An empty office with a computer and sign taped to the wall.
PHOTO: sporras

A 2018 Gallup report on the employee experience journey maps out seven key steps in the employee lifecycle: attract, hire, onboard, engage, perform, develop and depart. Well, no one exactly wants the departure, but it happens eventually through attrition or other factors. 

Here’s the bottom line: within those seven steps, organizations need to actually design a workplace experience for employees so they can thrive, particularly in steps three through six that Gallup outlines: onboard (affirm the decision), engage (builds strength and purpose), perform (drive expectations) and develop (coach career growth).

In another survey. respondents to the Udemy 2018 Employee Experience Report (download required) told researchers they want “substantive content around business processes, using productivity tools and understanding each department’s place in the organizational structure.”

Related Article: Use Employee-Driven Design to Simplify the Digital Workplace

The ask is clear. The path to help employees get there may not be. How do you get started with a foundation for employee-driven design?

Be Your Employee’s Design Therapist

You can start by asking people how they feel about things — frustration, anger, joy, fun — according to Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder of the Community Roundtable. Asking people how they feel about things, and which things cause emotional extremes, tell you where to zero in, Happe added. "I love digging in to how people spend their days: understanding their routines, where their time is spent and, critically, where they would like their time to be spent,” Happe said. 

These findings can help you understand your employees better and how you can then create shared value for them, “something that is so compelling that they willingly engage and changes their behavior,” Happe added.

Enable Design Thinking

Employee-driven design should start with determining what processes or outcomes could be better — or those that are desired. From there, dissect those via design thinking, said Ellen Feaheny, CEO of AppFusions

Too often in corporations, new employees are given products or apps to work with to get things done, Feaheny said. The problem? Often these products or apps are predefined and have been in-house for ages, meaning years, and there's little an employee can do about them, she said. “The employee has no say, even though they might have other ideas on how things could work better,” Feaheny said. “To add insult to injury, however, they do not have to look far on the internet or Twitter or their friendly Google to search for their pain or alternative ways of doing things for whatever process or outcome they are trying to get through.”

Give Your Motivated Employees a Voice

Employees that think there's a better way, and those who can articulate and even document/chart the inefficiencies of the legacy processes, systems or apps they are using need a voice. Give it to them. “Endeavoring to dissect, define, research and articulate the problems, or pain points, are the beginning steps of an employee-driven design solution,” Feaheny said. This analytical process — design thinking at its best — will include cross-functional colleagues/stakeholders for additional perspectives. 

Related Article: 4 Tips to Apply Design Thinking to the Digital Workplace

Encourage Individual Design Innovation, But Scale it 

James Dellow, director of the Digital Workplace Company, said the reality is employees are already designing their own improvements and innovations, but sometimes they are restricted to personal productivity. Shadow IT, he said, has a relationship to employee-driven design. Dellow said organizations are investing in low code (easy to build) and automation for workplace design, but these often come back to productivity not innovation or quality. “Agile project management practices also help to encourage employee-driven design,” Dellow said.

“A first step may be to start engaging with people in an internal facilitation model," he added, "where you encourage people to deliberately design new ways of doing things, but in a way that can be shared and scaled."

Convince Your Leaders Risk Is Not High

Of course, you won’t be able to get started helping employees with designing better experiences if you can’t convince senior leaders there’s not an inherent risk, according to Rita Zonius, director of the Enterprise Social Engineer. "In regulated industries especially, it can be difficult to get the green light to engage staff unless you can demonstrate to leaders you’ve considered derailers from a risk perspective. This is the stuff leaders worry about. Take those worries off the table to get a clearer run."

Related Article: Enabling Better Employee Experiences and Collaboration to Fuel Bottom-Line Benefits

Discuss the Technology Element With Humans in Mind

If you get the green light on employee-driven design programs, teams should reconvene the design thinking session to discuss both the technology options and human elements for successful deployments, Feaheny said. “This meeting is all about tacit plans to meet the outcomes, not just define them,” she said. “Stakeholders should be vested in full success and nothing less, and as most IT orgs have learned all too often, just setting up the technology server/service solution and throwing credentials over the wall to hundreds or thousands of users is not always the successful path to adoption.”

Employee-driven design includes the design thinking analysis of the problems, processes, journeys and target outcomes, and the nurtured deployments over time to ensure that habits, styles, approaches and engagement outcomes are achieved. 

Recognize Company Policy, Budget Concerns

Bottom line? Employee-driven design exists within the context of the overarching culture of an organization. It’s a factor in employee engagement, Dellow said, but remember this: if the institutional culture of organization — what's permitted by law/policy/budget control — doesn't support it, you won't get far.