Tag Archives: employee experience

Why your SLAs aren’t helping your XLAs

Share twitterlinkedinmail

It may be hard to believe, but the term “experience economy” is nothing new. The term was first mentioned in this 1998 Harvard Business Review article.  In the article, the authors posited that an experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event. In other words, it’s not enough to have great products and services; it’s the experience of the customer that differentiates companies from their competition.

Fast forward to today, and these “memorable events” have become a significant factor in today’s employee-employer relationship, broadly known as employee experience (EX).  Companies providing a good EX can attract and retain top talent, deliver better experiences to their customers, and have employees who are more committed to the company.

What is the experience like when employees are interacting with technologies and services within your company? Is your organization actively measuring and improving those experiences? Is your company committed to a great employee experience?

These are answers that an XLA, or Experience Level Agreement, will reveal.

XLAs provide a different perspective

In IT, there is a tendency to focus on and measure things like technology performance and process execution. Often there is little attention given to how end users perceive the quality and effectiveness of technologies, apart from when an end user reports an incident or makes a service request.

An XLA provides a different perspective. An XLA provides focus to end-users’ experience and needs, by measuring the outcomes and the value of services provided. An XLA seeks to understand how end users feel about their interactions with technology and with those with whom they interact during those interactions.

By understanding the experience, organizations can identify where measures reported by IT do not reflect the end user experience. Understanding the experience also helps identify potential areas for improvement, whether that be with a service, a product, a process, or any other aspect that the end user leverages to get their jobs done.

XLAs are becoming increasingly popular as employers realize that good EX is essential for business success. ” This article from reworked.co discusses the impact of a positive EX:

  • 23% higher profitability
  • 28% reduction in theft
  • 81% reduction in absenteeism
  • 41% reduction in quality defects
  • 64% reduction in safety incidents

Clearly, good EX is good business.


So, what’s the difference between an XLA and an SLA, or Service Level Agreement?

An XLA focuses on happiness and productivity metrics from the end-user perspective.[i]  XLAs focuses on measuring the quality of the user experience, rather than just technical metrics like uptime or response times.

An SLA is an artifact of many ITSM (IT Service Management) adoptions. An SLA, as described by ITIL®[ii], is a documented agreement between a service provider (typically IT) and a customer that identifies both services required and the expected level of service.[iii] SLAs are intended to manage expectations and ensure both IT and non-IT parts of the organization understand their responsibilities. SLAs should also provide a framework for measuring performance and holding the provider (IT) accountable if they fail to meet their commitments.

SLAs are managed by the service level management practice, which is typically found within IT departments. The purpose of service level management is to set clear, business-based targets for service levels, and ensure that delivery of services is properly assessed, monitored, and managed against these targets. [iv] The SLAs produced should relate to defined business outcomes and not simply operational metrics.

An XLA is not meant to replace an SLA but work alongside SLAs to ensure a holistic view of value and results from the use of IT services.

But wait, isn’t quantifying, reviewing, and discussing business value and results part of SLAs and service level management?

Well, yes. But most organizations that claim to have SLAs, really don’t have SLAs.

The problem with most SLAs

What many companies are calling “SLAs” fall far short of being a service level agreement. Why?

  • Services are not defined and agreed. What and how IT services enable or facilitate business results and business value have not been defined and agreed between IT and non-IT senior managers. Furthering the confusion, what many IT organizations call a “service catalog” only describes technologies and service actions that consumers can request, not business value and outcomes.
  • The so-called “SLA” discusses IT, not the organization. SLAs discuss IT operational performance – typically related to only the service desk – and not business performance. Indeed, many of the issues related to SLAs (for example, the Watermelon Effect) are as a direct result of ITSM tools using the term “service level agreement” as a misnomer for business performance target
  • IT arbitrarily decides its own performance and success metrics. And these metrics are either measures that an ITSM platform administrator used in her last job, or metrics pre-configured within the ITSM platform, or metrics that a senior IT leader picked. Regardless, these performance measures are usually not relevant to anyone in the organization outside of IT.
  • Organizations (including both IT and non-IT leaders) take the wrong approach to SLA. Neither service providers (IT) nor service customers (non-IT managers) invest the time and effort to define services, the relationship and expectations between IT and the non-IT parts of the organization, and agree on business-relevant terms and performance measures. As a result, there is no shared, mutual understanding established regarding the use and importance of technology within the organization.

Close the gaps between SLA and XLA

Understanding how technologies and processes enable business outcomes, as well as what the organization – and the employee – truly value, is critical for a good EX within today’s organizations.

If XLA adoption reveals EX challenges, closing the gaps between SLAs and XLAs will help. Here are some things to try.

  • Define services – in business, not IT terms. Clearly defining and agreeing IT services between IT and non-IT leaders, including service-specific performance measures. Mutual understanding of business value and outcomes from the use of services is foundational for good EX.
  •  Apply Design Thinking. Design thinking is a human-focused method of problem-solving that prioritizes the solution instead of the problem. Identify where EX is falling short, then apply design thinking techniques to redesign the experience to meet both the employee’s and employer’s needs.
  • Are your SLAs really SLAs? If SLAs aren’t documented or agreed with non-IT leaders, or SLAs do not identify clear, business-based measures for quantifying success, then you don’t have SLAs. Treat this as an opportunity to build good business relationships and establish true SLAs, resulting in better business outcomes and EX.

While XLA adoption can be a real revelation for an organization,  it is not a magic wand for instantly improving EX. Like SLAs, XLAs can only be effective through collaboration, leadership, and having a continual improvement mindset across the entire organization. Resolving the gaps between SLAs and XLAs will help.



[i] https://www.happysignals.com/the-practical-guide-to-experience-level-agreements-xlas

[ii] ITIL is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited.

[iii] ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition. Norwich: TSO (2019)

[iv] Ibid.

Share twitterlinkedinmail

A New CIO’s Guide to Mapping Experiences

Share twitterlinkedinmail

Delivering and enabling business value is a large part of IT’s job.  As such, the CIO must track how value flows, not only within IT, but across the organization. 

It may sound easier than it actually is. Because value is tricky. For one thing, it’s not always well-defined. And it often gets lost in day-to-day operations as the business evolves.  This often leaves end users wondering what happened to the value that they were expecting. 

One of the first tasks of new CIOs is to determine what’s driving value, what’s not, and how improved value can be delivered to all stakeholders. But how can you do that? Where do you start? 

In order to answer that question, we need to stop talking only about value. Instead, we need to include talking about the experiences of the customer, the user, and the employee. 

Customer experience

As defined by Hubspot, customer experience is “the impression your customers have of your brand as a whole throughout all aspects of the buyer’s journey.” The customer experience factors into a customer’s view of your brand and it can impact the bottom line. A strong customer experience can increase customer retention, which will reduce marketing and advertising costs. And loyal customers often spend more than new ones as one study found that if a business increases customer retention by 5%, profits can increase by up to 95%. Additionally, according to a survey by Info Quest CRM, a totally satisfied customer contributes 2.6 times more revenue than a somewhat satisfied customer.

User experience

The user experience is very similar to customer experience but it is directly related to the product, application or service. User experience refers to the journey a user takes when they interface with a system whether that is an application, a digital service, a website or a product. In today’s digital world, user experience matters. 88% of consumers are unlikely to return to a site after a bad experience and a recent study found that a well-designed user interface could increase conversion rates by 200%. 

 Employee experience

According to Gallup, the employee experience is the journey an employee takes with your organization and is made up of all the interactions that employees have during their tenure at the organization. The employee experience matters because research shows that companies with actively engaged employees outperform competitors by 147% in earnings per share and happy employees are up to 20% more productive at work. Improving the employee experience can earn your company money. 

The experience matters

Each of these experiences contributes to the overall value that stakeholders derive from an organization and all of these experiences directly impact the bottom line. If an experience is bad, there is no realized value from that experience. Therefore each of these experiences is very important to CIOs because better experiences means better value. 

Luckily, there is a tried and true approach for enabling more value through creating better experiences.  It starts with mapping the current experiences.

Whether you are mapping customer journeys or employee journeys, every mapping exercise will include the same steps. My recommendation is to choose one experience to map and improve before addressing the others. You’ll be able to use the lessons learned from mapping that one experience as guidance when mapping each of the other two.  Also, you can iterate faster when only focused on one experience at a time.

1. Include all stakeholders

This is the first and most important step you can take when mapping experiences — get all stakeholders involved. These stakeholders will want to work with you if they understand how improving experiences will benefit them, so communicate those potential wins. For example, if you chose to map the employee experience, you can explain to HR that mapping and improving this experience can improve the onboarding experience, decrease employee turnover, and increase employee engagement — thus helping HR to hit their departmental objectives.

2. Map the value streams

How is value flowing through these experiences? For example, how does a user realize value from first touch with your website through purchase? What are the steps and who is responsible for each? Mapping the value streams that enable experiences will identify where responsibilities lie, what parts of the organization are involved,  and where there may be gaps or bottlenecks.  

3. Audit workflows 

Once you have the team on the same page, review and audit the processes that underpin the value streams that underpin an experience. What’s going on under the hood of that experience? Approach these audits with an open minded curiosity, and don’t be afraid to ask why a workflow is designed the way it is.  Let your team know that this is a discovery and learning exercise, not a blame exercise, and that you are simply building a clear picture of how work is being completed. Workflows, no matter how well they were designed, have a tendency to ‘drift’ over time. 

4. Embed continual improvement  

Where is the experience falling short or encountering friction?  

This is the most critical question a CIO must be able to answer when it comes to experience.  And it’s a question that the answer is continually changing, due to continual changes in marketplaces, stakeholders, technology, and more. This is why embedding continual improvement within the experience is so important. 

New CIOs have a big opportunity to establish a mindset of continual improvement right from the start. Regularly survey end-users regarding improvement suggestions and feedback.  Develop and maintain a continual improvement log for capturing, prioritizing, and publicizing improvement suggestions. Establish a regular cadence for designing and implementing improvements. Market the successes and lessons learned from continual improvement. Why?  Because continually improving the experience continually improves value realization.

Applying the above four steps will provide great insight into each of the three experiences that are driving value within your organization. Even though the focus of each experience is different, the process of mapping these experiences is the same because they all revolve around people, processes, and technology, and how well each of these factors are working with the others. 

What has been your experience with mapping experiences?  I’d enjoy hearing about your discoveries and successes with experience mapping. 

Share twitterlinkedinmail

AI: The Key To a Human Employee Experience

Share twitterlinkedinmail

Employees expect a personalized experience in their use of technology at work. This is due to the proliferation of technology in our personal lives.

Think about how employees interact with technology at home. When they wake up, they ask Alexa about the weather. They use their smartwatch to track their activity and heart rate throughout the day. They program their lamps to turn on automatically every evening and save their most frequented destinations into Siri for easy navigation.

Since employees know the capabilities of technology, they expect to be able to use technology at work in similar ways. In other words, the employee experience has become “consumerized.” Every process must be digitized and personalized.

While most organizations prefer to focus on customer experience, employee experience is just as important, especially in today’s market. It costs organizations to frequently replace team members, both in productivity and cash. Employee Benefit News reports that it costs 33% of an employee’s salary to replace them. Replacing departing employees rarely happens within a 2 week time period and remaining team members are often overloaded with work in the interim, causing them stress and costing the organization productivity.

Additionally, employees are more likely to leave after shorter tenures with a company. Workers are now job-hopping more often, typically staying at a company for less than 2 years. 64% of all adults in the workforce favor job hopping, which is a 22% increase from four years ago according to a survey by Robert Half.

If organizations want to attract high-level candidates and retain their best workers, they have to prioritize employee experience. Luckily, technology, especially AI, can help provide a better employee experience and perhaps, even a more human one.

It sounds counterintuitive – the idea that machines and robots can create a more human, interconnected employee experience. But it’s true. I’ll examine a few ways that AI can create a more human experience for employees.

Let’s start with one of the simplest but most important parts of the employee experience.

Listening to employees is one of the most effective ways leaders can provide a quality employee experience. In fact, according to a 2016 study by the Center for Generational Kinetics, managers can improve employee retention 75% just by listening to and addressing employee concerns. In small organizations, it’s not too difficult to do this. You can gather everyone into the same room and have a conversation about needs and wants. However, for larger organizations, it’s difficult to listen at scale to what employees want without the help of AI.

Standardized employee surveys are helpful for understanding how your organization compares to others in your industry but they rarely provide insight into the individual employee experience. However, AI-enabled surveys can help managers understand the unique needs of each employee. AI-enabled surveys can present qualitative, open-ended questions and can provide deeper learnings by utilizing sentiment analysis. If an employee answers negatively to a specific question, AI can trigger a follow-up question that will provide deeper insight into why that person responded negatively. This gives the manager an opportunity to act on the feedback and follow up with all of the details.

There are several AI-enabled communication analysis tools such as ADP Compass and Humu that can do this on a regular basis. These tools review anonymized emails and Slack conversations and will analyze keywords and word patterns to give managers insights on employee morale.

Other tools can track job performance and employee surveys and create suggestions for managers on when to provide positive recognition.

Another area where employees can use a human element to their employee experience is training and professional development. According to Gallup, professional career growth is a top job priority of 87% of millennials and it’s just as important to 69% of non-millennials.

But employees need more than online courses or quarterly workshops. Everyone learns differently and organizations can provide personalized learning experiences with the help of AI and machine learning.

Machine learning can determine how every individual employee learns and can suggest specific learning methods to managers so the manager can create a personalized training. AI can also be used to gamify learning opportunities that can engage employees. AI will provide managers with results and insights into the performance of their teams and help with planning for future training opportunities.

We’re just at the beginning of an AI-enabled workplace, but leaders should be looking now into how they can tap into the data that AI/ML can provide about their employees. The use of AI provides management with continual opportunities to engage on a personal level in response to continual employee feedback.

Before you start deploying these tools though, HR, the C-suite, and IT must collaborate to learn how best to manage these tools. The introduction of AI may cause some concern among employees and can take on a “big brother” quality if it’s not managed properly.

Enterprise service management best practices such as identifying and mapping value streams, creating collaborative, inter-departmental processes, and determining the proper metrics for success will ensure that your employee engagement technology will deliver the outcomes you want to achieve.

Share twitterlinkedinmail