Chances are your company has been facing record staff shortages and employee turnover. You are bleeding talent and losing team members who could have played a key role in your innovation projects. With “The Great Resignation” in full-swing, companies are finding it increasingly challenging to hire and retain talented employees.

The root of this trend is that employees are seeking more meaning and purpose in their work. This is an opportunity for us as innovators to embed employee experience in our innovation initiatives, connecting meaning and purpose to the day-to-day work employees do. And not just because doing so is likely to help engage and retain valuable team members. Putting employee experience at the center of innovation initiatives can produce better design ideas, improve the outcome of your projects, and increase efficiencies in your development. 

Unlock these benefits by adding these three practices to your innovation program. 

  • Recognize the shared importance of both internal and external customers. “Who’s the customer?” is a common question innovation leaders ask when beginning a new innovation sprint or transformation project.. There’s a natural tendency to focus on either the internal (i.e., employee) or external (i.e., client) customer. But looking at one versus the other is a mistake. We shouldn’t focus only on the external customer experience. We need to look at how it connects to the internal customer experience. Otherwise, we will likely make work harder and less efficient for staff.
    Here’s an example. One leader I worked with was leading a project to transform online ordering processes for customers. He based his initial solution almost entirely on research and interviews conducted with external customers. He didn’t think to interview the employees who fulfilled the online orders. Tests of the redesign satisfied the needs of the customers, but unintentionally created more work for the employees. The outcome? The company couldn’t drive adoption and that iteration of the project failed.
    When you’re designing new services or products, don’t look at external and internal customers as separate and competing forces. Especially in the competitive talent market we’re in today, customer experience and employee experience go hand in hand.
  • Engage everyone, especially frontline workers, throughout all stages of innovation. Most of us already know how important it is to gain stakeholder buy-in. But executive sponsors aren’t the only stakeholders. The frontline employees who use the solutions and applications you design are stakeholders too.
    To increase the odds of adoption for new solutions, the best approach is to engage all stakeholders in your design sprints. This includes technical teams, executive sponsors, and the people who will ultimately use the solution. Facilitate collaboration across all stakeholders not only on the front end of ideation, but during playback sessions and retrospective sessions after each design sprint. This ensures that all players feel a sense of ownership throughout the process. It also gives you critical insight from the employees who are often the closest to problems – and solutions – you’re exploring.
    Even in cases where some stakeholders may perceive your innovation idea as a threat, I encourage you to include them. Another innovation leader was leading a call center automation project. The automation would drastically change the way customer service employees operated. It would likely eliminate some aspects of their jobs. Yet this innovation leader hadn’t included those workers in her project! She was concerned they would meet her ideas with hostility, so she didn’t ask for their feedback. After some coaching and examination, she realized that her plan to automate would actually free up their time to focus on more complex, meaningful, and productive work.
  • Democratize development. So, you should be engaging employees in all stages of innovation. That also includes enabling employees to take some ownership of building their own solutions. This may be unpopular with your internal application developers and information architects, but we see it as a critical component of embedding employee experience into your innovation rhythm.
    The talent bench of developers is shrinking. The backlog of digital innovation projects that development teams need to get done is only increasing. Development team leads should be considering ways to empower non-developers to take more responsibility for doing their own development, within reason.
    Citizen development is increasingly common. Marketing and sales teams are now developing their own solutions with low-code tools. Most companies have only scratched the surface in terms of empowering business units to build new applications. This trend will only continue. Soon nearly every business unit and department will be taking greater ownership of driving digital transformation and innovation. Does this mean giving non-technical staff control over building technical systems like core banking platforms and order management solutions? Of course not. But you are responsible for installing the guardrails that will allow employees to do their own innovation and development without creating IT headaches or exposing the company to compliance risks.

Employee experience belongs at the top of your list when choosing priorities for innovation projects. Putting employee experience at the center of innovation will improve the outcome of your design sprints. It will cultivate better ideas and reduce your development backlog. And, crucially, it will increase employee retention.

When employees understand how they can positively impact the processes and solutions that they use daily, they feel more fulfilled and enthusiastic about their jobs. The last, and maybe most positive, result of placing employee experience at the foundation of your innovation program is a workforce that feels valued and acknowledged.