The Six Laws of XM

An ever-increasing flow of information is shifting power from institutions to individuals, while new technologies are redefining business models and shortening product lifecycles. To succeed in this rapidly changing environment, organizations need to focus more on the experiences of human beings throughout their ecosystem. That’s what Experience Management (XM) is all about.

Just like the laws of nature, which govern how elements of the universe interact with each other, there are also Laws of Experience Management, which are a set of fundamental truths about XM that account for how people and organizations behave. To effectively manage people’s experiences – whether they’re customers, employees, partners, suppliers, or prospects – you need to understand and comply with these underlying realities, which we’ve captured in these Six Laws of Experience Management:

  • Law #1: People are emotional, not rational
  • Law #2: Journeys add meaning to moments
  • Law #3: Actions transform insights into value
  • Law #4: Commitment aligns behaviors 
  • Law #5: Leaders boost or break inertia
  • Law #6: XM is a habit, not an act

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Law #1: People Are Emotional, Not Rational

To address people’s true wants and needs, you must support how human beings actually make decisions and process experiences. And emotions are at the center of those activities. This causes a blind spot for organizations as they don’t often actively consider emotions and tend to lack the mindset to consistently stay focused on who they’re trying to serve.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel
—Maya Angelou

To put this law into action:

  • Don’t try to please everyone. We often say that an experience built for everyone satisfies no one. That’s because individuals have unique needs and desires that can often lead to stark differences in what they require from your products, services, and processes. Always start a project with a clear description of the target audience, the narrower the better. Consider using personas or other mechanisms to build a common understanding across team members.
  • Design for intuitive decisions. Most organizational efforts tend to assume that people make decisions based on Rational Thinking, which relies on logic and reason. However, an overwhelming number of decisions people make are based on Intuitive Thinking, which is fast, automatic, and emotional. To design experiences that deliver the desired outcomes, you need to cater to the cognitive biases and heuristics (mental rules of thumb) that ultimately drive so many of people’s decisions.
  • Build emotional fluency. Emotions not only drive decisions, they also create lasting memories that strongly impact people’s attitudes. But people in organizations tend not to talk about emotions, and they rarely articulate desired emotional responses when defining project requirements. To begin building emotional fluency, introduce some common language around emotions, like our Five A’s of an emotional response: Angry, Agitated, Ambivalent, Appreciative, and Adoring.


Law #2: Journeys Add Meaning to Moments

When a person interacts with an organization, it’s almost never for the purpose of just that single event. People don’t book flights for the ultimate goal of completing a reservation. They actually want to go somewhere and do something. To design and deliver consistently great experiences, organizations need to optimize individual interactions based on how those moments support people’s overall journeys.

The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot
long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher
— Thomas Henry Huxley

To put this law into action:

  • Map out people’s journeys. Human beings naturally view the world through an internal perspective, making it difficult for an organization to understand and share an accurate picture of other people’s experiences. To overcome this hurdle, organizations often use journey maps, which are a visual representation of the steps and emotional states that a person goes through to accomplish a specific goal. Creating and socializing journey maps helps align the organization around the actual needs and perspectives of the people who interact with it. 
  • Prioritize key moments of key journeys. If an organization treats each customer or employee interaction as equally important, it will end up underinvesting in critical moments and overly focusing on less essential ones. Instead, organizations should disproportionately invest in fixing or enhancing the journeys with the most significant potential outcomes (e.g, increasing online sales or reducing employees’ likelihood to look for a new job). Once you’ve selected and prioritized key journeys, you can then create journey maps to help identify pain points and opportunities for improvement.
  • Instill a journey-centric mindset. While journey mapping shines a light on discrete experiences, how can you embed that type of holistic mindset across an entire organization? By teaching employees to consistently ask and answer these five questions during any of their projects: 1) Who are the people we are designing for?, 2) What are their true goals?, 3) What did they do right before? (ask 3 times), 4) What will they do right after? (ask three times), and 5) What will make them happy?


Law #3: Actions Transform Insights Into Value

Many organizations collect feedback and analyze data for the purpose of generating reports and measurements. But pretty graphics and a slew of metrics aren’t useful on their own. That data only creates value when it helps people act in ways that lead to experience improvements. Rather than just collecting and distributing data, organizations need to purposefully inject insights into key decision processes.

The world cares very little what you or I know,
but it does care a great deal about what you or I do
– Booker T. Washington

To put this law into action:

  • Improve decisions role by role. A product manager who’s selecting features for the next release needs a totally different set of insights than a customer service supervisor deciding what coaching to provide to her team members. Rather than trying to share a common set of reports and dashboards across the organization, design the type, timing, and format of insights to fuel the specific decisions and processes of people in different roles. While this may take more time to establish in the short-term, in the long-term, you will drive more meaningful actions by tailoring insights to fit the needs of different audiences.
  • Adjust listening to fuel acting. Once you understand which insights people need to make decisions and take action, use that knowledge to adjust the data you collect. Rather than trying to amass a variety of listening posts, focus instead on targeting the data that will lead to the insights people need and are prepared to act upon. 
  • Accelerate response to smaller signals. Most researchers are trained to look for “significance” in the insights they share. While this may be appropriate for large scale research projects, it can inhibit the pace of ongoing learning and responding, which is the cornerstone of XM. Rather than capturing larger and larger datasets to ensure significance, organizations should look for leading indicators in small bits of data. For instance, if a CIO wants to instill a customer-centric mindset in the help-desk, then she can ask for a debrief on single pieces of negative feedback from an end-user. 


Law #4: Commitment Aligns Behaviors

For an organization to build long-term success, it needs people to act consistently with its overall goals and objectives. While it’s possible to push people to temporarily comply with rules and guidelines, they are more likely to try harder and stay aligned longer when they understand and buy into a strategic vision.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

To put this law into action:

  • Treat engaged employees as an asset. Our research shows that engaged employees are more likely to try harder, suggest improvements, and recommend the company to other potential employees. They are also the first step in a virtuous cycle that leads to better customer experience and stronger financial results. Rather than thinking about investments in employee experience as a cost, organizations should view them as an investment in building a critical asset.
  • Fulfill employees’ intrinsic needs. Companies often try to force employees into doing things by slapping on metrics and measurements or coercing them through compensation. While such extrinsic rewards may change some behaviors, people tend to be more motivated by four intrinsic needs: a sense of meaning, choice, competence, and progress. To build sincere commitment from employees, help them find a meaningful purpose in their work, give them the freedom to choose how to execute their work, equip them with the tools and support they need to perform competently, and give them opportunities to progress towards their goals.
  • Encourage and act on employee feedback. Employees are a great source of insight into what’s working and not working across the organization. To tap into this goldmine of knowledge, actively solicit employees’ input and advice. Feedback from frontline employees can be particularly valuable as they often provide a strong proxy for customers’ needs. Asking employees for feedback not only helps surface useful insights, it also raises their level of engagement.


Law #5: Leaders Boost or Break Inertia

People naturally gravitate towards the status quo. Since XM requires employees to change what they do and how they do it, leaders must actively work to overcome this inherent inertia. While it is easy for a leader to declare a direction that they want others to head in, employees won’t adjust their behavior unless they sense real commitment – which leaders must demonstrate in their personal actions, not just their words.

Good leaders set vision, missions, and goals. Great leaders inspire every follower
at every level to internalize their purpose and
to understand that
their purpose goes far beyond the mere details of their job
– Colin Powell

To put this law into action:

  • Lead with purpose. A strong sense of purpose inspires and energizes people, and it motivates them to overcome obstacles. It’s the foundation for building loyalty and commitment. Since leaders are ultimately responsible for ensuring that an organization behaves as a cohesive unit, they must articulate and commit to a clear purpose – one that aligns all employees’ day-to-day decisions and is more compelling than simply increased profits. We’ve identified five characteristics of purposeful leaders: Persuasive, Passionate, Propelling, Positive, and Persistent.
  • Demonstrate desired behaviors. To drive change, a leader needs to convince people that this transformation is truly important. Putting up posters and sending out emails describing the changes isn’t enough. People take their clues from what leaders actually do, not from what they say. Leaders therefore need to alter their decisions, the actions they take, the priorities they set, the trade-offs they make, and the way they choose to spend their time to ensure their behavior reflects the changes they are advocating for.
  • Obsess about improving (not measuring). Leaders often become enamored with metrics, pushing their teams to provide increasingly larger sets of measurements. This emphasis on the numbers ends up creating considerable work across the organization as people take the time to generate, review, and discuss the data. Rather than encouraging these behaviors, leaders should instead push people to take action based on the metrics they do collect. To incent this more productive behavior, leaders should center their metrics discussions around these two questions: 1) what did you learn? and 2) what improvements are you making? 


Law #6: XM Is a Habit, Not an Act

Organizations regularly make changes to improve the experiences they deliver, yet many of these efforts don’t stick. Why? Because they tend to treat poor experiences as the ultimate problem instead of as a symptom of deeper, more fundamental issues. The experience an organization delivers is a reflection of its culture and operating processes, and it therefore requires a more systematic approach to ensure persistent success. Rather than deploying a set of independent XM projects, organizations must weave XM throughout their entire operating fabric.

We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit
– Aristotle

To put this law into action:

  • Plan for a multi-year transformation. Change isn’t easy… or fast. To effectively adopt XM, an organization will need to maintain a systematic focus on growing its capabilities over multiple years. As XM success requires companies to coordinate across a number of different teams and projects over a long period of time, firms must develop a multi-year XM strategy, governance structure, and roadmap.
  • Create repeatability, not heroes. It’s possible to improve individual experiences through brute force or by having individuals do extraordinary things. But relying on heroes is neither a dependable nor scalable solution. XM isn’t about occasional good practices brought about by exceptional behaviors. It’s about creating an environment where the normal operations of the business naturally lead to consistently great experiences.
  • Build an enduring discipline. The finish line for XM transformation isn’t the completion of a set of discrete projects. Instead, an organization has achieved XM success when it’s ingrained a set of XM-centric capabilities into its culture and operating processes. These capabilities are called the Six XM Competencies: Lead, Realize, Activate, Enlighten, Respond, and Disrupt.


Epilogue: Apply the Laws to Eliminate Experience Gaps

The Six Laws of Experience Management describe the realities of how people and organizations behave. They’re meant to guide highly effective XM efforts. By understanding these fundamental truths, you can make smarter decisions about what you do and how you do it. 

Going against any of these laws will likely cause poor results. Conforming to these laws, however, will position you to deliver breakthrough experiences that will propel your organization to success and, ultimately, help improve the world.

The most effective way to do it is to just do it.”
–Amelia Earhart

To put these laws into action:

  • Treat them as sacred. While it may be possible to find isolated exceptions to all of these laws, they accurately describe the basic behavior of people and organizations. So don’t spend your time rationalizing why they don’t apply to you. Instead, figure out how to capitalize on them. 
  • Ensure you don’t break them. Look at these laws regularly, especially when you are starting a new initiative, and ask yourself, “Is this effort attempting to break any of the six laws?” If the answer is yes, don’t move ahead. Find some other approach that conforms to these laws.
  • Share them with others. The six laws will have the largest impact when they are widely understood across your organization. So share the laws with as many people as possible.