CIOs and the post-pandemic employee experience

Digitizing employee experiences is key, but so is earning executive-peer buy in, a new survey shows

Building great business apps and other digital tools to improve employee experience requires a lot more than great technology. It takes cross-team collaboration, new skills, and the ability to measure how digital tools will generate return on investment.

CIOs are in the best position to lead these efforts, provided they know how to orchestrate them with support from their colleagues. A global survey of 600 C-level executives by ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab shows some of the key requirements of creating great digital experiences for employees.

For the 20% of surveyed organizations that ranked as leaders in this new discipline, executives cited several key success factors, starting with close collaboration between IT and HR (75%), C-suite support of technology investments (68%), integrated business and technology planning (60%), and a strong feedback loop between employees and managers (50%).

While digitizing experiences often involves advanced technologies like machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA), one takeaway for CIOs from the survey is to focus less time on the software stack and more time connecting with their executive peers.

CIOs need to have “an experience-first mindset,” says Earl Newsome, CIO of the Americas for Linde PLC, a global gas and engineering company with 80,000 employees in over 100 countries. “We had mobile-first, cloud-first, and now what companies need is experience-first.”

Here are a few of the elements, according to the survey, that can help CIOs get there.

Get CEOs on board

As companies expand their investments in digital EX in 2021, those bigger initiatives will require more executive support, especially from the CEO. CIOs don’t just need their signoff for bigger budgets, but for better alignment on priorities.

When asked what were their biggest EX priorities over the next three years, CIOs and CEOs were most out of alignment in IT support (CIOs, 57%, CEOs 44%), HR and personal information (CIOs, 34%, CEOs, 25%), uniform access (CIOs, 29%, CEOs, 21%), and overall progress with digitizing EX (CIOs, 54%, CEOs, 48%).

Get in sync with CHROs

CIOs can drive better coordination for EX initiatives from the top; their biggest ally, according to survey data, is the CHRO. Not only are CHROs consistently aligned with the practices and investments of digital EX leaders, they are prioritizing bigger EX investments more than anyone in the C-suite.

When asked to list their biggest EX priorities over the next three years, CHROs led all executives in their support of making overall progress on EX (CHROs, 74%, average, 55%), employee training and development (CHROs, 61%, average, 48%), uniform access (CHROs, 44%, average, 31%), and IT support (CHROs, 68%, average, 58%).

Pick the right battles

Companies face different challenges with digital EX depending on their level of maturity. For example, companies defined in the survey as EX beginners most frequently confront budget constraints and tech limitations. EX leaders, meanwhile, struggle to train and upskill employees and determine the best use cases.

CIOs will need to be aware of these friction points as they draw up long-term EX roadmaps. Here’s how EX beginners view the challenges they face compared with EX leader organizations:

Top challenges for EX beginners

  • Keeping pace with technological change: 44%
  • Upskilling employees: 33%
  • High costs/insufficient budget: 36%

Top challenges for EX leaders

  • Upskilling employees: 61%
  • Keeping pace with technological change: 47%
  • Deciding use cases: 42%

Whatever the obstacles, organizations need to pick up the pace. Before the pandemic, 80% of all organizations were either in the beginning or intermediate stages of developing EX expertise.

The simplest way CIOs can acquire that experience-first mindset, says Linde CIO Earl Newsome, is to start by treating your workers as your best customers, and identifying the experiences that matter most to them.

The pandemic, Newsome explains, “offers so many opportunities from an employee perspective. Can we provide them better support for remote health? Can we provide better economic support? We want to address those things in a way that creates great experiences for our employees—and thereby allows them to do the same for our customers.”

Newsome also says “Another challenge for CIOs and members of technology community is to drive better inclusion and equity experiences for all members of our community through taking the pledge at and living the pledge.” This organization was formed by a group of leading CIOs with a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion.