Why employee journey mapping matters

It may sound like the latest human resources buzzword, but employee journey mapping has the potential to drive real change for businesses

HR is constantly evolving, and so too are the tools and techniques at its disposal. Employee journey mapping is one of the latest to have an impact, offering the prospect of employees taking a greater degree of control over their experience in a company, with the hope of creating more engaged and productive staff, who will remain with the business for longer.

“In simple terms, employee journey mapping is understanding the experience an employee goes through, from their very first contact with a company all the way through to their last day in the office,” says Aliya Vigor-Robertson, co-founder of JourneyHR. “By putting themselves in an employee’s shoes, HR teams can identify ways to improve the company culture, enhance the employee experience and build their employer brand.”

Putting employees in charge

An important element of employee journey mapping is that it is the employee who is in charge, rather than it being a top-down initiative, with a particular emphasis on what matters to them.

“Organisations are currently overlooking the wide variety of everyday human interactions and events, trials and triumphs, adventures and misadventures that define life at work,” says Robert Ordever, managing director of workplace culture firm O.C. Tanner Europe. “These everyday ‘micro-experiences’ create the real employee experience. But rather than empathise with these, many organisations operate as though they don’t even exist.”

Understanding what an employee goes through, from their very first contact all the way through to their last day in the office

O.C. Tanner’s own research found that 92 per cent of employees describe their employee experience as their “everyday” experience, while 66 per cent feel the employee experience matters at their organisation.

These individual experiences are something that CoreHR has made a key part of its employee mapping process, particularly through its 30:30 discussions, where every employee is entitled to a minimum of a 30-minute chat every 30 days with their manager to discuss matters that are important to them.

“It’s now regarded less as a list of ‘moments in time’ along the employee life cycle and more about how the employee experience is ‘lived and felt’ by individual employees at various junctures of their employment experiences,” says Sharon Looney, chief human resources officer at CoreHR.

Employee journey mapping key to engagement?

Effectively mapping employees requires HR and line managers to take the time to talk to staff. “The biggest problem is nervousness around asking employees for thoughts and feedback; sometimes business owners and managers are afraid to find out what their people really think,” says Nicola Gater, consultant at Reality HR. “But taking a head-in-the-sand approach only stores up problems for later.”

Part of this means being willing to listen to any input, even if this is not as expected. “You may find that what employees want is not what youHR mapping had planned,” says Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director of employee engagement firm 10Eighty. “If you don’t focus on what they want and need, there’s no point pretending that HR can really make a difference to engagement.”

New technology can help employers and line managers capture experiences and ensure any potential issues are identified early on. “With so much data on productivity now available, combined with regular engagement surveys and information gathered via apps and other technology, businesses can quickly see which stage of a journey is failing which employees, so that they can address these straightaway,” says JourneyHR’s Ms Vigor-Robertson.

Changing the shape of organisations

There are already examples of where talking to employees about what they want out of their work has led organisations to act. Consumer review website Trustpilot developed its Trustpilot Women In Leadership initiative, designed to help develop women in the technology space, which originated in its New York office.

“The group has also started to undertake a series of philanthropic events and activities,” says Donna Murray Vilhelmsen, Trustpilot’s chief HR officer. “It’s something which has come very organically from a group of individuals, and we’re encouraging and supporting them to do more and take the opportunity into other offices globally.”

DHL, meanwhile, has used employee insight to transform its processes around both recruitment and career management, helping to improve the way it conducts these for future recruits as well as existing staff. “Our datapoints show that those who have clearly defined career paths stay with us longer, often via promotion and advancement,” says Lindsay Bridges, senior vice president of HR at DHL Supply Chain UK and Ireland. “We’ve used this data to create bespoke employee journeys, tailored to specific groups of individuals.”

Areas for improvement

But there are risks attached to employee journey mapping. “If you get it wrong, you may put the wrong person in charge of people,” says John McLaughlin, head of enterprise solutions at Aon’s Assessment Solutions. “In hierarchical, straight-line career path structures, this is common. In digital organisations, increasingly, there is a ‘Y’ shape, where people can progress either into some type of technical managerial role or a role with people management responsibilities.”

It’s also possible to misjudge what’s important for the employee base as a whole. “Fail to map the right paths for your employees and morale will sink,” warns Mark Williams, vice president of product at People First. “You can end up like US online soft furnishings company Wayfair where the employees walked out over their employer’s sales to migrant detention centres, which they didn’t agree with. There was a mismatch in values which nobody at the top foresaw.”

Commitment to employee journey mapping from senior leaders is essential, says Sharon Benson, HR director at online retailer Studio.co.uk, which is currently looking at creating a mapping strategy. “The employee journey is an outcome of HR directors working closely with C-suite colleagues in firstly shaping the target culture, defining the internal and external brand, and identifying the core foundations of what success looks like within each function and respective role,” she says. “Only through this approach can you genuinely start considering the end-to-end employee experience, based on the multiple levels of engagement and genuine feedback.”