Recap & Takeaways from ScalingNYC 3.0: EX — Employee Experience Design

User Experience (UX) and design thinking is now widely accepted by most leading organizations because it has demonstrated a positive impact on functions like product development and customer success. It’s hardly far-fetched that taking the time to understand and empathize with your customers unlocks insights that enable an organization to build more accommodating products or improve other interactions.

In the same way UX revolutionized most client-facing or revenue generating functions, we are now starting to see organizations apply these methodologies to internal operations and the way they interact with their employee populations. They’ve found that a deeper understanding of the thoughts, feelings and motivators of your respective employees also unlocks insights that can be used to improve outcomes (e.g. engagement, performance, retention, and so on). As with your customers, it appears that a thoughtful approach to your employees can help you realize a tremendous amount of untapped value.

We sat down with Mona Patel, CEO of Motivate Design, Alex Poon, Co-founder and COO of, Jillian Moulton, HR Director at JW Player, and Nicole Olver, Head of People at Contently, to better understand employee-centric outlooks and identify the most meaningful ways to approach your people across their career lifecycle.

“Re-calibrate your understanding of the underlying motivation for employees. It’s not engineers, designers, managers…but creators, explorers…type-a crazy people.” — Mona Patel

In the early 2000s, the field of UX underwent a paradigm shift. Designers stopped trying to test the limitations of a User Interface (UI), and instead started to focus on creating desired behaviors. What is a user thinking when they first open our application or explore our product? What are the shared traits of our users (e.g. age, sex, etc.) and how can we personalize an interaction based on our understanding of what makes this group tick? Mona and her team utilize “Journey Maps” to define the various phases of any interaction. They then deeply empathize with the user as they move through the journey to associate potential motivators, thoughts and feelings at each step.

Jillian applied this framework to the period between an employee’s first day and when they accepted their job offer a few weeks prior. Her advice is to engage your new-hire and make them feel like part of the team right away to avoid any lull. Perhaps the new-hire was apprehensive by nature and you don’t want to let doubt creep in about their decision to join. Alternatively, the new-hire might be incredibly eager to start contributing and it’s best to give them an assignment before their first day to drive engagement. The personas and motivators you’ve come up with for your employees, perhaps based on their function or experience level, are likely too simple. Dig deeper.

“This is where your honeypot is, it’s actually with your staff.” — Nicole Olver

Joining an organization is always an interesting experience, typically filled with a range of emotions and expectations. In this context, Contently established a program called Cultural Ambassadors, where new-hires are paired up with a point of contact from a different division to help socialize them across the organization and provide an unbiased view on things. This concept was actually brought to Nicole and championed by her staff, as were many of the most meaningful initiatives at Contently. Providing a forum for employees to share ideas as part of their day-to-day experience is likely an exercise that will unlock value and drive engagement across your entire organization. Don’t let your honey go to waste.

Once an employee feels integrated into the organization, their emphasis typically changes quickly to personal development. Mindful of this, Jillian and JWPlayer established what they call JWAcademy, a consistent educational gathering for employees, and in most instances, for clients as well. Jillian organizes the sessions into two buckets: internally led presentations on topics like product development or organizational strategy, and externally led trainings focused on pockets where JWPlayer sees need for growth (e.g. first time managers).

“Our medium is different. It’s words versus pixels.” — Alex Poon

At, many of their leaders are breaking new ground in the field of data science, as they teach machines to interact with human beings via email exchanges aimed at scheduling meetings. As such, their approach to internal educational forums is based on disseminating learnings across the organization. Furthermore, their relentless focus on iteration and short feedback loops to accelerate machine learning has translated into most aspects of the culture. Employees expect feedback early and often, always eager to get better, seeking to perhaps keep up with the artificial intelligence they are out to perfect.

“When it comes to reviews…it’s neither negative nor positive, but productive.” — Jillian Moultan

In regards to typical employee touchpoints, we concluded with performance management. Jillian focuses on avoiding any type of perceived tone by understanding an employee’s individual aspirations, to then associate these aims to the organization’s overall OKRs in the most objective way possible. If an employee is trying to get to this level, which helps the organization in an identified way, the focus should be on enlightening this person to see what is helping them get there, and what is holding them back. Jillian’s last piece of advice was to avoid the ambiguity of ‘good’ in any interaction because it essentially means everything and nothing.

Among this pitfall, Alex and Nicole spoke about the dulling effects of a ‘complement sandwich,’ where constructive (but perhaps negative) feedback is delivered in between separate lines of praise and an employee walks away paying little mind to the aspects that are ripe for improvement. Lastly, Mona mentioned a feedback tactic she employs, which really emphasizes the unique nature of every individual employee, asking first, ‘How would you like to receive feedback today? Do you want this to be supportive and nurturing or punchy and done?’

Wrap Up

Business dynamics evolve over time and they often land in counter intuitive places. Shareholders don’t buy your products and services, customers do. Yet so many traditional business practices left customers waiting on the phone for hours on-hold, or frustrated after receiving a product in the mail to find that their favorite brand’s quality has totally eroded to improve profit margins. Similarly, employees were rarely acknowledged as true stakeholders so it’s easy to understand how most processes developed with little consideration for their views or well-being.

We concluded the panel with a challenge for the group — as a business leader, evolve beyond process developer, and instead, become an experience architect. Be mindful of who your employees actually are — what excites or scares them, why they come to work, what they want to achieve in life — and apply this knowledge as often as possible. Keep your eyes and ears open as well because the next breakthrough innovation or catalyst for growth might have joined your team yesterday. Delivering world-class products and services that delight customers is what propels organizations and that leaves shareholders happy by default. It follows then that finding ways to similarly delight your employees will have follow-on effects across your customer base and other stakeholders. Who knows the value you will unlock.

Originally published at on August 2, 2016.