One started a successful recruitment company at a young age and grew to become an authority in employee experience (EX). The other breathes employer branding and is at the helm of Oddball, the experience design agency launched by Gumption last year.
"I genuinely don't understand why people continue to work with a company where they’re not happy or inspired."
Time to pick the brains of two quirky trailblazers and trendsetters of their trade.
Gentlemen, please explain: what do you do exactly - and why?
Steve: "Experiences have been a common thread in my life. They were the core of the company that I started. We delivered top experiences to candidates, clients, and employees. When I sold the business, I immersed myself further in the topic and evolved into an experience designer. Today, I bring design thinking and best practices from that world to the work floor."
Johan: "Even as a kid, it intrigued me: why do people do what they do? How do they behave and why? That question is still the focal point of my endeavours. I want to improve people's quality of life. The job is a crucial factor in that. By matching people with the right company culture, mission, vision, and colleagues, you make a crucial difference."
What exactly makes you so passionate about the employee experience?
Steve: "Seven, eight years ago, nobody was talking about creating positive experiences for employees. Everything revolved around the customer. Today, companies are thinking much more about actively designing experiences for their workforce. How do we help them develop their talent, how do we empower our employees? Young companies are increasingly picking up on that, and that's great."
Johan: "A strong employee experience grows bottom-up. A great connection with your employees has many advantages. The days when an HR policy revolved around control and top-down culture that dictated the walk and talk of a company are well and truly behind us."
The war for talent continues in full force. A good employee experience is crucial for companies. Are companies’ C-level profiles convinced of that too?
Johan: "CEOs must be fully aware of the importance of EX themselves, that's true. If they need convincing, it's mostly a sign that they don't yet fully understand the impact of a strong EX. I always tell them: if you're not at the table, you're probably on the menu."
Steve: "Many companies already invest in listening to their employees. It’s a matter of really understanding their needs. What keeps them up at night? With that knowledge, you can put forward strategies to improve the EX. It’s ok to start small. Experiment, launch ideas - and yes, fail now and again. Fucking up is ok. Usually, you start with a spark that gives the oxygen needed to grow into a fire."
How does one start to improve employee experience in a business?
Steve: "You have to work on three fronts. One: putting EX at the heart of your HR policy on a strategic level. Two: listen to your employees. Understand them and their perspective. Talk their talk. And three: re-skill. Dare to really challenge your current HR. Evolve towards an employee-first policy. Learn to design experiences which resolve employee issues."
Johan: "Make no mistake: you don't have to carry out a major cultural revolution to improve your work culture. Most companies do a lot already. Engaging people in a different, more creative way is proactive. In many cases it is simply a matter of activating people in a different, more creative way. You must set a positive movement in motion. That's where the key is. It really doesn't have to be complicated."
Accept your employees as they are and help them to grow into who they want to become.
No? Please, do explain …
Johan: "Just try to understand what motivates your workforce, what makes them happy and more productive. Accept your employees as they are and help them to grow into who they want to become. Not only professionally, but also individually. And trust them. Trust is everything for great employee experience. Believe in people’s potential to change. And believe in friendship. Co-workers don’t need to be best friends, but there must be a connection between them. Without that connection, you may never establish the right flow."
Can good employee experience exist without good customer experience?
Steve: "The two are inextricably linked. Look for the moments where employee experience and customer experience intersect. The moment when employees interact with customers is very important. It can ensure success, but a lot can also go wrong."
Johan: "A happy employee has an impact on your customer and vice versa. It's as simple as that."
How do I start developing a powerful employee experience? Which steps should I take?
Johan: "Remember: it's all about attitude. About stimulating quality of life. An experience always goes hand in hand with an emotion. That emotion becomes a memory. So, you’re aiming to create experiences in the workplace today, driving tomorrow’s memories. The image that people will continue to have of you as an employer."
Steve: "That's right, design thinking is a mindset. Putting the employee first is crucial. Think about a certain aspect within your company, like welcoming new employees. Always zoom in on that. Identify people's needs. What do they want, what do they want to change, what can you improve? Focus on the challenge and then solve it together with your people. EX is about doing things with and for people, not to or at them."
Johan: "Once you have that insight firmly established, every touchpoint you have with an employee can become an experience, a positive memory. And every touchpoint gives you the chance to determine how people see you as an employer."
Barrage! 3 questions, 3 answers
1. What is the funniest resemblance between you two?
Well, our wives tell us that we look like George Clooney. That, of course, is entirely up to them (laughs).
2. What’s the most important rule for a successful life?
Johan: Don't take yourself so f**king serious. That’s the biggest enemy in candidate and employee experience! Instead, take your clients, your business, and the challenges at hand seriously.
Steve: Good tip! I agree. Sometimes it's good to let things just happen, let go of control a bit.
3. What insights do you want to share?
Johan: People - especially CEOs (laughs) - always ask about the ROI of certain interventions. That is important. But also think of the LOI: what is the Level of Irritation if the employee experience is not right in your company?
Steve: Also crucial: understanding your people, really listening, and fathoming their perspective is the key to success. You must dare talk their talk.