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Incorporating Expressive States into the Human Experience at Work

As employees, we are more than simply the sum of our skills and capabilities. When we think about who we are, we are far more likely to define ourselves by what we call “expressive states,” our unique collection of interests, motivations, and preferences. These descriptors help us tell our individual story and allow us to craft other’s understanding of how we operate and the value we bring to work.

Expressive states can best be described as things that make us feel energized at work and allow us to thrive. Interestingly, these states have been significantly underutilized in talent strategies, until now. We can now augment talent strategies with data about our individual preferences. Expressive states are a critical component to a fully realized whole self model, which is a framework to understand how employees experience change and opportunity throughout their career.

What Are Expressive States?

The number of potential expressive states is limitless. To create a common language around these expressive states, the SAP SuccessFactors team has developed the following taxonomy:

Values Alignment

In so many ways, expressive states enable the clear and up-to-date expression of what we value at work. They empower employees to define goals, large and small, while also allowing them to set a clear agenda towards who they would like to become. However, expressive states are malleable and ready to shift with new information or inspiration from the world around us. When we are inspired by something we’ve learned, we want to be able to act on that information in a meaningful way. As a result, we continuously redefine our states to adjust and meet new opportunities. As our values shift, our work should reflect this.

Although expressive states are deeply personal and individualized, there’s much to be learned by understanding them in the organizational aggregate. We might even be able to answer the burning questions: Where are people’s heads at right now? Are they ready for change?

There are formulas waiting in expressive states, and there might be different formulas for different types of organizations at different times. Transformation velocity, for example, might be measured with aspirations, passions, and motivators. Understanding how employees align with corporate values might be measured with passions and mindsets. What if you recognized that there was a common thread shared by a volume of employees that might even inspire changes in your corporate values?

Putting the Whole Self to Work

Individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole benefit when we define and maximize our alignment of work towards our expressive states. For the individual, it’s all about giving them the tools to explore, experiment, and define who they are and what they value. We envision this definition to be the foundation for identifying learning paths, future roles, projects, and people and work communities to connect with, as well as guide conversations for what might be next.

For teams, understanding each other’s expressive states can create a shared understanding of each member’s strengths and ambitions, which is critical to the creation and management of healthy, well-balanced teams. Imagine the incremental support and doors that could open with a little more transparency into what we aspire to and our desired pathways. Bringing us closer to our human side creates and fosters team cohesion and understanding of each other.

And for the organization, expressive states bring a level of clarity and understanding on direction and tendencies for the workforce. Are they headed in directions which align with the organization’s mission and strategies? Does the organization have the right mindsets and values to meet its objectives? And where may it need to boost growth and development to fuel excitement into new areas of opportunity?

Only with the complete picture of the whole self, as defined by skills and capabilities, strengths and styles, and expressive states, are we able to reach that untapped potential in ourselves and organizations.

Learn more about delivering individualized recommendations for employees with SAP SuccessFactors Opportunity Marketplace.

Scott Lietzke is vice president of Product Design at SAP SuccessFactors.
Julie Bartholic is vice president of Product Innovation Design at SAP SuccessFactors.
Caitlynn Sendra is EX product scientist at SAP SuccessFactors.

*Van Iddekinge, C. H., Roth, P. L., Putka, D. J., & Lanivich, S. E. (2011). Are you interested? A meta-analysis of relations between vocational interests and employee performance and turnover. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1167.
**Kleingeld, A., van Mierlo, H., & Arends, L. (2011). The effect of goal setting on group performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of applied psychology, 96(6), 1289.
***Paarlberg, L. E., & Perry, J. L. (2007). Values management: Aligning employee values and organization goals. The American review of public administration, 37(4), 387-408.
†McClelland, D. C. (1985). How motives, skills, and values determine what people do. American psychologist, 40(7), 812.
††Lee, D., & Ahn, J. (2019). The relationships between person-environment fit and job-related variables: Meta-analysis. Korean Journal of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 32(2), 107-134.

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