“Employee Experience is a continuous improvement process”
The aim is seamless employee experience
Sander, you are the Head of Global Employee Experience. What exactly do you do in this role at ING Group?
Developing seamless, intuitive employee experiences and continuously validating them with end-users– that's my job. When I started at ING three years ago, in the global HR department a big HR programme called "HR Unite" was in progress: A central service support with standardised HR processes and new platform software was to be introduced for all ING locations. It quickly became clear that Employee Experience would play an important role in this. Therefore, a new position was created. Today there are seven of us in the global team, including me.
With Employee Experience, we create the basis for different areas like IT or Facilities to manage and improve the Employee Experience. We measure experiences and help to redesign Employee Journeys.
So, Employee Experience focuses on HR service quality?
Not only. My position is in the People Services department, but I act more as a link between different departments. With Employee Experience, we create the basis for different areas like IT or Facilities to manage and improve the Employee Experience. We measure experiences and help to redesign Employee Journeys.
What is an Employee Journey?
ING's overall Employee Experience includes everything people see, hear and feel when they interact with the company. Whether they are employees, managers, applicants, former employees, sales or agents in service teams – they all go through different moments and touchpoints. For example, with colleagues or their manager, using tools and technology or with the physical environment, such as ING’s office buildings for instance. We assume that some experiences are more important than others. We focus on the ones that have the biggest impact on engagement – the Moments that Matter or Moments of Truth. We want to make these moments really positive. The sum of all the moments and interactions that an employee goes through in a certain stage in their career - e.g. onboarding, applying with the company, leaving, everyday work- is what we call a journey. We want to know what people feel, think, do and need at these moments to be able to improve their experiences.
We assume that some experiences are more important than others. We focus on the ones that have the biggest impact on engagement – the Moments that Matter or Moments of Truth.
You have an example?
We started in the Netherlands with the Onboarding Journey. That was the pilot for our Employee Experience strategy. For this, I spent a year in our innovation office. Together with new employees and journey owners from IT, HR and Facility Services as well as a Service designer and an Innovation Coach from our Innovation Office, we worked on developing a better onboarding journey. We used ING's “Pace Methodology”, which combines Lean Six Sigma, Agile Scrum and Design Thinking. The result was a new onboarding solution that addresses key moments for new hires: With the help of an app, managers and future colleagues receive guidance on what to do at certain moments in the onboarding process - such as when to contact new employees.
Onboarding is one of the most important experiences
What moments in the onboarding process have proven to be particularly important?
For example, the first day of work. It's scary, exciting, full of uncertainty. A warm welcome is therefore elementary. But even before that, new employees have contact with the company. For this, our people need a clear overview of everything that needs to be done until new colleagues really start.
What has improved so far with the onboarding solution and the app?
On average, we score more than four out of five on employee satisfaction in the different Moments that Matter. We have already validated in the design process that this works and that the experience of managers and employees has significantly improved as a result. That's why 13 other countries have now implemented the onboarding solution – such as Romania, Spain, Poland and Germany.
We have found that the problems people have with onboarding are pretty universal.
In other countries, such as Germany, do they just take the Group solution and copy it? Or to what extent do the countries adapt it to the respective ING culture?
We have found that the problems people have with onboarding are pretty universal. But for a junior analyst in an HR analytics team, a senior engineer or a mobile app developer - the paths of the journey they take are slightly different depending on the target group. It's a matter of tailoring that to local needs.
Why did you start with the topic of onboarding in particular – in other words: What made you think that this journey could be especially important?
We didn't have any measurement of employee experience at that time and had to make a decision where to start. So, we basically relied on anecdotal evidence. And that is dangerous. The risk is that those who complain the loudest get the most attention. For example, we had a project to recruit foreign locals – people who were recruited out of another country. Some managers thought that there was a great need for improvement in the EX. In the end, however, it turned out that, contrary to our expectations, the experience of the recruits was very good, but the recruiters themselves were in need of some changes in the process. It needs a solid data basis to prioritise properly. In collaboration with the consultancy TI People, we therefore introduced an Employee Experience Index survey at ING that we are now running at least once a year in eleven countries.
It needs a solid data basis to prioritise properly.
What is the difference between an engagement survey and an employee experience survey?
An engagement survey focuses on engagement drivers such as belonging, appreciation, management and innovation. So that tells us at an organisational level or at a team level how engaged people are in the company, but not where we need to change things. The idea of the Employee Experience Index is different: We use it to measure the causes: the experiences at certain moments. Engagement is then the result.
Data based measures
At the moment, we are working on proving this with data – in cooperation with our People Analytics team. In a next step, we would also like to examine the connection between customer experience and employee experience more closely.
So, it's about the context in which employees have certain experiences?
Yes, exactly. In an engagement survey, you may find that there is a problem with leadership in the company. But where does it occur? That's what an EX survey shows, which we conduct at specific moments or phases in the work cycle of employees. If it turns out in a quantitative survey that certain moments could be improved, we follow up in qualitative interviews: What was the experience exactly like at those moments and how important was that for the employees. This way we identify the pain points and already explore possible solutions. We then see, for example, that people get little support from superiors during their onboarding or to what extent they felt they were not treated properly during the end-of-year appraisal. You have a time stamp and much more concrete feedback. The people in charge can then work with these results.
Is it that easy to convince the responsible people to work with your results voluntarily? Do managers say, for example, "great that you found that out – we'll change it right away"?
No, of course it's not easy. We try to break down the silo thinking of individual teams and really approach the Journeys from A to Z. But every department – whether HR, IT, or the other – has its own priorities. Then maybe IT says I can't provide a laptop if you in HR don't provide a personnel ID. Especially with technical problems, it often depends on many people from different departments working together. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed and argue that they have other projects to do or other problems to solve. This is where top management comes in. They have to insist that the staff focuses on important issues. And a large part of our work consists of building networks. We can only create good employee experiences with a clear strategic focus and a coalition of the willing.
Wouldn't the task be easier if Employee Experience was not based in HR but in an overarching function?
I don't think so. I have seen such constellations in other companies and there are similar challenges. It is important to follow a common vision and that questions of responsibility do not slow down employees. We are working on making sure that employees only have to ask a question in one place. In the backend, the right department then takes care of it without employees having to deal with it. This doesn't always work yet, but it is our long-term goal.
A large part of our work consists of building networks. We can only create good employee experiences with a clear strategic focus and a coalition of the willing.
Fight the Great Resignation
Improving technology is one thing, leadership is another. What topics do you work on with managers?
A big issue is the "Great Resignation". In the US, many people are quitting, but it's also starting to happen in Europe. Until now, we have taken a kind of post-mortem approach and only asked people after they had quit. Then they mainly say things that don't cause much discussion anymore, but rarely address real leadership problems. We identify those through data. Among other things, we have introduced an NPS (Net Promoter Score) for employees by asking whether they would recommend ING as an employer and based on which experiences.
To what extent is this part of performance management and target agreements?
Experience data is not part of performance management so far and I don't think it makes sense. We want to inspire people and trigger improvement initiatives. It could be counterproductive if people have the employee NPS as a target, possibly even linked to compensation. We now only have initial approaches, for example in Belgium, where the E-NPS is part of OKRs – but on the initiative of the teams.
Experience data is not part of performance management so far and I don't think it makes sense. We want to inspire people and trigger improvement initiatives.
Isn't Employee Experience a bit hypocritical? The management method often comes across as being about the well-being of employees, when in fact there are hard business interests behind it...
A good employee experience and good business results are closely connected. The banking industry is undergoing a major transformation. Banking licences are no longer only granted to banks, but also to more and more other companies. The market pressure is enormous due to all the innovations from the big tech companies and fintechs. In order to cope with this competition and the disruption of the industry, we introduced an agile way of working years ago that is strategically oriented towards satisfied customers. And we are convinced that the experience employees have with the employer is reflected in the customer experience. If we put employees first, they will pass that experience on to customers.
You mentioned ING's Pace method, which you use for experience design. Do all teams work with it or only HR employees?
In 2021, 40 employees participated in a training for the Pace methodology, and in the current year at least as many more will join – mainly from HR and IT. In my team, there are now also Pace coaches who have experience with the method. They support teams from all areas who want to address a problem we have identified. They accompany the team from a scoping workshop through work on the problem to the MVP (Minimal Viable Product). But Pace was originally introduced to enable innovations in banking. So many teams in ING, with a customer focus, have already adopted Pace for service and product design purposes.
How long does such an experience design development usually take?
It depends. If a team is only adjusting small things, they can be pretty far along in three weeks. We call this "Pace every day". They implement the change into their daily processes. This works very well in the context of our agile way of working. But we also have larger projects where we coordinate on issues across countries. That can take three to six months.
Some observers think that EX only unnecessarily inflates the HR department...
With our EX strategy, we make sure that the HR department does not take a different approach from our customer-oriented organisation. And that is the reason why it is so well received within the company. Managing the Employee Experience is not just owned by me and my team. In the beginning, we did a lot of stakeholder management – involving the leaders in technology, strategy, customers, communications and HR in our thinking. Employee Experience will really make a difference when we empower employees around the world to take ownership of Employee Experience projects. In addition, EX will give HR the data insights that the business is expecting from us.
The interests of the business and the employees are always diverging. Compliance or governance rules, for example, annoy most employees and create bad employee experiences. But they are necessary. How do you deal with this?
We want to create enthusiasm for improvements where they make a difference. But we should accept the fact that we will never meet everyone’s needs. Sometimes the experience that is designed is still not intuitive because of risk, compliance or data privacy restrictions. In those cases, expectation management is of utmost importance to explain why processes or services or other interactions are the way they are.
One thing I've learned is that as soon as you start implementing a solution, the next problem pops up. We can design a fantastic onboarding journey and communicate it very well. But if some basics are not in place – like the contract available on time or the laptop – then that experience ruins everything. It's about a continuous improvement process. We will never be finished.