Strip Out Friction so Employee Experience Soars

#Employeeexperience gets a lot of air time. Everyone’s talking about how much it matters. But few can find it on a map. So let’s begin with a quick geography lesson.

The employee experience lives precisely between your hygiene factors (the basics you have no choice but to get right – comp, safety, equitable policies) and sparkle factors (the sexy extras that are fun for a hot minute but then…) 

And what comprises that experience is each person’s ability to do 4 key things: Deliver (best work, best ideas), Develop (new skills and capabilities), Connect (to team, customer, and purpose) and #Thrive (feel respected, well, and whole).

Now I’m a fan of simplicity - of subtracting to win rather than adding. I’m a do-less-with-more kinda leader. 

So today, let’s talk about how the invisibile points of friction living in your organization are inadvertently tamping down your employee experience. And by taking the time to spot them – and strip them out – you’ll see the dial on your EX soar.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard (or – be honest – thought or said yourself) any of the following: 

  • This project has been stuck in “approval” mode for 2 years!
  • How do we keep making that same mistake time and again!
  • Why do we have totally different/inconsistent understandings of the facts/plans?
  • This process feels like it’s out of 1984.
  • Why is it SO hard to access basic information?
  • Why do we never consult the person who’s gonna have to execute?
  • How am I supposed to be innovative if I always need a business case to prove my idea? Isn’t the point of innovation to write the business case?

And so so many more. These are points of friction – of frustration. And they weigh on us.

This friction isn’t toxic. It’s not mean or awful. It’s just…insidious. It tamps, dampens, slows, frustrates, rubs the wrong way, irritates…and ultimately disengages the talent who’s just trying to do great things.

So how can you spot it to strip it?

1. Ask better questions.

Not questions like “how are things?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” – but questions that command an answer.


  • Can you name 1 or 2 things that slow you down in your day?
  • What is one process you’d change or simplify tomorrow, why, and how?
  • Is there a single point of collaboration that isn’t working well, and how might I help change that?
  • How can I better transmit information so you always feel informed, or at least know where to find what you need?
  • What is one thing you wish you could change about how we [develop creative / service customers / report to our shareholders]?
  • What can I do to help you hold your boundaries?
  • How might I dial up connection in our team meetings?

By asking specific questions that command actual answers (rather than “it’s fine”) you’re sure to capture some insights about points of friction.

2. Talk about first steps

When we see problems we tend to seek solutions. 

But solutions can be whole packages of complexity. Like a new system or a redefinition of how two organizations collaborate or a redefined process – all things that can take time, resources, and energy.

But focusing on first steps can be empowering. And it can provide just the momentum you need to ensure your team you’re committed to stripping the friction out. 

  • If speed of #decisionmaking is painful, maybe your first step is to prioritize the top 1 or 2 decisions they’d most like to see expedited and determine whose buy-in you’d need to make that happen.
  • If #collaboration with another team is the issue, maybe a first step is for you to check in with that team’s leader just making them aware of a problem.
  • If arduous processes are the frustration, maybe your first step is choosing one you invite your team to test doing more swiftly and then being willing to ask forgiveness over permission.

The goal here isn’t to achieve a 180. It’s simply to get a ball rolling and replace inertia with some much-needed momentum.

3. Prioritize

If you’re lucky, your team will have lots to offer. So decide, collectively, where the biggest bang for your buck will be.

 Choose the stickiest place, the simplest step, and just start.

And sequence the rest.

Assure your team that there will be more to come. But we’ve all got to start somewhere.

4. Commit to a cadence

Make this a recurring conversation. A first step will get you started – earn you some street-cred. But the ongoingness will be the thing that keeps you inoculated from future friction.

Don’t wait for your team to hit a wall of misery. Open the door to making small improvements to their daily experience. Keep friction away and they’re sure to stay.

Related: Leadership Development Not “Working”? Here’s Why.