Welcome back to the Culture Hacker blog series. This week, we will consider the other three P’s that help define experience: product, place, and process. While we have focused on the people element of the employee experience in our Culture Hacker blogs thus far, there is no doubt the other three elements that define experience have a lot of influence on the mindset of your people. So, let’s review each element, pointing out some of the considerations and thoughts on how you might influence them.
This refers to the product or service delivered to customers. Let’s face it—some jobs are just better than others. We work with a wide variety of companies in multiple industries, and it is very clear that when you represent a cool, cutting-edge product or service, the employees get more engaged and involved. But, those less exciting employers should not be discouraged, because the other cultural mechanisms we’ve discussed this year just become more important. Someone has to do the crappy jobs and represent the mundane products or services that make the world go round. If your company fits into this role, then the other aspects of experience are even more critical.
A word of warning to those people who get to play or represent cool products or services—be careful; do not become complacent. I have seen some instances where managers and the organization start to think their people should be glad they get to work for or with a great product and service, so they don’t invest in developing a great culture. Well, the culture does still matter; you are just lucky to not have to overcome the disadvantages of a mundane product.
When we talk about place, we want to focus on environment—specifically, the environment in which your people work. Environment is defined by your senses, and as famous philosopher Immanuel Kant suggests, “All our knowledge begins with the senses.” The sensory experience for employees plays an important part in how they feel at work.
Work areas, back of house areas, hallways, break rooms, offices, desks, and anywhere else that an employee works or gets to take a break is a part of the place. For any employee who works in front of guests all day and every day, it is critical that they have a place to relax or recharge. I am shocked at the number of high-profile businesses that deal with customers all day that do not offer anywhere for a mental and physical time out.
At SGEi, we recently worked with a major convention center that had staff working long hours with thousands of guests, and yet, had nowhere for their staff to take a break. You would see staff sitting in hallways on the ground, having to take a break in guest areas, or just not getting a break at all. Let me make it clear—you cannot expect a person to be at their best with the customer for long periods of time if you cannot provide them with their own space to get a much-needed time out. So, think about where employees get to take a break, and consider whether or not the space is conducive to recharging their batteries. LookingGlass Founder Charles Day said, “You need to offer people a place where they can go, a safe place, to discuss things that they are unhappy about.”
Let’s start with what the employee sees. One of the things I will always remember from the Ritz-Carlton is the commitment to organize, clean, and maintain the back of house areas where staff worked and relaxed with the same high standards of guest-facing areas. We repainted, upgraded, and brought life to those back of house areas every month, because we could not afford place less emphasis on the employee experience. When we took over the Portman Hotel in Shanghai, the front of the house looked great, but the back of house had garbage piled up, rats running free, and the place looked like no one cared. In fact, leaders didn’t care, because the managers had their own restaurant and area on one of the other floors that was much more representative of a five star experience. The first thing we did in the transition was to clean up the back of house and require all managers to eat with the staff. Within a day, the food and break room transformed into something special and more in line with what the brand expected. What the employee sees and touches plays a significant role in their attitude at work.
Also, while talking about what you see, consider posters, information, and color scheme in employee areas. These items are an opportunity to bring the employee spaces to life. Even better, get the team involved in painting or placing pictures and owning the walls of the back of house areas or offices. Even the color of the walls can have a significant impact on how an employee feels at work. Sally Augustin, Owner of Design with Science, suggests that certain colors evoke a similar response in most people. She reports that green promotes creativity and white leads to boredom.
Color is particularly important when there is a lack of direct light in a work area. Daylight has been suggested in various research studies to promote better health, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, financial savings, and preference of workers. In buildings where daylight cannot be accessed, using full spectrum bright lights has been shown to positively affect the workers in the buildings.
While we are talking about what team members touch, we should discuss workspaces, areas, and desks. I am not going to get into all the industrial design benefits of certain desks or workspace setups, but I do want to point out their importance with regards to workplace relationships. One of the most well known methods of measuring employee engagement is the Gallup Q12 Survey. One of its survey items is, “I have a best friend at work,” which indicates the importance of workplace relationships. It is important to have an environment that fosters strong relationships and friendships in the workplace. The use of collaborative workspaces or desks, open and interactive office environments, communal break areas, and spaces to socialize and hang out foster strong workplace relationships. So, think about the employee environment, and consider whether it does enough to foster social interaction and work collaboration, because workplace relationships are important to an employee’s state of mind. As Leadership Consultant Jessica Amortegui writes, “Workplaces that convert their employees’ untenable ties into the durable bonds shared by fast friends will have cultures and communities that are alive and generative—in one word, thriving.”
Another important environmental element is temperature. In 2009, Career Builder found in a poll that a third of employees have complained about the temperature of their workspace. Research suggests that the ideal office temperature is 69-71 degrees, year round.
We cannot talk about touch without also talking about uniforms (if they are required). Having a stylish, well-fitting uniform is important, yet, it is amazing how many staff you see in dirty, worn, or ill-fitting uniforms. There is no doubt that the uniform affects how one feels at work. The Owner of Bell Uniform Design, Barbara Bell, says, “There’s a psychology to great style. In my line of work, I see how people’s attitudes, sense of pride, and passion for what they do comes alive as they transform their look.” Make employees comfortable, and make how they look a priority.
With regards to what people hear, there is plenty of research suggesting that certain sounds are more conducive to productivity, but in some ways, this is probably a personal preference. What you should be considerate of is any unnecessary or loud noises. One of the negatives about the open workspaces that are so prevalent in many offices is the excessive noise from conversations. Cambridge Sound Management found that 30% of employees are distracted by the conversations of their coworkers.
The next sense is smell. It should go without saying that bad smells are not going to support a healthy work environment. While this might seem obvious, I am still surprised with the number of businesses that fail to maintain clean employee restrooms. Another consideration is that when you have people eating food at their desks, there is often an associated food smell that can be distracting and off-putting to other team members.
Remember that if you are going to offer beverages, snacks, and even employee meals, you need to do it right. Do not offer food and beverage as a benefit and then deliver a bad product. As you consider F&B options, be sure to keep in mind that many people are much more health conscious today.
Wellness, which has seen a considerable rise in interest due to increased costs of poor health, absenteeism, and a lack of productivity, deserves a quick word. It incorporates many elements, but most noticeably fitness-focused activities. Wellness, at its core, is about stress recovery and supporting good health habits, which in turn, play an important role in the mindset and attitude of staff. The focus on wellness seems to pay off, because a comprehensive analysis of 42 published studies on worksite health promotion programs shows that companies implementing an effective wellness program realize significant cost reductions and financial gains.
Finally, when it comes to customers, process has become very important in terms of valuing a customer’s time, so we are seeing a large influx of technology with that end in mind. When it comes to employees, the same philosophy should apply. Make things simple for the staff when it comes to actually being able to work.
What do I mean by that? Well, start by thinking about all the paperwork required for employees to fill out when they begin, when they want to make changes, or when they try to utilize some of their benefits. Every company seems to have some outdated process that frustrates their staff. It’s time to address these process shortfalls in the employee experience and show that you value their time as much as you should.
As we consider our employee experience, we must be considerate of how all the P’s make a difference. If we want our customer experience to be exceptional, then we must be willing to do the same for employees. While this is a significant investment in terms of time and money, the most common challenge to overcome is yourself.
Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Culture Hacker blog series to learn all about how to reprogram the mindset and attitude of your people.