The Employee Experience Takes Over

Thursday, August 18, 2016

For decades, the customer experience has been a priority value in business. High customer satisfaction ratings not only position a company in the marketplace, it guarantees loyal consumers. But the customer relationship is not the only force driving organizations. Companies are starting to recognize that the employee experience is what actually drives business performance. 

No doubt, the idea of going to work, sitting at a desk all day, and managing the same materials again and again fails to motivate most people. That’s why many companies are adopting the notion of the workplace as an “experience.” This means allowing new programs and procedures to drive flexibility and engage the worker. For instance, Airbnb recognizes that employee satisfaction requires leaders to orchestrate aspirational, emotional, physical, intellectual, and virtual elements that inspire workers. An example of this can be allowing an employee to work in a more comfortable environment—even if that means the kitchen table.

What Does the Employee Experience Mean for Talent Development?

Whether employees are satisfied with the work experience—in other words, they are engaged and motivated—is often reflected in their desire to learn more and increase their skill level. Why is this important? An employee’s increased knowledge base is often reflected in improved performance on the job, which in turn, is reflected in customer satisfaction. In fact, Deloitte’s 2016 Human Capital Trends Report shows that the value of corporate knowledge has never been greater. According to the data, 84 percent of companies consider employee learning a top 10 priority, and 44 percent define learning as “very important.” 

But traditional HR solutions toward skill development—like annual performance reviews to pinpoint skill gaps and then assigning training accordingly—just don’t cut it anymore. Although these approaches have been around for years, they don’t always capture an employee’s real performance requirements, interests, or career aspirations—not to mention they can be boring, overwhelming, and time-intensive for the managers. Instead, organizations need to find new ways to capture the attention of employees and motivate them to learn. Enter design thinking.

How Can Design Thinking Improve the Employee Experience?

Developed by the innovative design company IDEO (the brains behind Apple’s first mouse), design thinking is defined as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” It’s no surprise that Deloitte placed design thinking in the top 10 trends generating an impact on talent development. Rather than building programs and processes, Deloitte research found that innovative leaders are using design thinking to develop interventions, apps, and tools to streamline work processes and help make employees more productive. 

In essence, a new objective for HR and talent development leaders is to develop a productive employee experience through enjoyable—and simple—solutions. Design thinking, therefore, transforms the HR and talent development role from process developer to an experience architect. This includes looking at the physical environment, how workers connect and interact during work so they can collaborate better, how managers use their time, and how companies select, train, and evaluate employees. 

What’s more, many of the top 10 trends highlighted by Deloitte look toward the principles of design thinking for improvement. For example, organizational design integrates design thinking when rearranging roles for the organization. "After three years of struggling to drive employee engagement and retention, improve leadership, and build a meaningful culture, executives see a need to redesign the organization," says Deloitte. (See CTDO article for more.) 


Meanwhile, companies can increase employee engagement by using design thinking to find ways to make work more stress-free and personally gratifying. Self-directed learning also incorporates the main principle of design thinking; it places importance on the interests of the user (think: learner) rather than on traditional learning procedures or processes. Even analytics falls under design thinking, because it focuses on mining data to highlight better resolutions for the user (think: worker). Likewise, digital HR solutions underscore the idea of design thinking by developing new tools that try to make labor easier and healthier. 

Bottom line: HR and talent development leaders are obligated to upgrade their skills to incorporate a better understanding of design thinking, including digital design, mobile application design, engine learning, user experience design, and so forth.

What Type of Experience Do Healthcare Employees Want to Have?

According to Kenneth T. Hertz, principal at MGMA Healthcare Consulting Group, meaningful work and being treated with respect are important factors for those with careers in healthcare. In addition, being treated fairly, honestly, and as valued member of the organization are key preferences. 

Can you imagine going to work in an environment where you’re treated as “just another” employee? Where simple routine is repeated over and over and over again? Where you feel stuck—with limited opportunities to grow your career? Probably not. 


By now, most of us are familiar with the research on employee engagement, which finds that motivation decreases in this type of work environment. Lack of engagement and motivation is reflected in poor daily performance, relationships with fellow co-workers, and inability to meet organizational goals. Clearly, it is important to invest in the employee’s experience to guarantee negative scenarios do not happen—and so the organization doesn’t put performance at risk, especially when people’s lives are potentially at risk like in the healthcare arena.

Who’s the Right Person for the Job?

According to Vignette, the right professional to incorporate this new approach is the Chief Employee Experience Officer. As Airbnb mentions in a Fortune article, this role consists of combining traditional human resources functions, such as recruitment and talent development, and mixing them with marketing, real estate, amenities, social responsibility, and communications. 

For those who need help incorporating this approach, Vignette launched a six-part blog series that form as a guide understanding of employee experience and how to apply it. Part 1 offers guidelines on how to architect the employee experience, Part 2 gives a better understanding of the internal communication audience, and talent leaders can use Part 3 to help them develop a content strategy for internal communication. 

So what’s the big take-away? Workers want feel that their work is meaningful. What is better than experiencing great joy in doing your job and feeling like a respected member of the team? A valued member is a motivated member, and the best way to achieve this is by having the company invest in their experience. 

I hope this blog has been helpful, and I look forward to reading your thoughts and ideas in the Comments below.

About the Author

Gabriela Ammatuna is the global content & regional manager of ATD Global. Her goal is to expand innovative talent development best practices and brand awareness globally. In 2016 she joined ATD as the healthcare project manager, during which time she rapidly proliferated that industry community. She is trained in global talent development by the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, and the World Bank, and she’s experienced in developing and implementing wellness, education, team member development, talent management, organizational development, and sustainable programs. Gabriela has worked in global corporations, administration, academic, government, nonprofit, and small business settings, contributing to corporate social responsibility programs and supporting philanthropy projects in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University. She is a doctoral candidate.

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