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From survive to thrive

The power of elevating the human experience during times of uncertainty

Change can be difficult. It’s human instinct to feel overwhelmed by it, particularly when there is so much of it all at once. If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that change is unrelenting. It’s left people feeling burnt out with a significant impact on their mental wellbeing. People aren’t the same at work and their expectations and mindsets around it are changing. Organisations that want to thrive during these uncertain times will need to adapt.

Adapting to the new normal: bridging the gap between employee needs and business bottom line

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to business leaders that there’s been a shift in attitudes towards work. The 2020 pandemic forced people to work in a way that’s never been done before, remotely, and in isolation. But people found new rhythms and therefore established a new norm. Now, people are considering how work can fit around their lives rather than how life fits around their work, leading them to question the type of work they’re doing. According to the 2021 Employment Hero Wellness Report, 41% of workers agreed that COVID-19 has diminished the importance they place on career. Over half of New Zealand workers are struggling with burnout and many have signalled they will be seeking a new role within the next 12 months. These factors are proving to be impacting workplace productivity.

Organisations and employers know they need to fundamentally rethink what work means, where work is done and how they lead in this evolving environment. Nonetheless, there appears to be hesitation among leaders to lean into change. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report suggests leaders recognise the need to adapt and develop the right workplace model, yet only 24% feel ready to do so. Traditional thinking and workplace models that assume leaders have sole decision-making authority to make impactful change are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Workers are demanding more meaningful work, flexible workplace models and opportunity for personalised career paths.

Director of the Earth Institute Dr. Prabhjot Singh said “We spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.” If we, as leaders, want to adapt in this new environment, we must do so by placing our people at the heart of the process. Rather than imposing our vision on our people, we need to prioritise their needs, define a shared purpose together and create a workplace model that supports and inspires them. This needs to be done collectively by co-creating new ways of working and ensuring the purpose aligns with the people and the organisation.

Focusing on elevating people experience within an organisation is key to supporting the changing expectations of our people.

We know because here at Deloitte, we did it ourselves.

Putting our own methods to the test: how design research helped us improve our people experience

For design researchers, taking a holistic human-centred approach is ingrained in our DNA. We solve client problems using tools and methods that are focused on understanding human needs, desires and behaviours to help shape better experiences. When we delve into the discovery or design of a customer experience, there’s a corresponding worker experience that is intrinsically linked to the quality of the customer’s experience. The Human-Centred Design (HCD) toolkit we apply to customer experience is just as useful when we look inside the organisation to design for human experiences in the workplace.

In 2021, during the global pandemic, we recognised there was an opportunity to rethink the way our workplace operated and adapt to the changing needs of our people. At the same time, our newly appointed CEO, Mike Horne, saw the reimagination of our talent experience as a key strategic priority and sponsored a firm-wide programme. Deloitte’s Customer Strategy and Design team partnered with our People and Performance and Human Capital teams to launch our own people experience programme. The mission was to create an experience for our people that would be truly inclusive and empower them to reach their full potential. So, we used a framework focused on co-design, continuous learning and iterative prototyping based on the voice of our people to get there.

Building an inclusive workplace: co-designing with our people

With more than 1,700 people across Aotearoa, it was crucial we had an inclusive and diverse representation of voices as part of the design process. To achieve this, we created a people panel made up of over 20% of our workforce, with members from all sections and levels of the business, allowing those involved to see the evidence of their input and their ideas come to life, and fostering a sense of trust. This group was, and continues to be, involved in the roll out of the programme and as part of the ongoing initiative in design, delivery and testing.

To develop a deep understanding of how our people were experiencing work today, we conducted one-on-one empathy interviews and diary studies. We then ran co-design workshops to generate future state ideas and prioritised those on an actionable roadmap. As we tested concepts, we used a digital sounding board as a method to collect feedback which would allow us to iterate and adjust accordingly. All these touchpoints with our people panel allowed us to ensure their voice was reflected in the design of meaningful experiences across the end-to-end journey.

As with any scaled change or transformation programme, governance was a key part of our success. Leadership cohorts and a core design team with representatives from all corners of the business were identified. These groups served to engage and endorse the programme and brought a degree of rigour around ensuring decision making was aligned to the voice of our people, our purpose and agreed ambition.

Driving sustainable change: lessons from our people experience programme

We are in the process of delivering a ‘uniquely Kiwi’ inclusive experience for our people. We continue to go back to the insights and ideas that were garnered through the discovery and design phase, taking a slow and steady pace to ensure sustainable change.

While we’re still on the journey of implementing our programme, we’ve come out with a few reflections of our own that can help you kick start your own internal people experience research.

Six learnings to kickstart your internal employee experience research  

  1. Speak with people, not about them: Everyone wants to be heard, so give them a chance to speak, let them tell you what they’re experiencing, what their ambitions and dreams are and focus on uncovering their perspectives and unique needs.

  2. Embed human-centred design methods, tools and most importantly, mindsets: Embracing a designer mindset throughout the organisation might be a cultural shift for some but  they need permission and supportive structures to flourish.

  3. Iterate, iterate, iterate: Sometimes many versions and ongoing testing is needed to get to the desired outcome – but it will all be worth it.

  4. Ensure ongoing listening and testing with your people: Blind spots are the biggest when you’re looking at your own ideas. Go back to your people and sense-check the solutions to ensure ideas are meeting their needs. Test everything against your vision and Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

  5. Gain leadership buy-in: Involve decision-makers and influencers in the co-design team. An engaged leadership team will become a critical enabler for lasting, sustainable change.

  6. Leverage humanised communication: Use storytelling, relationships and practical tools to connect and communicate change when launching initiatives. Embed leading talent practices and make time for personalised activation plans where different parts of your business have unique needs and ways of working. And make sure you’re always continuously learning and iterating based on live feedback and metrics – storytelling and communications is rarely a ‘one and done’ activity!

Today, organisations face a critical decision - cling to tradition or embrace adaptation and innovate. By taking a holistic human-centred approach, organisations can create a workplace model that supports and inspires their people.

For more information on how we can support your organisation's employee experience, click here.