How to Design the Employee Experience Part 3: Getting Started with Discovery
Jason Lauritsen

By: Jason Lauritsen on June 14th, 2018

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How to Design the Employee Experience Part 3: Getting Started with Discovery

Employee Experience

Est. Read Time: 3 min.

In part 2 of this series, I shared the four steps of the design process that can be applied to the employee experience: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. In this post, we’ll start at the beginning with Discovery.

Imagine you are an architect and you’ve been hired to design a new home for a family. Where would you start? The first thing you would probably want to know is information about the people who will live in this house. Who are they? How do they live? What is important to them? Without a deep understanding of who you are designing for, you’d have zero chance of designing the perfect home for them.  

This is what the discovery step in the design process is all about—learning as much about who you are designing for as possible. This should involve research, observation, and a whole lot of curiosity.

Magnifying GlassWhy discovery is critical to employee experience

Like the architect, to design a great employee experience, you must start by getting to know more about the people who will live it each day. Without this foundation of knowledge, your chances of getting it right are next to zero.  


Unlike the architect, when you tackle the design of employee experience, you are rarely designing from scratch. Your employees are already having an experience. The goal is to design a better and more engaging experience than the one that exists today.


With this in mind, you should look to answer several questions through your discovery process:

  • What kind of experience are we creating for employees today? What’s working and what is not?
  • What kind of experiences do our leaders think they are creating? How does that align with the reality for employees?
  • What do our employees want, need, and expect of work?

These are each big questions on their own and are not simple to answer. This first step of the design process is typically the most time-consuming and research intensive of the entire process. But, it’s also the most important. The information you gather during this phase of the process will inform everything else you do.  

Doing the research

There are a variety of ways to approach the data and information gathering of the discover step. Challenge yourself to gain a perspective on the employee that is both broad and deep. Try to step back from your assumptions and look at your employees with fresh eyes.  


Here are some recommended steps to help guide your efforts.


1. Environmental Scan. Take a look around your organization and try to see it as a brand new employee would. What kinds of messages are being communicated about work and culture? This doesn’t mean just through traditional communication, but also through the actual work environment and the tools employees use every day. Look for both alignment and contradictions. A common example I frequently see is that an organization will talk about the importance of UX (user experience) and go to great lengths to ensure that their products are easy to use and intuitive while at the same time forcing employees to use outdated and cumbersome tools internally.


Talk bubble and checkmark

2. Policy and process review. What employee experience does your employee handbook or policy manual communicate? As one of the first documents an employee is given, what kind of messages does it send? For a comparison, take a look at the Motley Fool Employee Handbook. Much like the environmental scan, the goal of this step is to review the various processes that impact an employee’s day to day experience at work (performance evaluation, manager interaction, time clocks, etc.). What messages are being sent either intentionally or, more likely, unintentionally? When your organization says it trusts and values employees, but requires doctors notes as evidence of the visit, the experience is in conflict with what is articulated.


3. Leadership interviews. One on one interviews are a powerful way to gain insight into each leader’s understanding and aspirations related to the role they play in shaping the experience of employees. These interviews should help reveal how much alignment there is of both intention and commitment to creating an engaging experience for employees. Ask them questions about how they want employees to feel about their work experience and how well the organization is creating that experience. Also ask them about their own experience as an employee—what’s working and not working for them personally?

4. Employee surveys. There’s a good chance your organization already has some sort of employee survey data from the recent past. If so, those survey results are a rich source of information about the current and desired employee experience. Take another look at the data. This time, instead of looking at it through the lens of “how did we score?” try “what can we learn?” The comments section, in particular, is a treasure trove of insights about the current and desired employee experience from the perspective of those who matter most.


5. Employee focus groups. Conversations with small groups of employees about their experience are the best and most powerful way to gain great insight for your design process. While this is listed last, that’s only because I’d recommend completing the other steps first. By completing the other research first, you’ll have a clearer picture of areas that need the most discussion and clarity. For example, if it appears that some policies send mixed messages, you can explore this with employees. The number of focus groups needed will depend on the size and diversity of your organization. Ideally, you should keep doing focus groups until you stop hearing things in them that you haven’t heard before.  


This might feel like a pretty significant undertaking. That’s because it is. This work is not for the faint of heart. It will take time, commitment, and discipline. There is no shortcut. Done right, it sets you up to shape your organization in a way that unlocks employee performance and propels your organization forward.  


Next, learn about the "Define" step of the design process, where you work to make sense of all you learned in the discovery process.


See how Biogen delivers a great experience for their employees so that they can focus on fulfilling the company’s mission to save lives:

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About Jason Lauritsen

Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker, author, and consultant. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, and author of his new book, Unlocking High Performance, to be published by Kogan Page in October 2018.