Employee-centric programs: 3 blockers and how to address them

Corey Hatcher | September 16, 2022
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More and more companies are starting to lean into employee-centric programs—the notion of inviting employees to take part in HR programs—especially with the world of hurdles the pandemic has thrown our way. As we’ve seen with the Great Reshuffle, employees are testing the waters of different organizations (and cultures) to see which aligns best with them. By developing an employer-centric culture, you’re able to attract and retain top-tier employees by solving their needs directly. 

The most innovative, world-class organizations choose to spark new life into the idea that employees should be co-creators in building the environment that they wish to thrive in. It’s about balancing how you’re solving problems with why you’re solving them. Both are equally important and require your employees at the center to effectively address. 

If you’re introducing this concept to an organization that doesn’t currently operate in co-creator mode with its employees, you may run into some roadblocks—but don’t let that deter you. Read on for some tips on three common blockers to implementing employee-centric programs and how you can address them. 

Table of contents 

1. The HR ego

Sometimes, HR teams can stand in the way of their own progress. Phrases like “This is how it’s been done in the past,” or “This is how we did it at other companies” aren’t solid reasons why your team should continue doing it that way. If you’re not seeing the change in behavior that these HR programs are intended to bring, then it’s time to look at different methods and perspectives to invite the employee's voice into the conversation. 

However, bringing in new perspectives may give HR teams the perception that their expertise isn’t appreciated—which isn’t the case. The collective knowledge and expertise of your team will help guide the conversation, give options, provide data related to trends and thought processes, and help navigate conversations when teams get stuck. These new ideas may differ from what’s hot in the market or what you’ve been classically trained for, but rest assured, they’re some of the best ways for you to have an open and honest conversation with employees about their needs and expectations. 

Once your HR team is open to new ideas, they’re better equipped to create a collaborative environment where employees can have fruitful discussions. 

How to fix it

So how do you overcome the HR ego? It’s something that HR professionals are already trained to do—being receptive to other perspectives and experiences. One of our purposes, as it relates to the business, is to support the entire employee journey.

By staying true to our core principles as HR professionals and putting the focus on the ‘human’ aspect of our roles, it’s much easier to put our own preferences, habits, and experiences aside and be open to considering new ways of approaching our roles. With new generations making bigger plays in the workforce, there is a lot about HR that’s changing (and rightfully so) to become more of a strategic partner for the business and its employees.  

2. Poor prioritization and program planning

Aligning programs with business needs and strategies is critical to not only address pressing issues that employees are facing, but also to ensure you’re solving the right problem. 

The trick is to uncover an actual problem, versus the perceived problem. Take voluntary terminations, for example. If employees claim that they’re leaving your organization because of compensation, you may want to also check on whether people are feeling developed in their careers, if they have opportunities for growth or promotions, and if they’re being rewarded for a job well done. While the primary cause of leaving could very well be compensation, there are other factors that need digging to pinpoint the root cause of the perceived problem. 

Additionally, when it comes to projects or program creation, HR teams tend to jump from ideation directly into execution—which can result in missing critical steps when planning the process. Prioritization and planning are crucial to any project's success, especially when you’re including employees as co-creators. 

How to solve it

First off, dive deep into researching the issue to understand the ask. Once you understand what the actual problem is, you can move on to compare this issue with the others in your queue. From here, you can prioritize to get the most bang for your buck. 

Then, once you’ve slotted a time for when the project should be addressed, create a project plan. Once you have a working document, include all the stakeholders, contributors, and advisors you’d normally include—but don’t forget your employees. Consider them as part of the team and remember that they’re deserving of having a seat at the table, just like your other stakeholders.

By viewing your employees as a stakeholder, it’s much easier to incorporate their feedback and perspective into your process and plan. Just as you’d run ideas by your usual stakeholders for feedback, do the same for your employees and you’ll have built-in buy-in from the team that matters most to your organization.

By building the process of gaining employee feedback and making it simple to incorporate and receive, you can impress upon your teammates and leadership that this is a critical step to the success of the program. By reserving space for this feedback, it’s more likely to happen over the course of the program’s creation rather than being a last-minute effort that could come too late in the process to make a difference. 

3. The leadership appetite 

Alignment with the leadership team is a key component to gaining traction on employee-centric programs. What you may face here is a lack of buy-in due to obstacles like business volatility, uninformed decision-making, or resource shortages. Leadership has to be in the right mindset to be open to this entirely new way of thinking. So, how do you help them get there? 

How to satisfy it

One of the most important steps in gaining executive buy-in—a crucial step to getting company-wide support for any program—is empathizing with them. HR teams and executives have a common focus on ensuring that employees are well cared for, but speak different languages.

In other words, no matter how important you feel the employee-centered programs you’re pitching to your executives may be, those stakeholders likely won’t hear a word if it’s not positioned in a way they’ll relate to. While it’s fairly straightforward to pinpoint the cost/benefit breakdown for individual programs, a wider employee-centric strategy requires a bit of a shift in mindset for the entire organization, including your executives. Currently, organizations around the world are slimming down resources and tightening budgets—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to introduce this concept. Help your executive team see the value in giving employees a seat at the table by sharing quotes, video feedback, and any relevant metrics, to illustrate the long-term value of further investing in employees. 

Fortunately, you should be able to find data—both qualitative and quantitative—to back up your employee-centric strategy. Employees are an organization’s most valuable asset, so find ways to highlight how the organization can maximize that investment by including them in the process. 

And when it comes to presenting to executives, remember they’re often short on time and most likely prefer you get right to the point. Keep presentations high-level and utilize video and imagery over text-heavy presentation slides whenever possible. And don’t forget to weave data into impactful storytelling to show the human side of your programs. It’s not enough to show numbers in a presentation—speaking of the impact of productive employees and how that affects the bottom line will get their attention.

By putting yourself in the shoes of your executive team, you’re helping HR put their best foot forward when getting buy-in for programs, highlighting the quantitative and qualitative benefits of employee-centric programs. 

Moving forward

It may seem challenging to bring the employee voice to the center of your HR programs when they have been left out for so long, but it’s worth the effort. Your entire organization will benefit from an entirely new mindset that challenges everyone to think outside the box and co-author solutions. 

Planning around gaining employee feedback and buy-in takes practice and a timeline that’s managed. The dedication you make to ensure that employees have a seat at the table will allow you to co-create something that’s meaningful for everyone within your organization, helping everyone achieve the best and most impactful work of their lives.

Read next 

To learn more about employee-centric programs, read the other posts in this series:

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About this author:

Corey is a Principal People Experience, ESG and Social Impact Strategist at UserTesting. She currently leads our ESG and Social Impact efforts while helping to develop and scale strategic People programs at UserTesting.