It’s a question HR leaders in every industry face: How can you create an authentically great employee experience that cultivates unity, a sense of purpose, and deeper motivation?
According to Chip Heath, New York Times best-selling author of The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, and a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, an outstanding employee experience hinges on “peak moments.” What does that mean? The majority of life experiences blur together in our memory, but peak moments stand out and influence our perception of a particular experience.
HR leaders are positioned to encourage these defining moments, Heath said during a keynote presentation at this year’s IAMPHENOM conference in Philadelphia.
Particularly during stressful and uncertain times, creating positive experiences for employees can help boost morale and balance negative feelings. Now more than ever, HR leaders may find Heath’s perspective relevant to shaping the employee experience.
The Power of Moments
Heath began his IAMPHENOM presentation by asking attendees to consider what he calls "the Disney paradox.” Disney World is usually hot, crowded, and full of long lines—not exactly synonymous with a terrific experience. But Disney is masterful when it comes to delivering memorable moments.
As a result, experiencing the exhilarating Space Mountain drop eclipses the memory of waiting in the ride’s hours-long line in 90% humidity. And a child’s glee upon meeting Mickey Mouse more than makes up for the all-too-common mid-afternoon meltdown.
In the workplace, HR professionals can take a page out of Disney’s book and create a better employee experience by being “masters of the moment,” Heath explained.
Four Elements of a Memorable Experience
According to Heath, there are 4 characteristics that can create a defining moment:
1. Elevation. This refers to a powerful sensory experience that makes a moment rise above the everyday. The little things are the big things, and HR professionals are in an ideal position to elevate the mundane for workers while also infusing company culture and core values into the experience.
2. Insight. Sometimes in the course of daily life, we have a breakthrough and gain a better understanding of the world. In the workplace, being part of innovation can lead to moments of insight.
3. Pride. To create a moment of pride, HR leaders and employee managers should recognize achievement. It can take the form of employee awards, or be as simple as verbalizing positive feedback: “I see what you’ve done, and I appreciate it.”
4. Connection. Connecting with others is extremely powerful. Cultivating an environment where people pull together as a team is key to forging deep moments of connection.
How To Design an Impactful First Day of Work
The first day of work is an important milestone HR should prioritize. Getting it right can lay the groundwork for building employee trust and appreciation—both essential elements to fostering passionate brand advocates.
To illustrate this point, Heath described how tractor maker John Deere chose to honor this often-overlooked big life moment. At its China and India locations, the company transformed a previously lackluster experience into one filled with memorable moments that foster pride and connection. Here’s how:
- Before the first day arrives, new employees are assigned a “texting buddy” who answers questions and gives guidance on dress code and directions to the office.
- The buddy also asks the new employee what their favorite morning beverage is—and then has it waiting on the first day.
- Lobby monitor screens display a welcome message, and a banner above the employee’s desk identifies the person as new so that colleagues can stop by and introduce themselves.
- Charismatic photos of John Deere tractors scroll across the new employee’s monitor, interspersed with the message “Welcome to the most important work you’ll ever do.” A toy model of the first plow patented by John Deere also awaits them on their desk.
- The first email the employee receives is a video from the CEO, who shares the company’s history of building innovative tractors that are used for the meaningful purpose of helping to produce food and shelter.
- At lunchtime, co-workers take the new employee out and discuss current projects they’re excited to be working on.
5 Tips to Create Company “Moments”
Actualizing a moment-driven work environment akin to John Deere’s inspirational first day isn’t out of reach. Here are 5 specific ways HR leaders can incorporate the four elements Heath shared to help forge a more memorable employee experience.
1. Encourage team leaders to communicate the larger purpose of projects and tasks. Employees who have a sense of purpose overwhelmingly perform higher, even compared to those who say they are excited about their work but lack purpose.
2. When goals are met on a timeline, recognize the achievement and thank the team with a special lunch or get-together. Prioritizing impactful work like a new product launch or a successful implementation is a valuable asset that can directly affect a company’s bottom line.
3. Think about what milestones might be meaningful to employees, and commemorate them with a personalized moment in the spotlight and a tangible takeaway such as tickets to game or a gift certificate to a local restaurant or spa. A sales team hitting a certain number, a well-earned promotion, or winning a prestigious industry award are all opportunities for celebrating a job well done.
4. Encourage company leaders to personally recognize employees’ achievements. Knowing the CEO, for example, is aware of and grateful for individual accomplishments can build pride and a stronger sense of belonging. Even a quick shout-out on your company’s instant messaging platform can go a long way.
5. Plan activities that inspire connection. They don’t have to be high-end or offsite to result in a memorable shared experience that spark stories employees will tell and reflect on. Consider ways to give back to your local community, host a company-wide virtual trivia game, plan fun-themed Fridays, or leverage employee resource groups for more ideas.
Making employees feel special will help cultivate a positive work culture where people are valued, connected, driven by a deeper purpose, and motivated to accomplish more.
“All of you are makers of moments...in the workplace, with customers, with your families,” Heath concluded. “You have the skills—go back and create them.”