Understanding Employee Experience, Part 3: Designing employee experiences differently

This is the third article in a series looking at Employee Experience and Employee Centered Design. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read:

  1. Part 1: An introduction to a new model of Employee Experience with the acronym PREP, that lays the foundation for organisations to deliver more employee focused outcomes.
  2. Part 2: An introduction to Employee Centered Design, including guiding principles you’re welcome to use yourself.

Designing employee experiences differently

In New Zealand, we tend to take a pretty DIY approach to many things. Our organisations are small on the global scale, so we tend to wear multiple hats and do what we can to keep costs down. We’re rightly proud of our achievements, however I do wonder if there’s an opportunity to rethink ‘Do It Yourself’ – perhaps we could instead Do It Together?

In my last article I spoke about the tendency in the People & Culture / HR space to look towards ‘best practice’ to provide the frameworks and guidance needed to build great employee experiences. There’s a wealth of great content and learning out there! However, by definition it is the learnings of other people, in other organisations. All that uniqueness that we know to be true about our own organisation isn’t in there, but we can see how it might work, so confidence builds that we have what we need to do it ourselves.

Same process, different outcomes

At a high level, any good initiative to enhance the employee experience goes through some common phases. There are plenty of frameworks out there, but I like the simple ‘double diamond’ approach of Design Thinking, incorporating phases of divergent and convergent thought.

Depending on the mindset you bring to this framework, the way your EX-enhancing initiative unfolds can be very different.

If you’re used to Doing It Yourself, or have found yourself enamoured with a best practice-first approach, you will tend to ask fewer questions and listen for the answers that align to your preferences.

  • During the Discover phase, you’ll look for the business case for your EX initiative (maybe in in your employee survey results), and often feel comfortable that you have a pretty good idea of what your organisation needs.
  • The Define phase may be skipped entirely, as your proposed solution may appear to sufficiently describe what you want to do.
  • The Design phase might be focused on adapting what’s worked elsewhere (from your own experience or best practice), and may involve some coalition-building activities in preparation for…
  • The Deliver phase, which requires change management techniques to build ‘buy in’ and overcome ‘resistance.’

If instead we take the approach that we should Do It Together because people should be involved in designing solutions that will work for them, each phase can look very different. Employee Centred Design (ECD) was introduced in the second article in this series, and might leads us to shape the phases in the following ways:

  • The Discover phase involves divergent thinking, trying to understand the current employee experience from different perspectives, and in employees’ own words. Surveys can be great to identify which issues and opportunities are present in your organisation, and where they are most keenly felt, but are often inadequate in understanding what people really think. ECD emphasises conversations over coding.

  • The Define phase involves taking the insights from the Discover phase and distilling them down to provide clarity on what we want to do, what we hope to achieve, and how we’ll know if we’re successful. This is convergent thinking, and it should be clear how we are planning to positively impact EX.
  • The Design phase could look very different if we’re Doing It Together! Divergent thinking rules again as we look to co-create solutions with employees. Going beyond simple brainstorming, a Design phase that is employee centred asks people to come up with ideas, and also tasks them with working out how the chosen approach can work. Best practice content and learnings absolutely play a part here, and may vary in their contribution depending on the topic. ECD encourages testing of ideas with employees and leaders before they are deemed ready for primetime; prototyping and iterating, rather than ‘consultation’ on a 95% finished product.
  • Finally, when it comes to the Deliver phase, the requirement for change management should be much lower – the design thinking process itself has been an exercise in managing change through employee involvement. We will have designed with people, not for them.

Putting it into practice

Let’s take flexible working as an example. There are plenty of places you can go to for ‘starter policies,’ and a wealth of information online that describes best practice and beyond. One option you have is to pick up this content and rework it based on how prescriptive/progressive you’d like to be. This approach will tend to reflect the perspectives and concerns of People & Culture and senior leaders, who may be concerned that people will inappropriately take advantage of the options. In our experience, the tone of language in that document may end up quite firm as it seeks to clarify the boundaries.

With an Employee Centred Design approach, we would start by recognising that we are looking to design something that will benefit both employees and the organisation. The desired employee experience is characterised by trust, empathy, enablement, and a focus on outcomes. Workshops can be designed to cross the Discover and Design phases to understand the perspectives of leaders and employees, including what we want to achieve, what might be ‘on the table,’ and (critically) how we can make this work. By involving employees in the design of the flexible working guidelines, we maintain a focus on the desired EX outcome, the document can be tailored to their needs, and agreements will be much easier to make regarding mutual obligations.

Doing more together?

If we are looking to enhance Employee Experience, Employee Centred Design offers a natural and rewarding path to achieving it. It requires a shift in mindset that will feel natural to some, and perhaps unsettling to others. However it represents a more human and inclusive approach to developing our people and organisations to reach their potential, and for that it is worth the investment.


July 22nd, 2019

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Understanding Employee Experience, Part 2: Introducing Employee Centered Design

In my first article in this series, I introduced a new model of Employee Experience with the acronym PREP, that lays the foundation for organisations to deliver more employee focused outcomes. I encourage you to read the series from the beginning!

Introducing Employee Centered Design

I’ve noticed that the profession of People & Culture / HR is somewhat preoccupied with the notion of ‘best practice.’ Best practice by definition is an approach that is seen as superior to alternatives due to greater likelihood of better outcomes. That sounds great!

The fly in the ointment for P&C however is that we’re dealing with people, each with different perceptions. We regularly find that what worked great in one organisation might not in another, for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately we’ve become used to citing that “people don’t like change” when initiatives don’t work out as expected, and have reassured ourselves that we followed best practice.

I think it’s more accurate instead to say that “people don’t like change being imposed on them.” How many times have you yourself been subjected to change by a company you’ve bought goods or services from, and found yourself saying, “well if they had only asked me, I’d have said…”? Involvement in decision-making is a common driver of employee engagement, yet often we fail to really engage with people to design solutions.

Finding inspiration

Our focus on understanding and enhancing Employee Experience has encouraged the team at Humankind to reflect on these realities and look for a different approach. Seeing fantastic results in other fields, we have drawn from Human Centered Design, Service Design and User Experience Design to develop an approach for Employee Experience: Employee Centered Design (ECD).

Humankind’s Employee Centered Design mindset is founded on two key beliefs:


Both of these beliefs are part of the existing P&C narrative and value proposition. So really it’s how we follow through on these beliefs that determines whether we work with employees to develop solutions that will serve them, or fall back to ‘best practice.’ To stay on track, we have developed 5 ECD Principles that we use internally, and they have been so successful that we encourage you to consider these as guiding lights for your own P&C team:

Find the why 

Listen to people, and look to understand why they think, feel, and act they way they do. Focus on the moments that matter, big and small.

Design with

Not for! Collaborate with a diverse range of people, doing things with them, not to them. We need to tap into collective wisdom and generate options. We don’t know everything.

Build and test

Don’t work towards a single big output – share progress, prototype and test ideas as you go. Course correct early.

Make it BASIC

Great solutions are Beautiful, Accessible, Simple, Intuitive, Consistent.


The 4 types of EX help you understand both what’s happening now, and design for the future: experiences across the dimensions of Purpose, Relationships, Enablement, and Performance.

In other professions, most of these principles are already second nature. The first three are fundamentals of Human Centered Design, often referred to as empathy, co-creation, and prototyping. BASIC is a wonderful acronym drawn from User Experience Design – it’s why the apps on your phone deliver great experiences. PREP for EX (introduced in my first article in this series) is our own contribution, unique to Employee Experience.

It’s in practice where you start to see how ECD will deliver different results. In the third article in this series I’ll discuss what ECD looks like in practice, and what changes are needed to ‘status quo HR’ to start delivering the sorts of Employee Experience results we are looking for.

July 10th, 2019

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Understanding Employee Experience, Part 1: Taking a fresh look at ‘Employee Experience’

This is the first article in a series of 3 to be published over coming weeks, sharing my thoughts on how we can make the concept of ‘Employee Experience’ something that has meaning and value. If you’ve been thinking that it seems like it’s just a new wrapper on the same old ‘employee engagement chocolate bar,’ these are the articles for you!

Taking a fresh look at ‘Employee Experience’


It’s a sentiment I’ve heard a number of times over the last year from professionals working in the People & Culture / HR space. I love the intent behind these assertions – evolution of thought, a desired focus on employee outcomes, achieving success through people. However as I then heard about the variety of exciting P&C-led EX initiatives that they had planned for the next 12 months, I was left with the sense that the assumed ‘path to a great EX’ looked very much like the paths P&C have travelled over the past couple of decades, with varying success.

A year ago our company launched the inaugural Humankind Employee Experience Awards programme. We were privileged to learn lots about what great employee experience looks like, with my favourite being simply that those who commit to following through on their intent to create a great EX greatly increase their chances of success! Less expected, though, was the realisation that our own approach to understanding and designing for EX needed to change. It added little value over what had been done before.

The problem with the most common models of EX

If you consider yourself a student of EX, you might be familiar with the work of Jacob Morgan, who has identified that any employee’s experience is influenced by their organisation’s technological environment, cultural environment, and physical environment. It makes sense, and last year we were using our own model of EX that was similar (see below).

Humankind’s old model of EX






This model did a good job of helping us structure our EX discovery work for clients, but we found that once an insight was presented in a report then the model was of little ongoing use. This failure, and the fact that the model didn’t actually encourage any change in approach for P&C in designing for EX, nagged away at us.

Then we had a realisation: Our old model of EX was primarily focused on inputs (areas you can influence). EX was positioned as a simple outcome of this focus. This resulted in encouraging leaders and P&C teams to simply build a list of ‘things to work on,’ assuming that EX will improve as a result.

Expecting more

Once you raise your expectations that a model of EX should help you design great experiences, an inputs-based model becomes inadequate. After a period of research and reflection, we have developed a unique model that we feel meets these needs. Humankind’s PREP for EX model describes 4 types of employee experiences, across the dimensions of Purpose, Relationships, Enablement, and Performance. You may note that it covers similar ground as an inputs-based model, but from the perspective of the employee.

Humankind’s new model for EX












Not only can we run a discovery process for an organisation that investigates ‘what it is like to work here,’ but this model also describes what a great experience looks like, so you can design for it. An example helps, so let’s take the onboarding process as it’s well-known to provide some of the first ‘moments of truth’ for a new employee. While an inputs-based model of EX might identify onboarding as a ‘Culture’ opportunity area, PREP for EX has suggestions for both your inquiry and process design:

We have found the PREP for EX model provides practical guidance to organisations looking to understand what’s driving their EX and how to improve it.

Feeling much more comfortable with our model, our attention then turned to how organisations go about improving the employee experience. In the second article in this series I’ll discuss the downsides of ‘HR Best Practice,’ and what ‘Employee Centered Design’ is all about.

July 10th, 2019

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