This post was originally published in HR Professional magazine's September 2018 issue. Download just the article or the entire issue.
WHAT HR SHOULD KNOW ABOUT EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE
Of all the conversations around the Future of HR, two topics are most likely to make an appearance: technology and the employee experience. Both can be disruptive in good ways and bad, and both will change the role of HR going forward. Though much has been covered about advances in software and automation, employee experience has received far less attention in comparison. Given its ability to be equally game changing, it shouldn’t.
Experience is the “act of living through events.” In psychology, events are a type of autobiographical knowledge. Events (and experiences of them) are linked together as memories, grouped by themes, and organized hierarchically in our human minds. Combined with recall and perception, they feed into broader experiences that span periods within a lifetime.
Employee experience, then, is what people go through in the workplace, all that distinguishes “what it’s like” to be employed in a particular organization. The framing of work as an experience is fundamentally people centered, and it reflects a profound shift in mindset when it comes to managing the workplace. Instead of transactions and metrics, it’s all about what they perceive, how they feel, what compels them, how they interact, how they respond, what they remember. This is how humans are coded, and “how life is lived and remembered.” Look for proof everywhere: museums, music festivals, vacations packaged as experiences, retail customer experiences, even subscription boxes—all are intended to delight the consumer in differentiated, unique ways. No wonder driving HR with policies and procedures against data, costs, and profits is problematic. (Queue the proverbial tail wagging the dog.)
It’s already established that every employer benefits from highly engaged employees. Intentionally designed work experiences encourage engagement, flow, and meaningfulness needed for high performance.
If employee experience is the leading approach to designing the workplace, the next question might be, “Now what?” Typical responses might be to panic, become overwhelmed, avoid or ignore it for as long as possible. This is a losing battle because whether or not anything is done, an existing employee experience is in place--one that can deteriorate without intentional management. Others might look into how competitors do it, consult with experts, and then implement away until something takes, momentum slows, or resistance takes hold. Adoption of new practices wholesale won’t work either.
What’s missing are three important characteristics every exemplary employee experience needs:
--Relevance. All organizations come with their own unique context, the combination of business factors, culture, environment, behaviors, experiences—and of course—people. A well-designed employee experience is based upon a deep understanding of the context for which it is intended. Dragging and dropping, or taking anything off the shelf for plug and play and expecting it to work the same way every time demonstrates (intentionally or unintentionally) a lack of understanding and perhaps even carelessness.
--Differentiation. Just like branding, employee experience should be unique and differentiating. Leveraging strengths in one’s unique context goes a long way with establishing differentiation—however, it must be reflected in actual, lived experience to have the impact needed to be memorable. Blasé experience = blasé employees, and the war for talent can’t be won by everyone doing the same things.
--Co-creation. Who better to design the experience than the people who will be expected to live it? Engaging with employees as co-creators allows an organization to leverage their talent, empower people, ensure relevance, and even foster enrollment. This sets the conditions for success and facilitates change management going forward.
Now that “the what” of employee experience is established, “the how” comes next. With roots in values-based leadership, design thinking, and Appreciative Inquiry, Design of Work Experience (DOWE, pronounced [ˈdü ˈwē]) “partners employees with their employers to co-create customized and meaningful work experiences that set the conditions for people and business to thrive.” It provides the much needed, step-by-step “how to” that enables an organization to prioritize, define, develop, and implement aligned people strategies, culture, and employee experiences. The DOWE co-creation model is a combination of DESIGN and CHANGE processes enabled by ENGAGEMENT and CAPABILITY throughout. These are arranged as a series of 5 phases, each with progressive learning loops of specific activities.
“UNDERSTAND, the first phase of DESIGN, is made up of three learning loops: People & Context, Insights, and Criteria. Activities in People & Context include: aligning purpose and scope, identifying early assumptions and key questions, planning and implementing user research. The Insights learning loop begins by using different mindsets to develop insights from raw data collected during user research. As a result, thinking is reframed and drives the development of the provocative proposition. Learning is further catalyzed through the creation of visuals. Criteria uses what was learned to establish the most critical requirements in two sets: from the organizational POV and the employee POV. This becomes the decision making tool later on in the DOWE process.
CREATE & LEARN applies learning ‘into the creative design process and combines it with generated ideas through play and experimentation’ in co-creation with others. The learning loops, Explore, Brainstorm, and Play, net ‘brainstormed ideas to develop and refine for the new strategies and experiences.’ In Explore, the design team ‘builds knowledge and inspiration by learning from everything and everywhere, hunting and gathering anything that could inform their perspective…it goes beyond doing primary and secondary research—it seeks stimulus to synthesize concepts and ideas.’ In Brainstorm, facilitation guides people to ‘work together to generate options, ideas, or offerings that could solve for critical needs and define or enhance a work experience.’ The phase concludes with Play, where the team experiments with ideas to see how they relate to one another, how they work or how they might be modified to work.
The DOWE process converges with the DECIDE phase, which is comprised of the Prototype and Select learning loops. Prototype is another form of exploration that further refines ideas and gathers intelligence toward bringing the team closer to decisions. Select brings the development of the Strategy and Design Blueprint to full fruition when the team chooses what best meets three constraints: what is viable, what is possible, and what satisfies the previously established criteria.
The PLAN phase comes next and prepares the organization for the change that inevitably accompanies the implementation of the Blueprint to 1) ensure that change reaches sufficient depth and breadth across the organization while maintaining connectivity/reinforcement across all content, actions, and activity, and 2) cover what will be done and how during IMPLEMENT. The DOWE process walks the design team through iterative planning to form the Roadmap and Action Plans.
In this last phase of the DOWE process, IMPLEMENT, the Strategy and Design Blueprint is brought to life with the implementation of the Roadmap and Action Plans through the learning loops of Manage, Measure, and Sustain. Manage goes beyond carrying out plans, it manages meaning in the creation of a new reality at the individual, team, and organization levels. Measure serves to ‘gauge progress toward key milestones and enable timely adjustments’ as well as ‘provides data and content for communication and contributes to the change narrative.’ ‘Both a process and an outcome,’ Sustain drives continued momentum and ensures that changes stick for as long as they’re needed.”
Though every organization can benefit from it, Design of Work Experience has requirements not everyone is willing to satisfy. First and foremost, it only works for those that care about people. DOWE also demands the investment of talent, time, effort, and a commitment to doing things differently in order to get different results—culture work needs all this because people do. “Sounds like a lot of work” some may say. The challenge to that might be to ask: What if nothing is done? Or how is it working now? One only needs to read the headlines to see the consequences of neglect, and the excuse of ignorance is no longer valid. Perhaps it should’ve been this way all along, but the best disruption for HR would be to put the “human” in human resources.
Kumar, V. (2013). 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Conway, M. A., & Pleydell-Pearce, C. W. (2000). The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system. Psychological review, 107(2), 261.
Jaw-Madson, K. (2018). Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Co.-Design of Work Experience. (2018). CYC Book Summary. Retrieved from http://www.designofworkexperience.com/book.html
Jaw-Madson, K. (2018). Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Wow, what a great conversation with host Mike Sedam of Crucial Talks! We covered so much territory in just over half an hour:from the individual, team, and organization levels of scale, how Design of Work Experience (DOWE) is different from case studies, the importance of culture and experiences, human nature, meaningfulness at work, to untapped potential in organizations. Give it a listen.
To accompany the new video on the landing page, here is a new downloadable brochure for you to read and share! Get to know Co.-today.
Co.- joined Adrian Swinscoe on his RARE Business Podcast to discuss why design thinking is part of Design of Work Experience's approach to culture work: among a number of reasons, it's people-centered, achieved through learning, iterative, experiential and necessary for good change management. We also touched on how DOWE is a form of organizational mindfulness. In the same way individuals practice this, organizations can pay attention to the present in ways that could positively impact their future. Adrian also published a companion summary article to this podcast on Customer Think, which has garnered a number of views and shares across social media.
Being physically safe at work should be a given, but unfortunately it isn't. What's more, it's not just about physical safety, but also psychological safety and well being. Does your organization do enough to keep people safe?
Remember this if you want an engaged workforce: safety > threat. Without this, people will operate in fear of negative consequences. That, in turn, creates the conditions for an unhealthy workplace and matching business results. Paradoxically, THIS creates MORE RISK for organizations.
Find out why creating a culture of safety isn't enough in Co.-Design of Work Experience's interview with Safety and Health Practitioner, and while you are at it, read the blog post about why there's no such thing as cherry picking A Culture of "This or That."
Here's a Co.- interview for the culture cynics - the question for them, either now or in the future, is: "How's that working out for you?"
Design of Work Experience (DOWE) is for those that are:
1) open to trying different things to get different results
2) care about people & culture
There may be lots of valid reasons and experiences that lead to cynicism about culture, but the best cynics are the ones who are open-minded.
My interview with Tayo Rockson, MBA on As Told by Nomads #podcast is LIVE!! So many topics covered, including my upbringing as a child of immigrants, development of my cultural identity, then of course the importance of managing organizational culture and how Design of Work Experience (DOWE) can help.
I recently joined Swag Sam of What Up Silicon Valley on his podcast, Brand Hero. The discussion centered around the importance and alignment between culture and brand.
The day has finally arrived and I can't wait for you to see this book! I HAVE LOTS TO SHARE:
Check out a sample chapter. The Kindle version of the book is available now for immediate reading! For those that want a hard copy through Amazon, we are *out of stock* but you can still order.
Thanks to Linda Naiman of Creativity At Work, Culture Your Culture is featured on Inc.com. Take a look! While you are at it, read her other posts as well. They're all great!
On this special day, I have some thoughts. Keep reading.
Who Cares? Why Should Anyone Care?
Well, I hope some people do. That’s because this book was written as a humble contribution toward making work-life meaningful for everyone. It was born out of a frustration that too many work cultures have been blamed for corporate scandals, too many are unhappy in their current employment when they don’t have to be, and too many businesses fall short because they fail to maximize the potential in their people. Another pet peeve: all those companies that tout the importance of culture with words, not actions. We know we can do better, because there are examples out there of companies that do. Some of us have been lucky enough to experience our best jobs ever, if only temporarily. The strength of a business is determined by its people, and creating workplaces where they thrive is every organization’s responsibility. Design of Work Experience (DOWE), as explained in this book, provides the much-needed step by step, how-to for creating exemplary cultures and experiences at work. If people and culture are important to your organization, then you should care.
Tell Me More About the Book
I spent a lot of time writing it, so I’ll just share the description you’ll see on Amazon:
Organizational culture isn't just a hot topic-it's an untapped asset and potential liability for all businesses. And yet, for all its potential to make or break, few know how to manage cultures with proficiency. Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work provides the much-needed "how-to" with Design of Work Experience (DOWE). Tapping into human-centered design, interdisciplinary innovation concepts, and other research, this leading edge approach partners employees and their employers in unprecedented ways to co-create solutions and differentiating experiences that are customized, relevant, and profoundly impactful to the organizations for which they are intended-all while building employee engagement, learning agility, and capability.
Be open to changing mindsets, for this is not your typical business book. Part-business case, part-instructional, and part-commentary, the guidance offered here puts your organization--not some detached case studies-at the center to envision how DOWE can help you design solutions and experiences unique to your context. Culture will no longer be esoteric or intangible, but overt, meaningful, fully leveraged, and truly experienced. No more hacking through trial and error to a culture that lacks sustainability. We can practice the management of culture and organizational change through lived experiences, with intention, rigor, and discipline.
Leaders, managers, teams, and employees alike will benefit from understanding the need for this approach, how it's defined, why it works, and what to do to successfully tackle business challenges and positively influence lives with this innovative model-if you are willing to do the work to get there.
I Want to Know More about DOWE
As an introduction, the DOWE process is comprised of four main components: the combination of DESIGN and CHANGE enabled by CAPABILITY and ENGAGEMENT. Those are further broken down into 5 key phases (UNDERSTAND, CREATE & LEARN, DECIDE, PLAN, and IMPLEMENT). Every phase is organized as a series of iterative learning loops, each with its own specific set of activities that reflect the nonlinear, but progressive nature of the process.
Here’s an overview:
The best way to really get to know DOWE is to do it, but reading the book’s a good start.
A Bit More About Myself (If You Don’t Know Me)
I went to Bryn Mawr for my undergraduate degree in Ethnic and Culture Studies, then Columbia University’s Organization and Leadership program for a MA in Social Organizational Psychology. My career spans 20 years. I enjoyed success as a corporate executive before pursuing a ‘portfolio career’ comprised of research, writing, consulting, teaching/speaking, and creative pursuits. I’ve worked across multiple industries and developed, led, and implemented numerous organizational initiatives around the globe. I worked hard to be a strategic leader who gets things done. Today, I’m an East Coast transplant to Silicon Valley (via Ireland and the Midwest) and am principal of Co.-Design of Work Experience, where I enable organizations with innovative approaches and customized solutions for intimidating challenges. Focus areas include culture, organizational change, and people strategies.
What I Put Into It
Everything. All of me. My knowledge, my experience, my passion, my research—even my personal life—my family gets a lot of credit for this too. Writing a book has been the longest, hardest project of my entire career. It required a degree of persistence that I never expected (nor realized I had). The project had many starts and stops, some of which frustrated me to no end. At times it felt like almost everything that could go wrong, did. I’m not a patient person to begin with, and I was forced to be (painfully) patient. This manuscript went through countless versions and edits. I worked with two different publishers and 6 different editors over the course of 4 years. This book has been through the wringer so that the best version is available for its readers.
What I Need From You
Help me put some good out into the world.
Check out the book. Reach out to me. Tell people about it. Consider a DOWE initiative.
Thanks for reading and joining me on this journey!
Your company has had some bad press lately. The CEO’s been called to a congressional hearing. Perhaps a recall or disappointing results led to a drop in stock price. Or maybe a respected leader (and many others) left the company. Or a bad leader stayed too long. Whatever the reason, your employees aren’t happy. Many organizations just buckle down and hope it passes. Sometimes they try and address the cause, but fail to do much else. Results are hit or miss. Others don’t know what to do.
When this happens, the company should care enough to take intentional, strategic action because here’s what’s really going on: for starters, that thing and the employees’ feelings about it are occupying mental space. It’s distracting from their focus on work, impacting productivity, straining relationships, and ultimately hurting business results. By now, you’ve also got a lot of negative mojo out there and it’s spreading through news, rumor, and gossip. That continually depletes the emotional bank accounts Stephen Covey wrote about in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Tapping people’s reserves means they are losing their resilience—that is, their ability to bounce back and recover quickly. Even worse, for some people (and depending on the severity of the situation), the company has broken a psychological contract. The “this isn’t what I signed up for” violated your employees’ expectations of their job and that needs to be renewed or renegotiated. With no improvement in sight, they will otherwise get frustrated and leave.
Simply addressing the cause of the strife is not enough because of these reverberating effects. You can’t wait, and it won’t pass. The longer-term consequence of this climate will influence people’s behaviors. Patterns of behaviors and their associated interactions will impact culture overall. Before you know it, the company evolves to an undesirable version of itself.
You can do something about it. Design of Work Experience (DOWE)“partners employees with their employers to co-create customized and meaningful work experiences that set the conditions for people and business to thrive.” As a methodology to create, affect, and sustain culture, DOWE:
The running theme throughout DOWE is engagement. Especially in difficult times, a company must involve their employees more deeply and work to bring the company even closer. Building walls, practicing avoidance, or denying the reality of the situation only serves to worsen the damage done. With DOWE, you are course-correcting and creating circumstances for different outcomes in the future. This gives life to people, not drains it.
Look for the upcoming book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work.
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