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Leighton Abbot | 22 July 2019

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.

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