What is Employee Experience?

Ali Fuller is GM of Employee Experience at Workday. As part of that, she leads product and development in three key product areas: Workday Today (Workday’s new home and search foundation), Workday Journeys (supporting employees during major transition and life events), and Help (knowledge and case management).


Dec 09, 2022

Employee experience describes all the touch points and interactions that employees have with their organization and work environment. Although it includes the direct benefits employees receive, such as salary and health insurance, less tangible factors like the quality of relationships with coworkers and supervisors, are equally important.

But how can companies create an intentional employee experience, which is genuinely part of the future of work? We talk with Workday's Ali Fuller, who explains. The topics we discuss include:

Ali Fuller is GM of Employee Experience at Workday. As part of that, she leads product and development in three key product areas: Workday Today (Workday’s new home and search foundation), Workday Journeys (supporting employees during major transition and life events), and Help (knowledge and case management). Ali has led product teams at Workday for 9+ years, and, prior to that, was a consultant in the Human Capital space.


Ali Fuller: You need to start by understanding not only the sentiment of your employees but their concerns. If you have no idea (positive or negative) of what's happening in your workforce and how they're feeling and what they're thinking, how do you know not only what actions to take but where you want to go and how you help your people do that? It starts with listening and understanding.

What is employee experience?

Michael Krigsman: That's Ali Fuller, General Manager of Employee Experience at Workday.

Ali Fuller: Solving for employee experience is about simplifying the digital experience, recognizing that our employees and managers have access to upwards of 140 applications. When we've done research, that's what we learned from most of our users.

How do we help simplify that and then, ultimately, help them do their job which is navigating very vulnerable things, developing teams, growing their own careers, returning to work? How do we simplify that experience but also in elevation to the things they're really trying to achieve.

Michael Krigsman: Ali, when we talk about employee experience, what does that actually mean?

Ali Fuller: It really means the technology that employees use to (in the case of Workday) grow their teams, further their careers, attract and retain great people, really achieve business results, the technology that lets them do that. But again, in vulnerable moments.

I think what we don't recognize sometimes is the things that people come to Workday to do are incredibly important. And so, an employee experience is not just about the technology but what it's in service to. I think that's incredibly important.

Why is employee experience so important?

Michael Krigsman: Why has this become so important at this moment in time?

Ali Fuller: I would say, over the last couple of years, it's been a growing top priority for not just CHROs, CFOs, CIOs, but the entire C-suite. But in the last two years in particular, it's gotten exponentially more important.

There is actually a statistic that we've been following by Willis Towers Watson that 94% of the C-suite is focused on employee experience as a top business priority over the next three years. That's up from 54% two years ago. When you think about 54% to 94%, it goes to show you how it's so top of mind for people.

I think, again, back to the people aspect of it, talent is so incredibly important to people achieving their business results and keeping happy, engaged employees. And so, it's important that employees have the experience not only they deserve but that they expect.

How do we cultivate employee engagement?

Michael Krigsman: From your standpoint, really focused on this employee engagement aspect, how do you support employees? How do companies do that?

Ali Fuller: You need to start by understanding not only the sentiment of your employees but their concerns. If you have no idea (positive or negative) what's happening in your workforce and how they're feeling and what they're thinking, how do you know not only what actions to take but where you want to go and how you help your people do that?

It starts with listening and understanding. Then the second piece of that is acting on that.

If you have a deep understanding of people's concerns but you do nothing with it, obviously you can't continue to enhance that employee experience. It's really taking action that drives your leaders and business forward on top of that insight and sentiment.

Then lastly, understanding it. How did that actually go? Measuring the experiences you deliver and then, again, listening again.

That employee experience lifecycle is a constant iteration. It's not something that we can do and walk away from.

It's really what we call at Workday "Listen, Act, Analyze." How do you tie all three of those things together and continue to listen-act-analyze across that?

How does engagement help us attract and retain employees?

Michael Krigsman: Ali, given that we're listening, we're analyzing what's going on, we're taking those measurements, we're formulating action plans, how does this relate to retaining and attracting employees?

Ali Fuller: To me, it's incredibly important that customers understand how employees feel because, when we talk about retaining top talent, happy employees stay at companies.

In particular, employees want a good people leader, and they stay at companies for good managers, and they leave companies when they don't have a good manager. Really putting the manager at the center of that employee sentiment and conversation is incredibly important.

I can give you an example at Workday. About two years into COVID, we really learned (through that sentiment analysis) that our employees were burnt out, and that's not surprising. A lot of employees and customers were burnt out. We had a prolonged period of transformation here.

But, once we learned that, we decided to take action on it as Workday, and we created what we call "Thank You Fridays." It was about every month; we gave an additional Friday off for people to just focus on their health and well-being.

We saw employee satisfaction and retention go up. We saw, again, that listen-act-analyze cycle happen over not even years – over months.

Michael Krigsman: Can you describe some of the characteristics of organizations that do this well, that are really successful with employee experience and really engaging their employees?

Ali Fuller: Wanting to have a deep understanding of your people's concerns is rare because you have to be open not only to hearing the things that aren't going well but also doing something about it. If you're going to receive that sentiment, you need to be tied to be able to take some action. Again, going back to employee expectations, that's what they expect.

I think it's a "show, don't tell" aspect. Once they see that you're going to do something about it, we get more and more feedback.

Let's take Peakon for example. I actually go in once a week, and I will react to the feedback. I'll reply with confidential comments.

Then we see more sentiment and feedback coming in the following week (with surveys) because they feel heard. They feel engaged. It's not just going into an ether or a black box, and so I think it's incredibly important again to create that cycle because then they have trust that you're doing something with the feedback they took time to give you.

How does careful listening help us meet employee experience goals?

Michael Krigsman: Ali, you've mentioned this three-step process: listen, analyze, and then act. Listening is one of those terms that's very easy to say, not so easy to do. Would you drill into that a little bit? What does it mean to listen in this context?

Ali Fuller: I would say it's passive and active listening. Things like searches or the natural language people are putting into our bot, all of those things that people are trying to find information in the system, that's an active entry into the system but it's passive listening. How do you take that sentiment that's happening across and, in this case, one customer and surface that?

But then it's also active. It's asking employees how they feel and then marrying those two things. What's happening that's implied and passive in the system with what they're actually telling you through active listening?

Then how do you make sense of that – not only listen but understand, identify trends, use natural language to connect different ways that people might be saying the same thing – to really help a business understand again what's happening in this system (both explicit as well as implicit)?

Michael Krigsman: How do you know what questions to ask?

Ali Fuller: It's funny. The employee often knows the question to ask sometimes, which is back to my passive. The way that they're putting things into the system and the way they're searching, that often tells us the right question to ask.

What are best practices for measuring employee experience?

Michael Krigsman: You've set up the listening. Then there's measurement. What are we measuring and why are we measuring it?

Ali Fuller: Let's take an example of diversity and inclusion. If you see a theme emerging with a very specific subset of your population and you decide to distribute a journey or create learning content to help them feel more included and the company to grow, to be more inclusive, how do you know that you got the result you were looking for?

You have to measure. It's measuring (again, back to the employee) how they feel about that experience.

We look at engagement statistics. Did people interact with that journey, for example, open it? Did they complete it? Did they watch the learning content? Did they scroll to the things that were beneath the fold?

We surface all that to customers so that they understand what they built in terms of taking action on that sentiment was not only well received by employees but was used in the way that they expected.

Michael Krigsman: Okay, so we've listened. We have measurements. Now it's time to take action. What's next?

Ali Fuller: We've seen customers take action, the first one being learning and enablement content for their people. In the example, I know I mentioned health and well-being. If there are a lot of resources out there, sometimes people just don't know what they have access to and the tools that are at their fingertips.

Really being able to enable their people with learnings, trainings, a variety of other ways of doing information, the employees feel supported because it's really about that targeted, big moment.

Personal leave is a great example. How do you help people navigate that?

Return to work is actually probably one of the main ways that we've seen customers use this.

Michael Krigsman: Employees then have this feeling that this is useful, this is helpful, and the tools and the organization is actually behind me.

Ali Fuller: For an employee to feel like it's useful and helpful, it has to be personalized. I know this won't surprise you because you talk to a number of people. That's really what technology has done in the last, I would say, ten years is personalize experience. You should have information that's different because if we want to a hyper-personalized experience, it has to know you and has to deliver content that's unique to you.

What is the role of middle managers in the employee experience team?

Michael Krigsman: Let's talk about managers and the role of managers in creating employee experience and driving the sentiment of employees.

Ali Fuller: When we've spoken with our customers, managers play the most critical role in retaining and attracting top talent. It's not even just for an employee experience but to achieve your business goals.

If you think about the role a manager plays, not only are they driving the business forward; they're developing their team alongside that and really making them the most effective that they can be. When we think about an investment, that's what a lot of our customers are doing is investing in the employee experience specific to managers because it pays dividends towards happy employees, effective employees.

People leave companies when they have a bad manager. That is single-handedly the top reason that people will leave a company, but they also stay at a company because of a manager. If we can support the manager, ultimately that has a downstream impact in terms of supporting the employee.

Michael Krigsman: What about helping the manager with the repetitive operations, tasks, activities that the manager so often has to do?

Ali Fuller: It needs to be an experience that not only puts the manager at the center but recognizes what the manager wants to achieve. Then ultimately, how do we remove friction, the things the manager doesn't need to focus on?

Michael Krigsman: Anything you can do to remove the drudgery, as you say, those repetitive tasks, that's going to make the manager's life just easier.

Ali Fuller: I think, in a lot of cases, it means not asking the manager to come into a system at all, and so we have something called Workday Everywhere, which is our strategy of really meeting users (employees and managers) where they're already working (in tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack as two examples).

Michael Krigsman: Ali, employee experience is so important. What's the best way to start? It's so easy to talk about these things but sometimes starting is hard.

Ali Fuller: It's really hard, and I would say most of our conversations with customers, there's this desire to want to do something. There's no debate that investing in the employee experience is critical. Our customers all agree on that.

It's really not only how do you start, which is the question you mentioned, but what does good look like. It's choosing to start and taking quick action but being iterative; or customers, whether they wait too long to take action because there is that desire to get it perfectly right or to have everything kind of tied in a bow.

How do we start a workforce transformation strategy to increase employee engagement?

Michael Krigsman: We've developed the intention to do something. Literally, what are the first steps that we should be taking?

Ali Fuller: Take a small group and distribute something to them. Understand how they're using something. Understand what works and doesn't. Iterate again, and then go out to your next wave of users.

Where our customers have been most successful is not trying to do something, one thing, for 10,000 employees. Do one thing for maybe 100 employees at this location, understand what works and doesn't, and then continue to kind of concentric circle out from that because you learn a lot.

Michael Krigsman: We have a commitment to start. We've identified a pilot of 100 employees. Now what? What are the first steps?

Ali Fuller: One of the main first steps our customers will take is distributing what we call a journey. At Workday, we have a product called Workday Journeys. Really what that allows you do to is weave together Workday and non-Workday content into an immersive experience that has tasks and information and video content and rich engagement tools.

What our customers will do is build journeys based on what they're trying to achieve and distribute that to their employees like return to work. For example, our customers will distribute a journey that gives learning content that talks about what it means to be in an office now with COVID spacing. That actually talks about badge scanning in a different way – whatever that might be.

It has rich learning content. It will have knowledge articles and policy information. It will have a variety of engagement tools as part of that that teach employees about what that experience looks like and best prepares the business for that change as well.

Michael Krigsman: What does the team look like? What kind of team should we have in place to execute this initial pilot?

Ali Fuller: There are really two parts of the business that participate in an employee experience. There's the functional side of the business so, in many cases, that's HR, for example, or IT or finance, that kind of functional group at their company. But then there are those that curate the experiences that their employees receive.

The relationship between those two groups is paramount for a good employee experience because you have the functional experts, the people that know that part of the business best, as well as the people that make that happen.

Michael Krigsman: Okay, the next step. We have put this team together. We've rolled our journeys to our pilot group. How do we get that group to engage, to participate?

Ali Fuller: It needs to be a push not a pull. I think that's the number one thing that we've seen in terms of the success as well.

Michael Krigsman: Ali, you used the term push. What do you mean by that?

Ali Fuller: Discovery for users needs to be passive. We need to meet them where they are as opposed to asking them to come into the system to find something.

Michael Krigsman: When you say pull, what's that?

Ali Fuller: That's really asking a user to come into a system to be able to do something as opposed to bringing it to them.

What are the benefits and challenges of employee experience programs?

Michael Krigsman: What are the typical challenges or obstacles that an organization may face as they're embarking and pursuing this employee experience journey?

Ali Fuller: The manager is really the heart of some of that feedback. Managers already are so involved in an employee's workload, how they interact with their teams, ultimately what they help the business achieve, and so that's not new. It's really, to your point, enabling the manager to be able to not only do something about it but feel like it's their responsibility to make sure their employees are engaged.

Michael Krigsman: Ali, when all of this is done well and it's working, what are the benefits?

Ali Fuller: Having high retention rates isn't enough. Your employees need to be engaged. That's when they do their best work and that's when they drive the business forward in kind of the most effective way. I would say happy and engaged employees is one outcome from this.

I think the other thing is really understanding where you have talent pockets or areas that you need to fill. A compelling employee experience surfaces those concerns and allows you, as a business, to really act on your people challenges (as well as your business challenges) in an effective way.

Advice for HR leaders creating an excellent employee experience?

Michael Krigsman: Ali, what advice do you have for HR and their role in making this all happen and participating and contributing to all of this excellent employee experience?

Ali Fuller: Understanding the concerns is step one. I would say that's step one for HR is really understanding that and being open to truly understanding, not just conceptual understanding. And so, getting to that deeper understanding is the first part.

I think the other thing for HR is – and they're not going to like I'm telling you this [laughter] – really putting some of that back in the hands of managers and leaders because it can't just be HR that solves these problems. It can't just be the executives at a company. It has to be the people leaders. They are the most effective conduit and way to drive an employee experience, and so I would say that's the other thing I would say to HR is don't be afraid to get the manager involved because they know their people best.

Michael Krigsman: Any final thoughts on employee experience and employee experience and just creating a great workplace?

Ali Fuller: It's really important, in an employee experience, to meet users where they are. That is one of our kind of key themes in our experience strategy.

The second part is radical simplification of self-service experiences. Managers and employees not only need simplified experiences, but they need to get back to their job. They need to be able to spend all their time kind of driving their business and their people forward.

But the third area of that being tying insights to action. I think what's really important – back to our listen-act-analyze – is taking all those rich insights and doing something with it but helping our managers and our customers achieve their results but, ultimately, not asking them to start from scratch. How do we help be prescriptive with some of those actions as well?

Michael Krigsman: Ali Fuller, General Manager of Employee Experience at Workday, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us.

Ali Fuller: It's been so great, Michael. And to be in person, got to love the in-person. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: It is great. [Laughter]

Published Date: Dec 09, 2022

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 772