Ben Eubanks: Balancing Technology and Human Skills to Design Memorable Employee Experiences

Posted in Best Practice Thoughts & Culture

If you’re an Enboarder regular, you’ll know we recently kicked off our quarterly EDGE event series, seeing Experience Driven Geniuses around the globe share their insights and best practices. 

One such Genius is Ben Eubanks, founder of Upstart HR and Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research and Advisory.


Ben’s talk – ‘Futureproofing HR: The Human Skills that Tech Can’t Replace’ - was everything we could’ve asked for: inspiring, fascinating and extremely well-researched.

Over the course of 45-minutes, Ben mapped out a detailed path to creating memorable employee experiences, by recognizing and prioritizing the right HR skills (and automating and accelerating elsewhere).

Here’s a recap if you missed it.

Watch all the EDGE: Employee Experience Post-COVID sessions for free in our on-demand resource centre: HERE. 


What is employee experience really?  

“We've read it, we've seen it, we've heard it, because it's everywhere. The problem is, employee experience is this big vague thing.

And what I love is digging into the science behind this stuff to figure out what the actual data says.” - Ben Eubanks, EDGE 2020

Ben started by sharing research from Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s fantastic book,  The Power of Moments, talking about the two moments that color our overall experience:

  • Peaks – the moments you never forget because they’re so amazing
  • Pits – the moments you never forget because they’re so awful

(Enboarder are all about those magic moments. Here’s a deep-dive into creating moments that matter.)

Ben shares an example from the Heath brothers' book of taking your family to Disney:

“Say I measured your happiness at any one point during your trip. You're in the heat and the crowds, it’s overpriced. There're all these things that could be negative at any one time. 

But if you look back on it afterwards, it's a positive experience overall. Why? It's because of the peak moments. Seeing your kids smile, being able to do something you've always wanted to do. Those moments overshadow the negatives.”

This same principle applies to HR, Ben says. It doesn’t matter that we’re not perfect 100% of the time. It matters that we create those peaks, to craft a positive employee experience overall:

“I've yet to find that company where every day, every moment, is perfect. But if we can create the peaks, and excite people, and engage them, those things will stick out. That's what they'll remember; that’s what they'll connect with.”

So… how do we create peak employee experiences? 

“I want you to come away with the idea that it's possible to create experiences; it's possible to engineer experiences. […] And if we can orchestrate these experiences, the next logical question is whether we can automate them? Make them scalable? Make them replicable? - Ben Eubanks, EDGE 2020

Ben says peak experiences have two characteristics:

  • They’re surprising. Take onboarding. Surprising means not just celebrating someone’s first day or first week, because you’ve always done that. It’s celebrating their 7th week, or their 22nd time of completing a task. Creating an unexpected moment that sticks in the memory.
  • They’re tied to strong emotion. So people remember how they felt. And they connect with that and relive that experience, time and again. Like an amazing show you watched, or vacation you took. Peak experiences are big and bold – not bland.

Human skills are fundamental to designing employee experiences (and yes, design is crucial – great experiences don’t just happen!)

“You can’t leave this to code. We need a human designing, testing and crafting those experiences to create better engagement for our people. And also to create better outcomes for the entire business”

But automation has this incredible ability to help us serve at scale, to deliver more impact for more people.

The challenge is treading the right line – because over-automation risks becoming reductive and impersonal. (He shares a great example from Amazon, who built an algorithm that found, interviewed and made offers to candidates without any human contact at all. Weird!)

So, to deliver fantastic, powerful, memorable employee experiences at scale, we need to understand where automation can add value – and where humans add more.


Human skills versus technology: what should we automate? 

“If the task is really specific; if it’s really defined and narrow, I can teach an algorithm to do that, cheaper and faster and better than a human. But the inverse is also true. The more uncertainty there is, the more complexity, the less parameters around a decision, more likely we're going to need a human to make that work.” - Ben Eubanks, EDGE 2020

Ben asked the audience to share which daily tasks they wish could be automated – your list probably looks very similar:

Emails. Invoicing. Data entry. Admin. Purchase orders. Scheduling. Answering repetitive questions. Chasing people to complete tasks.

The point is, they’re all robotic, repetitive, mechanical tasks. Ben calls them “soul-stealing” tasks that take away from your ability to be human.

That is, to use the five core human skills that research has consistently proved are critical to creating memorable peak experiences:

  1. Compassion.
  2. Creativity
  3. Curiosity
  4. Collaboration
  5. Critical Thinking

Automating manual, robotic tasks is crucial, Ben says, because it frees HR to spend more time learning, cultivating and expressing these five skills, to create better employee experiences and better business outcomes:

“Automation doesn't create new value. It's what you do with the time you have leftover that creates new value. It’s an opportunity for us to create new value for people who we serve.”

That’s what true, experience-driven HR looks like. (Just ask any of our fabulous Enboarder customers…!) Compassionate, creative, curious, collaborative and critically thought-through, to deliver a peak moment that employees remember forever.

Catch up with Ben’s fab talk – and all of the brilliant sessions – in our free on-demand resource centre HERE.