• Robert Bloom

Employee experience and Design Thinking – building the workforce of the future

Is the current skill sets inappropriate for the adaptive, agile changing nature of work?

Is your organisation misfiring? Or worse, backfiring?

Is there evidence of silo mentality and non-collaborative behaviour?

Are staff misaligned with the organisation mission and purpose?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, most likely, something should be done about it. Read on to learn more about influencing factors and potential strategies to build the work force of the future.

The world of work is transforming with new technologies and industries changing the landscape and affecting how work is being conducted. The fourth industrial revolution is a reality now. This affects how managers, from Human Resources to Line Managers, work together in collaborative groups.

Research last year (2018) from the Mckinsey Global Institute, has pointed towards automation and artificial intelligence (AI) as key drivers in changing the nature of work.

5 influencing trends affecting the world of work:

  1. Automation will accelerate the shift in required workforce skills we have seen over the past 15 years

  2. Some skill categories will be less in demand. Basic cognitive skills, which include basic data input and processing, will decline by 15 percent, falling to 14 percent of hours worked, from 18 percent.

  3. Companies will need to make significant organizational changes at the same time as addressing these skill shifts to stay competitive. A survey of more than 3,000 business leaders in seven countries highlights a new emphasis on continuous learning for workers, and a shift to more cross-functional and team-based work.

  4. Competition for high-skill workers will increase, while displacement will be concentrated mainly on low-skill workers

  5. Almost half of the companies surveyed say they expect to take the lead in building the workforce of the future, but all stakeholders will need to work together to manage the large-scale retraining and other transition challenges ahead.

The McKinsey Global report goes on to mention that a huge shift in Social and Emotional skills, as well as technology skills, will be required. On the Social and Emotional skills side, advanced negotiation skills, interpersonal skills and empathy and entrepreneurship and initiative taking are key skills that staff will need to develop and improve.

And so, the question arises: So what? How might this affect your work place and your current resource planning and staff experience strategies? How to ensure that current staff are appropriately upskilled? How might future recruits be onboarded and current employees upskilled with the appropriate experiences and employee engagement strategies?

So what is employee experience?

With the backdrop of Artificial Intelligence eliminating most basic functions and some higher cognitive functions, Employee Experience is one of the differentiators that will influence the war on talent. Employees who have great work experiences from onboarding through to retirement will lead to more engaged employees and brand advocates. Building an organisation of happy employees aligned with the organisations “reason for being” is a pre-requisite to delighted customers.

Employee experience encapsulates what people encounter, observe or feel over the course of their employee journey at an organization. Designing an improved employee experience involves defining key staff journey elements and identifying the complimentary structures that will support preferred outcomes. Given that significant time and resources are spent on hiring new staff, and training and developing current staff, it is essential that HR and Line Managers collaborate to ensure a preferred staff experience.

Aside from a rich on-boarding experience to help new employees find their feet, learning and developing into new growth opportunities is an essential element of a rich employee experience. This points to the importance of core staff needs beyond rewards and recognition. Other essential factors to ensure a satisfied staff member is regular engagement and communication to ensure an informed and aligned workforce with its core mission and “reason for being”. Involvement on mission critical projects that shift and shape the organisation towards relevant and sustainable growth objectives will enhance the overall work experience for engaged employees.

Design Thinking and Employee Experience

Now, as a line manager or an HR manager, what tools and methods might be used to ensure an improved staff experience?

With the dramatic changes taking place in the work place as new disruptive technology is adopted, and as an amorphous culture arises as a result of this, strategies must be developed to attract and retain talent. This is often compounded by an archaic and fragmented physical and organisational structures that are not conducive to modern workplace dynamics.

Enter human-centred design

Design Thinking emerged in the early 2000’s as a way to help companies become more human- or customer-centred by co-creating innovative solutions, with customer needs as the focal point. It has been shown that design-oriented companies outperform companies that are not.

Simply put, the Design Thinking framework involves engaging multi-disciplinary teams to come up with new concepts (solutions) for complex ill-defined problems. It is an inter-disciplinary framework that draws on a number of tools and principles that result in the co-creation of novel solutions that work.

Empathy lies at the heart of Design Thinking and by looking at customer or user problems from their point of view, teams are able to define issues and challenges and develop strategies that resolve these, by prototyping and testing with a pool of users.

We have already identified that the workplace is affected by disruptive change, whether by internal or external disruptive forces. These include technology, conflicting cultures, rigid structures and other emerging competition prevalent in their regions. These contextual circumstances are complex and require a clear process to building an understanding of the systemic nature of these challenges.

By building Design Thinking capability in-house, organisations are finding that it is easier to manage problems, to develop agility and alignment on organisational mission-relevant development programs. Companies that can do this, both for their customers and for their staff, have been shown to be more effective in the ecosystems in which they operate.

So practically, how might we design improved Employee Experiences with Design Thinking?

  1. Set-up a multi-disciplinary team (s) across silos to focus on researching and discovering staff needs and pain points

  2. Map out the current landscape including the technology environment, the physical environment and the cultural environment

  3. Research and identify impediments that are preventing a preferred situation for key stakeholders

  4. Define opportunities that will make a significant impact on staff experience and preferred outcomes

  5. Co-create solutions with stakeholders including staff, management and human resources to drive evolution

A typical design thinking process is iterative, involves engaging key stakeholders and after some initial workshops, additional ethnographic research, ideation, prototyping and testing exercises may be necessary to implement a set of evolving solutions.

Conclusion: A complete employee experience would embody setting up solution platforms that focus on improving the work environment and physical space, technology and how it interweaves with the application of cognitive skills while building a culture conducive to a performing workforce.

Factors that affect employee experience include, setting up meaningful work streams, growth opportunity pathways, trust-based leadership, and a generative work environment.

Design Thinking is an effective framework for building solutions across the employee experience spectrum while helping align the workforce with “the why” of the organisation – its reason for being.


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