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A Game Changing Lens on Employee Experience


I've developed the SPIES model to transform Employee Experience (EX) from abstract ideas into tangible elements. SPIES - Service, Product, Interaction, Experience, Subscription - is a concept model that enables us to view workplace aspects like leadership and onboarding as a collection of these elements. By applying this concept, we can better understand it from both employee and business perspectives, this opens the door for us to build and measure more effectively. 

A game changing lens on Employee Experience! (Reading time: 5 minutes)

Since 2013, I have been in the world of Customer Experience (CX) and Employee Experience (EX) one way or another. My first piece of work was capturing and identifying insights and moments of opportunity (MOOs) between CX and EX in a large call centre and threading the needle between each to drive the network to be the number one mobile provider for customer experience and employee experience.

This was of course before EX became the super sexy term it is now. 

Since that time, I've heard employee experience be described in many different ways, nearly all of them sound abstract and fluffy. They often use words like belonging, purposeful, authentic, and harmonised. This is great, but ask them to make that tangible and it all becomes unstuck very quickly.

Also, remember that a business is a business; they don't speak in 'fluffy' terms but in numbers and stories combined.

I have built my career turning the abstract into action and today I am going to share with you my SPIES concept. This is the lens I have taken to employee experience since I was in it. Yet, I only truly gave it a name in 2019, thanks to a drunken chat.

The Drunken Chat and a Unicorn

It was June 16th, 2019. I had just traveled to Gent in Belgium a few days before I was due to give a talk at a conference on the power of experience design (dressed up as a unicorn)

With the sun out and time to spare, there was only one thing for it...


Fast forward after many drinks (see below), me and David (who has a great podcast) started talking shop about the alignment and differences between CX & EX, learning, and work in general. It's here where I hit upon the idea of work & learning being a customer's choice, something they choose to opt in or out of daily, monthly and yearly

This model is a similar choice, to you choose to opt in or out of this newsletter, a streaming service, or even your milk delivery.

I can still remember the key moments and questions:

  • Imagine if employees paid to come to work?

  • What would they pay to come to work?

  • Would work be a subscription?

  • Subscriptions need customers who are they?

  • Are employees the customers?

  • What benefits and perks would a customer pay for?

From here, we moved on to whether employees would pay for learning as part of their subscription service, among many other questions. Anyway, clearly with the beer flowing, we moved on to talking about something else.

However, I remember going back to my hotel and jotting down some thoughts in my notes on my phone, influenced by the evening's drinks:

  • What are the employee products in work?

  • How much and in what currency would they pay?

  • What services do we have, like a milkman? (Told you I was drunk.)

  • Why would an employee pay for this service versus another

After that, it was just a matter of applying my background and understanding of product design, services, and experience design, and it was here where it all clicked... The EX is an ecosystem of people SPIES.

I wanted a nicer name, but this works and it's easy to remember.

My evolving definition of each

It's important to note that it's your customer (the employee) who decides what it really is, not you. For example, you as the CHRP, CPO, or Head of may see Leadership as a product, your customer may actually see it as a service. You may describe the talent attraction as a service, but your customer may describe it as an experience

For the sake of my sanity, this is how I currently define them when building them and how I think they show up:

Service: Is something that helps somebody do something to bring about their outcome. IT support, Payroll, could all be a service to the business and the customer

Product: Is something physical or digital that a customer deems useful. Onboarding, Leadership can all be seen as products

Interaction: Is about the moment and space of engagement between two entities. Every time you swipe your phone, click a link on intranet or open a door, you're engaging in an interaction

Experience: Is about the feelings, perceptions, and reactions that a product, service, or interaction can drive. When we design for experience, we're looking at the big picture: how does this make someone feel? What thoughts does it provoke? What reaction does it cause? My definition of this hasn't changed too much since I defined it in June 2019 For example, the Induction could be seen as an experience for your new hires

Subscription: is a model of recurring exchange, where a customer agrees to a recurring exchange of resources for access to another resource. This could also be a product, service, or experience

Why we need it?

Once we start to apply the SPIES model to the current experience, it's like stepping into the matrix. We no longer see the employee experience as abstract words and ask, "Why work here?" Instead, we start to see the DNA code that makes it come to life... not 1s and 0s but SPIES.

Once you start to question what you are building, asking the questions of whether what you're building is a service, a product, an interaction, or an experience, you almost instantly start to look at what you're building very differently. Once you identify through sensemaking what it is, you start to capture impactful metrics and measurements

By applying this model, you start to measure employee experience at an individual SPIE level, it also starts to compound at a more holistic level. This shift tends to be the snowflake that starts the avalanche because instantly you start to see the value in:

  • Moving from guessing resources to product resource accounting.

  • Shifting from passive team practices to team patterning & tooling.

  • Replacing vague HR metrics with a SPIE measurement engine. 

  • Annual year end reviews to Product Lifecycles Management (PLM)

  • Annual project budget allocation to agile & lean budgeting

  • Static strategy to adaptive strategy

Now, before you end up in a spiral like I have by thinking about this, here are a few noodles I had to untangle:

  • Yes, a big service can consist of smaller services.

  • Yes, a service can consist of products.

  • Yes, a product can provide a service.

  • Yes, all have interactions and can drive visceral experiences.

  • No, not everything is a visceral experience. 

  • Yes, we can design for experience.

  • Yes, only when the foundation of a product or service is in place

At this point, you may be sitting, rocking in a chair with blood running from your nose, but this is why people use words like belonging because to make EX tangible, you have to first do the hard thinking work, and not many want to do it... because it's HARD!!!!This is the reason why we need to see and design the employee experience as an ecosystem of SPIES.

As a builder of the People experience, you have to see all of the above from two points of view

  • The Business

  • The Customer

Which makes it all extra hard; however, once you start to see things like leadership, onboarding, reward, performance as simply services, products, interactions, and experiences, you can start to needle and scratch at the value they are truly providing to the business and to your customer. Which is is the direction for 2024

Direction of travel for 2024

For 2024, I am ramping up focus in the newsletter with a deep dive into the world of SPIES. I wont be just scratching the surface; I will be delving into the nitty-gritty of how these SPIES work. I will be  tackling this from every angle:

  • How we think as a organisation

  • How we team as a collective

  • How we build a group

It's going to be a rollercoaster of insights and pattern forming on the future of HR and Employee Experience and how we can design SPIES. 

The mission? To inject some serious rigor into the employee experience (as much as much as possible in a newsletter) transforming those soft, abstract ideas into action. Below is a little snap shot what 2024 is all about

Happy Holiday and Happy New Year from me and the boy x.

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