CEOs lag in digital EX—but the onus is on the C-Suite

CHROs and other execs need to better communicate EX priorities—and big-time results

Chief executives are surprisingly less likely to prioritize investments in digitizing employee experience than others in the C-suite, despite the big promise it shows.

A global executive survey from ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab of 600 C-level executives in five major industries shows that digitizing the employee experience (EX) doesn’t just boost productivity and engagement, it improves customer retention, revenue growth, and profitability.

Yet CEOs trail other senior executives by a wide margin in prioritizing EX objectives, the survey shows. While 74% of CHROs and 54% of CIOs consider overall progress their top EX priority over the next three years, just 48% of CEOs agreed; similarly, while 68% of CHROs and 57% of CIOs consider digitizing employee experience in IT support a top priority, only 44% of CEOs concurred.

That’s especially worrying given the indefinite impact of COVID-19 on how employees will work in 2021 and beyond. In fact, according to a separate workplace survey conducted by ServiceNow in September, 60% of companies still lack sophisticated digital workflows that help employees be more productive.

Yoni Assia, CEO of eToro, the trading and brokerage platform, chalks some of this up to the complexity of the endeavor. “Being able to define and automate workflows for knowledge workers who are required to be creative isn’t trivial,” he says.

C-suite gaps

CHROs are by far the biggest advocates and most successful practitioners of EX in the C-suite. They are also more likely to recognize its benefits than CEOs or other execs. When asked what payoffs of EX they had achieved, CHROs reported the biggest benefits in several key areas, while CEOs reported the least in the following areas:

  • Higher productivity
    CHROs: 51%, All: 44%, CEOs: 40%
  • Improved customer experience
    CHROs: 44%, All: 40%, CEOs: 32%
  • Improved market position
    CHROs: 38%, All: 33%, CEOs: 30%
  • Higher employee satisfaction
    CHROs: 38%, All: 39%, CEOs: 32%

CEOs also see bigger obstacles to making progress with digital EX than their C-suite peers. CEOs see bigger challenges compared to all executives in upskilling employees to work with digital systems (52% vs. 45% on average), getting employees to accept changes in work processes (34% vs. 27%), and enabling human-to-machine workflows (32% vs. 23%) as the biggest challenges.

The CEO disconnect suggests one big takeaway for all organizations heading into 2021: CHROs and others need to do a better job of lobbying and educating their chief executives to help them understand the full range of digital EX benefits. That’s an even more urgent issue now than it was during the first few months of the pandemic.

eToro CEO Assia is a case in point: Having navigated the initial challenges of managing a remote workforce, he is considering more complex mountains to climb in 2021. “How do you maintain the culture of your company?” he asks. “How do you communicate vision, strategy, and have people feel like they’re a part of the company if they’ve never been into the company’s offices? That’s going to be a challenge for us to take.”

Expanding his investment in digital employee experience is emerging as the smartest way to tackle it.