Lucy Adams
November 27, 2018
Reading time: 19 minutes
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Type in “employee experience” into LinkedIn and nearly 4.5 million jobs appear! Whilst I am slightly worried that we may be changing the HR wrapper but not the contents, there does appear to be a genuine shift in how we think about developing our people offering. By placing the desired employee experience at the heart of what we are doing, HR can radically alter the way it designs, plans and delivers.

So, how do you go about creating a great employee experience? Designing and implementing an employee experience is not a linear process but a holistic approach, but for ease of explanation, we’ll start with ‘Who are you designing it for?’ Then over the next few weeks we’ll cover the ‘What’ and the ‘How’.

Employee Experience Wheel


Who are you designing the Employee Experience for?

Well, your employees – obvs! (as my daughter would say). But we need to get a bit more granular than that. When designing new approaches in my HR roles, I would always do some level of initial consultation with key stakeholders, but creating an employee experience that is truly different to the traditional HR processes involves a bit more than getting the usual suspects into a room for an hour or so.


IDEO, the globally renowned product design company prides itself on designs that are truly user-centred. For IDEO, the end result is based on a genuine understanding of how the products will be used, and its process for this, which it calls Human-Centered Design involves both observing the end user and putting itself in their shoes. IDEO observes the end user so it can learn from them. As part of this, it identifies behaviour patterns, pain points, and moments when users find it difficult to do something – these are opportunities for improvement.

We need to apply this human-centred design thinking to our HR processes. As an example, Virgin Trains invested in some qualitative research around some of their employees (a train driver, a customer service assistant, etc) and did a kind of ‘day in the life’ observation. They were interested in the ebb and flow of their day; when were they most stressed, when did they have any down time, when did they use their SmartPhone, when did they see a team leader and so on. The insights this gave them helped them to re-think their approach to certain HR interventions such as training or communications – based around an employee’s actual day, not when it suited the HR team.

I’ve been guilty of producing HR processes without having a clear picture of how they would be used in situ or the real-life benefits or problems they caused. If we are going to use our focus on the employee experience to transform HR then we need to invest our time and energy in user-centred HR design.


Producers of consumer products use sophisticated data to ensure they segment their target markets and develop a range of products to suit different ages, budgets and tastes. Whereas, our traditional aim in HR has been to provide a consistent, streamlined and universal process. I believe we have to move away from our one-size-fits-all approach and start to think about a range of products to suit the needs, wants and preferences of our different employees. We can adapt the marketing practices of segmentation to help us make our offering more relevant and impactful. Starbucks used a marketing style survey to gather greater levels of insights (lifestyle factors, beliefs and attitudes) about the different career development needs of their 140,000 employees. They came up with three employee segments which they named “Careerists” (wanting long term career advancement with Starbucks), “Artistes” (locally based and community-minded) and “Skiers” (at Starbucks for the cash to fund skiing – or other – passions). This enabled them to be more targeted and provide more choice to meet these differing needs.

Employee experience nirvana has to be not just providing AN experience – one experience that can be run at scale – but providing different options and choices that ensure we each have an experience that works for us – a personalised experience. Increasingly companies are exploring how the personalisation we enjoy in our home lives can be adopted in the workplace using new technologies and increasing line manager discretion to facilitate this. Check out our blog on providing personalised experiences here.

Employee Persona

If you haven’t got the time, budget or inclination(!) to get up close to actual employees then you can use the technique of employee personas to help you stay user-centred. The HR people I know who have used this technique have found it opened their eyes to their employees in ways they hadn’t anticipated. There are two benefits of personas:

  • They help you understand what different employee groups want and need, which in turn enables you to create suitable products and services for them, and
  • They help you understand how to communicate with these groups, so you’re able to sell in your changes successfully

I’m not sure how much you know about developing consumer personas, but your Marketing colleagues have been doing it for years and it can work incredibly well for us in HR. It’s based on the insight that a customer isn’t an abstract concept but a living, breathing person who comes into your marketplace carrying their preconceived ideas, baggage, and emotions. In the same way as Marketing does for its customers, you can create fictionalised models to represent your target employee groups. In doing so you’ll develop greater empathy for them, which means you’ll be able to identify more readily with their needs and develop services they’ll find useful and helpful.

Here’s a practical guide to creating your own personas. I suggest you gather your team together for this because not only will you need a diverse input from HR people with experience around the business, but you’ll also find it a lot easier to gain buy-in from them if they’ve been involved. You have to believe in your personas — if you feel you’re just doing it as a paper exercise it won’t work. Give yourselves permission to have fun as well; take inspiration from a five-year-old child who’s got an imaginary friend — to that child, their friend’s persona is completely real! I suggest you create a maximum of four to six employee personas, because otherwise it can get confusing.

First start with the basics:

  • Age
  • Job function
  • Years of experience
  • Location

Then move onto the more interesting stuff. Here are some elements to consider:

  • What are they called? Give each persona a name and picture (from Google stock photos, not a real employee’s!)
  • What’s their personal background, such as where they worked before and why they’re at your company now?
  • What behavioural identifiers do they have, such as motives, attitudes, and trigger points?
  • What do they want from their jobs?
  • What do they love doing in their own time?
  • What do they read?
  • How do they consume media?
  • What’s their income and how much do they spend — have they got a big mortgage or expensive kids? What role does money play for them – security, status, feeling valued, etc?

Go as deep as you can with this, and remember you’re basing your findings on both your research data and your collective experience of your employee base; in fact, you’ll find you need relatively few facts and figures at all. Sometimes you might get some push back from one of the team saying these personas aren’t statistically valid. They’re right. They aren’t. But you’re not basing them on nothing. For instance, if you’ve got a predominantly male workforce, you don’t create four female personas — make sure they’re indicative of your employee base. And secondly, you’re not trying to be statistically representative, you’re trying to be human. You’re using your existing data, your common sense, and your collective personal experience to create them. I think you’ll be surprised at how, when you’ve done your four or five personas, they cover most of your people.

 Crowdsource your insights

This is an area in which I’m seeing more and more activity. Currently it’s most apparent in HR teams in the technology sector because they already get the process and the benefits, but I think it will become much more common and I am starting to see it used even in some very traditional sectors. It’s the concept of a hackathon, which uses an aspect of design thinking to enable HR to see its services (and the current experience they create) through employees’ eyes. These events are fast-paced, taking a day or at most a week, and generate multiple ideas by bringing in diverse thinkers with their own perspectives. So instead of us in HR sitting in a room and coming up with the changes we think are essential, we facilitate a hackathon involving employees, internal business leaders, people in HR, software designers, product researchers, marketers, and anyone else who thinks differently. LinkedIn held a hackathon for interns from various Silicon Valley firms with the aim of improving employee engagement. Cisco closed its HR department for 24 hours in order to hold a ‘breakathon’, which gave birth to 105 new HR solutions. And DBS Bank wanted to enhance its employee experience by using automated intelligence and robotics; within 12 hours employees had generated over 200 solutions. TD Bank involved employees in helping them identify which of the rules that had been created in the centre got in the way of them doing their best work and serving customers. Their ‘kill a stupid bank rule’ helped to eliminate some of the frustrations that employees were experiencing.

So, creating your employee experience has to start with the employees themselves. Using marketing techniques and a range of research methods to help you get closer to their perceptions, their likes, their wants, their needs. And it means staying close to them throughout, getting their reactions to your ideas, watch them using your new approaches and continuing to respond to them.

Next time, we’ll look at the key components of a great employee experience and how you start to implement them.

If you’d like to explore Employee Experience in more depth and get practical suggestions to help you transform yours, you might be interested in our next Employee Experience workshop. You can find out more here.

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