Over the last few months, TJ Keitt and I have been wrestling with the concept that CIOs play a key role in employee engagement. All the signals point to this as hot topic. We've worked with many large clients on workforce technology assessments to help them understand how to assemble the right portfolio of technology tools to help employees be as productive as possible. For this research, we interviewed many technology leaders and their HR counterparts in companies that are widely recognized as great places to work that also happen to score well on customer experience. Our colleague, Kerry Bodine, co-author of the book Outside-In: The Power Of  Putting  Customers At The Center Of Your Business and an expert in customer experience published a blog post in November 2012 that talked about the importance of employee empowerment and the need to design the employee experience in the same way that you design the customer experience. As Kerry puts it, "great customer experiences don't happen by accident — they have to be actively designed." The same is true of great employee experiences.

So I'd like to test out a hypothesis and see what you think about it. The science of measuring of customer experience, its relationship to loyalty and satisfaction and the likelihood that it will lead to future business is now a well-established tool in the hands of marketers. A similarly strong relationship exists between the quality of the employee experience and engagement which leads to higher productivity and ultimately to the delivery of value to customers. You need to measure workforce experience with the same degree of rigor and science that you bring to measuring customer experience.  However, measuring workforce experience is complicated because no single person, department or function owns the experience from end-to-end. So firms use many tools to take the pulse of their employees — annual employee surveys, quarterly performance reviews, weekly manager meetings, talent reviews, town hall meetings and so on. I think these approaches offer a fragmented and often misleading view of how engaged employees actually are. And simply having engaged employees doesn’t translate into business value unless you can convert engagement into productivity and ultimately allow your customers to feel the benefit. To meet this need, we're developing Forrester’s Workforce Experience pyramid based on three dimensions.

  • Engagement: How engaged are your employees? An engaged workforce willingly invests time and energy in the success of the business and the degree of engagement will impact business results. There are dozens of theories and methodologies about how to measure engagement. I happen to like Daniel Pink's secret to high performance and satisfaction – the deeply human need to direct our own lives (autonomy), the desire to get better at something that matters (mastery) and the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (purpose).    
  • Productivity: How effectively do you translate engagement into productivity? You need to convert the potential energy of engagement into the kinetic energy of productivity. It is here that the CIOs role is interesting. Can a CIO really assemble a toolkit for an employee that makes them more productive or does the employee make better decisions for themselves based on the innovation and opportunities they encounter in their consumer life? 
  • Impact: How readily do your customers benefit from the productivity of your employee? The positive business outcome of engaged, productive employees  is a happy customer. Customer-facing employees – sales reps, field support and customer service, for example – have the greatest potential direct impact on customer experience and satisfaction. What about those employees that don’t usually engage with customers directly – back-office operations like finance or warehouse management– where the potential for positive impact on customer experience is harder to pin down? They know how things really work in your company and may be the best ones to identify and rectify problems for customers quickly.

I believe that you can ask an employee 6-10 questions to really take their pulse on these three factors. If you ask everyone the same questions, eventually you can get a true picture of the workforce experience in your firm. Over time if enough firms use the same instrument to measure workforce experience, then you can benchmark your firm against others. That feels like a very powerful tool to me. What do you think? Please send me your comments, ideas, and criticisms.