Written by Dr. Emma Jefferies
We human beings are amazing in our diversity and, given a supportive environment, we can all thrive.
I am dyslexic, and, while growing up, my mom supported and guided me to use my personal strengths and keep my curiosity alive. Because of this early encouragement, throughout my Ph.D. studies and professional career I have learned to explore how systems can change to value differences and be more inclusive.
As a design researcher and organization designer, I have had the great opportunity to work in different parts of the globe, observing how design thinking has evolved to support organizations as they innovate. I captured these observations in the two books I co-authored, Design Transitions and Design Transformations.
In the early 1990’s, design consulting firms started to expand their offerings to help organizations build their own design capabilities. Three decades of organizations are now building their own capabilities to put users at the heart of their organizations, but I’ve noticed a missing piece—we are overlooking the day-to-day human experience of how we relate with our colleagues. This is where we experience culture, and it has an outsized impact on the work we do. When we connect with each other on a human level, what we create together is better services and products for our customers and end users.
I learned in 2020 that how we show up for each other really matters, and as humans we are wired to care for one another. Yet, the fear of others who are different from us can be a major obstacle to connecting and seeing how much alike we are. All of us as human beings have a desire to be heard, seen and valued. When we are left out, it hurts as if we were punched in the nose.
In December 2020, Gallup reported that employee engagement and burnout are directly linked to how well a manager gives feedback and how well a person is able to use their individual strengths. In 2017, another Gallup study reported that “highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity.” How we show up and support each other matters to not only our wellbeing but also the bottom line of our organizations.
IBM’s move toward intentional experience design
In a recently published article, Make “human experience” your organizational compass, IBM emphasizes the need to support ‘human experience’ across an organization:
“Design-centered approach is entirely focused on creating a better experience for a human being, whether it’s a customer, employee or business partner… human experience is focused on giving value to that person, rather than getting value from a consumer.”
I know that when we get busy at work it’s easy to overlook the human experience in favor of getting our tasks done. But consider the costs, in both hard and soft terms, of this approach. Deloitte conducted quantifiable, comprehensive research into the ‘human debt’ that results from neglecting the human experience. Among other findings, the study concluded that “companies that focus on the human experience are twice as likely to outperform their peers in revenue growth over a three-year period and have 17 times faster store growth than those who do not.”
Empathy, even when stressed
When humans experience high levels of stress, our ability to empathize and make effective decisions is greatly reduced. So how do we keep paying attention to ourselves and others while under pressure to perform?
From my work in developing a new ME WE Program™, we have seen how important it is to help team members recognize the impact they have on each other and establish empathy in their day-to-day activities. Through implementation at the UK Tax Office (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), I have found that employees can build the ‘muscle’ and curiosity to pay attention when under pressure, staying aware that they are not alone and noticing the impact of their interactions with others. People then start to embrace workplace empathy, or what we call a WEmindset™:
“Workplace Empathy is to have curiosity about how you and others experience the world and to use that understanding to guide your actions in the workplace.”
In Design Transformations, we outline the ‘humazier’ role that design thinking has played. Culture development is normally addressed from US (company values), WE (team) and ME (individuals). In order to truly pay attention to the human experience, people should develop an awareness of the ME (how we pay attention to self) and WE (how we pay attention to others) as they do their work. By being conscious of where we are acting in both the ME space and the WE space, we can all have a role in ‘humanizing’ our workplace.
Invitation: Co-create a workplace culture assessment tool
In 2021, DesignThinkers Group is co-creating a simple “Humanizing Your Organization Assessment” to enable conversations around the human experience at work. In this assessment we will explore different spaces:
- ME spaces: How are you showing up for yourself and your personal wellbeing?
- WE spaces: How are you showing up for others and creating a supportive culture in your teams?
- US spaces: How is the organization showing up for its employees?
We are looking for HR professionals, inclusion advocates, innovation teams and leadership to help perfect the assessment while having a real conversation about the ‘human experience’ in your own workplace. Conducting this guided conversation will benefit your team or organization by illuminating how your specific team members are showing up for themselves and others.
If you’d like to learn more about or participate in the Humanizing Your Organization Assessment co-creation effort, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More to come, so stay tuned
As the year progresses, we will publish more approaches and tools to help teams pay attention to themselves and others while spreading a WEmindset™ within their organizations.
I wish you all the best in 2021 and courage to see the humanity in how you lead yourself and others.
Author Emma Jefferies, Ph.D., is a thought leader, organizational designer, and design researcher who has over 10 years of experience in 6 different countries.