(re)Designing the Employee Experience: The Cosmic Conference Keynote with Marilyn Zakhour

Updated: Nov 7

This article was part of our annual Cosmic Conference series and this year our focus was all about (re)Designing the Employee Experience. From Sept. 28th - Oct. 21st, 2022 we explored all things EX. Check out all conference sessions and insights here.


You can watch the video of the keynote here, or read the transcript below.



I grew up in a single-parent household.


My mother worked 2 jobs to sustain us, often spending more than 12 hours a day at work. One could think that she resented having to do that, and while I know that she missed being with her children, she also loved her work.

While her hard work, commitment, and discipline are all qualities to strive for, what I looked up to most was her ability to create a positive, collaborative, and safe work environment for everyone on her team. She was demanding and nurturing at once. She created an environment for all to flourish.


Watching this while growing up ingrained in me the idea that work should be a happy place. A place to grow and contribute. A place to give and take.

This is why I started Cosmic Centaurs, and why we are committed to helping leaders design great work experiences.


As I coach leaders and organizations on how to rethink employee experiences, I always emphasize that designing a great employee experience is not a nice to have, but a business necessity.


First things first, let’s define the EX.


What is the EX?

The employee experience is an employee’s perceptions about their journey through every touchpoint they have with a company, starting with job candidacy through to the exit from the company.


The company's physical workspace, culture, and technology are all important components of the employee experience, which is often abbreviated as EX.

But our view is that we should go even beyond this perspective of EX.

Designing great EX is also about designing work in a way that is meaningful. That includes the processes, tasks, knowledge, and social system that an employee engages in.


That is why our approach to helping organizations is called the Omnichannel Organization and involves a holistic approach. You can’t upgrade a network by upgrading one antenna.


EX is a real business problem

Creating amazing employee experiences is not simply a way to fulfill a romanticized view of leadership. It’s about managing the performance of the organization.


Here’s why.

managing entreprise performance, by Jose Santos INSEAD. Willingness to Pay or Value to the Consumer, Price, Willingness to Sell for Employees or suppliers or Cost

At the very top, there is the willingness to pay - the value to the customer. If you ask how much you’re willing to pay for a product, there is a number that appears in your head. That’s what the term means. At the bottom there is cost - the willingness to sell, the minimum amount employees are willing to take in order to work for you, or suppliers to charge you. Then there is the price you’re selling it for.


What this means, is the difference between the price and the willingness to sell, the green bar, is the company profit. Every manager is constantly trying to increase the size of the bar. Either by increasing the value of the product (and therefore the price), or by reducing the cost. It is your job as a manager to manage the P&L of the organization.


Creating engaging employee experiences is not just the right thing to do as a human. It is the right thing to do as a business.

There are two groups of people that businesses work around: customers and employees.


When people tell me that designing great employee experiences is fluff, here is my response.


Companies with engaged employees have 89% higher customer satisfaction.

Disengaged employees have a negative effect on businesses.

  • $350 Bn - that’s the cost of employee disengagement to the overall US economy (Gallup).

  • 85% of adults worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged (Gallup).

  • There is a 60% increase in errors and defects in work performance from disengaged employees (HBR).

And a highly engaged workforce positively impacts businesses.

  • Engaged employees produce ~1.5x as much as satisfied employees (Bain & Company).

  • Inspired employees produce ~2.5x as much as satisfied employees (Bain & Company).

  • Highly Engaged teams deliver 21% greater profitability compared to teams that are not (Gallup).

Managing the employee experience is part of managing the performance of the organization. It impacts your top and bottom line. There is no point in building great CX if you don’t have great EX.

Value-Based Businesses Think Holistically

Here’s an example of why. When Gap found out their store employees felt a bit dismantled, because their schedules were never the same from one week to the next, they created more stable shift systems for them. They also created an app that allows employees to trade shifts between one another. The consequences weren't that the employees were happier, but labor productivity went up by 6.8%. In a 10-month test period, sales increased by USD 3Mn. We created an equation to sum up the message behind our conference:

EX x CX = HX

EX: employee experience

CX: customer experience

HX: human experience


If the value of either is less than 1, it doesn’t matter how amazing the other is, the value of the human experience you’re creating is less than the greater.


On the other hand, when one goes up, the other goes up too.


As a manager, taking care of your employees is equally important to your business.


Customer Satisfaction / Employee Engagement Walgreen, Sears, Walmart, Spears, Target, Kohl's Macy's, Apple, GameStop, Ann Taylor, OfficeMax, ToysRUs

We based our Omnichannel Organization Framework on the idea that the same way many companies spend so much time and resources creating omnichannel experiences for their customers (no matter where their customers are, they are provided with a brilliant experience), they should do that for employees. It’s the same process.


The Omnichannel organization is a holistic approach to employee experiences. It includes how employees interact with their tangible environments, how they interact with each other, and how they interact with their tasks

Physical sphere: includes but isn’t limited to the office. Lots of companies support employees at home or in other spaces.


Social sphere: we don't always think of work as communities, but they are. How we interact with one another is an essential part of the EX.


Work Sphere: how we interact with jobs, tasks, and the tools we need.

People often think the employee experience is limited to culture, purpose, and values, and while those are incredibly important, we shouldn’t forget the work itself.


If you’re looking to strategize a great EX, the way to do it is to make sure it’s in line with your business strategy, with all the touchpoints aligned and working together. For example, making sure culture is in the right place, while your processes allow people to work from anywhere. You can’t upgrade one antenna without the other.


As more organizations are looking to build more flexible work environments, this is the homework that everyone needs to do. Reexamine every touchpoint, and make sure they’re aligned with what you’re trying to deliver.


You already have all the tools you need to do this right. If you’ve done decent work on the CX work, it can be reused on the EX. Let’s stop thinking all our employees want the same thing, the same way we don’t assume all of our clients are the same.


When you listen to your employees, sometimes they will surprise you. While working with APCO to redesign their offices and include flexibility, we found out that their employee data does not align with the global data. That was because many of their employees live in multigenerational homes, while global data tends to be Western-centric, where people live in more individualistic societies.


I know this may seem like a lot, but the way to approach this is to do one small thing every day.


While it’s important to have an overarching vision of where you want to go, focus on one thing a day. If every day you walk in and try to improve one thing, by the end of the year you would’ve done so much. Progress over perfection.

Be intentional. As a leader, you’re looking at your financial KPIs everyday, ensuring customers are happy. Do the same thing. Wake up everyday, and ask yourself what is the one thing you can do today to improve the EX in your team.


Need help re-thinking your EX? Book a 1-on-1 with us today.