Design Thinking For The Employee Experience 

Learning about the needs of others is an iterative process. We always want to circle back to the stakeholders and ask if we’ve understood them right. Having a small team of field personnel in the workshop made the feedback happen in real-time and that was priceless.
— Senior Director of Insights & Innovation

A case study

Leadership at a client of ours recognized there was a gap between the needs of their sales and service personnel working in the field and tools and collateral that were being developed to support them. 

“This is what we've always done," says our client, "and nobody was really thinking about what the sales force really might need... all these things that are developed in isolation make sense until they reach the account manager who gets 400 emails at the end of the evening."

It was time to uncover the issues and design support solutions that were more relevant. Leadership at our client initiated an insights-driven, ethnographic study partnering with us in an effort to reveal the world of Sales and Service to internal development teams. “Instead of just throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks, let’s try to really understand the problem,” says the client, recalling their interest in our ethnographic approach to market research.

We leveraged our customer-focused framework of Design Thinking for market research and simply converted it to an employee-focused model. The only necessary changes to our approach were to remove the leadership ride-a-longs during the interviews, as well as identifiers in the content generated so as to protect the anonymity of the voice of participating employees. 

We sought to better understand the typical day of a sales rep and service technician and to observe their behaviors and attitudes in context. Over thirty ethnographic interviews were conducted with individuals who had been nominated by regional management. Metro regions included Atlanta, Dallas, New York City and Boston.

We spent as much as three hours with each employee in their homes, on the road and at customer sites during presentations, meetings and service calls. We talked with field personnel throughout each engagement about the challenges they faced and gained a deeper understanding of their marketing communications needs and desires. The Vice President of Marketing at the close of the project recognized the ethnographic interactions as a best practice to generating insight into the employee experience.

The result of the insights generated fostered an entirely new way of looking at solutions developed for the field and  internal marketing communications team sought to take immediate action on the insights.

With a rich understanding of the sales and service personnel in place and internal stakeholders and leadership engaged in empathy having walked in the shoes of field employees courtesy of our content, the next step in the process was co-creation of solutions.

We then facilitated an employee experience ideation workshop, where stakeholders from internal development teams were prompted to take what they had learned and apply it to new solutions with field personnel right at their side brainstorming along with them. Workshop participants were prompted to rapidly generate as many solutions as possible to each dilemma, and provided with concept sheets upon which they could record their ideas.

The result of the ideation workshop was a compilation of over seventy-five concepts for marketing communications of which the majority were highly relevant to the needs and desires of personnel working in the field. The most compelling ideas generated cannot be shared here, as our client views these as a distinct competitive advantage against their competition and a key differentiator to the employee experience moving forward. “The ideas generated and vetted in this effort are a treasure trove of possibilities,” says the client. “As we plan for the future, we can consult this library of ideas to inspire what’s next for marketing communications.”

The next step was to socialize the insights and ideas to extended teams responsible for execution against the development plans. In an effort to accelerate this education and inspire action, we created a set of seven personas to tell each key employee story. We specifically designed the personas to be different than the traditional look and feel of internal communications, and went with illustrative storyboards. The personas were so big a hit, the client had full-size foam board prints produced and placed them around their corporate offices.

The marketing communications team identified which solutions they were going to take into development and hold themselves accountable for, and which they were going to table for possible implementation at a later date. “Immersing ourselves in the voice of the field helps us prioritize and focus," says our client. “Most of all, the voice of the field simply reminds us that we should be asking if every sales tool we create is 'Field worthy.' When in doubt, ask the employees, themselves.”