Great presentations this week and lots of hallway talk at the i4cp 2017 Conference about the employee experience and the “moments that matter.” And, not coincidentally, there’s been a significant focus on culture. I think these two concerns intersect in a very critical way.

Three types of Moments: Obvious, Opaque, Invisible

A lot of employee journey discussions consist of obvious touchpoints typically considered in the HR view of the employee life cycle. Things like:

  • The job interview
  • The job offer
  • Onboarding
  • Performance reviews
  • Training & development programs
  • Exit interviews

Beyond the obvious, there’s a second type: Opaque. Opaque, you can get a hint of; but not really see. You can see the likely trigger of such a moment:

  • A manager, known to be hard on people, gets promoted.
  • The annual report is published, with little mention of values/culture/people.
  • For two weeks the restroom closest to your desk is still out of order.
  • Asking for a new computer and hearing nothing in response.

No doubt you can think of many more. These are moments that are episodic; but result from actions or inactions managed by the organization.

Invisible moments of truth are the ones you never see. In fact, it is almost impossible to know that they have happened:

  • An employee observes a professional milestone and nothing is said at work.
  • An employee gets assigned to a new team and is welcomed warmly.
  • Walking across the parking lot on a rainy day, an employee sees an executive pull into reserved, covered parking.
  • An employee gets on the elevator occupied by two top execs; they don’t acknowledge her.
  • An employee really wants to take time off to drive his daughter to summer camp; but is afraid to ask.
  • An employee gets into a conflict with another and feels he has no one to talk to about it.
  • An employee goes to the company’s external website. None of the people pictured look like her.

Obvious moments that matter are the ones most often addressed by companies trying to improve the employee experience, probably because they can be mitigated through process changes. Traditional employee attitude/engagement surveys identify process-level issues like perceived unfairness in pay schemes or lack of transparency in selection for training programs. The organization can then implement changes, or improve communications to clear up misperceptions.

Opaque moments demand policy changes. These are harder to accomplish and more difficult to control. Clues to opaque moments are often identified via employee surveys, when employees give the company low marks; but it is not clear why. Companies respond with focus groups that encourage employees to comment on the areas in question. But too often, the focus group process remains at a very general level.

Remember, the moments that truly matter are individual and personal. The focus group setting is not a comfortable one for employees to express personal concerns. And, since HR and management are hoping to get feedback at the process level, that’s the direction they lead the conversation. Employee suggestion boxes have the same problem. One effective way to get at policy changes is a cultural audit.  In that process, the organization starts with its culture and core values and systematically reviews company policies and practices for consistency.

Focusing on culture may be the only effective way to deal with invisible moments that matter. That’s because negative invisible moments can only be avoided by making changes to the cultural expectations and norms of the organization. That’s tough. But companies that are lauded for managing the moments that matter are typically those with an employee centric culture.

Many organizations conduct exit interviews to unearth issues that cause people to leave. But what about investigating the people who will never leave? Companies know who their most loyal employees are. A series of 1-on-1 interviews focused on “critical incidents” can ask these employees to reveal what makes them love the company so much. Or maybe a tightly focused employee survey could be devised asking questions about the individual’s best/worst experiences at the company.

Unless an organization works actively on all three types of moments, their work to improve the employee experience may not matter.