Deliver Meaningful, Impactful Employee Experiences (EX Series, Part 4)
Understanding and exploring the why, who, and how of designing great employee experiences is key, but those exercises alone won’t gain the solid, long-term results you need for your organization’s bottom line. Here’s how to set the magic in motion.
In Part 1 of this four-part series, we examined why and how investing in employee experience (EX) delivers significant return and is beneficial to any organization. In Part 2, we defined employee experience design (EXD), discussed the importance of project scoping and described how to plan and conduct research for your project. In Part 3, we talked about driving the creative process—reframing, ideation and prototyping/testing—to visualize great experiences for the people who make up your workforce.
In this fourth and final article, we arrive at implementation—implementation with maximum impact.
Feasibility, roadmaps and refinements
The design process generates concepts that, through prototyping and testing described in Part 3, are proven to improve the experience of an employee population, either in a specific scenario or as part of their employee journey. Time and cost constraints, though, often mean that not every concept or solution resulting from the EXD process can or will be implemented. This can be especially true for design teams that are early in their learning curve or doing EXD for the first time in their organization.
The EXD team’s first step in the implementation phase is to decide which concepts to implement based on organizational criteria and available resources. Typically, this is followed by prioritizing the desired improvements and creating a roadmap. This is the time when the conversation turns from desirability to both feasibility and viability of the solution.
"With the roadmap defined, an iterative implementation process is more effective. This involves adopting an agile development-style process to deliver improvements in ‘batches’ using a design sprint approach."
With the roadmap defined, an iterative implementation process is more effective. This involves adopting an agile development-style process to deliver improvements in ‘batches’ using a design sprint approach. Using the roadmap, each improvement is defined and listed on the experience backlog.
Teams work on batches of improvements in short, 2-4 week sprints, revising and reprioritizing the backlog as they go to ensure they are delivering quality, relevant improvements on time and on budget. This incremental approach avoids overloading an organization with too much change at any one point, and it allows the design and implementation teams responsible for implementation to bite off smaller chunks of work.
We should note that agile can be an effective approach, but is not the only approach, to implementing experience design solutions. It is an effective methodology, but it may not take into account the organizational changes required at the operational level (roles, responsibilities, etc.). In other words, thinking through and designing the ‘backstage’ of the experiences is as important as designing for the experience itself, and this may require an entirely different, parallel change management effort.
Welcoming new employees (a.k.a., “joiners”) is arguably the most critical moment in their relationship with a company. Consider how the world’s largest independent biotech firm retained author Lisa Morris’s firm, XPLOR, to ensure that this onboarding moment would be an experience that would pay big benefits for years.
The challenge: Establish a network of new shared services centers across four very different countries. As an added layer of complexity, there was typically high turnover between the offer date and the start date in these work environments.
The framed problem: How might we create onboarding experiences that reinforce the decision to join or remain with the organization? How might such experiences celebrate cultural diversity given the international scope of the company and the goal?
The solution: Research was conducted to understand past onboarding experiences of then-new team members. The resulting data exposed various unmet needs and pain points.
The first avenue to improve the onboarding experience was to design an out-of-box prototype experience—a literal box, in this instance. It included a welcome letter, lists of frequently asked questions and what to expect, a wearable fitness technology item and an assortment of products from the very organization they were joining.
The prototype was tested in the field with recent joiners, refined through several iterations, and adapted into four different versions that were designed to reflect the cultures in their respective countries—and, crucially, the boxes were shipped to new joiners before their first day on the job. Additional out-of-box experiences were created in partnership with the client team and delivered periodically as individuals’ work for the company continued.
The value: The prototype was well-received. It drove a 25% increase in new joiner engagement, a 60% increase in new joiner retention and an 18% increase in new joiner productivity. Taking into account the average annual salary of the recipients, the costs associated with turnover, the increases in engagement and boosts in productivity, a modest $200,000 investment ($200 per gift x 1,000 new joiners) produced a 300% yield.
THAT is meaningful impact!
EX and EXD tips for success at YOUR organization
Start small with a specific experience for a target audience. Iterate until it delivers measurable impact.
"Bear in mind this is a new way of working—it may require new kinds of cross-functional teams and different leadership skills."
Difficult decisions will be made at multiple intervals in the process. It’s about creating choices. Bear in mind this is a new way of working—it may require new kinds of cross-functional teams and different leadership skills. Change management should be an integral part of adopting EXD practices.
Desirability, feasibility and viability criteria must be brought explicitly and implicitly into different stages of the design process. They are critical to success.
While human-centered design focuses initially on desirability—a somewhat abstract concept—it is important to establish practical design constraints and decision criteria at the beginning of the process. This will allow the team to make decisions more efficiently at critical stages (e.g., problem framing, idea selection, prototype evaluation, implementation).
Center design on employees:
Listening to the ‘voice of the employee’ does not necessarily mean you are being employee-centric. Human-centered design is about putting people first—focusing on the needs of employees and involving them in every stage of the process of EXD.
No one is an adequate proxy for employees. Individuals’ own direct voices must be heard. You should not rely on second-hand interpretations of what others assume to be true, even if they are close to the employees.
Dedicate the time needed to understand the problem space, in all its dimensions, before moving to solutions. As Charles Kettering said, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
Implementation and execution are equal in importance. Leverage agile methodology to develop and deliver improvements in incremental releases—i.e., sprints—that are sized and sequenced to take into account the quantity of change the organization can absorb at any one time.
When designing the experience, also design how the organization will deliver the experience.
In this four-part series, we have introduced the concept of employee experience and detailed the process of employee experience design. This series is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of EX and EXD, but we would like to leave you with a few key take-aways to consider as you build an EXD competency within your organization.
Be prepared for temporary failure. Few endeavors in life go perfectly the first time. Use setbacks to iterate and improve a version of EXD that fits your organization.
"Use storytelling to bring people along with the change being created. Tell about the process, progress, outcomes and any lessons learned."
Stakeholder management is vital. Get senior, executive-level sponsorship when possible. Use storytelling to bring people along with the change being created. Tell about the process, progress, outcomes and any lessons learned. And showing is always better than telling!
Get help from those who have gone before. Study others’ successes and failures to improve your design for better employee experiences. There are many resources available on the internet and business books that cover different aspects of EXD. A trusted outside guide with an established track record of helping other organizations develop EXD practices can reduce risk and accelerate the process of change.