The Sears ‘employee–customer–profit chain’ was among the first empirical research to make the link between attitudes and organisational performance.
Published in the Harvard Business Review in 1998, it found a positive correlation between employee attitudes, customer behaviour, and subsequent impact on the bottom line. Much research since has made the same point. However, EX and CX are not only connected at the end of this value chain. We believe three principles are the foundations of both. Fundamental to a human-centred design approach, these three principles allow us to get to the heart of human experience and design better solutions for customers and employees.
Principle 1: Curiosity – be insatiably curious about people and what is possible
Curiosity is fundamental to great design. It raises questions and sparks deep and broad thinking that generates new and different solutions. It also overcomes a key obstacle to human-centered design – confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we seek information that backs up existing beliefs and ignore evidence to the contrary. Curiosity helps us avoid slipping into this bias and deters us from building stereotypes or making broad or ill-founded judgements about what people need and want.
Curiosity is also a powerful driver of collaboration. When we ask lots of questions, we become more comfortable admitting to not having all the answers. And it prompts us to find and work with people with the insight or skills we lack. Collaborators might be people from different teams or even our end-users. Such collaboration creates better solutions and means they are more likely to land as stakeholders have been part of the process.
Principle 2: Empathy – put people and their experience at the heart of the process
Human-centred design is rooted in empathy for the people we design for. It is about standing in someone else’s shoes to see the world through their eyes. Like curiosity, empathy challenges preconceived ideas and helps us understand what’s happening for someone else. It helps us spot and start to tackle previously unseen problems and opportunities.
When it comes to employee experience, empathy allows us to move beyond the perks mentality too often associated with creating a great experience at work. Perks that, in reality, do little if anything to improve an experience. Beer Fridays and discounted gym membership might be nice to have, but they don’t get to the heart of what creates a good experience at work – emotionally enriching human experiences.
Empathy doesn’t just require us to stay close to the people we design for; it is better still when we design with end-users. While this has been a factor in customer-focused innovation for many years, with EX, organisations have been slower to adapt (despite the fact employee end users are often at hand). This had already started to change with all sorts of EX teams embracing the idea of co-creation. And the trend has been hugely sped up by the pandemic. As organisations look to rapidly find new ways to work, to support and connect their people, they are turning to the people with the answers – their employees.
Principle 3: Experimentation – test multiple small solutions to better understand what works
In a word of rapid change, organisations need to respond constantly and at speed. An experimentation mindset steers us away from solutions that are over-specified, take years to develop, and then fail to land. Instead, it encourages a bias for action, for trying things out and learning along the way. Experience design is by its nature evolutionary, and an experimentation mindset helps drive it forward.
An experimentation mindset is playful. The world’s most design-oriented businesses have a playful experimental approach at the core of the culture. Adopting an experimentation principle means signing up to trying things out in order to learn. When we try things for the first time, we rewire our brains and build neural pathways. If we want innovation, and to genuinely impact experience of our end-users, we need to be intentional about experimentation and bring it in to all aspects of our daily work. There are many ways to do this, and the recent changes in work brought on by the pandemic have in many ways forced more of us to experiment. We need to capture that and continue trying out new ways of working whether it’s our daily meetings or a complete experience design project.
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