Advancing Employee Experience (EX) Through Design Thinking at Work Rebooted
The Work Rebooted conference currently underway in San Francisco aims to examine the future of the workplace (did you know that the future of work is not in the future, but The Future is Now?). BrandCulture led an interactive workshop and immersive Design Thinking session to challenge preconceptions about employee experience and innovate new ways companies big and small can improve this process.
Our Service Design Strategist Savi Lopez-Negrete teamed up with Dr. Ross Mitchell, Partner at Whoa, to introduce the audience to the idea of Design Thinking. Eric Pinckert, co-founder of BrandCulture and Chief Strategy Officer, followed with a presentation discussing BrandCulture’s approach that integrates brand building and organizational development practices that extend beyond traditional communication tools.
The main event was a BrandCulture immersive workshop revolving around an Employee Experience (EX) case study. In it, we follow Steve (a created persona of a young coder) and his immediate manager Kate during his recruitment and first two years at archetypal tech company ACME Corp. In teams of eight, conference attendees dissected the case study and discovered opportunities for creating a better employee experience through Design Thinking methodologies. Workshop participants learned and leveraged Design Thinking principles to capture a holistic view of the employee’s journey from his first glance at a job posting to the moment two years later when he entertains the idea of jumping ship. The diverse teams brought together insights to help improve Steve’s individual employee experience and generate new ways the company could better engage and retain employees.
After two+ hours of spirited discussion and employee path mapping, seven teams shared their insights and their favorite idea to boost Steve’s success at the company. While the answers were exciting and diverse, at the heart of all them was some aspect of leveraging the company’s Shared Purpose.
To furnish a perspective on how the heterogeneous teams approached ameliorating Steve and ACME’s pain points in different, novel ways, here are insights from each team’s key insights and ideas,.
Design Thinking Insights and Strategies for coder Steve and ACME Corp.:
- The company needs better data! ACME should leverage analytics and feedback loops. There don’t seem to be feedback or communications initiatives. Building on the theme of “The Future Is Now,” the first team believed that AI could take control of the data and synthesize key learnings for management. To fuel these AI insights, the team recommended that the company should also hold in-person information sessions to help gain a better understanding of employees’ holistic stories.
- Employees must feel engaged and connected in order to thrive. While the case study notes that Steve grows close to a few colleagues, he doesn’t feel an overall connection to the company, partly due to the fact that his office is isolated and the departments don’t intermingle. This team’s idea pushed company culture with the belief that connections should start from Day 1. Why not onboard each employee with a mentor already in place? A secondary perk is that mentors will almost assuredly learn new tricks from younger hires.
- In the case study, Steve faces bewilderment at every turn. He doesn’t know the company lingo. He has no access to an org chart. And he doesn’t learn about the great, free educational opportunities until months have passed. This team suggested a company portal, “ACME Anything.” The portal would give employees access to content videos, benefit information, career opportunities, etc.
- Sometimes a company needs to go “back to basics.” This team believed the company needed a system, a clear manual of how to onboard an employee. Within this idea, supervisors would also present employees with onboarding information through a manual or portal, allowing new hires to sift through information as they see fit.
- Steve’s initial contact with the company is anything but streamlined. In fact this team called it “old school.” Steve sends his application into the void and except for an email auto response, doesn’t hear back from the hiring team for weeks. And even then the communication is old school and clunky. The team suggested a week long “hackathon,” after which the employer would be able to extend offers right there on the spot.
- A repeated challenge to Steve is his (lack of) formal professional development. Steve keeps waiting for his supervisor, Kate, to guide him and supply feedback. It’s unclear if Kate is too busy or doesn’t believe it’s her job to provide Steve with a career path. This question of development guidance actually becomes a somewhat heated debate within the audience members, with some believing Steve needs to stand up for himself while others exclaim that the company owes its employees a clear path to growth. The expectation gap hurts Steve as he doesn’t receive a promotion and it harms the company as Steve starts wondering what better opportunities wait for him at other businesses.
- While Steve doesn’t receive any feedback from Kate, this team decided that Kate is the one who really needs some feedback for her poor managerial skills. The company’s leaders need to enlist a top-down approach that holds managers accountable. At the very least, this team suggests that there can be weekly work check-ins and monthly development check-ins. Furthermore the feedback structure should be uniform across departments, with transparent results.
Real companies and real life are of course more complicated than our ACME case study. But each workshop participant related to Steve — and some abashedly admitted to relating to Kate. The breadth of ideas Design Thinking techniques generated to mitigate pain points in this simulated corporate scenario shows that there are great ideas and powerful solutions out there. It’s time teams put them to work in their organizations to dream beyond the status quo.