We know that a positive customer experience is essential to building loyalty and retaining customers. We also know that a well-managed organizational culture can help an organization better serve customers, which can create a more positive customer experience.
But what many of us may still be unaware of, is that one of the main ways a well-managed culture achieves this is by supporting working conditions and systems that create a positive employee experience that engages employees and keeps them motivated to perform well.
Research has shown that organizations with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147 percent. When we support a positive employee experience, employees are more satisfied with their roles and engaged in their work—and when they are happier and more engaged, they provide better customer service and a better customer experience. Thus, the key to creating a positive customer experience is creating a positive employee experience.
How can organizations ensure all team members have a positive employee experience and customers reap the benefits? It all starts at the top.
The most important part of the employee experience is an organization’s leadership because leaders set the tone for a positive employee experience by shaping culture, modeling core values that guide employees’ behaviors, fostering a positive work environment, and helping employees find purpose in their work.
This article will examine the pivotal role leadership plays in directing and guiding the employee experience so that employees at all levels of an organization are working together to create a positive employee experience for all.
Employee Experience Explained
An employee experience consists of all the interactions that happen during the employee lifecycle, the experiences that involve an employee’s specific role, and how they feel about these experiences.
Employee experience can include the recruitment process, onboarding, performance management, day-to-day encounters with co-workers, managers, senior leadership, and customers, the work environment, the workplace culture, the technology they use, the exit interview process, and any interactions the employee has with the employer after the employee leaves the organization.
All these factors affect an employee’s well-being, job satisfaction, engagement, motivation, productivity, and performance, which can affect a business’s overall performance, retention rates, and profitability.
How Culture Impacts the Employee Experience
An organization’s culture can significantly impact employee experience in several key ways:
Communication: A healthy work environment will have a culture that encourages frequent and transparent communication between employees and leadership so that employees feel heard and valued.
Inclusion: A positive organizational culture will foster inclusion at all levels so that employees feel psychologically safe in their work environment and have a sense of belonging that keeps them motivated to work together toward a shared goal.
Feedback/Recognition: A positive culture will be a feedback-rich culture where employees are recognized and rewarded for their achievements and contributions. This increases both morale and motivation.
Work/life balance: A positive culture values employee well-being and supports a healthy work-life balance, which reduces stress and prevents burnout.
How Leaders Impact Employee Experience
Keeping a company’s culture positive and inhospitable to toxic behaviors requires work. It requires leaders who are people-focused and as committed to creating a positive employee experience as they are to creating a positive customer experience.
Since leaders impact culture more than any other factor, they impact the employee experience more than any other factor. An organization’s leadership will profoundly impact the employee experience of all its employees, for better or worse, because leaders shape and reinforce culture and set the tone for engagement within their organizations.
The impact of top leadership on the development of culture, as well as the impact of an employee’s day-to-day interactions with their direct supervisor or manager on their well-being and motivation, shapes the employee experience in negative and positive ways.
While a more traditional approach to leadership that emphasizes hierarchy, control, and stability may seem comfortable to some and more reliable because it yields consistent, predictable results in the short term, it’s not the best approach to creating a positive employee experience. When we focus on results at the expense of culture and a positive employee experience, it can lead to low morale, high turnover rates, and decreased productivity.
Traditional leadership approaches may give you the results you want in the short-term, but they can have a less predictable and less favorable impact on employee experience, hurting long-term results, because they are more focused on business outcomes than on how we as leaders should lead and develop employees to do their best work and achieve the desired business outcomes.
Leaders who want their teams to achieve positive business outcomes support a positive employee experience from the top down. As employee experience is, ultimately, the collective responsibility of every member of the organization, the leader sets the tone for the whole team in terms of cultural norms and behaviors so that they are supporting a positive employee experience in all their interactions with their co-workers.
How Leaders Positively Shape the Employee Experience
Leaders positively shape the employee experience through culture management, modeling core values that guide employees’ behaviors, fostering a positive work environment, and helping employees find purpose in their work.
Culture both impacts and is impacted by leaders. In fact, We know that everything a leader does helps or harms an organization’s culture, shaping it in both negative and positive ways that either build cultural buy-in or dismantle it.
Leaders help to develop, shape, and influence organizational culture over time. Their actions and behaviors are, in turn, guided and influenced by organizational culture. If an organization’s culture is toxic, its leadership will be toxic.
Good organizational cultures are intentional, and good leaders are intentional about communicating organizational culture to their teams. Leaders both build influence with employees and guide their behaviors by communicating information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s core values, mission, and vision through their actions and behaviors.
Communicating culture provides clarity for team members about the organization’s expectations of them, both in terms of the work they do and their behaviors, which keeps the work environment positive.
Consistently communicating culture is particularly helpful in difficult times, when a strong culture can serve as a compass guiding employees toward positive outcomes and providing the stability they need to perform well.
We recently sat down with Dave Gordon, author of TIP: A Simple Strategy to Inspire High Performance and Lasting Success, and discussed the impact leaders can have when they communicate culture.
Since organizational culture is embedded in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns, it is important to guide employees toward the behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns that you want to see more of in your organization through modeling core values.
Core values are the building blocks of a strong organizational culture. An organization’s mission and vision serve as the foundation for the core values it develops as a framework for culture.
The key to articulating a vision that has employee buy-in and making employees conservators of your organization’s culture is to clearly define, regularly refine, and continually reinforce and model core values. Therefore, it is important for leaders to continually set the tone for the culture they want in their organization by demonstrating their dedication to the values the culture is built on.
When senior leadership demonstrates dedication to core values by modeling behaviors that align with these values, it creates a self-regulating system that guides employees toward similar behaviors and makes them better co-workers. That dedication should be strong and observable by employees daily—whether in meetings, emails, or one-to-one coaching sessions, which can be particularly helpful for employees.
Through coaching, leaders support and help employees understand the why and how of an organization, which helps reinforce culture and improve core values alignment. Coaching heightens employee awareness and has a tremendous impact on employees’ sense of belonging, which is so crucial to a positive employee experience.
Supporting a harmonious and inclusive work environment is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader in terms of shaping employee experience.
Great cultures support healthy work environments, and great leaders are focused on maintaining working conditions that help employees do great work that benefits the organization without being detrimental to employees’ well-being. They do this by fostering a positive work environment that is inclusive.
Maintaining a positive work environment that is conducive to collaboration is essential for team success and for preventing cultures from turning toxic.
Toxic behaviors in the workplace can involve harassment, microaggressions, unequal treatment of employees, or behaviors from senior management that devalue others and make them feel expendable. Toxic employees can submarine their co-workers, sabotage projects, hinder teamwork, drive top performers away, and poison culture.
Leaders ensure organizational culture stays true to a company’s mission, vision, and values by addressing toxic situations as soon as they arise so they don’t impact morale or cause irreparable damage to the positive culture leaders and their teams have worked to create.
Confronting and addressing issues effectively keeps working environments harmonious and helps leaders build trust with team members, so don’t shy away from dealing with conflict when it arises.
I recently sat down with Lisa Baker, founder of Ascentim LLC, to discuss why confrontation shouldn’t be considered a negative and how it is sometimes necessary duty for a leader to carry out their other responsibilities:
Leaders also ensure the work environment is positive for all team members by supporting an inclusive work environment in which employees feel appreciated for their unique traits and skills and comfortable showing up every day as their authentic selves.
Employees who feel a sense of belonging in the organization will experience more alignment between their values and the organization’s core values. In addition to the many ways inclusion can benefit innovation, creativity, employee engagement, and employee retention, it can also help an organization recruit talented employees.
Doing work that is meaningful, and seeing the impact of that work, is conducive to a positive employee experience because it improves morale, performance, trust, and overall job satisfaction
A shared sense of purpose unites team members, which maximizes their efforts and creates a positive work environment. Having a sense of purpose at work improves employees’ collaborative efforts because it motivates them to work together toward achieving the vision. Leaders help employees find meaning in their work by clearly articulating a vision that employees can rally around and commit to.
A vision statement is an essential part of strategic planning in any organization and provides direction, but it has to be more than just a sentence on your organization’s website. An organization’s vision is supported by its mission and gives employees a goal beyond their day-to-day duties to aim for.
As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says, vision helps us visualize our goals and work toward them: “A vision statement looks forward and creates a mental image of the ideal state that the organization wishes to achieve. It is inspirational and aspirational and should challenge employees.”
A vision statement should be informed by these questions:
- What problem is the organization seeking to solve?
- Where is the organization headed?
- If the organization achieved all its strategic goals, what would it look like a decade from now?
To engage with and perform their work well, employees need to be invested in the mission that the organization’s founders set out to achieve and committed to a vision that helps the organization achieve the mission.
Libby Gill, the author of The Hope-Driven Leader, says it’s not enough for leaders to know the “why”; they have to be able to convey the “why” to their team:
“The why behind your team, division, or organization may be obvious to you, but don’t assume everyone else gets it. You were privy to what the top leaders, maybe the founders of the organization, set out to accomplish. But that doesn’t mean everybody knows where you want to be six months, or a year, or five years from now. And it’s up to the leader to share that information. And the best way to do it is to create a narrative, to create a really compelling story that is so alive and so robust that people say ‘oh I see where we are going and I see how I can connect within that.’”
Leaders articulate a vision and reinforce it with team members by helping them see meaning in their work by connecting it to the organization’s higher purpose and recognizing the impact of their work.
Leaders define and reinforce employees’ sense of purpose by tying it to the work employees do each day and the larger mission and vision of the organization. They help team members find purpose in their work by setting expectations that are tied to the organization’s larger vision and reflective of its culture and core values.
Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.
Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.
He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.