Designing Employee Experience
Advised executive-level decision makers and HR partners on workplace engagement strategies and co-created quarterly roadmaps using data-driven research and insights.
32% attrition (↑8%) and 29% attrition (↑7%) respectively amongst employees with 1-2 years and 2-5 years of employment (September 2018).
Our client experienced a sharp increase in attrition globally at the start of FY19 and approached us to investigate. Reporting to the Director of People Strategy, my role was to guide the company executives on applying design thinking principles to thoroughly understand employee concerns and proactively roll out employee-centric change initiatives that would make employee experience a differentiating factor for the company and ultimately help retain the workforce.
On a personal front, this role intrigued me. Having previously worked on projects which had always culminated in the release of a digital website/app, this was an opportunity to utilize user research and design thinking techniques to influence business processes and bring about organizational change through more than just a digital solution. This time, the conclusion of our research process was not predetermined.
Employee experience is the totality of experiences one has during the recruitment, employment, and separation phases of a job. This includes the interactions with others, the policies, procedures, and processes one faces, the culture of the organization, the total rewards (pay + benefits), the physical environment, and the job itself. The totality of all these factors - large and small - create an experience that influences the level of engagement an employee feels toward their employer and ultimately, the attrition.
Attrition occurs when an employee voluntarily leaves the company and can end up costing thousands of dollars per employee, including training, knowledge transfer, and recruitment. This represents a significant material cost to the business through increased recruiting, onboarding, and client impacts. Overall, reducing current attrition rates could save our client millions of dollars annually, in addition to indirect value gained from talent preservation for competitive advantages, protection of intellectual property, and corporate growth potential.
With this business imperative to retain talent, our project goals were:
Understand the collective sentiment of the employees and build hypotheses on factors that influence the probability of attrition using quantitative and qualitative methods.
Identify metrics from these factors that can be influenced within the capacity of the departmental leads and monitored over time.
Co-design an engagement strategy with the global departmental leads that is scalable and sustainable to roll out across regions.
Our client’s organization was structured through 24 departments (e.g. Software Engineering, Finance, Marketing). Each employee was aligned exclusively to a department, which was the main source of identity within the company. The Global Departmental Leads were the sponsors of this initiative and the main points of contact for our team.
Our team consisted of myself as the Change Lead with two talented reports – one specializing in communications & coordination, and the second focusing on technical development.
With a globally distributed workforce (including stakeholders in many different time zones), our research needed to be fully remote, and any viable recommendations had to be scalable.
Since material rewards such as salary, benefits, and promotion were determined by regional factors (regional company performance, budget, etc.), our team’s focus was on influencing intrinsic motivation with the Global leads to improve employee experience.
Our client already had a practice in place of sending a standard CultureAmp questionnaire bi-annually, polling their employee base on a variety of topics such as Engagement, Work Environment, and Career Growth. The questionnaire had been used to get feedback on the high-level company direction, but was not actively being used as input for change initiatives. There was little faith in the value of the survey, with only 47% reporting seeing any action being taken based on survey results in the past. Since we did not want to contribute further to survey fatigue, we used this data as a starting point for building a deep understanding of the employees, and supplemented it with other research methods to fill our knowledge gaps.
The following questions guided our research:
Which employees are the most disengaged? What are their demographics and psychographics? Where are they located? Why might they feel disengaged?
Who are we not hearing from?
Are there particular points in the employee journey where employees express feeling disengaged?
What is currently being done at the departmental and regional level to address engagement? What is working? What can be improved?
We conducted an in-depth exploratory mixed-methods study, collecting and analyzing 5 different types of feedback over the course of a month:
1. Survey Analysis
Identified trends in the quantitative survey results for the overall company and drilled down into cross-sections for each department. Were there outliers or missing input by Department, Region, Career Level, Tenure, Last Promotion Date, or self-identified Gender?
2. Sentiment Analysis of Comments
Conducted a sentiment analysis of open-ended responses on the survey and collated them with overarching meaningful themes relevant to the business.
3. Discovery Interviews
We set up 60-minute interviews with each Global Departmental Lead and corresponding L&D partner to understand what was already being done and what was not working. Each interview session consisted of a debriefing of relevant survey findings, our hypotheses, and a probe for additional insight on the most interesting data points.
4. Deep Dives
Following the conversation with the global leads, we either set up focus groups (with regional leads or employees) or reviewed exit interview data to dive into select cohorts showing conspicuously problematic or successful engagement results. In areas with overwhelmingly positive scores, as an example, we sought to get better insight on the initiatives in place, and whether we could leverage/replicate those across the company.
Power BI Report for Survey Analysis. Overview page displays high-level findings by Department and Sentiment Analysis of Comments by Theme and Country.
Through our research, we were able to pinpoint clusters of employees who shared similar needs, motivations, and frustrations, and common attributes (same stages of the employee journey, career level, region, etc.). These became the foundation of our personas.
We then set out to bring them to life by building a narrative around them. In an effort to keep bias at bay, we built our personas as scenarios and voided the temptation to add a lot of irrelevant personal detail. Our goal was to keep them grounded in research, making sure any information we were attributing to them was not based on assumptions.
We found scenario-based personas were helpful in demonstrating some of the nuances of real people better than static personas. They were more easily able to highlight how multifaceted employees do not prescribe to just one persona, but rather move between them based on the context they are in. From one day to the next, an employee's attitude can change based on whether they are looking to mentor a team or are feeling frustrated about being passed over for promotion.
Promotion Seeker (Last Promo Date 2+ Years Ago)
Currently under-leveled Promotion Seeker
We would be remiss if we did not validate the personas with representatives from each cluster. If our personas were not accurate, they would have done more harm than good by giving us a false sense of confidence about who we were designing for. These sessions served double duty as a way to start fleshing out critical user paths for our next step: building Employee Journeys.
Based on the specific pain points ailing employees of a department, we prioritized a set of personas and created journey maps - to walk together through the challenges and key transition points for those employees. They were a helpful representation of weeks of research, allowing the leaders to audit the current employee experience with us in an engaging way and identify gaps between intended vs. actual outcomes.
Employee Journey Map showing the steps an employee takes to locate an existing solution or template
These pain points were good fuel for envisioning a variety of ideas in our discussions with the Departmental Leads. We framed the conversation to circle back often to their priorities for the quarter and the metrics they wanted to move forward by the next survey. As a result, we were able to prioritize the most viable solutions and co-create a quarterly roadmap for each department. This was enough runway to design, implement, and get feedback on our solutions, and thus revise the strategy, as needed, to keep up with the needs of the employees.
The following three themes, as an example, emerged repeatedly in our research, and led us to tackling these areas with solutions across the board for all departments:
“Our department remains too broad, lacks focus”
(Software Engineering Department, Australia)
The current organizational structure had been sufficient when the company started. As the department headcount grew, however, this structure did not provide enough granularity for fostering a close sense of community, developing targeted learning plans, or accurate workforce planning. Within the 4000+ headcount of the Software Engineering department, as an example, there were many different disciplines such as Backend Engineering and Application Architecture - but these were only being tracked unofficially in some regions.
Introduce structured roles within each department to set the stage for introducing clear career pathing, development plans, and leveling guidelines.
Collected input from each region on their preferred structure using Card Sorting. Designed and implemented the change management process for introducing differentiated roles at a large scale (11,000+ employees, 80 locations, 24 countries).
Read more: Organization Structure Tuning using Design Thinking
“I do not feel there is a strong and clear communication line coming from the lead. It is very hard to see that we have any kind of success in the near future.”
(Business Operations Department, Gallia)
Too much communication, yet not enough
Managing email was an issue with employees feeling overwhelmed not only by the amount of information being pushed to them but also by the amount of information that was not relevant. With email as the primary communication channel, there was little weighting of importance of information, which means an announcement email from the Global Departmental Lead carried the same level of importance as a breakroom donut notification in a single office location.
Top Down: Establish a regular, authentic communication cadence between Department Leads and Employees.
Lateral: Break down silos within departments. Encourage knowledge sharing. Make it evident where employees can find relevant up-to-date information as they need it.
Bottom Up: Highlight regional employee success to the global leads to boost morale and motivate continuous growth.
Built the platform (Departmental Teams and Sharepoint Sites) and ran campaigns to nurture a culture of open communication and knowledge-sharing.
Read more: Building an internal community space for recognition, collaboration, and onboarding
“Feels like the people within my department are not even sure how to work, as there are so many new [hires].”
(Infrastructure Department, Nordics)
Employees reported a “sink or swim” mentality at the company - new joiners were inundated with a lot of useful material (often PPTs) in the first few days of joining the company/dept. This information was rarely ever retained or revisited.
Make the experience personal… at scale. Make it evident where employees can find relevant up-to-date information as they need it.
Hosted Welcome Videos from the Global Departmental Leads and Asset Repositories for each department on the their respective Sharepoint Sites. Scheduled Welcome Emails with relevant links at 1 - 3 - 6 month milestones for new employees using Power Automate.
Read more: Building an internal community space for recognition, collaboration, and onboarding
Understanding and improving employee experience was critical for our client to continue operating in today’s complex and highly competitive global economy. Providing an engaging experience would help our client retain their skilled talent, and ultimately drive a stronger customer experience.
Our client sought out design thinking as a way to get deeper insights into their employees and start developing innovative, iterative solutions to the problems plaguing them. During our 1.5 year engagement with the client, we were able to help set the stage with Organizational Structure Tuning, and built an internal collaboration platform using Teams, Sharepoint, and Power BI. With this foundation in place, the Global Departmental Leads were empowered to continue experimenting with potential engagement solutions and refining them using data and feedback, even today.
Since the start of our project in 2018, faith in our client’s bi-annual employee survey has been on the rise. As of Dec 2019, 61% of employees (↑14%) now report seeing positive changes taking place based on recent employee survey results.
14% rise in employees reporting seeing positive action being taken on survey results (2018-2019)
Eventually, I hope to see our client move to regular pulse surveys and an open feedback system over bi-annual surveys. This would allow the department leads to obtain feedback as close to real time as possible, pick up on sporadic changes in worker priorities and sentiments, inspect the impact of ‘treatments’ immediately, and adapt if needed. Until then, they are reliant on waiting months to measure results or sending out adhoc surveys to capture feedback.
“We used to prioritize our stakeholders as shareholders first, customers second, and employees third. We now realize we had it backward.
If we put employees first, they in turn take care of our customers, (who) in turn take care of our shareholders.”
(Wall Street Journal)