Engage, retain, and attract employees – by design

Dr C J Meadows explains why adopting a Design Thinking approach can help organisations create a great employee experience.
By: | December 2, 2022

“If you don’t appreciate your employees, your competitor will. They are looking for great talent.”

Bearing in mind this quote from Stacy Sherman, Vice President Marketing, Agent & Customer Experience, Liveops, it is worth considering that a shocking USD$7.8 trillion of productivity is lost each year through an (equally shocking) 80% of our global workforce, who are either “actively disengaged” or simply “not engaged.”

They are adjusting (sort of) to hybrid workplaces — which we have not totally designed yet — but instead of revitalising workplace engagement (was it ever there in the first place?), workers are responding with their feet. Nearly 40% have “quitting soon” on their minds, and it will cost nearly a third of a new recruit’s salary to replace each one.

Instead of spending money on employee churn, why not spend it engaging, retaining, and attracting the best?

The same approach to discovering what customers really want can be used to discover what employees really want. Design methods for breakthrough products, services, and customer experiences can design breakthrough workplaces, processes, and employee experiences.

It is called Design Thinking (DT) but is really more “design doing,” since it is an active approach to understanding people’s needs and desires, crafting radically better solutions, and prototyping with the “users” themselves. You think like a designer but apply design tools and techniques outside the traditional forums of design.

Why try a new approach? Simple. If the old one worked, we would not need to.

Does DT provide value when used on customers? Powerfully, yes. Research shows that design-focused firms grow two to three times faster, return more to shareholders (by 60%), and financially outperform rivals. When an HR department is rated as “high-performing,” five times more often than not, it is using DT.

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“Designing a great employee experience is not just an HR project. It is a strategic move. You can engage productively, retain purposefully, and attract great talent your competitors may not recognise or appreciate – by design.” – Dr C J Meadows

A DT team — usually quite diverse, to leverage a range of skills, styles, and knowledge – begins by choosing a challenge that is do-able (no big roadblocks) and will have a significant impact. Employee “Moments That Matter” (MTM) are often a good choice.

A transplant from marketing’s “Moments of Truth” that determine whether a customer will buy, “Moments that Matter” determine whether an employee will join, stay, or perform. These are personal and professional moments that strongly impact their day, year, and career, including the hiring process, onboarding, project commencement and wrap-up, promotion, transfer, exit, retirement, and life changes like birth, death, marriage, and illness.

By spending time with employees, observing, and interacting with them, DT teams identify challenges and gather organised and qualitative data. They then generate deeper understanding that guides them to underlying problems and creative solutions. While working with a DT team recently, one of my teams engaged with both the happiest and most disgruntled employees, as well as the shortest- and longest-tenured. By looking at those extremes, we learned quickly what was right and wrong in the situation and gathered success ideas to share. By exploring analogies like marriage counselling and political alliances, we gathered fresh new ideas to try.

We drew “employee journey maps” to see the steps at key MTMs and what employees would do, think, say, and feel along the way. It is a great way to identify “pain points” to fix, and if you cannot map it all, perhaps you do not really understand your employees. If there are too many steps, simplify!

We envisioned smoother, more enjoyable, and productive ways of doing things and prototyped and experimented with real people, with no need for big budgets. “Low-fidelity” prototypes made from cardboard, post-its, and role-play gave us all the early feedback we needed – early enough not to waste time and money chasing the wrong solutions.

There are so many tools and techniques to help you understand your employees, envision a breakthrough future for them, and refine solutions before you launch them. Reading will get you started, but you must also do it.

Designing a great employee experience is not just an HR project. It is a strategic move. You can engage productively, retain purposefully, and attract great talent your competitors may not recognise or appreciate – by design.

About the author: Dr C J Meadows is Director, The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Centre at SP Jain School of Global Management.

To learn more about Design Thinking, see her latest book, The Design Thinking Workbook: Essential Skills for Creativity and Business Growth, co-authored with Charvi Parikh and available on Amazon. For a free, multimedia intro, check out Design Thinking Intro, available on Gnowbe via drcjmeadows.com/design-thinking.