Culture Leadership

Successful Employee Engagement – Josh Bersin (Webinar Summary)

On the 3rd of November, our webinar series focused on tackling the theme of employee engagement with HR analyst and author Josh Bersin. Together with Oslo Business Forum and Simployer, we sat down with Josh to discuss what changes companies can make to enhance employee experience, productivity, and employee retention.

Why is Employee Engagement Important?

Josh began the webinar by saying that although he came to talk about why employee engagement is important, engagement is a dated way to describe it. Instead, he introduced us to the concept of employee experience and later argued that engagement works as a measure of employee experience, but isn’t the main issue. However, both employee engagement and experience are important due to the same combination of factors.

The stimuli from our work, home, and external environment all contribute to the employee experience. Currently, we are facing the aftermath of the pandemic, inflation, and war, just to name a few of the stress factors around us. In the USA in particular, the labor force is experiencing a demographic drought, meaning that there aren’t enough people to hire. The unemployment rate in many countries is near an all-time low, which isn’t due to the economy, but the transformation that many companies are going through.

Recent research conducted by Microsoft showed that 87% of employees believe they are highly productive at work, yet only 12% of executives agree with them. Employees feel that they are working hard and have a lot on their plate, whereas managers and higher leadership think very differently. This, as well as the factors described above, have resulted in the highest employee turnover ever seen. This newfound mobility is making employee retention more difficult than ever.

“Automation is creating human-centered jobs.”

Simply put, people are burned out. Research conducted in the USA this year made an alarming finding that 81% of workers have experienced mental health issues as a result of the pandemic. While the mental and physical health of employees is a continuous issue, pay is now becoming a significant problem due to inflation. All of these factors affect both companies and individuals and can hinder productivity and quality of life.

These issues are likely to become even worse due to the decreasing fertility rate. Many countries are forecasted to hit their peak population in the next 15 to 20 years, which means an aging population and a smaller workforce. While this is happening, digitalization is moving companies toward service jobs despite of the field they operate in, increasing the need for labor.

Irresistible by Design

The traditional way to improve the employee experience and retention has been to survey the employees, add benefits, and increase pay and rewards to improve the “employee deal”. This way, however, does not meet the needs of the current situation. Josh proposes a new way called Irresistible by Design, which focuses on designing the company around employees. Here are the 7 things really successful companies do:

  1. Teams not hierarchy
  2. Work not jobs
  3. Coach not boss
  4. Culture not rules
  5. Growth not promotion
  6. Purpose not profits
  7. Experience, not output

Josh proceeded to give the example of Microsoft, which used to be highly competitive but not creative at all. The company grew very quickly yet missed important markets such as the mobile phone, internet, and search engine markets among others, and struggled to keep up. The new CEO Satya Nadella changed this by renewing the company culture.

“This is the new normal, in a sense that it will be hard to hire, and it will be important for you to build a great employee experience regardless.”

Irresistible Employee Experience

The Josh Bersin Company has conducted extensive research on how companies view their performance on 80 different characteristics of a good employee experience. Josh introduced a few of them and explained one of their most interesting findings. When you correlate the sophistication of some items with business growth, employee experience, retention, innovation, and so forth, certain things matter more. These four items related to a positive workplace and trust in the organization, for example, were found to have a very high impact:

  • Inclusive, diverse, and sense of belonging and community
  • Mission and purpose beyond financial goals
  • Transparency, empathy, and integrity of leadership
  • Continous investment in people

This research shows that by giving our employees the things that allow them to grow and succeed, we give them their humanity back and they will perform better than ever. Another piece of research conducted in the USA showed that 40% of employees go to work scared about not being able to meet their targets and perform, which tells of a significant disparity between creating a good employee experience and the reality of most companies.

“We’re extracting energy from people. But actually you know, people aren’t like that. People are inspired animals, if you give things to people, they will give you more back.”

Irresistible Recruitment

“People don’t become the company, the company becomes the people,” Josh recalled. The type of people you higher and the qualities they have will become the qualities of the company. Creating a compelling recruitment brand that shows your company culture is important in finding the right people. In fact, recruiting has the highest impact of all in shaping the employee experience.

“If you don’t get the right people into the company, it’s very hard to create a compelling experience for them.”

Irresistible Learning and Growth

You have to create a learning experience for your employees to make sure they are engaged, motivated, and want to stay at the company. People will go from learning to growth, and this growth-based learning shows them a growth path while they are learning.

One way to facilitate learning at your company is to group people into “academies”. These groups are learning about the same thing and will gain from each other by learning together.

Irresistible Culture Based on Trust

Based on studies conducted in the USA, people trust their employers more than they trust the government, major media, or other institutions. This gives a huge amount of responsibility to companies. According to Josh, trust is based on three things: ethics, competence, and listening.

Companies need to be transparent and equitable when making decisions and communicating with their employees. They also need to show that they are competent and able to deliver on their promises and goals. Lastly, companies should realize that employees are their most valuable source of information. They are the closest to your product, service, whatever you provide, and they have the deepest insight.

“People trust institutions that hear them.”

To create human-centered leadership, you need to put the people first. Before making important decisions and changes, check in with the people first. This is because, as Josh argues, people are the purpose of your business.


Visual Summary of Josh Bersin’s Webinar by Linda Saukko-Rauta

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  • How to leverage data to improve experiences.
  • What are the latest new customer interfaces?
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