What If We Managed Employee Experiences Like Products?

Henry Albrecht

Does your company look at the employee experience like a well-designed consumer product – unique and colorful with compelling and useful benefits that immediately stand out? Is it an end-to-end brand experience that is as emotional as it is functional? Or is it more like that odds-and-ends box at the back of the hardware store – filled with dozens of programs, initiatives, and benefits for employees to dig through in hopes of finding the right parts?

Think about buying a phone. When a customer enters a T-Mobile store, they’re offered the latest phone with stellar features and a simple plan. The phone comes assembled and ready to use with the right data plan for them. They don’t buy the keypad, the screen, the SIM card, the case, etc., separately. That would be crazy.

They bring it home and it just works. And if there’s a problem, they call tech support instead of reading 100-page manuals. That would be crazy.

But that’s what HR and benefits do all day, every day with our employee experience. We do crazy.

Here’s the problem

Most employees think: “HR is all about rules,“ or “HR swoops in when something goes wrong,” or “HR owns the portal I dig around in for an hour to find the tool I need.”

These views are not only outdated but they also destroy trust. That’s not what great products do.

Today, HR powers the most important assets of any company – its people and its brand. They’re masters of the most business-critical analytics – people analytics.

To do all this well, HR needs to think like marketers. More specifically, they need to be product managers. HR should treat its employee offerings like a great product and brand experience: well-crafted, highly coordinated, beautifully designed, emotional, end-to-end, compelling, and well-marketed.

What it means to think of HR as a product

From an employee’s first day to retirement, HR strategy must be centered around employees in a real, authentic way. It must feel like one cohesive product and brand experience that acknowledges, but ultimately transcends, your company silos.

Think of your people like a cohesive product suite: one that you’ve crafted with intentionality, hard tradeoffs, and care. Thinking this way will not just change the trajectory of your career, it will change the trajectory of the business.

How to get started

When your product is rooted in people, it takes a strategic, integrated, and experimental mindset to be successful. This means you’ll need to think like a marketer. At the end of the day, what are you selling? Culture? Meaning? Purpose? Well-being?

For instance, Starbucks puts baristas and customer delight first, while Toyota is known for eliminating waste to drive efficiency. This requires different strategies for different audiences, cultures and business goals.

Here’s how HR can think like a marketer:

1. Determine your audience

Be clear who is receiving this product. Recognize there are multiple audiences with different needs. A new mom seeks different resources than a recent college graduate. This not only crystallizes your thinking as a marketer, but also allows you to segment the experience to talk to different audiences. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think – you have to ask employees what they love, and build around that.

2. Find the core benefit and transform your people

What makes your employee experience different from others? And why should employees care about it? Once you find the core benefit of your employee experience – your “brand promise” – you can focus on transforming how you serve your people.

3. Develop a roadmap for the employee experience

Once you have your core benefit, how will you bring it life? What programs will you integrate? How will you tie it to business goals? Think of the employee experience like a journey map. It starts when someone is interviewing. What impression should they have? How does this stay consistent through the onboarding process? Through performance management? Through job changes or promotions? How can this experience come to life in a way that is unique to your strategy and culture every day?

Make a plan that outlines the strategy, programs, and initiatives that will help you achieve your vision. Then map out what this looks like for employees at key milestones in their experience with you.

4. “Test” with your stakeholders

Product roadmaps aren’t created in a silo. It’s important to share them with other key stakeholders. By asking for feedback and bringing people into the process, you’ll be more likely to develop champions for your strategy. These champions can help you iterate to make the employee experience stronger and can help advocate for it once it’s launched. This agile iteration will also ensure your strategy resonates with your leaders and your employees.

5. Fail fast

Not everything you do will work. Be courageous to think differently and try new things to elevate and evolve the experience. If you stick with the same tactics, your employee experience will remain stale and won’t be differentiated from the employer’s down the street. And at a time when talent wars are raging, you can’t afford to settle for status quo.

What can you do differently to delight your people? How can you refresh outdated experiences? How can you use technology to deliver – and test – the experience your employees expect? This requires you to be data-driven.

6. Be the brand owner for HR

Brand is what people say about you when you’re not around. What’s your core message? How do you deliver that message? What do you want people to think and feel? You have an opportunity to define this by building a consistent brand that is clear, authentic, and meaningful. And don’t forget about the emotion. What do you want people to feel when they think of your company?

Once you’ve pinpointed the employee brand, focus on how you want to roll it out. Think about all the touchpoints in the experience that you can influence. Then turn to your advocates and evangelists to do the selling for you. This means you’ll need to arm them with the right rallying cry to spread the word.

The bottom line on the employee experience

Your employee experience should be a truly relevant, personalized, united experience that reinforces what your business is really about. When you think of HR as a product and focus on the brand experience for your people, you’ll see the results come in.

How do you apply marketing principals to your HR work? Let me know in the comments below.

For another take on HR best practices, see “Why HR Leaders Of Growing Companies Should Care About Data Management.”

Henry Albrecht

About Henry Albrecht

Henry Albrecht is the CEO of Limeade, the corporate wellness technology company that measurably improves employee health, well-being and performance. Connect with Henry and the Limeade team on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.