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In a digital world, building value means empowering employees

It comes down to the right technology and responsive leaders.

By Tom Relihan  |  July 23, 2018

digital-empowerment

Why It Matters

Putting the customer first is a time-honored tenet of good business, but giving your employees equal attention can lead to big gains.

Many businesses have become quite good at providing a great customer experience. Products and services are being integrated to ever-greater extents, and companies now have access to much richer information about who their customers are and how to reach them.

“That’s going well for us,” said Kristine Dery, a research scientist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research. “We’re creating new apps — new ways for customers to engage.”

But what about the people driving all that innovation and success? They’re being asked to work more collaboratively, to be more innovative and creative, to put data behind their decisions, and to work from anywhere, any time.

“That’s a lot,” Dery said. “We’re asking them to do a lot, and what do we do in businesses? We create all these speed bumps.” Those could take the form of unreliable computer systems, or antiquated business rules. “We make it hard.”

But when it comes to creating value, employees are the other half of an important equation. So why not invest just as heavily in their experience by making work less complex and more comfortable?

Making work easier — and, consequentially, more effective — comes down to being able to measure two particular factors: the complexity of work, and employees’ work habits.

Work complexity can be measured by examining the degree to which employees are able to leverage technology and connect with each other to share ideas and complete tasks. Work habits are determined foremost by the company’s culture: How natural is it for employees to collaborate with each other, and what sort of creative license are they given?

The right tech and the responsive leader
Investing in employee experience is not easy, Dery said, but doing it right can add tremendous value to a business.

Dery’s research showed that firms in the top 25 percent for employee experience saw double the levels of customer satisfaction and innovation as the rest — and were 26 percent more profitable.

DBS Bank in Singapore went from being a run-of-the-mill bank to being named the best digital bank of 2016 by properly executing the strategy Dery has identified.

The company did it by breaking down traditional bank hierarchies and silos, then using hackathons, employee learning schedules, and open workspaces to foster adoption of new digital capabilities. At the same time, DBS’s leadership rethought their strategy to link the customer and employee experiences, using data about customer interactions with the bank to reconfigure how employees worked.

The result: The bank cut more than 250 million customer waiting hours in the first year. 

The two biggest steps a company can take toward building a better workplace experience are ensuring employees have access to appropriate digital capabilities and responsive leaders.

Providing employees with the right technology and enabling them to use it in new and creative ways is necessary for developing new tools and ways of thinking, she said.

At the same time, leaders should be harnessing data and evidence to keep a finger on the company’s pulse, so that they can find ways to make adopting those technologies and changing work habits easier. 

Amplifying the voices of employees to identify friction points through social media or online forums and using technology to collect data on how work is being done can both be used to acquire that data, Dery said.

And every company should appoint someone to be in charge of building a better employee experience.

“This world of employee experience in digital is not just a nice-to-have — it’s something that must be central to the way in which we manage organizations,” Dery said.