It's every speaker's dream to have an engaged audience. I was truly honored to present Culture Your Culture at The Design Collective's Salon in SF last night, which included lifestyle brand makers and creative directors, furniture designers, high-end plumbers, an auditor, life coach, product designers, purveyor of wall coverings, a UX designer, an architect, writers, and other creatives. Highlights from the dialogue are worth sharing!
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.
I recently attended a talk about humor at work. My interest in the topic was two-fold. First, I just kicked off a new project working with a new team. There are lots of benefits that come with making hard work fun and at times even humorous. I was interested in picking up some new tidbits to either experiment with or share. Second, I wanted this to serve as stimulus for me to think about the relationship between humor and organizational culture. The audiences' questions were not mine to answer. Most were around trying to figure out how to use it: where there are cultural differences between countries, when what's humorous is so subjective, and without offending people. I'll put my two cents in here.
IMHO, humor is another form of communication that comes in play when we interact with people. When companies identify humor as a cultural value, they are communicating an expectation--or in some cases, permission--that humor is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
When we see it this way, use of humor becomes more purposeful. As with all other communication, think about how to deliver with intended impact. That includes making your intentions evident to the receiver, and getting the desired response--a smile, chuckle, laugh, or even a stronger rapport or connection. If the chances of that happening are outweighed by the chances it won't work based on what you know, then don't do it. When it misfires, address it--right away. Ok? Ok. "So a management consultant walks into a bar..."
You’ve got a few steps to get through before you hire the first coach. As someone I worked with used to say, “First things first, second things second.” That might sound obvious, but so many organizations fail to think things through and purposely sequence their actions. As a result, investments in people and resources fall short of their full potential.
Let’s assume executive coaching is the right solution for your organization. In a field that lacks consistency, quality, and sometimes uses paid certifications as evidence of capability, you’ve got to do some mining before you find gold. For the good of coaches, talent, and organizations alike, here’s some high level advice, in order.
1. DEFINE THE PURPOSE
What are you trying to achieve and why? Be specific. The purpose will drive everything else after this, so think this through, articulate it, and make sure people are aligned. Tie it directly to business strategies and goals, for no coaching program should ever be done in isolation. What organizational outcomes will the use of coaching relationships support? There are many possibilities for the purpose of your organization’s program, including:
2. DESIGN THE COACHING EXPERIENCE
Once the purpose is determined, your next step is to design for what it will be like to go through the coaching program itself, as an experience. People are not cogs in a machine. Every coaching arrangement should address the learning and business needs individually, so we are not talking about everyone doing the same thing every time in the same way. However, you can design an experience for consistent outcomes, such as: overall success in achievement of coaching goals, development of capabilities, demonstration/adoption of new behaviors, improved relationships, increased engagement, satisfaction, etc. Consider the coaching experience as a journey. What happens as one enters the program, participates, and comes out? In design, the 5E’s is a popular guideline used for the various points along the way: Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, Extend. Design of Work Experience offers a comprehensive approach to creating experiences based on the context of the organization and its people and guides the progress toward desired future states. Upon completion of the coaching program’s designed experience, it’s clear what conditions have to be in place and what needs to happen to achieve desired goals. The presence/absence of these conditions and the planned outcomes become the measurements for your program’s success, so get these down. They will be useful later.
3. IDENTIFY THOSE WHO WILL BE COACHED
Who’s getting coached? Coaching can be a very beneficial contribution to your overall talent development program, but it doesn’t come cheap. Chances are you can’t afford to offer it to everyone, especially at the same time. It then comes down to priorities. First, establish criteria as an impartial decision making tool. Include only that which the business and its people most critically need (as opposed to want). Next, look at the coaching experience you designed. Knowing that its purpose is tied to business needs, who are those that will benefit the most when you compare them to the criteria? Consider the roles in the company where top talent and performance make the biggest difference. Once nominated, ensure candidates are in a position to fully engage in the coaching program. In what remains, parse out cohorts and implement them in waves.
4. FIND COACHES AND PAIR OFF
Source your coaches next, with forethought and discipline. If your company has a required procurement process, make sure your RFP reflects the purpose, requirements of the designed experience, and your criteria.
Based on the firms that answer, you can begin an iterative filtering process, with each round narrowing the field. Treat individual coaches and large firms as equals in the same pool. After all, they share the same level of variability—all have their different strengths and challenges.
Round 1: Eliminate coaches whose approaches and specialties don’t match your designed experience.
Round 2: Test for capability, not situations. Many vetting processes ask questions around “Have you ever…” That doesn’t indicate capability, nor does it account for everything that could happen in the course of a coaching relationship. Look for demonstration of behavioral characteristics (flexibility, resourcefulness, use of network, connections between ideas). The most capable experts will become evident.
Round 3: Next, observe behavior in an experiential setting—i.e. interactions where people can’t fake or talk their way through. Get creative with role plays, coaching fairs, speed networking, etc.
Round 4: Use references wisely. Remember that they’re provided by coaches for the purpose of endorsement, so ask open-ended questions that might challenge the prepared script and allow you to read between the lines. Listen not just for what’s said, but also for what goes unspoken.
Round 5: Select 3-5 options per person for comparison. Reiterate to everyone the criteria and measurements for the coaching relationship based on the designed experience. Resist the temptation to choose on personality alone.
There are those who choose coaches most similar to them—so much so that they end up enabling or validating each others' faults. On the other hand, a forced fit when compatibility is way off is also counter-productive. Balance the tension between these two extremes and find relationships that aim for both “backbone and heart,” as author Mary Beth O’Neill discusses in her book. The coaching relationship (relationship being the key word) should appropriately challenge the person to learn while also fostering trust in a psychologically safe environment.
5. YOU’RE NOT DONE YET: TRACK PROGRESS AND OUTCOMES
Many organizations walk away once the coaching relationship begins. It’s unwise to completely disengage at this point. Give the pairings their space, but set up a way to touch base and monitor progress. If you created a journey map, look out for markers of success and concern along the way. Use the measurements created out of the designed experience in Step 2 to ensure alignment of intentions and outcomes. Course correct as necessary along the way. When all is said and done, the success of the overall program is a pass/fail: Did the outcomes match the purpose? Yes or No?
These steps should get your coaching initiative off to a better start. If you are ready for more, talk to me about a customized approach based upon your organization’s unique context.
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