enable your Employees to become self-reliant and will give you insights that are really data driven.

Self-reliance of employees means that they will get all the answers they need through their channel of choice, that all information and processes are written in plain and clear English (or local languages), that it is related to the topic and transactions they are looking for and that there they are supported by other formats of help when they need it.

The insights that (correct) data will give you on the topics they are looking for and how helpful that is to them, will allow you to continuously improve the way you work, improve and update the information that you bring to employees (as well as Line Managers and your HR organisation) and it will instantly reduce the cases that need additional support. Even more important, it will seriously increase the employee satisfaction.

In the third phase, where you will really make it easier for employees to be employees, it is all about the frictionless experience they will get and the delight they will have to be an employee at your company. Oh, and have I mentioned that it does also count for your Line Managers and your HR community?

A truly frictionless experience means that your (complex) processes are simplified and automated where and where possible, that they are orchestrated across the multiple domains (IT, finance, facilities, etc.), that there is full transparency, with updates and notifications. And again, that they will get the right form of help when they need it.

And ultimately reaching employee delight, the Holy Grail, will mean that employees do have the experience that your company cares about them, that they definitely recommend their company to family and friends and that they are confident that they can complete their tasks according to expectations.

And what about operational or manufacturing companies?

As I said in the beginning, outside of work everyone is used to having great digital experiences. Think about the way you book your personal travelling, book a taxi, find directions and info on local interesting spots, buy tickets for the movies or theatre, order food at home, etc.

And so do employees who work on the shop floor in manufacturing or operational environments! They are no exception in the way you and I behave as a consumer and what they expect and are being treated out there.

Let’s not use the excuse anymore that ‘they are not ready’. ‘They’ (and I) won’t buy it!

Bottom line is that you basically should not treat system deployment to the shop floor in manufacturing companies any different than you would do elsewhere. You still need to set up a proper programme and deliver to it as well. Make “Deliver, Deliver, Deliver!” your mantra! Considering the assumed gap between the way you deliver HR Services to manufacturing sector workers today and the way you would like to do in future, it is extremely important to manage the change and transformation properly. Unfortunately, budget for change is always the end part of a budget discussion, with the potential consequence that it might not be managed well enough. My advice? As soon as you ironed out what you think you need as a change management budget, add a 20-30 percent on top. And then manage the deployment to the full to the very last end! (Think about your new Mantra). It also may require a more phased roll-out, to test the deployment and planned transformation and change, before moving on to the rest of the organisation.

From a technical perspective, it may require that you need to set up an account directory for ALL your employees and potentially also a company email account. Consider how you manage access and provide a personalised solution. You may consider or already arranged having Kiosks available in canteens or other places that blue-collar workers frequently visit. Any place that they can go to and access your network can be used for making it possible to get a hold to the HR Service Delivery network. It will be even better for them being able to have access using their own devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and home computers. Technically, there isn’t much standing in your way to accomplish that. And again, Employees are used to manage their personal stuff outside work like that already, so a small step for them to do that also at work. For those situations required, you can think of organizing some extra HR-support hours on location during the transformation process. Meaning, managing a smooth transition from old behaviour to new behaviour and meet their expectations.

And for those who are in an environment where it is already common to use enterprise software, where the people at the production lines are already using devices to manage for instance the production process, to loop back to IT, supply chain or production management on risk, production issues, production status etc., it will be a small step to also add the option to actually make it easy for them to be an employee as well. Why not use these devices to allow them to manage their information requests, to log their HR service delivery cases or simply process the changes they want to achieve? (Told you, I like being disruptive…) Making use of what is already there will give them the full Employee Experience that they and you are looking for!

In summary, HR Service Delivery is the foundation to get to a successful Employee Experience for your organisation. It is the foundation that provides delightful services through many channels and the data and insights drive continuous improvement and the experiential roadmap you have to follow. Even when you are in a manufacturing sector or operational environment, no exceptions taken! All employees are consumers in their everyday lives, so make sure you respond as an organisation to their consumer needs and habits to drive strong performance and healthy culture. Better do it right now and reach out to all employees in your company!

1) Margaret Rouse,

2) Matthew Wride, DecisionWise

3) Wikipedia (it won’t get any more common…)

4) Steffen Maier, Digital Workplace