Seamless Digitized Experiences

Seamless Digitized Experiences

Meet Sander de Bruijn, Head of Global Employee Experience, and his manager Andreas Mayer, Chief Operating Officer Global HR, both dedicated to making work life better at ING.

We interviewed Sander in our 2020 report as an EX-expert who brought his Marketing and Customer Experience expertise to HR, and has built a team around ING’s employee journeys, focusing on data driven improvement and human centered design. In this interview, we explore their journey, from Sander starting solo in 2018 to now leading a growing team of specialists.

Sander de Bruijn
Head of Global Employee Experience at ING

Andreas Mayer
Chief Operating Officer Global HR at ING

Who is responsible for EX at ING and how did you build the team?

Sander: “Within HR, I’m responsible for EX, Innovation and continuous improvement right now. But we have come a long way since we started and now work closely together with EX enthusiasts across the company. I started off as a one-man band in 2018. It took 6 weeks to gather input from people internally and to come up with a rough design of what we wanted EX to be. I talked to a lot of colleagues: in People Services, outside People Services in HR, and in the other functions. Then I came back with an idea of how I thought employee experience should be defined, how it should bring value to ING, and how we should manage it.

Now, 5 years later, we have a strong team with deep EX expertise and skills such as PACE methodology, Process Excellence and Process Mining is our way of running innovation and customer experience projects. It combines Design Thinking, Lean Start up and Agile methodologies to have a pragmatic and evidence-based approach to Employee Experience improvement. We also have one black belt certified expert and since very recently we have hired two Process Mining experts to take our process analytics to the next level. The three employee experience specialists basically all bring their own expertise, varying from digital solutions to change and communications and HR Consultancy.

One of our responsibilities in Global People Services is managing HR change projects and programs. The most important initiative, HR Unite, is the global deployment of Workday and a standardized self-service organization. In this programme there is not a lot of room for the Employee Experience team to experiment on design, or to run customer validation tracks. But additionally, there’s a lot of change coming in our daily business that we want to run alongside the HR Unite program that we are involved in as a team. Our goal is to make sure that we perform evidence-based decision making and that we put the right solutions live – not based on gut feeling but on employee feedback.”

How are EX projects initiated and who gets involved?

Sander: “Some projects are initiated by us; we see that, for instance, the user experience in Workday can be improved and then we explore what tooling is out there, what Workday has in the pipeline and what the market has to offer. Then we come with a test, an evidence-based process, and then we say, ‘hey, there’s an opportunity here to invest in digital adoption tooling, for instance’. We work very closely with our tech colleagues. But, we also have a strict process in HR, we call it the ’change control board’, which receives any proposed change within People Services. Basically, we assess the value and decide if it is something that we need to do and if it’s feasible. Is this a change that we can, from a technological and from a People Services strategy perspective, embark on? And if there’s an employee experience component, then my team is consulted and will also be involved in the implementation.”

What mechanisms do you use to assess effort and value for employees?

Sander: “This is something we continuously improve on. It is the reason why we initiated this change control board. We realized we needed to prioritize certain elements. There is a constant cautious balancing act between implementing process or system elements that keep our bank safe and compliant and on the other hand new features which help to improve employee experience. Our job is that we bring all together and there is no compromise on quality, compliance and a safe process and system environment.

How do you balance the new release feature roadmap of Workday and all the features that you have in the tech ecosystem, as opposed to the dissatisfiers coming from employees?

Andreas: “This is an ongoing journey. For example, in compensation and rewards the team might want to have more control, and we want to have fewer approvals from a user perspective to fasten and simplify the process of compensation for our employees. At the end of the day, I strongly believe it’s never the system when people perceive something as user-unfriendly. It’s usually the processes that lie behind. That’s why it is more important to work on the processes rather than the systems, to make them easier to understand.”

What are the biggest learnings from your EX journey at ING?

Andreas: “When I joined in 2018, Workday had been implemented in the Netherlands, but it lacked a global presence. Our first task was to establish a standardized global footprint for people processes, and from there, we initiated the rollout. However, we faced significant challenges due to the initial program setup before my arrival. The rooftile deployment approach, where waves of countries were initiated simultaneously, led to complications as each wave operated at different project maturity levels. We changed the approach, as we saw it did not work. So then, adopting a sequential deployment approach, we implemented changes step-by-step, focusing on small, manageable increments. This strategic shift and meticulous deployment eventually led us to the successful place where we are today.”

Sander: “Exactly. So in terms of Workday and the global footprint process, after its initial implementation we recognized the need for further refinement and optimization. Last year, Andreas initiated a project with my team to carry out radical simplification exercises, starting in the Netherlands. We questioned existing processes, such as the expenses approval process for the Netherlands, executed in Workday and checked by a shared services team in Manila. The inquiry led us to question the necessity of scrutinizing every single expense, irrespective of the amount. Rather than optimizing the current process, we took a bold step to envision the ideal situation. We called it: “Aim for the stars to land on the moon.” We aimed for a streamlined process, where submitting an expense by taking a picture and then receiving reimbursement within an hour became the envisioned end-state. Through collaborative efforts with policy owners, services, risk and data teams, we implemented changes that resulted in a 50% reduction of manual effort and a significant improvement of the process throughput time, meaning a turnaround time of less than 1 week in average between submission of the expense report and expense reimbursement – a significant achievement. This example served as a template, and we have since optimized three more processes in the Netherlands. Looking ahead, our plan is to make this approach a regular practice. Every quarter, we intend to focus on a few processes in a specific country, enhancing efficiency, maximizing automation, and promoting a seamless and digitized experience. This aligns with our overarching goal of establishing as many seamless digital processes as possible.”

To what extent is EX part of your people strategy or the business imperative?

Sander: “Our people strategy is aimed at unlocking our people’s full potential. We consider one of the supporting pillars for this strategy, Operational Excellence, to be a foundation for efficiency and a great Employee Experience.

Our definition of operational excellence involves maintaining safety and compliance in our processes and data, as well as having the right technologies in place We strive for the delivery of effective and accurate services, that are perceived as personal, easy, relevant, and instant. And of course, cost efficiency and being data-driven are two other key aspects. We strive for seamless digital experiences with lean end-to-end processes, with as little administrative burden and manual intervention as possible and for scalable technologies and operations. We assert that when these components harmonize effectively, they contribute to shaping the right employee experience.

Can you describe a project you’ve recently started in tech for EX?

Andreas: “One of our team members is taking the lead in a recently launched chat deflection initiative. We observed that the chat deflection rate had reached a plateau – not deteriorating but not showing improvement either. The primary focus of this initiative revolves around enhancing two aspects: self-resolution (tier zero) and chatbot deflection, which also falls under tier zero. The decision to consolidate these efforts stemmed from the existence of multiple initiatives across teams and technologies.

Simultaneously, the centralized People Services team is optimizing chat flows. However, there was a gap in addressing knowledge articles and determining their optimal placement. This situation necessitated numerous decisions, and our involvement was crucial for informed decision-making based on evidence. As of recently, we are taking the lead in strategically driving decisions to optimize continuous improvement in self-resolution and chatbot deflection.”

What is the future of EX at ING?

Sander: “Until recently, we observed that HR operates somewhat independently in crafting the employee experience. And that other departments were doing the same. The perpetual question arises: Who truly owns the employee experience? In my belief, there isn’t a single proprietor; rather, the custodians of the experience span different realms – HR Centers of Excellence, service providers like us in People Services, IT, facilities management, and foremost the manager and peers of the employee. With our strong focus on service, we are collaborating mainly with the group services CIO and with the leaders from corporate Communications, Real Estate and Facilities Management and workplace Services, we are now actively engaged in forging a shared and unified vision and way of working for the employee experience. The ultimate goal is to transition towards a unified service experience.

In this envisioned future, whether an employee encounters challenges with HR, IT, or other services becomes secondary. The paramount focus is on ensuring an excellent overall service for employees. We acknowledge that glitches, like delays in IT delivering a laptop or technical hiccups, can mar the experience even if HR performs flawlessly. Or the other way around, an administrative delay in HR, can have a negative effect on registering a new hire for a building access badge. Hence, our mission is to establish a seamless and consistently positive service experience. Looking ahead over the next two to three years, the specific form this unification will take – whether it evolves into a consolidated unit delivering all resources or remains a technical platform – is still uncertain. Nevertheless, our concerted effort is directed towards achieving greater unification and consistency across all facets within the company.”

Do you see opportunities for artificial intelligence in EX?

Andreas: “While ChatGPT is undoubtedly a buzzword, ING is cautiously approaching this domain. Due to stringent data security protocols, we won’t directly adopt ChatGPT from external sources. If we venture into ChatGPT, it will be through an in-house development, a process that requires time. Presently, our primary focus, especially from a banking perspective, revolves around exploring large language models and their applications on the customer side.

Looking ahead, a comprehensive artificial intelligence suite for HR at ING might not materialize in 2024. Our initial steps involve implementing AI-driven search functionalities, to enhance information retrieval on HR-related topics. While this serves as a beginning, we remain pragmatic and prioritize foundational work. Rather than hastily chasing the latest trends, we acknowledge there’s substantial groundwork to cover. By the end of 2024, once foundational work is robustly established, we anticipate considering the next strides in AI implementation.

We firmly believe in refining our core HR functions, the bread and butter of our business. While I appreciate innovative and out-of-the-box solutions, prioritizing the accuracy and efficiency of our fundamental HR operations is paramount. It’s not just about payroll; there are aspects where improvement is still possible and necessary. My focus is on elevating these foundational processes to a higher standard before delving into unconventional solutions.

Here’s a final statistic for context: currently, we are actively working on reducing the number of approvals and notifications in Workday. In the Netherlands alone, we handled about 16.000 approval requests and notifications by managers each month in Workday. Our goal was to streamline this process and bring the number down. We landed at a new number less than 4.000 on average per month, which is a success the team can be very proud about. This reduction exemplifies the kind of impactful changes I categorize as bread and butter—addressing the aspects directly influencing our employees. Once we have these foundational elements in better shape and control, we can confidently explore the next phase of improvements.”

What kind of use cases for EX are you really proud of in terms of the impact achieved?

Sander: ”There are three key achievements that stand out for me. First and foremost, I take pride in the realization we had at some point that we actually lacked comprehensive employee experience data within the company. While we were actively measuring various aspects within HR, the focus was predominantly on the results of employee experience, primarily gauged through engagement metrics. Recognizing this gap, we initiated a pilot for the Employee Experience Index survey—a survey developed by FOUNT/ TI-People. Over the past four years, we have continuously optimized and refined it. The survey, now integrated into Qualtrics, spans around 17 countries, making it an integral dataset for HR, focused on actionability It’s gratifying to witness increased interest, with individuals requesting access, actively engaging with the data, and even participating in workshops initiated by HR management teams. Looking ahead, the exciting development is the establishment of employee experience index targets for the upcoming year, both at the HRMT level and among the management teams. This initiative, stemming from our quest for more detailed and actionable employee experience data, has had a notable impact on a global scale.

One of the nice aspects of the FOUNT survey in Qualtrics is its versatility. We can seamlessly integrate benchmark data, both external and historical, along with general data to get a comprehensive view. This approach extends to current enterprise data, allowing for a holistic understanding. The ability to compare each country against these diverse benchmarks at a specific moment provides actionable insights at a high level. Furthermore, the FOUNT survey in Qualtrics allows for a granular analysis by drilling down into touchpoints and open-text responses. This feature empowers individuals to gain a nuanced understanding of the state of employee experience, whether at the country level or within specific divisions of the company. It’s a valuable tool that fosters a deeper comprehension of our organizational dynamics.”

How much demand is there for these projects, how much do you have to push and how much pull is there now from the business, countries etc?

Sander: “My dream is for this dataset to transition into a business-owned asset. We have already presented it to our Managing Board, but my ultimate goal is to have company EXCOs or Country EXCOs, as is already the case for the CEO of ING Netherlands or the CEO of ING Belgium, include the EXI NPS score in their targets. By achieving this, it would mean that teams at various levels would then set targets for employee experience, transforming our impact. Rather than solely impacting HR services, it will have a more profound influence on the human factor within the business. This represents a push, where we actively advocate for this integration into broader business targets.

On the other hand, there’s a pull effect that emerges after a few years of pushing this initiative. We witness a shift where People Services leads and HR leads from different countries actively invite us to their leadership teams. They seek workshops or explanations about the dataset, which is great. There’s a growing demand with HR business partners specifically asking for assistance, seeking demos or training on the dashboard because they recognize the value of this dataset. It’s a rewarding development after investing time and effort into this endeavor.

Another noteworthy initiative that I discussed in our last interview two years ago is our focus on the design track. Initially started not within People Services but in our Innovation office, this effort gained traction under the innovation board, backed by an innovation budget. We embarked on a significant redesign of the onboarding process meanwhile and so this endeavor resulted in the global procurement of a solution called Enboarder, initially implemented only in ING Australia. However, it proved to be the ideal solution for fostering a more engaged and aligned onboarding experience among managers, employees, and onboarding buddies. Subsequently, we successfully introduced this Enboarder solution to around 12 countries globally, marking a substantial scale-up of an initiative originating from our team.

The third significant initiative is the ongoing radical process simplification project that we ran last year. In this endeavor, we bring together black belts, COEs, risk management, data experts, and all stakeholders into a collaborative space. The primary goal is to create the most efficient and straight-through processes possible, leveraging automation for the remaining steps. While we currently have one or two best practices, I envision this becoming a regular job for us. The approach involves continuously taking on processes with a holistic view, engaging everyone in a pressure-cooker environment, akin to a fast track. We rapidly redesign the process, implement changes, and then scale the improvements. I take pride in the foundational work we’ve accomplished, and I foresee a lot more progress in this area.”

What are the next big things you would like to achieve?

Sander: “One ambition on the horizon is to enhance business impact by collaborating more closely with business teams. We’ve successfully undertaken such projects this year, working alongside HR business partners and business leaders. The profound impact achieved has been impressive. I envision expanding this approach beyond HR processes to encompass team processes and dynamics within wholesale banking, retail, business banking, Operations and Tech. This entails working collaboratively with newly established employee experience leads in these domains, therefore ensuring a more unified ambition and approach.

The second goal involves our services model. This entails streamlining support across corporate comms, facilities, real estate, workplace, and HR. Here, the vision is to create a seamless experience where users can seek assistance by pressing a single button, addressing 80-90% of their needs independently. For those requiring support, for example, a digitally empathetic voice will provide assistance, ensuring a personal touch.”

How is your agile infrastructure organized?

Sander: “We have tribes. We have a digital solutions tribe where our People Services and tech work together on Workday and other service enabling technologies. This is where my team of employee journey experts are, in the biggest squads, so we are part of that tribe as customer journey experts. Additionally, we are in a collaborative governance with other departments. We call this the Employee Experience Design Board and we have an Agile set up to collaborate on all digital and non-digital cross-domain initiatives. I must say though, that in Global People Services we do not work fully agile. It is especially in those initiatives where we work closely together with Tech that we have an Agile way of working.“

We talked a lot about digital and automation and an optimization of processes with digital landing. Do you have an analog use case of the EX which is very tangible for ING employees?

Sander: “I have a couple of instances where a positive experience approach could have worked better. I firmly believe that if further improvement isn’t possible, providing clarity becomes crucial. There’s a certain level to which an experience can be enhanced. If it can’t be improved, managing expectations is key. People are generally content with spending two minutes on a process instead of one, as long as the instructions are clear. We’re putting a lot of effort in notifications, instructions, tone of voice, quick reference cards, and knowledge articles, emphasizing effective communication around processes that can’t be further optimized due to regulations or risk controls. This ensures people understand what’s required and appreciate the necessity of going through it. It’s not just one example; there’s significant work in the realm of communication, change and expectation management.

Nudging managers to approach things differently is another aspect. We provide instructions for managers as well since it’s common for individuals to be unsure about what to do, like everywhere. Often, people look to their managers for guidance, and if the manager is uncertain, it creates a challenge. To ensure both parties excel in their roles, clear instructions are essential. We focus on instructing and supporting both employees and managers with comprehensive guidance.”

Is there something missing in the skills set of future EX practitioners?

“There’s a significant gap in skills within data analytics. Reflecting on my experience in marketing a decade ago, we were already leveraging data modeling to analyze factors like the impact of weather on media campaigns. It’s raining outside. What does it mean for our advertising campaign and the conversion to sales? It raises the question: Why aren’t we applying similar approaches in HR? There’s untapped potential for optimization and prediction based on data. Currently, this aspect isn’t given enough importance in our analytics departments and in leadership. Improving this is crucial.

Moreover, in HR, we excel at operational excellence, believing that a perfectly delivered process automatically leads to a positive employee experience. However, this isn’t automatically the case. To enhance employee experience, we need individuals with UX expertise, UI skills, communication proficiency, and a flair for visualization. It requires more than just customer experience design skills; we need to incorporate extensive marketing skills. Working with agencies emphasizes the creativity in messaging and visualization, something lacking in HR sometimes. Investing in employee marketing and UX specialists is vital, and presently, we are underinvesting in these functions.”

What advice would you have for leaders interested in EX?

Sander: “Employee Experience tends to be somewhat sidelined in satellite projects. My challenge to anyone in a decision-making role is simple: don’t treat EX as an add-on. Avoid having an employee experience specialist multitasking as Communications, Wellbeing or diversity and inclusion expert. If possible, dedicate someone full-time to this role, preferably someone with experience in evidence-based service design.

Furthermore, when you have an EX specialist, don’t limit their role to workshops and sessions. Instead, place them at the forefront of core projects, allowing them to lead and decide from an employee experience perspective. Ensure they are closely involved in significant decisions regarding programs or projects. It’s essential to have a designated checkbox for employee experience in these decisions and empower the specialist to make well-informed choices. This means giving them time to validate assumptions with end users.

This has been my ongoing battle, and while progress is being made year by year, it’s a lengthy process. If you have the opportunity, make the employee experience person a pivotal figure in your decision-making processes and core business functions.”

Thank you Sander and Andreas, for this insightful interview!

At KennedyFitch, we have the privilege of working and interacting with the EX-Pioneers, the enthusiasts, the connectors, the thinkers, and builders comfortable with the unknown.

Here’s to the believers in Employee Experience, those who are passionate about finding a way to make things better at work, for their people, the ones who tried, succeeded and maybe failed more than just a couple of times, but also for those who want to get started but don’t know where and how.

We recently launched the new 2024 Employee Experience Survey. Your feedback will help us understand the current landscape of EX initiatives, challenges faced, and opportunities ahead. If you are involved in EX, tell us about your perspective here

After summer, we’ll unveil a comprehensive EX 2024 report, combining the survey findings and an analysis of interview insights. Inspired by the dedication of EX practitioners, you will gain valuable perspectives and actionable recommendations for enhancing your organization’s employee experience.

Together with you, we are ready to move the needle in EX!

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard