Plotting pain points: how firms map the employee experience

Companies have long monitored customer interactions. They’re now using similar technology to track the employee experience, building better staff relationships


The secret to great employee engagement is understanding what workers want and why they might be dissatisfied. To achieve both ends, firms now track their workers’ experience far beyond the annual all-staff survey. 

Ikea is beginning to map out employees’ journeys, just like it tracks customers’ shopping experiences, says Neena Potenza, global strategic initiatives manager for people and culture at Ingka Group, the furniture giant’s largest retailer, with over 390 stores.

“Experience is the sum of everything a co-worker experiences throughout their connection to us as a company, whether it’s HR services, the job, culture and leadership, or digital or physical workplace,” Potenza explains.​ “We use journey mapping to understand the perspective of the co-worker.” 

Ikea is testing several technology platforms to determine which best suit its needs. It’s taking a continuous measurement and improvement approach, using initiatives like net promoter scores, or NPS. This is a way of measuring the proportion of people who would recommend a product or service and is now being used to assess employees’ attitudes to their workplace. The company frequently gathers data on a variety of journeys, from onboarding to development to leaving.

Thriving at work

Ikea wants to better understand what is most effective in mapping employees’ journeys. For example, in assessing a staff member’s learning and development journey, it looks for detail on their skills assessment process and whether someone was able to apply what they learnt. “All of this helps us better understand where we can make improvements for people so we can help them thrive, feel included and learn,” Potenza states.

For mattress manufacturer Emma, switching from spreadsheets to software has helped the company more efficiently track its workers’ journeys and identify pain points. The business has grown rapidly and now has more than 850 staff in locations like Shanghai and Mexico City, as well as its Frankfurt head office.

Emma started using the Culture Amp employee experience platform in 2019 to gather feedback in an efficient way. It previously took the firm’s team lead for organisational development Hannah Boerner around three weeks to analyse the information provided by the company’s regular staff surveys. 

Questionnaires became easier to complete, meaning more staff responded and the resulting data is now accessible on a single page. People’s answers are confidential, Boerner states. Team leads – who may be the focus of the feedback – get tips on creating a “productive and solution-oriented atmosphere”, rather than receiving verbatim comments. Emma now runs these all-staff surveys twice a year.

One area pinpointed for improvement was the 360-review and development process, where employees at all levels give performance feedback for their colleagues. Emma now gathers performance feedback over a period of about a month every year, as well as providing developmental feedback on a continuous, informal basis. 

Career progression

One of Emma’s current focuses is creating career opportunities for people who have already learnt a lot within the business and are ready for more. “We are looking at development opportunities through project rotation – so how can we use [people’s] strengths in the best way for the company but also for the person to develop?” Boerner states. 

Staff might be moved from their usual job to a special project or spend time in an overseas office. Perhaps two leaders could swap roles, she adds.

As well as its twice-yearly survey, Emma also has regular, more iterative ways to identify pain points and map employees’ journeys. “If we have a feeling there may be an [issue], we do a quick check-up with a group of people, we go into talks and try to identify the root cause of a problem,” Boerner explains.

This blend of data and human input is also a key focus for Reza Moussavian, a long-time HR and transformation expert who joined fashion retailer Zalando in June as its vice president of people products. Having hired 7,000 people in 2021 alone, onboarding is a critical part of the ecommerce company’s efforts to map employee experience. 

There’s a direct correlation between the onboarding experience of new staff and employee attrition, or the time when they leave the company, Moussavian says. 

This is a pain point for most firms. The answers they give in the first 90 days of their job when asked if they would recommend Zalando as an employer and whether they see themselves at the firm in the next two to three years is “highly correlated” to attrition levels, he states.

Moussavian adds that a “blended onboarding” helps to increase loyalty, an approach that might include lunches with colleagues, management training and smaller touches like celebrating with the new starter’s favourite cake. 

Artificial intelligence in HR

Like Boerner, Moussavian views development as another crucial point in a staff member’s journey. In his former role as a senior vice president of HR at Deutsche Telekom, Moussavian’s team redesigned the evaluation process. Managers and employees would together discuss a staff member’s performance, with a development plan created for each person. 

The technology would then come in, with the plan read by an artificial intelligence tool to recommend next steps, such as relevant jobs within the company as well as suggestions for training courses.

This use of technology means employees don’t even have to ask their managers about career progression or learning opportunities. “There is a win-win, because the [manager] saves time … and the employee has immediate recommendations on future career planning,” Moussavian states.

Potenza says Ikea is “just at the beginning” of the employee mapping process, but has already identified areas for improvement. “Whereas we thought we had the biggest problem with onboarding, bigger problems actually included not providing the right IT tools, or that managers don’t have enough time for co-workers, or that the training wasn’t specific enough to the job at hand,” Potenza explains. “Now that we know, we can make improvements in these areas.”

She says Ikea is “hyper curious” about what’s working or not working for staff. But one thing is clear: mapping pain points and intervening where necessary makes for happier employees who are more likely to stick with their jobs.