Category Archives: Employee Communication

You Don’t Have to be Apple to Create a Great Experience

What the Apple Stores Can Teach Us About Crafting a Great Employee Experience

When Apple unveiled its first Apple Stores, the company was criticized for its seemingly indulgent approach to aesthetics and for using too much space to showcase their products. The company’s former CFO hated it. He was quoted as saying, “Apple’s problem is it still believes the way to grow is serving caviar in a world that seems pretty content with cheese and crackers.”

Apple stuck to its stubborn pursuit of a better consumer experience. It sought out to create stores that were beautiful places with friendly staff and cool, new technology. It chose the Ritz-Carlton as a benchmark. Not Radio Shack. Not BestBuy. Not the Gateway stores.

The strategy paid off. Apple Stores, now over 15 years old, have greater sales figures per square foot than any other retail location, according to data from eMarketer. 

Think in 3 Dimensions

In creating their stores, Apple mastered all the dimensions of the experience: the physical space, the culture and the tools available.

Similarly, the IBM Institute for Business Value has described the employee experience in terms of three “spheres”: the social sphere, the work sphere and the physical sphere.

In his book, The Employee Experience Advantage, Jacob Morgan describes three employee experience “environments”: culture, technology, and physical space.

The point is to realize that the employee experience is not abstract; it happens in the real world, in a real place around other people and over a period of time. The employee experience is also more than benefits or total rewards or work/life balance. It comprises everything the employee perceives at and about working for your organization. 

All of these dimensions need to be considered thoughtfully when designing processes throughout the employee’s journey, from recruiting through onboarding through performance management through benefits enrollment and more. 

Have a Vision

Apple wanted its stores to be like the Ritz-Carlton. That vision gave them something to aspire to and it forced them to prioritize their needs and requirements. 

Having a vision is necessary because good design begins with conscious intent. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll have no basis for decisions and no foundation for agreement among your team about what’s “right.”

Morgan argues that a good overall employee experience aligns with the company’s reason for being. For more specific guidance and inspiration, refer to your company’s values, mission, vision, EVP and current business goals. 

Start Small

Enhancing the overall employee experience is a massive undertaking. It involves, literally, everyone and everything at your organization. You can start in a manageable way by focusing on a specific experience, such as onboarding, annual enrollment, the performance management process, etc.

Later, you can apply the tools you use and the lessons you learn to other processes.

What Do You Think?

Have you tried to enhance the employee experience at your organization? Do you see it differently? Are you looking for help? We’d love to hear from you.

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Smith Bits

Q: How can I make this 24-page enrollment guide easier to review?

Make Your PDF “Interactive” And Improve Its Use

“I just need to jam in one more comment … no make that two … okay a paragraph or two … alright a few pages … but it’s all good stuff the employee needs to know.”  

Sound familiar? By the time we are done talking ourselves into an expanded benefits enrollment guide it has become so long, that if you printed it off, it would be a thick enough wad of paper to serve as a replacement leg on that broken couch.

It was Mark Twain who said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Thus, poking fun at how we drone on and on and how difficult it is to edit our messages to make them sharp and succinct. Editing is a fine art that has become lost on many.

Still, when it comes to benefits information, it’s just not that easy. There is a lot of information that a person might need and could be critical in helping him or her make a decision that later has financial impact on their lives. Not every employee needs all of the information, but it still needs to be there for the ones who do. What should you do?

Your best bet is to organize the material so it is easy to navigate.  This isn’t Shakespeare you are editing, so it doesn’t need to be flowing prose that someone will study from beginning to end. Rather, your goal is to make it accurate, engaging and well-organized – and especially easy to find specific information. Most readers are hunting for a nugget of content and couldn’t care less about the other 23 pages of “mission critical” stuff you have jammed into the guide. If they can find it fast and with ease, you will win them over.

Layer Your Documents With Helpful Information

One of the niftier improvements by Adobe in recent years is the ability to create links within a pdf. The feature makes “wandering” to the information you want much easier and less frustrating.

Want to jump to the section on dental benefits? … easy peasy … just click here. Want to jump to the section on how to enroll? … fine and dandy … click on this link here. You can structure the contents of the pdf to create an experience much like you would have with a website … only all the links, jumping and content are contained in that one document. And … get this … it doesn’t cost anything more for this feature. It’s already built into the pdf software. It just takes a little planning on to set the document up to make it truly interactive.

So next time you create a bulky document that you absolutely, positively must send to all employees … make sure it is easy to find all those needed content nuggets. And, take the time to make it interactive so your readers can glide from section to section with ease. You may not satisfy Mark Twain, but you will empower your employees to experience a faster and better to interact with important content.

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The Disneyfication of Work

Can employee experience transform the workplace into a totally immersive WorkWorld?

The experience starts when this package arrives at your house.

When Disney was developing the MagicBand, they faced plenty of design challenges. One challenge in particular was what the MagicBand readers at each ride’s access point would look like.

The team designing the MagicBand system wanted a waist-high, modern-looking stand featuring the outline of Mickey Mouse’s head. To access a ride, a park guest would touch the Mickey on their MagicBand to the Mickey on the reader. If the reader’s Mickey glowed green, the guest could enter the ride. If it glowed blue, the guest would need assistance. (Using a red light was a no-no.)  

The “Mickey to Mickey” access points were elegant and intuitive, and the uniform design of the readers ensured guests would recognize them no matter where they encountered them in the park.

Debate to Excellence

Reportedly, Disney’s Imagineers weren’t happy with this solution. The Imagineers are the creative powerhouses responsible for the design and construction of the company’s theme parks. They argued that the MagicBand readers would disrupt the immersive experience of each attraction. The shiny, high-tech scanners might fit in well at Space Mountain, but would you really expect to find such a thing on the grounds of an ancient, haunted mansion?

These were two valid but competing perspectives on what would deliver the right experience for guests.

If you’re doing employee experience right at your organization, these are probably the kinds of debates you’ll be having.

Link the Employee Experience to Business Goals

Disney invested $1 billion in MagicBands because they wanted park guests spending less time waiting in line and more time buying and creating memories. 

What do you want employees to do less and/or more of and how does the experience of working at your organization contribute to or inhibit that? 

While “employee experience” may seem like a new and trendy topic, recognizing the business value of a good employee experience is not.

Way back in 1995, the Harvard Business Review published an article called Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work. In it, the authors wrote: 

Profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is largely influenced by the value of services provided to customers. Value is created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees. Employee satisfaction, in turn, results primarily from high-quality support services and policies that enable employees to deliver results to customers.

The Service-Profit Chain

Support services & policiesSatisfied, loyal, productive employeesCustomer ValueCustomer SatisfactionCustomer LoyaltyProfit & Growth

They went on to say that the “internal quality of a working environment contributes most to employee satisfaction. Internal quality is measured by the feelings that employees have toward their jobs, colleagues, and companies … Internal quality is also characterized by the attitudes that people have toward one another and the way people serve each other inside the organization.”

A growing number of organizations are tapping the proven ROI of a better employee experience. But, at the moment, few companies can claim an advantage in this area. In his book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley, 2017), Jacob Morgan classifies just six percent of the companies he analyzed as “experiential.” This means there’s an opportunity for you to help set your organization apart … Now, if you can just figure out whether your employee badge readers should be shiny and modern or dusty and cobwebbed …

By the way, the MagicBand designers and the Imagineers ultimately arrived at a compromise. The readers would have both consistent features, like the Mickey icon, as well as thematic elements to help them blend in with each attraction. 

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Retirement Planning

Whose problem is it?

The story has been the same for years: we are woefully unprepared for retirement. According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study, nearly 1 in 3 Americans have next to nothing saved for retirement. In America, retirement planning is essentially a private endeavor. But, it’s also a critical component of employer compensation and benefits spending, and overall workforce planning. 

3 Ways for Employers to Improve Retirement Outcomes

Employee stress over finances, both current and future, has multiple direct impacts on employers. Reduced productivity and postponed retirement increase employer health and compensation costs and limit employers’ ability to effectively manage their workforce. As an employer, what does this mean for you and what are you to do?

There are both expensive and inexpensive ways to help with retirement readiness. The more you’re able to do, the better, but even doing just a few things can help put your employees on the right path.


1. Prioritize Retirement Readiness

Most of your employees are desperately in need of financial wellness support, and specifically retirement planning assistance. A Charles Schwab nationwide survey of 1,000 workers with access to a 401(k) plan revealed over 75% of respondents would welcome a financial wellness program from their employer, which could provide education, tools and resources to help with their overall financial health.

Fundamentally, planning for retirement is a numbers game. Understanding how much you want to live on per year when you retire is a first step. Whether it’s $70,000, $140,000, or $280,000 a year, you’ll need to have at least 10 to 12 times this figure in savings by retirement. Help your employees understand where they need to be, monitor their progress and improve their numbers.

2. Perform an Annual Post-mortem

When was the last time you evaluated the effectiveness of your financial wellbeing communication strategy? A 2017 Willis Towers Watson Defined Contribution Plan Sponsor Survey indicates that 88% of sponsors use plan statistics to assess retirement readiness, such as average participation rate, account balance and contribution rate. Yet only one-third of plan sponsors annually measure when participants will have enough money to retire.

This highlights an important gap. We can’t be sure employees are pulling the right levers when we don’t know what goal they are working toward. Before you lay out your financial wellbeing communication strategy for the year, use real-time data to determine your objectives and drive your decisions. By the end of the year, where do you expect to move the needle? Do you want employees to know the 401(k) contribution limits for 2019? Is it important they understand the difference between Roth and pre-tax 401(k) contributions? Think about the results you want to see, and then plot your monthly touchpoints. 

3. Promote Your Resources Year-Round

Worried about where all of these planning tools and materials are going to come from? While you will likely want to customize your overall messaging, chances are your retirement vendors provide robust resources you can use as a starting point. Curate the vendor materials for your employees and fill in as necessary. You can also look to non-profit sites such as America Saves Week and the government’s My Money for additional resources.

Keep the financial wellbeing and retirement planning conversation going year-round. We all benefit from gentle nudges, especially when it comes to things we may be avoiding. 


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