The Employee Experience… You’ve Got it All Wrong! Here's why.

The Employee Experience… You’ve Got it All Wrong!

You thought you had it nailed.

You took on board insights from the likes of Gallup’s landmark study showing that organisations with highly engaged workforces outperform those with poor engagement by:

  • 10% in customer loyalty,
  • 20% in productivity
  • a whopping 21% in profitability.


You’d paid an expensive designer to come and overhaul your offices, swapping the vending machines for foosball tables, the limp canteen sandwiches for superfood salad stations and the beige paint job for wall-mounted neon quotes from thrusting entrepreneurs.

You’d paid an equally expensive consultant to come and run an away day at the zoo, with lots of team-building exercises, inspiring videos and specially printed T-shirts.

And yet… and YET!!! (frustration emoji)! Somehow, all this only seemed to make things worse.

Yes, the great employee engagement revolution has backfired, and badly. And the reason comes down to one simple but seismic mistake:

The confusion of culture with benefits.

Benefits are short-term perks leaders throw at people to try and make them feel, temporarily, better about themselves and the place that they work.

Culture, on the other hand, is the deep and often invisible set of beliefs, behaviours and stories within which employees operate. Culture determines how we feel when we walk through the front doors of the office, how we react when we come up against a challenging customer, the sort of conversations we have with our colleagues, and the way we talk about work when we get home in the evening. And no number of free edamame beans is going to fix that!

To love our jobs we need more than just perks

We’ve long realised that giveaways and gimmicks don’t work when it comes to customer loyalty. We know that making things easy, keeping our promises and flexing to customers’ needs has far more impact on CX than a chirpy greeting or a free teddy bear. So why do we persist in thinking that our employees will be fobbed off with the workplace equivalent?

There are two further culprits here. The first is a version of Korn Ferry’s tangibility bias – our deluded belief that investment in things we can touch (such as technology or artisan coffee) is more likely to solve our problems than investment in the development and happiness of the people who work with us. The second is more profound, and entirely understandable: our inability to see how on earth we can influence something as complex and unruly as a huge group of human beings.

The solution demands an entirely different approach to employee engagement than any that has gone before. It requires us to draw on new scientific discoveries – from fields as diverse as evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics  – to understand how the fundamental drivers of human communities work. It then asks that we team these insights with both deep analytics and practical on-the-ground experience to develop a clear set of actions that work with, rather than against, that astonishingly powerful technology we call the human brain.

That’s what we’ve done with Blue Sky’s Human Code. By digging deep into the mechanics of human interaction, we’ve been able to identify twelve behavioural levers that drive people’s attitudes, actions and beliefs. We’ve then taken this blueprint and mapped it onto the workplace, to produce the Culture Code: a twelve-step strategy for transforming organisational culture and super-charging employee experience.

Blue Sky cultural code

What are some of the key takeaways of this new approach?

  • First, stories are everything. Leaders need to shape and tell clear stories about the cultural change that needs to happen, while employees need to get into the habit of sharing their own personalised version of those stories every day.
  • Then, permission trumps control. Your people must feel empowered to make their own decisions and take their own risks, feeling like the organisation is supporting their own agenda for self-development and growth rather than imposing its own.
  • Connection matters. Only when an individual feels a sense of safety and belonging do they feel free to push their boundaries, challenge their own performance and innovate. Although clever remote-working apps and internal social platforms can help, it’s also crucial to foster a culture of face-to-face micro-coaching and positive mentoring (in fact, 39% of 2017 graduates like to interact with colleagues face-to-face, with only 19% preferring web communication tools).

Gen Z graduates who feel their skills and degrees are being fully used and stretched are almost three times more likely to stay with their first employer for five or more years)”
Deloitte Millennial Survey

That’s just a tiny glimpse into the principles of the Culture Code, but all of them are powerful – and many of them are extremely challenging to the way organisations currently work. Ironically, it seems that the more automated the operational side of business becomes, the more humanity we crave in the people bit. Centralised, systematised, one-size-fits-all HR policies are relics of the past; nowadays, employees crave companies that can replicate the personalised, convenient and engaging experiences they’ve learnt to expect outside of work – in other words, the sort of experiences they enjoy as customers. They want to shape their workplace experience on their terms, and if they don’t get that opportunity, they either project their disillusionment into the culture around them, breeding ever more toxicity…or they walk.

We’re at the brink of an exciting opportunity for employee engagement, but it’s one that asks us to let go of easy shortcuts in favour of some pretty hard work. As leaders, we need to focus on culture, not Caipirinha Fridays. We need to invest in hacking humans, rather than installing yet another piece of shiny employee-management software. And we need to have the courage to go deeper than we’d like, listen to uncomfortable truths, and change our stories, one conversation at a time.

Only then can we build human organisations where people who care about what they do, can get a whole lot more done.

Mic Drop.

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