Thinking like our employees: using the employee lens to make innovative decisions through the crisis and beyond

This is a guest post by Gil Cohen, Founder of Employee Experience Design. At EXD, they help leaders co-create Employee Experiences that help both the organization and its people thrive. In this article, Gil has provided insight into why the employee lens is a source of valuable information for managers to make effective decisions.

Metaphors allow us to gain greater understanding into how people work. One of the most common frames with which people look at organizations is as that of a culture. However, culture is only one way in which we can collect information on how to lead an organization.

We can use other frames to gain insight: a living organism, a political system, or even the human brain; by changing our perspective, we increase our capacity to make decisions that will positively impact the organization and its people.

The organization as an experience

Modern companies are changing how they think about the interactions within the business. It is becoming common for customer experience (CX) teams to be established within organizations, supporting the actions of sales, marketing, or client engagement.

Now, these modern organizations are enhancing the ability of leadership by adopting CX practices. For example, many organizations are including an employee Net Promoter Score into their internal workplace engagement survey. But, should the adoption of the experience lens end there?

No, and it certainly shouldn’t start there, either: in fact, the employee experience begins with the hiring process. A recent study by IBM showed that people who were satisfied with the candidate experience are 38% more likely to accept a job offer. And, regardless of whether the offer was accepted or not, candidates who were satisfied with their experience were more than twice as likely to recommend that organization to others.

We all talk about our customer experiences in retail; it should be no surprise that over 60% of candidates talk about their employee experiences with friends and family, and are twice as likely to become a customer of the organization.

There is a clear business impact of choosing to make user-centric decisions based on human needs.

The path from organization design to outcomes flows through human experience and wellness

Now is the time for managers, HR people, and leaders of all stripes to start to integrate the employee lens into their decision making, impacting an employee’s individual wellness.

Human Wellness comprises eight dimensions: Financial, Environmental, Physical, Social, Occupational, Intellectual, Spiritual, and Emotional/Mental. How the organization is designed, intentionally or otherwise, creates the experience we have at work which impacts the fulfillment of each of these dimensions. Our fulfillment of each of these dimensions impacts the behaviours we have at work.

As organizations are thrust into new patterns—like remote work—leaders will end up physically farther away from their people, and it will become more difficult to understand the effect of the dimensions outlined above.

This is why, as leaders, we can explore the value of the employee lens.

Tips for immediately adopting the employee lens into decision making

The fact that managers are more disconnected from the experience employees is amplified by the current level of uncertainty that we currently face. Integration of the employee lens into decision making will allow managers to lead more effectively through whatever happens next.

You may already have adopted some of these actions into your leadership practice. By leaning into these actions, your team will be better set up to adjust to the future.

Tip 1: Embrace the Concept of Sonder

Immediately actionable: Learn the definition of Sonder.

Why is this important: All experience is individual, and you will need to start with that understanding to help your team succeed. What can be a motivating experience for once person can motivate another person to look for a different job.

By starting with a clear intention around each employee being an individual, you will be able to adjust your communication to find common ground with each person. Both external environment and organizational experience can impact a person’s wellness. The onus is on managers to create an environment to support their team’s wellness, even through change.

Tip 2: Create the environment that people will answer the questions you ask

Immediately actionable: Admit a recent past mistake of your own

Why is this important: By showing your own vulnerability, your team will be more open with their own information. However, you must be prepared for whatever they might discuss with you. It won’t all be comfortable, but the more you know, the better you will be able to set them up for success.

How you respond will determine what they are comfortable bringing up in the future. It is key to ask open-ended questions where you listen to understand, not listen to respond. It is easy to get defensive, but that will hinder psychological safety, and ultimately, your ability to understand your team make the right decisions for them.

Tip 3: Be consistent in words and actions

Immediately actionable: Audit your own behaviour relative to your organization’s stated Values or Code of Conduct.

Why is this important: In all my years working with employee groups, the most common message they had for their leadership was to ‘walk the talk.’ Many managers don’t realize that their teams are paying attention to how they behave, not just how they tell others to behave.

By ensuring that your words and actions are consistent, you will earn the trust of your team.

Tip 4: Transparency

Immediately actionable: Clearly create line of sight for each person between their work and the company vision.

Why is this important: When leading through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity (VUCA): ambiguity is the enemy of productivity. People need clear expectations, both for themselves and from others, in order to be in a position to be creative, productive, and proactive. By understanding how their work connects to the bigger picture, each individual is able to recognize why their work matters. As a leader, it is up to you to connect the work your people do with why your organization exists.

Tip 5: Start using Design thinking tools

Immediately actionable: Build an empathy map with your team about your target user.

Why is this important: For those that that are unfamiliar with how to implement the concept, it helps to start small. By bringing a diverse group together to solve problem in a user-centric way, you are able to create solutions that will support both the business and its people. Iteration until you find the correct solution will allow you to take quick action while continuously improving.

There are numerous tools that can be leveraged depending on the given situation. The key is that by starting with empathy, the decisions you make are more effective in serving your team.

Concluding thoughts

By integrating human experience and perspective into your data collection, you will be able to serve your team’s needs more effectively. User-centric problem solving will provide employees the environment that their wellness is addressed, and the right behaviours are encouraged. Instead of decisions being made for all employees, key experience decisions will be made with employees. Co-creation allows for a structure where people can flourish instead of having all decisions being made at them. Each of these steps is just one aspect of leading people through VUCA times, but each is foundational to being able to thrive through change.

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