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Culture Basics: Getting Ready for Employee and Customer Experience

So you want to improve the quality of our government experiences, but you may be wondering just what that takes. When you start listening to people’s feedback — capturing the voices of your customers and employees — you’ll discover that the answers are already all around you.

Feedback data from people’s lived experiences are the absolute best sources to inform action to improve an agency’s performance. Elevate people’s voices — especially those closest to a problem — in decision-making, and you will see outcomes across the board improve.

Customer and employee experience listening journeys often begin with voice of the customer (VoC) and the voice of the employee (VoE) programs. These dedicated programs are designed to collect customer and employee feedback to better understand their experiences. People’s active voices become rich datasets that yield a wide range of insights. Those insights grow from diverse signals, across multiple sources:

  • Direct sources, including surveys and crowdsourcing platforms
  • Indirect sources, including social media comments or help desk call logs
  • Structured sources, such as multiple choice answers to survey responses
  • Unstructured sources, such as open-ended survey responses.

It’s within these datasets that the solutions to the government’s most formidable challenges can be found. 

Does capturing all of these insights, bringing them together from across a range of data sources, and making sense of them all to uncover actionable next steps seem like a daunting task? It can be. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, particularly if you’re from a culture where listening and connecting different kinds of data from different places is not the current practice.

But putting people’s voices at the center of everything — especially to shift from old ways of working to new ways of working — has the power to transform organizations for the better.  And innovative, mission-driven agencies like the Agriculture (USDA) and Veterans Affairs (VA) departments are leading the way.

The USDA has captured tens of thousands of survey responses and analyzed over 100,000 open-ended responses to inform customer and employee initiatives. And, after developing a best-in-class customer experience and employee experience program, the VA has implemented changes that have helped it raise its trust score among veterans from 55% in 2016 to 90%

So what can you do to get started listening? How employees connect and serve one another is customer experience. When I served as Chief of People and Culture to support IT modernization with the White House Center of Excellence at the Food and Drug Administration, my teams developed a series of accessible and enjoyable employee interactions that helped ready the culture to embrace employee and customer experience. These simple underpinnings reset the baseline culture of learning and collaboration.

Here are three simple exercises that can strengthen your employee experience, help you ramp up your people analytics capabilities, and shift toward adopting a true customer experience mindset.

1. Inclusive Vision and Value Development Experiences
If your colleagues fail to see eye to eye on the basics, do you think you’ll be able to solve complex challenges together? If this is a challenge within your organization, you can address it head-on by designing a series of human-centered experiences where employees pause daily routines to connect and listen to one another.

These activities should facilitate focus, alignment around customer-centered thinking, and drive greater trust. Leaders can distill data and content through these development activities by utilizing pulses, polls, digital forms, and other interactive employee experience tools. The following process includes working with employees to identify discrete behaviors associated with your organization’s key values. These behaviors, co-created on common ground, can be measured in other organization experiences over time. For guidance in this area, check out an article I wrote on strengthening your organization’s vision through collaboration.

2. Authentic Senior Leadership Experiences
Traditional government organizational charts have been designed to enforce a rank-and-file hierarchy. This model creates a significant distance from those at the top to those in the organization’s middle and the bottom. With this distance, it’s a challenge for people to hear and listen to one another easily in daily happenings.

When people aren’t hearing or seeking to understand one another, distrust fills the gaps and utilizes energy that would otherwise be better spent on positive performance improvements. At the FDA, we organized monthly “senior leadership moments,” where our most senior leadership teams had open dialogues with the broader organization and shared personal and vulnerable stories about their lives on a public and transparent stage.

These inspired conversation experiences busted through hierarchical barriers and fused collaborative attitudes that had previously locked our community in a stalemate of ”us versus them” mentality, with “us” being rank-and-file employees and “them” referring to management and executives. Trust is earned and measured in these experiences.

3. Colleague Connections and Skip Level Experiences
Recently, in a stakeholder engagement call with the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid, Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator and Chief Operating Officer, acknowledged that how we operate will have as much impact on improving healthcare as our policy ideas.

More and more leaders like Blum are starting to realize that problems can be solved faster if people from different operational backgrounds come together more often. That is, the key to solving seemingly unbeatable problems comes down to becoming experts at collaborating. Divisions, offices and departments have become silos that can prevent people from working together on enterprise efforts, such as VoE and VoC programs.

At the FDA, we created “Colleague Connections” and “Skip Level Innovations” to bring people together across organizational divisions. Both of these experiences offered the kind of social collisions required to truly evolve the nature of an agency’s operations. For monthly “Colleague Connections,” we’d match people with similar interests together for a virtual coffee. For “Skip Levels,” we invited all employees to have a virtual coffee with their manager’s manager, no matter where they sat in the organization. For leaders taking part in these kinds of conversations, it’s important to be mindful of balancing talking and listening. You can use this resource as a guide.

The future of customer- and employee-led government is happening. One day at a time, we can elevate the human experience of government by keeping our people’s voices at the center of everything. 

I’d love to hear your ideas of how you’re making this happen! If you have thoughts on how to shift an organization’s culture from tactical, disjointed activities to a holistic, experiential culture, tweet at me with your suggestions @NinaFuture.

Nina Bianchi focuses on transformative culture experiences. She served as Chief of People and Culture at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and with the General Services Administration’s (GSA) IT Modernization Centers of Excellence (COE). As a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) with the Biden Cancer Moonshot at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), she led collaborative work experiences to drive personalized patient experiences. Before serving in government, Nina led a social innovation consulting firm with a network of high-impact public-private partnerships. Her teams designed transformation solutions for city governments across the globe, philanthropy, nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies and institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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