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let’s dive deeper into if you have an employee experience problem… at all.

For most of us, our workplaces feel hard at the moment. Maybe they have for some time, maybe it feels harder due to current buzz topics (return to office/hybrid, quiet [whatever the right word now is]), or maybe you’re feeling burned out.

Regardless of the why, the reality is HR is at the center of all the things that need to be solved – usually with urgency, without strategic planning, and lack of support.

Instead of jumping into being the reactive problem solvers we are, I want to ask you a bigger question: do you even have an employee experience problem to fix?

For a lot of you, the answer is probably not. (I know, I’m “the employee experience person” over here – but stay with me).

There are a lot of things to enhance, fix, implement, etc. from an experience perspective – even the “best” companies have a long list. But to be more strategic partners to the business, I want to share some steps you can take before you start working on that project or “issue” that the CEO believes is what’s holding the company back.

These types of projects are typically wrapped in language like:

  • We need to work on our employee experience
  • Why aren’t our employees engaged
  • No one wants to do what we’re asking of them
  • Our culture doesn’t feel great
  • Our scores on Glassdoor are awful… especially in culture or CEO
  • How can we get more out of our employees
  • I think we need to do another RIF

These examples are surface-level commentary on what is actually going on – AND, they are also the wrong questions or projects to be focused on.

Instead, ask these questions:

  1. Do you know who your key talent employees are?
  2. Have you identified our critical positions and employees – and what actions are we putting in place to pre-plan for this?
  3. What kind of culture do we want to be?

1. Do you know who our key talent employees are?

Incoming difficult-to-hear truth…

Your key talent employees are the ones who will drive your company forward and should be the majority of your focus, time, and energy.

This doesn’t mean all employees aren’t important, they are, but when we’re considering the employee experience and if it’s something we should concentrate on, we want to start with a key talent focus first.


Because these are the employees we do NOT want to lose under any circumstance, we want to invest in them and their career, and they will lead others along the path with them.

A big issue I see many HR leaders run into when trying to improve their employee experience, is they want to improve it for EVERYONE and end up being stuck in in-action or improve it for no one (the whole boil the ocean analogy).

Start with your key talent employees – identify them, understand their lived experiences at your company, and then move on to question two.

2. Have you identified our critical positions and employees – and what actions are we putting in place to pre-plan for this?

Just like key talent should be the first place to start, the next is to identify true risks for your company – and its ability to meet its goals (note – as much as we hate to admit it, this means their financial goals).

We need to know which roles are critical for the company’s success and which employees are as well. This could be anyone at any level at your company, so you’ll need to engage your managers to understand who fits into these categories. They usually say things like, “If this person left, we’re in trouble.” Or, “We need to get this raise through or they will leave and that’s a worst-case-scenario situation.”

Figure these two things out and start creating a plan around the what-ifs. Start knowledge transfer sharing, consider rotational assignments or dual coverage, etc.

This process will also shed light on where the employee experience is breaking down. If you have these critical positions and players, consider their perspective and how having that much pressure on them, could be internalized. How can they possibly take a vacation if they are SO important? What if their leader isn’t great, how could they possibly speak up – and possibly lose their job and put the company at risk, and so on?

3. What kind of culture do we want to be?

Every company has essentially three choices when it comes to culture: continuing its culture as is; changing it (usually to a more people-first environment); or a non-culture culture (more on this soon). All three of these roads are choices – they are all reasonable and acceptable choices without one way being good or another being bad.

This judgment around the “right type of culture” is something we get wrong so often, which of course leads us – as an HR team – to failure. Whatever your company chooses to do or be as a culture, is an acceptable choice!

As a side note: It’s exciting to say you want to be a people-first culture, but in reality, there are hardly any companies out there that would meet this criteria. A people-first culture, at its core, means that you put people above profits. That you make decisions as a company, with your people in mind, not the money. It can be very successful… but it’s also not realistic for many companies (especially those with shareholders).

Make a choice – and really, the CEO needs to make the choice.

Option 1: Do we really need to focus on our culture as much as the buzz says we do – or are we ok with tweaking things along the way?

Option 2: We aren’t able to recruit or retain key talent because we are not focusing on what they want. Is it time for us to rethink our culture?

Option 3: Do we even need to create a culture or can we just be here to work? (Note – more on this soon).

All are acceptable, but be intentional after you’ve done the above two things first.


  • Do you know who your key talent employees are?
  • Have you identified our critical positions and employees – and what actions are we putting in place to pre-plan for this?
  • What kind of culture do we want to be?

Three questions to ask, but something that will greatly change the way you deliver HR.