The idea of “employee experience” is getting new attention in the management world. But is “experience” the right focus? Employers must understand that when it comes to the employee experience, it’s really about employee perception, says Laura Stevens, a predictive people analytics expert at iNostix by Deloitte.

“Employee experience is not about what actually happened; rather, it’s about what is perceived, understood and remembered by the employee,” says Stevens, who has years of experience helping clients build engaging and forward-thinking workforces through the strategic application of data and analytics. “It’s not just a factor of what an organization throws at its employees; it’s how they perceive and interpret it.”

Because employee experience is about personal perceptions, employers need a data-driven strategy to manage it. Understanding and improving it requires a continuous-listening strategy, cross-functional data sharing and investing in analytical skills or partnerships, Stevens says. “Without these being in place, efforts are likely to end up having clear costs and unclear results.”

These three steps can help you establish a data-driven strategy to manage the employee experience.

Embrace Continuous Listening

Continuous listening means creating a path to listen to, analyze and act on the feedback of employees, Stevens says. “Though most organizations think of it selectively in terms of pulse surveys, continuous listening can go beyond capturing direct feedback only,” she says. A variety of data sources can help provide a true picture of what employees experience and give organizations actionable intelligence to improve the employee experience.

Success starts with creating a thoughtful strategy, Stevens says, which must include:

  • Setting a goal. Clearly define the purpose of your continuous-listening efforts. Examine what you’re trying to improve and what factors may affect it.
  • Writing the right questions. “Good questions should be designed thoughtfully, tested and have a proven link to what you are trying to measure,” Stevens says.
  • Designing the survey. Stevens says the length and cadence of the survey should be based on the objective and desired outcome of your continuous-listening program. “Take some time to understand the extent to which the components you want to measure are likely to change regularly,” she says.
  • Integration. “Ensure you can integrate your listening data with other data sources and apply advanced people analytics to these,” Stevens says. “After all, the true value of measuring employee experience and engagement lies in the ability to link these data with operational and strategic business outcomes.”

Share Cross-Functional Data

Integrating the data can be a challenge for many organizations. The problem often isn’t the availability of data, Stevens says; it’s sharing it. “Most organizations collect numerous data on their employees,” she says. “The real obstacle to better employee-experience management is breaking out of the silos and setting up a system of cross-functional data sharing, analysis and collaboration.” Critical employee data often is trapped in silos, or even outside the organization, she says.

Organizations must break down those barriers to integrate data for a clear picture of employee experience. “Employees look at everything that happens at work as an integrated experience, and expect businesses to operate as one seamless organization,” she says. “Therefore, it’s important to create a consistent and parallel path for collecting, analyzing and acting on their feedback. Employee journeys are cross-functional in nature, and this should be reflected in the listening strategy.”

Stevens suggests setting up a cross-functional data-champion team to ensure data gets shared. “Provide training, insights and inspiration on how employing and integrating data to enhance the employee experience will make their jobs more satisfying,” she says. Ensure the team has access to the entire employee data and systems landscape so it can identify gaps or barriers.

Invest in Analytical Skills

HR analytics can go a long way toward boosting employee experience programs, Stevens says. “Each employee is on a unique journey, and so are the factors that engage or disengage people as they experience their work through each critical phase in the employee life cycle,” she says. “Building an understanding of employees that allows for personalization, therefore, requires integrating and analyzing different types of data across different touch points.” Then management can identify groups of employees with similar needs and preferences or with different drivers of satisfaction across touch points.

“You can also use HR analytics to determine the current and potential value of employees and determine who to target with which initiative, in which channel and when,” she says. Analytics can also help you determine which employees are at risk of poor engagement or leaving the organization, and what tactics are most likely to keep them engaged or make them want to stay. The most advanced organizations are already integrating pulse data with social media, intranet data and KPIs, and applying sophisticated analytics to gain even more insight, Stevens says.

Investing in HR analytics — purchasing solutions, developing in-house platforms and tools and hiring people with analytics skills — is more than just an HR function. It’s critical in demonstrating the business impact of employee experience efforts, Stevens says, and in transforming HR departments into strategic business partners. “Without a quantified link to value, such programs won’t show early gains or build momentum and, therefore, stall before they ever really get going,” she says.