Making employee experience a CIO priority

Employee dissatisfaction can have a long-term negative impact on your business. Here’s how to turn things around.

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CIOs are under tremendous pressure to cut costs, produce innovative new products and services, hire top talent, and even transform the organization’s business model. With so much on the CIO’s to-do list, the internal employee experience is in danger of falling to the bottom of the CIO agenda.

Digital transformation has set the CIO’s attention on external customers, but “there’s a piece of the IT organization whose customer is the employee. Yet that always seems to come last in terms of attention and funding. IT departments generally don’t put the best talent on that,” says Claus Jensen, CTO/CIO at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

IT departments should “apply the exact same energy, care, professionalism and techniques that we apply to systems we build for our customers to the systems for our employees,” Jensen says.  “We know how to build systems that are delightful for people to use. Yet for some obscure reason, we never do it for ourselves. Show me someone who says that using the HR system is a delightful experience.”

Employee dissatisfaction with IT tools can have a ripple effect that can result in long-term damage and a lack of competitiveness. An improved employee experience, however, will pay off in “better talent, more effective collaboration, a better mood in your organization—the list is long,” Jensen says.

Here are three steps you can take to make a positive impact on employee experience.

1) Commit to take action

For Jensen, the employee experience won’t turn around if you don’t commit to improving it. Transformational CIOs, who aspire to be influential across the organization, must address the employee experience to be successful, Jensen says. “Decide that you care and that you’re willing to spend time on doing something about it.”

Improving the employee experience must become “a CIO priority” or it won’t happen, adds Niel Nickolaisen, CIO of O.C. Tanner, a company that provides employee recognition software and services.

2) Engage regularly and measure progress

For Nickolaisen, fixing process problems is an embedded part of his regular six-month planning cycles. The key questions are: “What specific things are we going to do in terms of people and process to make this a better place to work? Who owns it, and how are we going to measure that this thing got done? And then how do we measure whether or not it worked?”

Every June, the whole company takes a survey to identify any areas for improvement. In addition, the IT department has a separate survey focused on the characteristics of high-performing teams.

Jensen agrees that the employee experience should regularly be on the CIO’s to-do list. Weekly is ideal, but Jensen acknowledges that, even with his strong feelings on the subject, during some busy periods he can only manage to address employee experience “frequently,” not every week.

3) Lead in technology use

Nickolaisen believes CIOs have a responsibility to influence not only the future direction of the organization’s external products and services but also the internal processes and culture of the entire organization—because they’re all affected by technology.

“You can have a great workplace culture that’s not a high-performing culture, and I want both,” Nickolaisen says. It helps to be experimenting—at a regular cadence—with ways that new technologies (e.g., analytics, mobile, virtual or augmented reality, and process automation) could make the employee experience a richer one, he says.

CIOs are uniquely positioned to lead the organization in the use of technologies that enable employees to be more productive and focus on higher-value tasks. “Our world in IT changes faster than anybody else’s, so we have to be a model,“ Nickolaisen says. “Then, I influence the rest of the organization to improve its agility.” 

Mitch Betts is a contributing author for IDC’s IT Executive Programs. Martha Rounds, research director for IDC’s IT Executive Programs, assisted in writing this article.

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