From the recent research and client work I’ve been doing, the term “experience” has been stuck in my mind. I’m not talking about a person’s years of experience in doing their job, but rather how a person experiences the organizational environment and how they view the employee-employer relationship. This way of thinking is not unlike how we seek to understand the customer or client experience.
There are daily experiences every employee has, and admittedly these are heavily affected by the specific individuals with whom they are working at the time. That said, I think there are three defining experiences that have a major effect on retention and engagement.
The Recruiting and Onboarding Experience
Much of the decision about whether an employee is going to accept an offer and stay with an organization longer-term comes down to their experience throughout the recruiting and onboarding processes.
How would you describe your candidates’ experience in the recruiting process? In one organization I spoke with, they stated that it really depends on the job being sought. In some cases, especially for highly credentialed technical talent, the candidates are hand-held through the entire recruitment process with lots of personal follow-up and contact, and yet, for other positions the candidates feel like they’re cattle in a feedlot.
It’s not uncommon for organizations to send a “new hire” survey out to learn about the effectiveness and timeliness of the recruiting process, but many times these surveys are only sent to those who were successful candidates, thereby missing a large potential data pool with information about how our organization is viewed within the community or industry.
As far as onboarding goes, I am always amazed by how often there’s a lack of a good onboarding process, beyond a first day benefits overview and a tour of the office building. My daughter recently got a new job, and one that (for now) is based out of a home office. In fact, the whole company is currently virtual. While this kind of environment is not uncommon, we need to ensure that the new hire from day one feels integrated and part of the team. Even if most of that interaction is by phone or email or through Google Hangouts, the new hire needs to be introduced to all critical contacts and get a sense for what is going on as early as possible. Having a specific list of onboarding actions and clear accountabilities for the first 6 months is also important. Regarding my daughter, even though her employer knew well in advance when her first day was going to be, they still didn’t have her set up with basics like a laptop on Day 1, making her fumble around with various other pieces of equipment until the new laptop arrived.
The Learning and Growth Experience
Perhaps the most important experience is the actual work a person gets to do. The millennial workforce, in particular, is looking to build their portfolio of experiences. This is not to say that job titles and compensation don’t matter. But, a job that provides rich and meaningful experiences will trump superfluous titles. Find out what types of experiences the person is seeking to gain and what their goals are relative to these experiences—in other words, why are they looking for a given opportunity? Share the experiences you’ve had that have been particularly meaningful to you, and help the person craft a path that will provide the experiences they need and are seeking over a reasonable time period. Of course, the key is to build on successful experiences, so help the person understand how they can prepare now for those opportunities.
Keep in mind that learning and growth experiences are more than just the work itself. Good experiences include networking and relationship-building opportunities, formal educational opportunities, industry or professional conferences (e.g. participation and making presentations), experiences in writing and publishing, among many other possibilities.
The Feedback and Coaching Experience
Closely connected with the two points above are the experiences associated with getting good quality feedback. Feedback can (and should) come from many sources, including peers, supervisors, direct reports, clients and customers. Gathering and analyzing feedback should be a habit started during the onboarding process. I recall that my manager sat down with me about 8 weeks into my first job to check in with me on how things were going. It was very helpful to get his feedback at this early juncture, and it provided me with guidance not only for the next few months but for the first year.
Feedback should be provided in a series of frequent occurrences, not “saved up” and dumped on the person at the end of the performance year. Many organizations are beginning to experiment with doing away with annual performance reviews, instead providing more project-based feedback that is given as the work happens, and which captures the real-time reaction of all stakeholders. The experience of getting “micro bursts” of feedback makes the feedback seem less ominous and more useful since it’s likely the person can do something about it immediately.
How the feedback is delivered is part of the experience, too. The ability of the giver to provide feedback that’s helpful and specific, with a connection to the person’s work and career goals will make a huge difference. If an atmosphere of trust is already present, then the feedback—positive or negative—is more likely to be internalized and acted upon. The ability of a coach (who could be a peer, supervisor or friend) to put the feedback into a meaningful context and to draw out the person’s relationship to the feedback will be a high quality experience that the person will never forget.
As the employment market in the U.S. continues to strengthen, the quality of your employees’ experiences with your organization will make a marked difference in their engagement and tenure with your organization. Focusing on the attributes of the recruiting and onboarding experience, as well as the ongoing learning, growth and feedback experiences are a great place to start.