From talent to value: the employee journey

There’s a war for talent out there. But all too often, companies fail to give potential hires and employees an experience that attracts, enthuses and aligns them, making them brand ambassadors even once they have moved on. Here’s how to take potential and current employees on a journey that not only fulfils them, but delivers organisational value.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

A strong reputation, satisfied and loyal customers… all determined by your employees. Happy employees mean happy customers, it is as simple as that – and that generates higher profits in the long term. Therefore, thinking about your employee journey – from the recruitment and hiring process, to the experience of working at the organisation, and even employee departures – pays off in spades.

The employee journey in a nutshell

So, what is the employee journey? It is a tool to identify the key contact moments – the touchpoints – of your current, potential and former employees with your organisation (see figure 1). Identifying these gives you an immediate idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the employee experience you are creating, consciously or subconsciously, and the fit between your organisation’s goals and those of your employees (alignment). You can also use the touchpoints to get continuous feedback and make targeted interventions that will improve the employee experience and as such the organisational health.

Figure 1: the employee journey wheel

Three stages, six touchpoints

There are six touchpoints divided over three stages. The first stage, looking around and applying, covers employer brand awareness and pre-boarding. Examples include targeted employer brand ad campaigns and relevant before-you-start information.

The second stage is working at the organisation, focused on talent retention and employee alignment. This covers on-boarding (the first 100 days), cross-boarding (intra-company moves) and re-boarding (embedding a new strategy, new values and related mind set and behaviours, new way of working and so on).

The final stage, moving on, includes leave-taking (how you handle someone’s departure) and alumni activities. Evaluating and improving each touchpoint will help you optimise your employee journey and the experience people have with you.

Getting started

Before you start, however, there are a number of things to consider. First, you need the absolute support of senior management: without it, your employee journey won’t succeed. Beyond that, there are seven key building blocks:

  1. A clear talent vision: knowing what talent you need and your organisation’s role in maximising it.
  2. An easy-to-deal-with HR organisation: modern systems, clear KPIs, metrics, etc.
  3. Appropriate salary and employment terms: these are still the key factors in an employee choosing an employer, so the organisation’s promise must be reflected in these terms, and these must be personalised.
  4. A supportive workplace: IT, systems, structures and processes that work as they should.
  5. An internal communications infrastructure: an integrated communications strategy with effective tools, including a digital platform that promotes sharing and dialogue.
  6. Leadership vision: helping talent realise its full potential and achieving mutual organisational and individual ambitions.
  7. A clear vision on behavioural change: in order to motivate employees and get them to do the right things, you need to steer their mind-set and behaviour in the right direction.

You do not need to wait to have all of these blocks perfectly in place: you can work on them at the same time as the overall journey itself. Priority setting depends on matters such as the overarching business strategy, organisational goals and objectives, organisational health status, maturity of the (HR and Communications) organisation, priorities from the business and so on.

Let us zoom in on a couple of vital ingredients in creating a great employee journey: employer branding and internal communications.

Employer branding: find the right fit

Organisations with a strong employer brand outperform their competitors. Yet organisations continue to focus too much on ad hoc recruitment and other short-term initiatives. In doing so, they are missing out. In a competitive job market, recruitment needs to be addressed strategically in order to both future-proof the organisation’s skills base and to secure its reputation.

The second point – reputation – is quickly becoming the most important. The right mentality, spirit and engagement your employees show in combination with learning agility is the key factor in delivering on your promise to your customer. Recruiting and hiring people who fit your culture and values is therefore crucial to maintaining your reputation among all stakeholders.

A strong employer brand with an organisation-appropriate message enables you to recruit the right people. This in turn creates engagement and aligns new hires with your mission and goals. New hires fit in quickly because both parties already know that they are the right match. And the organisation spends less time than competitors on onboarding, employee retention is higher, and customers are happier, all of which helps to create sustainable business value.

But where do you start? The first step is to nail down your organisation’s purpose and strategy. You do this by creating a compelling story with an attractive promise: the Employee Value Proposition (EVP, see figure 2). This story must resonate with potential employees from their first contact. That could be anything from a potential recruit visiting your careers site to seeing a banner online or speaking to a current employee and hearing how they talk about you.

Because first impressions are quickly made and hard to change, my advice is to paint an honest yet attractive picture of what it is like to work at your organisation. Honesty matters, because the goal is to attract people who will fit in and stay, do the right things at the right times and contribute to your objectives. If we polish the reality too much, they will end up leaving, costing you money, wasting everyone’s time and potentially damaging your reputation along the way.

A shared responsibility

To ensure consistent messaging, employer brands need to be owned and managed by both the HR and Communications departments: HR to run the strategic personnel planning and related marketing and HR product development initiatives; Communications to run reputation and related communication activities. Ultimately, though, the buck stops at C-level, because hiring the right talent contributes directly to your mission, long-term vision and strategic goals. 

From tactics to strategy

Although many HR and recruitment teams remain too focused on short-term needs and gains, I do see a shift from tactical recruitment to strategic employer branding, with a focus on developing a good talent funnel. Elements such as storytelling, content marketing and community management are becoming increasingly important to the employer brand. Social media is compulsory. Moreover, as ambassadors of the brand, employees are becoming a growing factor in communication initiatives.

Getting the inside right

Internal communications – together with HR – plays a vital role in the employee journey once candidates have joined. This requires focused, courageous professionals who connect with the business and seek out collaboration. Professionals who understand that internal communications involves more than producing ‘shiny’ communications assets on behalf of their internal clients, who are passionate about bringing together internal and employer branding, who want to listen to what is going on in their organisation and in the business, and who are willing to work on improving how their organisation communicates. Professionals with in-depth knowledge of their internal target groups and who consciously think about how to create relevant and impactful messages.

This is because good employee journeys are built on clear, relevant and consistent messages throughout. Communications and HR need to work together to ensure that employees know what the organisation stands for, what it aspires to achieve, how it plans to get there and why it is relevant for employees (what’s in it for them?). From there they can determine how to involve employees and encourage and help them to contribute.

In other words, employees must experience in a positive way what the organisation stands for and aspires to achieve in every aspect of their work and how they will be facilitated. If they come across inconsistencies, this impacts credibility and they lose focus and motivation. The same is true for malfunctioning or outdated systems, bureaucracy or internal politics. Get rid of them! Employees must feel that your words match up with reality, and that what you are telling them works. Achieve this, and they will respond to communications, give their opinion, pass on the message and add information where necessary.

Viewed this way, communications is shared by everyone, and the role of the internal communications professional is to influence this by facilitating relevant dialogue and making it a permanent feature of the communications strategy.

Begin by making the business case

As I emphasised earlier, a good employee journey requires the support of senior management, translated into a budget for a long-term approach. Because working systematically on alignment is also a form of quality drive, from analysis to strategy and from concept to implementation, it involves measurement and correcting course where necessary.

If senior management does not believe in investing in the employee journey and making it a priority, – there is little point in going on. You will have nothing more than a shiny but useless new tool to show for it, a pointless game for Communications or HR. And that’s a waste of everyone’s time and money.

However, if you do invest in the journey, you are opening the door to a significant opportunity. Look at the added value created by aligned employees, including financially, and the business case becomes easy to make.

Sascha Becker

As head of strategy at communications agency PROOF | internal & employer branding, Sascha Becker has inspired leading brands in both the Netherlands and internationally to turn the entire employee journey into a successful and structured employee experience. Sascha’s personal mission is to help shape the future of work and create a better, healthier future for everyone.