Employee experience management doesn't work. (Here's why)

By Lars Hyland

When Douglas Conant took over as CEO of Campbell’s Soup in 2001, it was the worst-performing major food brand of its time.

Things were so bad that a Gallup manager described employee engagement as “the worst ever seen among the Fortune 500.”

Eight years later, the company’s stock increased by 30% and employee engagement skyrocketed. Their engaged-to-disengaged employee ratio (23-to-1) nearly doubled the benchmark ratio used to identify “world-class” companies (12-to-1).

As exhibited in Conant’s and Campbell Soup’s exceptional success, employee experience management is a powerful driver of business performance. And for organizations in today’s fast-paced world, investing in employee experience should be the rule, not the exception.

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The employee experience management advantage

Businesses spend upwards of $700 million per year on employee engagement initiatives that flaunt perks like flexible holidays, wellbeing programs and gourmet snack stations. But “most initiatives amount to an adrenaline shot,” reports Harvard researcher, Jacob Morgan.

Sustaining engagement requires a much more considered and embedded investment. And it's well worth it.

Analyzing the employee engagement levels of 252 diverse companies, Morgan found that companies investing in the employee experience earned four times the average profit and more than two times the average revenue of those that didn’t, or simply paid lip service.

Modern employee experience advantage

Viewing HR and talent management as purely an administrative process is downright dangerous. If your company’s employee experience management fails to sustainably engage employees and meet their needs, your organization is at a severe disadvantage:

  • Loyalty and goodwill among your employees will plummet

  • Top-tier talent will jump ship to competitors offering a superior workplace experience

  • And your employees will be stuck with outdated skills and practices, directly impacting productivity and business performance

This leaves you vulnerable to disruptive change and ultimately incapable of surviving marketplace threats or capitalizing on pivotal opportunities to surpass competitors.

What are employee experience and talent experience? 

Employee experience is a broad definition of an employee's perception of their workplace as it relates to their experiences and touchpoints throughout the employee lifecycle.

This starts from job candidacy and continues through to daily experiences. It also encompasses management, engagement, reimbursement, culture, rewards and much more.

Employee engagement loop

Given the ambiguity of the term "employee experience", here at Totara, we use the term talent experience to cover the practical (and most influential) everyday aspects of employee experience and employee engagement that your business offers its people.

Elements of employee engagement

This is more focused than broadly scattered headline initiatives that many still focus on. But more on that later.

Let’s first understand why we need to regard the workplace experience as a strategic asset that underpins the long-term success of all organizations going forward: 

Change is constant

No matter how quickly we thought the workplace was changing, nothing can compare to the seismic shift experienced in 2020.

The events of 2020, triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic, turned the traditional workplace on its head. Overnight, most office-based roles became remote, and millions of workers worldwide were furloughed while organizations and governments figured out how to tackle the fast-changing crisis. The pandemic is continuing to cause major disruption across the world and is likely to be a permanent feature of life going forward. We need to be comfortable with constant and unexpected change.

There are also several other longstanding key workplace disruptors to consider that have been catalyzed by the impact of the pandemic:

  • Technology is impacting every industry sector and corner of society in deep and profound ways. This is radically changing supply chains, sales channels, production costs and the very structure of how organizations are shaped.

  • The shift to more flexible remote, hybrid ways of working is redefining how we connect and collaborate. In turn, this shapes how we support people when working, with a marked shift from synchronous methods (meetings) to asynchronous (online workspaces and threaded discussions). The HR function itself is currently too siloed and needs to be more aligned and cross-functional in the way it supports and manages learning, engagement and performance across the business.

  • The organization is now porous - the workplace experience is not just about employees. It is imperative to include the extended enterprise which represents a much more diverse blend of workers who are full-time, part-time, contractors, even those in our sales channels and supply chains.

  • The skills we have today are not the skills we need tomorrow. The skills gap - or more accurately a skills chasm - requires a radical reskilling response over the next decade in order to remain relevant.

Skilled workers are scarce

Are workplace disruptors killing your organization? 

Get the practical guide packed with solutions on today's most dangerous workplace disruptors that harm the employee experience & hurt your organization. 

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold, the demand for competitive skills required to thrive in a digital-first and complex workplace is high. These skills include:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation

  • Active learning and learning strategies

  • Complex problem solving

  • Critical thinking and analysis

  • Leadership and social influence

  • Technology design and programming

  • Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility

In fact, the demand for these skills is so high that the World Economic Forum estimates that over a billion people will need new skills by 2030 to stay in the workforce. The ability to learn, re-learn, and embrace resilience and adaptability are critical to survival.

Employee expectations have evolved

Reasons why talent management is not enough

Modern workers prioritize purpose and meaning in their work.

They want to work for (and consume products and services from) companies that stand for something. A primary requirement is a workplace culture that offers easy access to continued learning and employee development, with opportunities to build experience and expertise. A culture that emphasizes and builds on individual strengths and provides timely, constructive feedback from managers, peers and mentors.

If these expectations fail to be met, then loyalty will dissipate.

It has never been easier to work remotely for any organization based anywhere in the world.

It has never been easier to find opportunities.

Conversely, it has never been harder to retain talent.

The Talent Experience Framework


A skilled, engaged and aligned workforce

As we’ve seen, investment in the workplace experience needs to be much more than frothy initiatives with limited shelf life.

By understanding what really motivates us when we are at work, we realize that there are three key areas that need aligned support:

  • Learning and development: In addition to mandatory compliance training, are employees getting better at their craft or learning the skills they need to develop and progress in their careers? Are they learning the skills that will benefit your organization in the future?

  • Enabling engagement and collaboration: Are employees able to collaborate and communicate with each other effectively? Can they find the hidden experts in the business that may already have solutions to problems they face? Can they learn what they need to, at the time of need, in the flow of work?

  • Performance and mentorship: Is your performance management process personalized to the needs of the individual? Are you providing continuous and timely feedback? Do employees understand how their day-to-day roles contribute to their individual, team and ultimately the organization’s overall business goals?

Taken together and when managed congruently, these three foundations unlock exceptional employee experience and organizational performance.

Here's how: 

Element #1: Learning and development retains talent and keeps your business competitive

When choosing a company to work for, nearly 87% of candidates rank learning and development opportunities in the workplace as critical.

Research shows that high-quality training increases employee engagement because it influences “psychological variables” such as:

  • Motivation

  • Commitment

  • Organizational trust

This is because employees crave mastery . They want the tools, training and access to expertise that takes them beyond competence, and certifies them as experts in their chosen fields.

For smart employers, investing in learning and development transcends typical tick-box compliance and regulatory training. It’s an opportunity to fill in knowledge gaps, create an adept, adaptable workforce and strengthen the skills of employees - something that can generate a 14-29% increase in profit .

Element #2: Collaboration unites and empowers your workforce

Collaboration creates a more motivated and engaged workforce because people are smarter together. The collective knowledge of a diverse group beats the inert expertise of a few lone wolves.

Employees also produce better work together. Working and learning in isolation is proven to be less effective, and in some cases, disengaging .

When Mitchells & Butlers, the umbrella brand for over 1,700 pubs, cultivated a collaborative environment with Totara Learn, it immediately improved engagement, performance and business outcomes. Compliance rates reached 89% and food quality scores increased by 5% across the board.

Element #3: Performance management that is continuous and constructive improves productivity

A study by Slack discovered a noticeable difference in the performance and engagement of “aligned” and “unaligned” workers. Aligned workers connect their company’s goals to their personal career ambitions and carry a strong sense of purpose.

As a result, they’re motivated to not only take action, but also contribute their very best to your organization.

Unaligned workers, however, are disconnected from your organization’s objectives. They often feel disengaged, work in silos and “do not feel empowered to make strategic business decisions.”

Employee alignment and productivity is heavily influenced by the performance management methods used within the organization.

Totara Perform elements of employee experience

For employers, it is essential that they conduct a review of their performance management practices (both are possible with an adaptable system like Totara Perform) to include:

  • Continuous 360-degree feedback

  • More frequent check-ins

  • Up to date competency frameworks and skills audits

  • Clear objectives and key results (OKRs) that set clear goals at all levels of the organization

Combined, performance management can be transformed from being a despised and unproductive annual time sink, into an embedded set of everyday work practices designed to improve individual, team and organizational performance. It will lead to a more effective collaborative culture, encouraging more open decentralized decision-making that ensures the organization as a whole can respond effectively to changes in their business environment.

Using talent experience technology to improve employee experience 


Most organizations scramble between complicated and fragmented systems that separately support learning, collaboration and performance management. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • An isolated learning management system that is not tethered to individual or organizational goals, or everyday workflow. It can result in an overpowering reliance on formal, directed learning that is consumed without consideration to when new skills and behaviors can be put into active practice. This disconnect can lead to waning confidence and trust in the value of the training provided.

  • A rigid, annual performance review that only looks backward not forward and cannot positively influence the confidence, capability and productivity of its people. In many cases, the performance management system is something “just to get through” and fails to provide an honest picture of where improvements can be made.

  • An opaque, one-directional communication system that provides no means for dialog or collaboration, in-the-flow of work learning, mentorship and recognition.

These scattered systems separate and slow down your organization’s ability to get things done, free of frustration and friction. They suffocate the ROI generated from spending on HR and learning technology, contributing to the C-level view that it is an easy and inconsequential cost to be cut when needed.

HR tech overload

Separate, unintegrated systems create an unnecessary administrative overhead for the HR function, and an unnecessary cognitive overload for users who have to grapple with competing user interfaces and login processes.

Siloed systems lead to siloed thinking and management practices that slow down rather than accelerate business performance. A lack of visibility reduces effective knowledge sharing and results in duplication of effort and missed opportunities to uniformly adopt better practices and innovations to the benefit of all, rather than just the originators.

Talent experience technology improves adaptability


In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment, organizations need to reconsider the top-down “command and control” model of management and move to a more open structure that encourages bottom-up, collaborative decision-making that is inherently more flexible and adaptable.

To use an analogy, compare the approaches to music-making of a classical orchestra and jazz band.

With an orchestra, a score defines what is played and the conductor defines any interpretation expecting an accurate and replicable behavior from all. Today’s organizations mainly operate along similar lines— working to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that place emphasis on repeatability, efficiency and compliance.

In today’s world, this model is extremely brittle. When hit by unexpected change, this rigidity leads to failure, loss and even extinction as an organization.

A jazz band, on the other hand, behaves differently.

Each individual operates with the freedom to interpret, lead and follow within a flexible set of shared guidelines. There is a high level of mutual trust and understanding that facilitates a flexible interdependence.

When one member improvises, the rest of the band can adapt and contribute their unique, adapted input. Instead of screeching to a sudden stop, the music flows on. Each performance is different and contextualized to the environment they find themselves in.

Similarly, an organization that builds an intentional culture of collaboration, mutual awareness and adaptable team behaviors, is far more resilient in the face of unexpected change. It can move quickly to new ways of working to suit the new market conditions of the time.

To achieve this cultural and structural shift requires a strategic focus on building a world-class talent experience - tightly integrating learning, engagement and performance management activities.

Introducing the Totara Talent Experience Platform: Achieve the full potential of your organization


That’s why here at Totara, we built the Totara Talent Experience Platform to unite all the employee experience technology you need in one solution, so you can win today’s workplace to conquer tomorrow’s marketplace.

“To win in the marketplace...you must first win in the workplace”—Douglas Conant

Comprising three solutions - that are powerful on their own, but transformational when used together - Totara’s Talent Experience Platform helps you build a better workplace, increase resilience and prosper in today’s fast-changing world. It unites:

1. Totara Learn - the flexible LMS trusted by millions of learners and favored by companies worldwide (like Samsung and Indeed) to deliver transformational learning.

2. Totara Engage - the new learning experience platform (LXP) built to engage, unite and upskill your workforce. Totara Engage empowers employees to simplify complex knowledge sharing with collaborative workspaces and Microsoft Teams integration, to deliver higher employee engagement.

3. Totara Perform - with flexibility, organizational control and performance management at its core, Totara Perform enables the modern enterprise to deliver peak productivity.

Totara Talent Experience Platform Leaf

Together, these intuitive systems (that integrate with your current HCM and L&D tech) empower you with a talent experience platform that improves every aspect of your employee-employer experience to unlock peak performance and boost agility in your organization.

Schedule A Personalized Demo To Learn More

Find out how you can build a better workplace, increase resilience and prosper in today’s fast-changing world with Totara’s Talent Experience Platform