Making work a more meaningful and engaging experience

TL;DR

My role:
Product designer (UX, Research, UI)
The brief: Research and understand the intricacies of the organisation to inform the build of a nominations tool and provided services
Solution : A nominations platform
Timeframe: 6 weeks research, 6 weeks implementation
Impact: A transformation in employee engagement because of the product and schemes designed following the research and build

CONTEXT

Four years after its inception, the product was entering a new chapter. A rebrand was underway, and the proposition reconsidered, moving away from a sole focus on reward and recognition, to the wider and more ethereal realm of relationships. We had moved on from the delivery of features to meet the demands of early customers and match the offering of our competitors' products. The next six months were already planned out, but we needed to define our vision as a product team and think about our 11-star experience. What was framed as a product discovery piece, undoubtedly had much broader implications on the service offering and future of the business.

This period of discovery built upon a research spike I had done previously. The spike set out to 'understand the factors which contribute to motivation and finding meaning at work', and primarily consisted of a series of diary studies, interviews and intercom campaigns.

The write-up, analysis, and thoughts are my own. Still, some of the visual work you'll see was created in collaboration with team members and was ultimately carried on by myself following the completion of the rebrand. Please note, I worked with another designer full-time on this project and was overseen by the Head of Product.

*** Certain details have been omitted, or have been made intentionally vague to protect the identity of businesses, research participants and also the intellectual property of the company.***

What we set out to achieve

Primary objective:

"To explore the factors which contribute to teams performing well and understand how people build relationships in a working environment"

We would also be looking to:

• Articulate the enhanced product vision and our eleven-star experience

• Develop and refine the product backlog for the 12 months

• Explore more ways to create added value to the current offering as a product and service

• Consider possible reasons for lack of engagement in current product

• Work with our current clients and users to strengthen relationships and gain a greater understanding of how their organisations work

ProJECT STAGEs

Although we had scheduled participants at certain times, we ended up working very agile, iterating quickly and being very flexible and accommodating to last-minute requests and availability. We tried to stick to our schedule where possible.

We worked in weekly sprints developing ideas and presenting back to the rest of the team for internal feedback. Our working assumptions were that individuals in organisations loosely fit into three categories: individual contributors, managers and leaders. We developed concepts for these groups accordingly.

Various workshops were held throughout this time, but the most common form of interview consisted of thirty minutes question and answer, followed by thirty minutes discussion around the concepts we generated.

We increased our understanding by:

• Conducting interviews, feedback sessions, and using surveys with managers across a range of different organisations and team sizes

• Conducting internal ideation sessions with members of different teams

• Holding workshops with managers, and HR leaders, in current customer organisations

• Creating marketing-site style prototypes to present back to internal team.

We focussed on these key questions:

"How might we create, nurture and amplify relationships in our platform"

"How might we foster learning and improvement in teams and individuals"

"How might we encourage new habits in order to make work a better place to be"

The work itself

Sprint 1 • Generating concepts with existing knowledge

After four years working the project, there was lots of internal knowledge which would be foolish not to harness. In this initial phase of the project, we conducted multiple ideation sessions, generally in the form of 'Crazy Eights'. We developed existing ideas and questions from the product backlog and considered our ever-growing list 'How Might We's'  we had yet to answer. These sketches developed into marketing-style pages, which helped to facilitate discussions with the research participants and our internal team.

Based on the feedback received and the quality of ideas generated, we focused on 'Connect, Manage and Resolve' out of all of the themes we created.

Key learnings from the week

• Concepts which focussed on connecting individuals resonated well. Still, the biggest challenge we had to overcome was to provide concerns over how frequently, individuals would be using the tool to connect with other people at work. It prompted us to consider more of a networking angle, which would provide additional use cases, but with it, bring additional challenges. 

• Overall, concepts which focussed on resolving issues at work were well received. But concerns raised over the level of anonymity required, and feeling of psychological safety, and whether the types of problems raised by an individual could even be resolved. How would we make them specific and actionable? With that, there would be additional service implications on our side, and more internal change management required for the clients.

• Concepts designed to facilitate management were perceived to be too vague, and that the notion of an 'autonomous culture', remained too abstract, thus requiring further explanation and development.

Internal discussion and pain points

• Some of the concepts which resonated well with managers may not be viable product propositions

• Do we want to be another social network platform? The market is not only saturated, but there is also the question of regular usage and hooks

• The longevity of some of the concepts also raised concern, e.g. connecting with colleagues could be a one-off experience, perhaps as part of onboarding. Although in larger organisations, we were surprised how made connecting with and finding individuals was.

• How can we create a concept that will be used frequently and relevant throughout the year?

• The idea of conflict resolution and problem solving was considered to be very risky and somewhat distant from our current proposition. Despite this, the use cases were clear, and the subject prompted the most engaging of discussions.

Click on the images below for more detail, which show some of the planning and synthesis which took place at this stage
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Sprint 2 • Focus on leadership

The essential individual for both the initial uptake of the product and the ongoing success is the 'HR Leader'. Not only do they seek out a tool with which they can make their desired impact, but they also need to be the ones to push ongoing initiatives in the organisation. This sprint we focussed heavily on trying to understand more about the behaviour and motivation of this individual and understand what they would expect from our tool and team. This was done in part with workshops from one of the clients. We also set out to understand more about the service offered by the customer experience team to better understand how it could facilitate organisational change and provide the support which the leaders needed. The concepts developed this week also had  an additional emphasis on connecting individuals in organisations. Interviews with managers continued as permitted by scheduling.

Key learnings from the week

• As we had learned over the years, the HR leaders are looking for more than a tool. The ongoing support and service design they are looking for poses challenges to the organisation, and also asks the question - how far can we push the product? To what extent can something so human-centric be made digital? It also poses another problem - to what extent should be providing expertise, capabilities and support to support their goals? Are we equipped to support digital transformation?

• The role of leadership is hugely important. It sets the pace, goals, vision and culture conducive to the success of the product. It had long been our vision to avoid a top-down approach, so we were forced to push our ideas for autonomous teams and sub-cultures further. Would this be possible?

• The service design needs to be developed strategically along with what the product is offering at any given time.

• Performance management is heavily saturated space, should our proposition encompass this?

Internal discussion and pain points

• The need to develop a greater understanding what we provide to customers already and how new concepts can build upon them

• How might we provide a ‘Swiss army knife’ toolkit for managers to create their own initiatives? How can this be more autonomous, whilst continuing to allow HR initiatives to be successful?

Sprint 3 • How can we make managers and individuals connect better?

The most significant leaps occurred during the first two sprints and we were then faced with the task of refining and incrementally improving our concepts. We were also intent on exploring in greater depth how managers and employees can actively contribute to their culture, which in its most basic form revolved around a managers tool and theoretical frameworks and activities over long periods. This concept was developed alongside managers in co-creation sessions, many of which took place during this week.


Key learnings (ultimately questions!) from the week

• How might we provide the framework for managers to create and track initiatives over time?

• Engagement initiatives are stale, ineffective and feel disconnected with employees. How can this be revolutionised?

• There is a huge gap between engagement surveys and implementing effective initiatives. How can we make things easier to implement and change.

• Actions are hard to track and systematically measure, across various teams and departments. How might we solve this?


Key Challenges

• Defining a discussion framework to use for a company workshop we had planned

• Employees are not always empowered to own their own culture, and don’t know how to do so. How can we help leaders let go?

• Actioning the feedback collected by employees is the hardest part, and which is often lacked from the perspective of the individual.

Sprint 4 • Enabling managers and individuals

A full day workshop and co-creation session kicked off the week, with plenty of refinement to follow before the end of the sprint and our final presentation. The scheme generator, one of our key concepts, would allow the automation of schemes and be controlled by managers.  We spent time with managers this week trying to ascertain how viable this would be and the types of activities which they could facilitate. One tool used to help us understand more about this was a card sorting exercise held with managers of various levels.

We were looking to gain further insight as to what sort of operations could be run by teams to foster individual cultures, which fit in the broader organisation, while maintaining a certain level of transparency. We experimented with different time frames, and the idea of teams being able to suggest their own activities, as welll as a manager voting system to share best practises with other managers.

We created a  prototype of the end to end journey showing our three main persona types working together in one story, based on findings from interviews.


Key learnings

• The definition of teams could pose challenges in larger or more non-traditional organisations. ‘Teams’ could also mean departments and they are many other variations of teams e.g. remote and cross functional. How would our team page work? How would they be managed and overseen by HR?

• Concepts resonated well with our clients and managers but skepticism remained as to how to main the momentum of longer running initiatives if more core business activities take priority. How might we avoid a drop off in engagement?

• The act of telling a story of how people interacted, created more relevant concepts and stressed tested it’s value


Challenges

• How do different individuals in different departments engage with each-other? How do you facilitate the development of sub-cultures without creating digital silos?

• Some of the engagement tools were perceived as gimmicky and manipulative

• Adding more work to people’s day job will increase resistance to adoption

Other talking points


• Managers we spoke to claimed they are good, but cannot explain how they improve their team and handle issues which arise. 

• Employees need to see how the product can help them get more out of their career, improve their community and connect to a cause. Individual insights are important, and it may be that goal/activity tracking needs to be implemented in some form.

• The product should be about empowerment ; empowering managers to get the most out of their people, leaders to motivate and understand their organisations, employees to own their culture and have more opportunities to build relationships which matter.

SUMMARY

In five weeks we explored the themes of connecting, nurturing, resolving, celebrating and managing work relationships, in order to envision the future of the product.  We learned of the  pivotal role managers play in connecting to leadership, and how lower-level employees yearn for autonomy and are disconnected with the leadership’s “North star”.

Our lead concept was the idea of having a framework which increases the utility of the functionality of the current product product and allows for wide range of potential additions to be combined in a data-led-campaign platform. It would be imperative that it drove weekly use, and allow HR leaders to deliver the impact at scale and for data to provide tangible insight. We learned more about how the product could be considered part of a cultural transformation initiative, and in many cases would be.

Our vision

To build a meaningful relationship with work by:

1. Redesigning how teams and people connect

2. Allowing people to own and contribute actively in their company culture

3. Empowering organisations to make data driven decisions

CONCLUSION

Making work more meaningful. Improving relationships. Helping people get more out of work. These are not easy problems to solve. Whats more, they cannot be achieved by solely with a product. In the most extreme cases, we are trying to change the way companies work and have a front row seat as role of HR in organisations is redefined.

Overall I think the discovery period was successful. We pushed our understanding of the people we are looking to serve along with developing a clear backlog of ideas which could be discussed with the technical team, before further user and customer validation would take place.

We successfully refined the user proposition for all of the persona types, and have an articulated definition of the product strategy and also provided a list of recommendations and potential challenges which I'm unable to reveal any more about as they involve too many commercially sensitive issues.

What I COuld HAVE DONE better

The biggest challenge with any form of research is recruitment, and this was true here. Although the time frame was short, I would have made an even more considerable effort to get recruitment right so that we could have continued to iterate upon our concepts.

While we also made a significant effort to involve the internal team, I would prioritise this more in the future, particularly at the leadership level to advance the strategic conversations more quickly.

We generated a good number of viable concepts which were prioritised into our frameworks, but I wish I had pushed the articulation and the product strategy a bit further. Ultimately this work would take place in the following months.