Using Service Design to Transform Employee Experience
Just like engineers at rivaling tech companies compete to design superior, state-of-the-art products, service designers for those same companies are tasked with enhancing experiences through tangible and intangible means. Companies like Apple, Disney, and The Ritz-Carlton are well-known for designing exceptional products and services. But it’s the total customer experience – ease of use, attention to detail, and support – that catapult these brands into legend status.
This kind of experience can be created by any kind of company, for any type of product or service, in any sector. As the post-pandemic world evolves and companies shift their focus within the workplace to attract and retain employees, service design is being leveraged to create valuable experiences for employees as well.
What is service design and how can organizations leverage it to enhance employee engagement?
Although it can be easily compared to product design, the service design process is quite different. While product design focuses primarily on manufacturing capabilities and business know-how to create a physical object, effective service design focuses on the coordination of people and communication to create a holistic experience.
Service design is often used to improve user experiences. The goals of using service device often include creating a cohesive experience and better fulfilling end-user needs. All of this ultimately helps the organization generate positive favor among end-users. While most often used for external end-users, it can also be applied internally to an organization’s workforce. Service design can be used to build customized programs and resources in a company to address the needs and values of team members, inextricably linking it to the employee experience.
Whether it’s used to design a thoughtful onboarding process for new hires or planning a valuable training program, human-centered service design can be a powerful tool for empowering an organization from within, while simultaneously improving workforce efficiency.
In one case study, Evans Consulting used service design to help a federal client challenged with succession planning and knowledge transfer due to a significant number of seasoned staff members nearing retirement age. The organization called on Evans after identifying a need to effectively deliver a long-term strategy to solve this problem without losing knowledge and skills through this wave of retirement.
For this project, Evans helped their federal client implement Workforce Resource Management (WRM), which is a set of processes focused on strategically allocating people and resources to assess gaps and optimize productivity in an organization’s changing environment. Specifically for this case, the implementation of WRM reinforced the client’s cultural values while also addressing the root causes of the challenges faced by their workforce.
The following showcases a brief outline of how service design was applied to this project to ensure an elevated employee experience for those affected by the organization’s changing circumstances:
1. Strategic Analysis and Planning
An effective WRM implementation requires focus on, and understanding of, an organization’s employees and workplace culture. When asked what he thinks is the most important part of service design, a design strategist with Evans Consulting said he believes talking to and understanding stakeholders’ needs is nearly 50 percent of the process.
Through working with the organization in this first stage of the project, Evans identified challenges within the company’s culture, management, leadership, and teaming. From there, project teams interviewed and communicated with leadership and employees to identify risks, understand organizational values, and deliver a strategic plan.
2. Project Management Optimization
Project managers (PMs) lead the solution, establishing a specific timeframe, scope, and budget. The PM ensures the team is meeting its responsibilities efficiently and effectively.
3. Human-Centered Design
Human-centered design puts people at the center of the solution. By involving employees throughout the process, an experience is created that holds value for the organization as a whole and addresses the human factors that are central to the success of the solution.
This last step is where a people-first approach is critical for the project’s design to enhance the employee experience. Human-centered design is used in this step to continuously improve products and services related to WRM in a way that works for the specific culture of the organization. With this project, Evans used three human-centered design principles to create the desired outcomes:
- Empathy to hear and understand users’ needs,
- A beginner’s mindset to remain curious, humble, and flexible-minded, and
- A bias for action, or the ability to think and act quickly even when faced with uncertainty.
Upon completion of this process, the client successfully achieved its desired outcomes. Nearing the third year of the project, the organization not only had readily accessible Human Capital Management (HCM) tools and programs for employees, they also experienced improved cohesion across leadership teams. And, perhaps most importantly, the client succeeded in hiring junior talent and developed a mentoring program to transfer expertise and skillsets. After thoughtful deliberation and human-centered service design, the client was able to create a pipeline of talent without losing significant knowledge among their workforce.
Why does human-centered design work?
There are a number of human-centered design principles that can be implemented to ensure the efficacy of a design process. As demonstrated by Evans Consulting, one of the most fundamental of those is empathy. Part of what makes human-centered design so effective is its reliance on connecting with and understanding people in a genuine way.
Many of the human-centered design principles that prove most effective are the same concepts that make a good leader. Some other examples include:
- Focus on the people. People are central to finding and developing the solution. When designing an employee experience, stakeholder input should be included in every stage of the solution.
- Be open-minded. Avoid entering a project with a solution in mind. Success hinges upon speaking to key stakeholders, conducting interviews, and performing thorough research. The solution should develop from the intel gathered.
- Test the design, gather feedback, and iterate. Great results are not developed in a vacuum. The best critics of a service are the users themselves. Take the time to use this feedback to improve the solution.
So, why does it work?
By using a human-centered approach to design the employee experience, an organization can ensure relevant user communication and feedback is gathered that will improve acceptance of changes and avoid creating an experience that does not address the needs of employees.
For example, a company created a leadership development program for employees with a schedule of 15-minute meetings over a six-month period. They believed the solutions addressed employees’ busy schedules while providing bite-sized development opportunities. Feedback following the training sessions showed that employees missed opportunities to connect with colleagues and apply what they learned. Had the company gathered employee feedback on needs and optimal learning scenarios prior to the training, they could have intentionally designed a one-time event that provided space for meaningful interactions and improved retention of the materials presented.
An intentionally designed employee experience such as this will leave a workforce feeling more connected to the organization and its leadership, therefore making employees more likely to commit themselves and their work to the company and its objectives.
Why make the investment?
It is no question that using service design to create human-centered employee programs require a significant investment of time and effort. By considering stakeholders’ needs and leveraging human-centered design, businesses can avoid failing later by investing in the right things right now.
Failed projects not only cost time and money, but they impact long-term trust. Human-centered design, when applied to Human Capital Management projects, yield benefits like:
- Improved employee engagement and satisfaction
- Higher retention rates
- Increased employee longevity
- Better trained workforce
- More equitable solutions that address the needs of your entire workforce
As our Evans Consulting design strategist put it: Do you want to invest time upfront? Or do you want to spend more time and money later?