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Hexagon Blog Series Conclusion: Bridging the Expectations - Reality Gap to Shape the Future of Work

 

In this final installment of our blog series 'Building Industrial Competence,' we delve into the critical task of understanding and bridging the gap between worker expectations and the realities of their jobs. This alignment is not only a challenge, but also a necessity for creating human-centric connected worker ecosystems that ensure industrial workforce stability1
 
Our exploration of industrial competence began with acknowledging the need for a comprehensive approach to individual development. This approach extends beyond mere skills and knowledge, preparing workers for an era of industrial reskilling where cognitive, creative and collaborative skills are paramount. 
 
We then discussed the essential aspects to consider when creating a human-centered performance environment and how connected-worker analytics can unlock new levels of insights by leveraging operational (O), experiential (X) and human resource (H) data. 
 
In this concluding feature, we propose a strategy to bridge the widening “Expectation vs. Reality Gap” (X-R Gap). We emphasize the importance of identifying and managing experiential moments that significantly impact employees in their connected workflow, thereby creating a human-centered worker experience. This strategy encapsulates our exploration of holistic human development, connected ecosystem design and analytics for the connected worker—an integral conclusion to our discussion. 
 
Part 1: Navigating the X-R Gap in the Industrial Landscape 
 
The X-R Gap symbolizes the divergence between what employees anticipate in their work environment and the actual reality they encounter on the job. These expectations contribute to our goal-directed behavior, as we anticipate specific outcomes, hold a vision of how things will play out and have set ideas about what is wanted or needed in a work situation.  
 
The X-R Gap can be likened to expecting a manageable task (the anticipated hill) but facing the reality of performance (the challenge of climbing a mountain). When reality falls short of these expectations, it can trigger a profound sense of disappointment, leading to feelings of significant loss. The intensity of these feelings is directly proportional to perceived realism and the importance of our expectations. 
 
The aim of any company building connected worker ecosystems should be to exceed frontline expectations and make job performance reality even better than envisioned. Achieving this goal requires strategic action and a conscious effort to listen to those who matter most; front-line employees. This approach is not left to chance but is a deliberate and professionally-led effort to enhance worker experience and drive performance.  
 
Navigating the X-R Gap demands a high level of expertise with specialized skills, emphasizing that it's not a task to be casually delegated to non-experts while they juggle their regular responsibilities.
 
Part 2: The Significance of Experience in Creating Emotion 

The potency of human-centric connected-worker ecosystems lies in their ability to surpass the constraints of isolated solutions, evolving into comprehensive end-to-end (E2E) ecosystems that serve as unified digital job performance hubs. This integration, delivered through a single interface, aligns the work experience with employee expectations, promoting engagement, performance and a healthier work environment. 

Research from Gartner2 reinforces the significance of human-centric work models, revealing that employees immersed in more human centered models are 3.8 times more likely to achieve high performance and 3.2 times more likely to exhibit a strong intent to stay. The primary objective of connected-worker ecosystems is to achieve elevated human centricity and AI-driven personalization, cultivating desired worker behavior across the entire human experience cycle (HXC)3. This approach considers the intricacies of the work environment, individual job and task performer needs and the guiding principles of human-centered solution design. 

In tandem with this, building top quartile connected ecosystems extends beyond enhancing cognitive and emotional experiences. Grounded in cognitive science, this approach shapes how workers remember, think, perceive, feel and act.   

Examining human cognition entails scrutinizing the processes of acquiring, storing, manipulating and utilizing information. In this context, the intricate interplay of perception, memory and attitude significantly shapes worker expectations, engagement and behavior. This reveals the emotional impact of the work experience across distinct phases in the Human Experience Cycle (HXC). 

HXC Front-End and Back-End Phases4

 
Human-centered work designs create positive emotions, which inspire an ongoing cycle of motivation, flow, learning and worker affiliation in the connected worker ecosystem. This will shape experiences as the new currency in the future of work. 

Part 3: Closing the Growing Expectation-Reality Gap  

Closing workplace X-R gaps is pivotal to addressing the challenges posed by remote work, evolving management practices and generational shifts. These issues contribute to concerns related to rising turnover rates and shorter employee tenures. As artificial intelligence (AI) and automation progress, aligning worker expectations with continually shifting realities becomes not only challenging but essential for organizational progress. 
 
Successful alignment enhances critical aspects such as employee satisfaction, engagement, productivity and overall stability. It fosters effective communication, trust and the cultivation of a positive work environment. However, the rapid advancement of technology poses the risk of widening this gap, creating a "Technology Trap6 " that tests organizational foresight, adaptability and resilience. Managing this challenge extends beyond addressing immediate workplace issues; it involves continuous alignment with employee expectations to guide progress towards Industry 4.0 and 5.0 goals. This aims to shape a future where human potential and technology work synergistically for profound impact without one lagging behind the other. 
 
Let's delve into some current X-R challenges and explore potential solutions. 
 

  •     Challenge 1: Discrepancies in expectations 
    • One significant contributor to the X-R gap is the disparity between how employees and executives perceive key organizational factors influencing the work experience. Gartner's7 research reveals a profound gap between leaders' perceptions and employees' experiences regarding flexibility, support, trust, decision-making involvement, purpose, culture, open communication and a sense of belonging. For instance, while 69% of leaders believe they provide a culture of flexibility, only 36% of employees agree. This mismatch can lead to frustration, dissatisfaction and disengagement among workers, highlighting the importance of aligning these perceptions. 

  • Challenge 2: Devaluation of human capital
    • Another cause of the X-R gap is the undervaluation of human capital, which encompasses the value of people’s skills, knowledge and health. Despite human capital being recognized as the world’s the most valuable asset (estimated worth  of $1.4 quadrillion in 2018 or 64% of the world's total wealth) by the World Bank8, a Korn Ferry9 study reveals that two-thirds of 800 CEOs in global multinational companies prioritize technology as the primary creator of future value over humans. This devaluation, especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to various forms of resistance from employees. This includes the great resignation10, which highlighted the frustration felt and prompted the search for more meaningful alternatives. 
  • Challenge 3: The Plague of “work about work” 
    • A third challenge contributing to the X-R gap is the prevalence of “work about work,” which involves spending a significant amount of time on non-essential tasks unrelated to core work. Studies, including Asana's “Anatomy of Work Index,”11  have highlighted that 60% of an individual's work time is spent on such non-essential tasks such as managing shifting priorities, communicating about work, searching for information and chasing status updates. This results in delayed decision making and projects, missed deadlines and job task frustration. 
  • Challenge 4: Generational shifts deepening the divide
    • The fourth challenge is the generational shift in the workforce, bringing new expectations and preferences for work. Generation Z and Alpha prioritize value-based careers, flexibility, inclusion, mental health support, innovative thinking and environmental responsibility. Adapting to these evolving expectations is pivotal to shaping the future of work. Yet, individual uniqueness, based on factors such as age, gender, culture and personality, adds diversity and inclusion to the workforce. 
  • Solution: Alignment and collaboration 
    • In working towards the ideal work experience, finding harmony amid the discord of the X-R gap and the clash between human capital and technology is paramount.  Leaders and workers need to hash out common ground when it comes to defining and managing workplace expectations. Rather than pitting human capital against technology, we should view tech as a tool that complements human skills, instead of a rival. 
    • Additionally, it's crucial to hand over more control to workers. Let them decide how they work, utilize technology, learn and strike a balance between professional and personal life. This practical empowerment and agency are key to bridging the X-R gap, making the work experience more engaging and satisfying for everyone involved. In the new era of work, simplicity is the key to success, ensuring that the work environment is not a battleground but a collaborative space where technology and human capabilities work hand in hand. 

 
These challenges highlight the urgency and importance of closing the X-R gap and creating a better future of work for both workers and organizations in the face of a continually shifting work landscape.  


Part 4: The Power of the Three Levels of Connected Worker Tools 

Connected toolsets are poised as transformative agents in tackling the X-R gap, aspiring to elevate task-specific performance, enhance job performer experiences and enrich the overall employee journey. Their core mission is to narrow the divide between expectations and reality, amplify operational efficiency and safety and cultivate a robust and thriving work environment. 
 

  1. Real-time assistance with connected support tools. Precision-crafted to elevate task-specific performance and the anatomy of work, performer support tools provide real time support to enrich employee performance at the point of need. These tools provide immediate guidance, data, support and feedback to overcome challenges and optimize performance during task execution. Their focus spans the front-end phases of the human experience cycle in the areas of addressing worker expectations, job/task execution and in-the-moment adaptations to abnormal situations. 
  2. Fostering growth with connected experience support tools. While maintaining a task-centric approach, performer experience tools pivot toward the latter stages of the human experience cycle relative to job task performance. This encompasses supporting postmortem reflection, planning and individual and team preparations for future task performance. These tools stimulate the collection of tacit knowledge, foster personal development, and accumulate connected data for next-generation analytics. They also leverage AI to continually inform automation opportunities and refine job task designs to enhance the employee performance experience. 
  3. Enriching employee experience with connected employee experience and support tools. Beyond only job tasks, experience tools also focus on enriching the overall employee experience within an organization. Exploring aspects such as compensation and benefits are contributors to employee satisfaction, they play a pivotal role in shaping positive overarching experiences with a company by nurturing motivated and well-rounded employees. Their primary objective is to foster a favorable perception of the organization beyond an individual’s job. 

 
Using an iterative tired set of connected worker tools for performance support, experience development and workplace affiliation, organizations can help their employees close the X-R gap and improve their outcomes in the changing work environment. 

Conclusion 

The future of work is here and now. It requires us to bridge the gap between worker expectations and job realities. This is the essence of human-centric connected worker ecosystems, which we have explored in this blog series. These ecosystems are not just a collection of isolated solutions, but a comprehensive and integrated approach to enhancing worker experience and performance. 

In this blog series, we have explored the various aspects of building industrial competence, from developing holistic human skills and creating a human-centered performance environment to leveraging connected-worker analytics. We have also proposed a strategy to bridge the X-R Gap, the divergence between worker expectations and job realities, by identifying and managing experiential moments that matter in the connected workflow. 

By bridging the X-R Gap, we can create a positive and engaging work experience that aligns with worker aspirations and motivates them to perform at their best. We can also foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, where workers are empowered to grow and adapt to the changing demands of their jobs. We can also ensure a healthier and safer work environment, where workers are supported and protected by the connected ecosystem. 

The creation of human-centric connected worker ecosystems is not just a proactive measure to future-proof the worker experience, but also preparation for the impending era of intensive industrial reskilling. These ecosystems are not only shaping the future, but also influencing the present by promoting desired worker behavior through a combination of high human centricity and AI-driven personalization. 

The recognition that unfulfilled work expectations can lead to negative emotions and behaviors highlights the need for strategic interventions.  

Moreover, by enhancing the worker experience, we also respond to the societal demand that work helps people in their journey for the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is not just a subjective feeling, but also a factor that affects productivity, creativity and innovation. According to a study by Oxford University12, happy workers are 13% more productive than unhappy ones. Therefore, by bridging the X-R Gap, we not only improve the well-being of our workers, but also the performance of our organizations. 

We believe that human-centric connected worker ecosystems are the key to unlocking the full potential and sustainability of the industrial workforce and shaping the future of work. We invite you to join us on this journey and discover how Hexagon can help you build your own connected worker ecosystem. Contact us today to learn more. 

Other blogs in this series:


References

  1. Deloitte 2023 manufacturing outlook
  2. Gartner Research Shows Human-Centric Work Models Boosts Employee Performance and Other Key Talent Outcomes
  3.  Human Experience Cycle (HXC) Front end processes: Expectations, Task execution experience. Back-end processes: Reflection, Planning, Preparation and Anticipation.
  4.  Emphasizing more activity after task execution than before is a strategic choice that prioritizes reflection, planning, and preparation. This approach supports holistic learning, strategic adaptation, and positive workplace dynamics, fostering sustained engagement and personal development for long-term success. 
  5.  Anticipation involves the excitement and mental preparation for tasks or experiences that one has not yet undertaken, while expectations revolve around the mindset and emotions associated with entering a task that has been previously performed. 
  6. Can We Escape the Technology Trap? (mit.edu)
  7. Gartner Report  What Is Work Really Like Today? Leaders and Employees See Things Differently
  8. World Bank’s report “The Changing Wealth of Nations 2021: Building a Sustainable Future”
  9. Korn Ferry Global Study: Majority of CEOs See More Value in Technology Than Their Workforce
  10. Great resignation followed by subsequent terms: quiet quitting, bare minimum Mondays, bedminand career cushioning. These terms reflect how much employees are frustrated with their work experience, and how they are seeking more meaningful and fulfilling work alternatives.
  11. Asana 2022 Anatomy of Work Report
  12. Happy Employees Are More Productive [2022]: Facts, Data, Trends - Zippia For Employers 

About the Author

Brent Kedzierski is an award-winning thought leader and innovator in the fields of Human Performance, Human-Centered Connected Worker Ecosystems, and the future of Industry. Throughout his career, he has consistently delivered groundbreaking insights and transformative contributions. Brent's expertise has earned recognition from respected publications like Harvard Business Press, Chief Learning Officer Magazine, Workforce.com, BBC News, and more. His webinars have been featured as "editor's picks of the year," and his podcast appearances consistently rank as "top-listened to" in the industry. Prior to becoming the Principle Industrial Strategist at Hexagon ($HXGBY), Brent spent nearly 25 years as Shell's veteran Global HR transformation strategist. Brent is a passionate advocate for advancing a set of progressive ideas for creating a more human centered approach to industry, human development, well-being, and sustainability.

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