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How to Design a Great People Experience

In this article we share some thoughts on how to design a great people experience, focusing on the main components and logical route to take.

You want to design a great people experience? Don’t we all! It sounds a lot easier than it is, and many companies with the best of intentions have failed to make it work.

Before we get into that – a warning..

A great people experience isn’t all about design!

Why do people experience programmes fall flat?

Broadly, the issues fall into three main categories – a lack of understanding of peoples’ needs, (which often leads to) designing experience that don’t meet employees needs, or poor implementation.

More specifically, these issues can include:

  1. Not asking the right questions of your people in advance
  2. Failure to properly analyse / misinterpreting the data
  3. A lack of alignment to strategic goals
  4. Following trends and making assumptions, rather than solving the problems at hand
  5. Overlooking the importance of basics (hygiene) in favour of the wow factor
  6. Failure to take the prevailing culture into account
  7. Failure to get top leadership buy-in to the vision and initiatives
  8. A lack of communication and engagement on new initiatives

Gathering and analysing employee data

When it comes to asking the right questions and generating insights from the data, we’ve covered many of these issues in our guide to running employee surveys. Of course, employee feedback comes in many forms, formal and informal, and qualitative as well as quantitative and the right blend depends on many things, including your population size.

Implementing initiatives as change

One thing that I learned, when leading on employee experience for a previous employer, is that even when projects are designed to make life better for people, the change needs to be managed! People might still have their concerns about what the change means, often care about the details, and may need support in making it work in their own teams. However positive your initiative may be, it might still present challenges and tensions for people to work out.

It’s still important, therefore, to manage the change.

However, the main thrust of this article will be on helping you to navigate some of the choices that you’ll have to make in designing the people experience, because you can’t do everything and you’ll have to prioritise, align your initiatives to strategy and solve the problems at hand rather than introducing gimmicks.

So how do you design a great people experience?

First up, what does "great" mean when it comes to the people experience? There''s no one-size-fits-all answer to that, because different experiences support performance in different ways (which we''ll come back to).

So, it''s important that you start with the end in mind (connecting to the strategic vision and mission of the business), before thinking about the experience that will achieve those goals, then considering the building blocks.

This is the foundation for our people experience framework, which you might notice we''re going to work through backwards!


People Experience Framework

Start with the end in mind

The ‘Employee Experience’ world is littered with cool ideas that don’t deliver business value. And what works for one organisation won’t necessarily work in another.

Connect to the strategic vision

It’s important to think about the outcomes that you want from transforming your people experience. This can be conencted to delivering your business strategy or people strategy, but it must be at least one!

Yes, you want your people experience to be ‘great’ but you need a rationale for doing what you’re doing, for investing time and money in specific initiatives. It’s this rationale that will help you to prioritise and ultimately create an experience that is good for your business and your people.

Get beyond employee engagement

One thing that’s probably on your mind is that you want to ‘improve employee engagement’ but it’s important to think beyond the phrase, to what that really means for your organisation and what it will deliver.

A few examples of what you might want to achieve could be to improve wellbeing, increase retention, help people embrace change, drive creativity and innovation, increase collaboration, build a more diverse leadership pipeline, and so on….

Consider the culture

Another outcome to consider is what kind of culture you’re trying to create. As you can see from the examples above, this isn’t necessarily a separate thing. It’s just about keeping the culture in mind, how that might be different from now, and what challenges that might bring (as well as opportunities).

Envisage the felt experience

OK, so you have some outcomes in mind, that your people experience should help support and enable. Every ‘felt experience’ has implications for organisations beyond feeling good being good, and feeling bad being bad.

Take the examples below. Each is generally positive, but:

Enjoyment tends to mean that people are more open (e.g. to change), may be more willing to take risks and perhaps even be more creative.

Purpose is provided by a vision and mission that people can believe in, can align their goals to, and get a sense of accomplishment from as well as helping them through short-term difficulty.

Belonging can contribute to bringing people on a journey, for getting their buy-in to ways of working, for promoting corporate citizenship and ethical behaviour.

Connection (emotional) is important for developing good support networks (e.g. for mental health), encouraging collaboration and teamwork, and potentially customer centricity.

Autonomy is an important factor in promoting organisational agility and change, supporting creativity and innovation, but also enabling personal responsibility and accountability.

Growth (learning) is essential for a high-performance culture that delivers results, an organisation that enables learning may be more resilient and it’s people more likely to respond well to challenges.

Read more about these feelings and their importance at work.

However, it’s also true that people that feel good (experience pleasant emotions at work) in general tend to be more engaged than those that don’t, and of course feeling bad regularly equates with stress and poor mental health. Go figure!

The people experience is a dynamic system

At the same time, it’s important to recognise that while all of these experiences are positive, they are interconnected as a system in ways that are both mutually supportive and, potentially, involve tensions.

For example, Belonging means that people can ultimately buy-in to the values and norms of the organisation as a collective endeavour (without sacrificing their own identities) – while Autonomy implies that individuals (or teams) can make their own decisions and express themselves freely.

There’s a bit of healthy tension here, which doesn’t mean that Belonging and Autonomy are in direct conflict, but does mean that making them work together does involve some thought and recognising that when one changes, the other may too.

The same could be said to be true of Purpose and Enjoyment, and Growth and Connection. Read more about this…

Put the building blocks in place

When you know what you want people to experience, NOW it’s time to think about how you’re going to deliver it. This is where your people practices, your business processes and systems, your workplace, leadership and management, communication and so on.

Think beyond HR

If you’re an HR practitioner it’s important to recognise that we’re not just talking about HR processes and systems here, but all interactions that employees have with the company. This means that to truly transform your people experience means working with and engaging a wide range of stakeholders, so that the experience is coherent.

Examine everything through experiential lenses

For example, if you prioritise Belonging, review everything that you’re doing through that lens. To what extent do your processes and systems make it more difficult for certain people to work? Are we communicating in a way that ensures everyone feels included? Are managers aware and able to deal with potential issues impacting belonging…?

A mistake that we often see HR people making is starting with the building blocks, with good intentions to implement ‘best practice’ but little clarity on what’s really important to them and their business.

I hope that I’ve highlighted the importance of designing your people experience in the right order, to be able to work back from desired outcomes, to consider the experience that you want to deliver, to then evaluate your current processes and practices, and how they need to improve.

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