Reimagine and craft the employee experience

Design thinking in action

How customers experience your business starts with how employees experience it. Design thinking helps create an engaging workplace that delights the workforce during the “moments that matter.”

The business imperative

Studies have documented a clear statistical relationship between increases in frontline engagement, increases in customer service, and revenue growth.1 So whether your team is focused on strategy, process transformation, or implementing new technology, applying design thinking to reimagine and craft the employee experience is key to driving sustainable business performance.

Design for the moments that matter

Just as numerous consumer-facing processes and interactions have been retooled and simplified to provide a more satisfying customer experience, HR can begin to shift its approaches as well. The idea is to move from a process-driven mindset to a mindset that always begins with the experience for the HR customer—who could be a candidate, employee, contingent worker, or even alumni. So, for example, instead of thinking in process terms, “What do we need new-hires to do on their first day?” HR thinks in experience terms: “What do we want a new employee’s first day to be like?”

Let’s look at five examples of how HR can apply design thinking to reimagine and craft the employee experience to drive sustainable business performance: overall employee experience strategy, HR process transformation, HCM technology selection, HCM app development, and HR operational services.

Design thinking meets employee experience strategy

A financial institution created an employee experience strategy as part of an overall HR transformation to increase customer service and simplify HR processes. The design team observed and interviewed HR employees and HR customers to identify priority workforce segments (personas) and the experiences that mattered most to them.

Next the team created journey maps that revealed the moments that mattered most to each of the customer personas. This effort defined a set of initiatives to quickly build, test, and iterate to begin to achieve the customer experience vision.

Where is the financial institution now? Continuing on its transformation journey and reporting both a positive impact on the areas the employee experience strategy targeted—from brand differentiation to customer service excellence—and a return on investment through process efficiency.

Design thinking meets HR process transformation

The disruptions impacting an organization’s business and workforce inspired it to transform its current HR structure, technology, and associated processes by moving to the cloud. Rather than designing purely to support the move, the company is taking advantage of the opportunity to meaningfully enhance the experience for HR customers, putting the customer moments that matter front and center as it designs for the future.

The first, strategy phase of the transformation involved defining customer personas (e.g., a manager, a new recruit, an experienced hire, etc.), identifying the moments that matter to those customers, and creating journey maps of their employment experience. Now the company is using a hybrid agile methodology that employs models, prototypes, and multiple voices to design, test, and refine solutions.

By embarking on an HR transformation with a keen focus on customer experience, the company is setting itself up to improve the quality of HR interactions, increase process efficiencies, and drive increased workforce engagement and productivity—all in one shot, for a truly value-added solution.

Design thinking meets Human Capital Management (HCM) tech selection

An organization bucked the traditional software selection approach of issuing RFPs, down-selecting to a short list of vendors, and then conducting vendor demonstrations to ultimately select and contract for one or more technologies. Instead, the company applied design thinking to focus on the unique requirements that heavily influenced the employee experience and shaped the moments that matter most. The result was an HCM technology selection better aligned to business and workforce needs. It also helped to support strong user adoption of the new technology because it was selected with customers’ specific needs in mind.

Design thinking meets HCM app development

In our next example, design thinking is applied to create a prototype for a new HR app. The app is designed to be a single destination for HR services that connects employees to what matters most to them—from pay stubs to performance management, and even a self-service help desk so employees and managers can clearly see their options and take action.

The team’s approach involved defining and designing a prototype over an eight-week timeline that included three “design sprints”—a time-constrained, five-phase process that uses design thinking to help reduce the risk when bringing a new product, service, or feature to the market. At the end of the eight weeks, the team delivered a prototype that defined, demonstrated, and acted as the basis for building out the new mobile solution.

Step 1: Vision. The vision for the app is to improve employee engagement and satisfaction by taking the digital workplace platform one step further, allowing employees to cut the cord and complete HR activities when they aren’t at their desks..

Step 2: Look and listen to defined workforce personas. With the vision in place, the design team turned to the workforce personas that had already been defined, representing different HR customers. These included a new graduate (Madisyn), an experienced hire (Jason), a line manager involved in the recruitment of new talent (Carol), and an HR operations service rep (Pete). The personas include descriptions of each of their behaviors, patterns, attitude, goals, skills, and environment, with the goal of designing the app to meet the needs of typical users.

Step 3: Understand and synthesize workforce needs. Voice-of-the-customer interviews and customer stories gave insight into the moments that mattered most for each of the customer personas.

Step 4: Generate and prioritize ideas. The team felt the top three focus areas for the mobile app should be onboarding, leaves of absence, and performance management, as all three had a preponderance of problems to solve and an opportunity to shape the customer experience as part of the app’s broader customer-centric design.

Step 5: Prototype, test, and refine. During Design Sprint 1, the team reviewed process flows, wireframes (electronic sketches of screen layouts), and a prototype of the solution. The solution delivered an onboarding experience that integrated pre-hire, Day 1, and activities during the first 90 days on the job. Design Sprint 2 integrated leaves of absence and performance management wireframes to the mobile solution. The team also got an early glimpse into the higher-fidelity onboarding solution. After more testing and more refinements, at the end of the eight weeks the team delivered a prototype for the mobile solution that could be both vision and model for building the actual app.

Design thinking meets HR Operational Services

In our final example, decreasing employee satisfaction combined with a reduced ability to provide meaningful insight to the business, pushed an organization to leave its cost-focused HR Shared Services model behind and design an experience-focused HR operational services organization. The result is an HR operational services organization that:

  • Integrated the employee experience for transactional and service needs with chatbots and natural language processing with case management, content management and easy-to-use mobile and web portals
  • Embraced design thinking to discover new ways to simplify work and improve productivity, performance, and engagement
  • Focused on the employee experience holistically, considering all the contributors to workforce satisfaction and engagement in the design of its products and services
  • Invested strategically in new technology to breakdown organizational silos, enhance productivity, drive adoption and deliver a differentiated employee experience
  • Moved beyond traditional shared services metrics and embraced open feedback systems to capture Net Promoter Scores®2 to measure HR customer satisfaction
  • Searched continuously for opportunities to improve and scale new services to address the desired experience of a multi-generational workforce

Many opportunities for meaningful improvement

These are just a few examples of ways HR can apply design thinking to reimagine and craft the employee experience to help generate higher engagement, satisfaction, and strategic alignment to drive brand differentiation, customer service excellence, and growth. The process can be applied to any number of HR processes, and doesn’t have to involve a digital solution. However the $14+ billion marketplace for HR software and platforms is reinventing itself.3 This shift from cloud to mobile is disruptive—an all-mobile HR platform is now possible. Design thinking can help align your organization in the same direction to create a more satisfying HR experience for your people.

We would love to hear your story about how you applied design thinking in your organization.


1 Medallia Institute, “You Say You Want a Revolution: Build a Customer-Centric Culture”

2 Wikipedia, “NetPromoter,” NetPromoter asks a simple question: “on a scale of zero to ten, how likely is it you would recommend this company as a place to work?” Using this question, organizations can sort employees into promoters, passives, and detractors, similar to the identical question used widely with external customers.

3 Josh Bersin, “The HR software market reinvents itself,” Josh Bersin blog, July 19, 2016.

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