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The Employee Experience hacked!

How can you make your organisation and HR policy employee-centric? As part of the HR Business Network’s 25th anniversary celebrations, the network held an online, three-month long HR ‘employee experience hackathon’, involving 50 HR specialists working in seven teams to solve an employee experience ‘puzzle’ posed by seven leading HR executives.

I was greatly honored to be asked to serve as inspirator and jury member for the event. During the kick-off, held in a TV studio, each team was presented with their issue to work on. ABN Amro aimed to position ‘reskilling’ more positively. Achmea wanted to boost the internal labor market. The Dutch Tax & Customs Administration wanted to become a more attractive employer for young people, while DAF Trucks wanted to get started on remote assessments. Rabobank wanted to recognise their achievement in the moment. Randstad aimed to improve remote leadership, and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) saw an opportunity to enhance their  lecturers digital skills.

 A peak behind the curtain of another organisation

The 50 participants chose the puzzle they wanted to solve, and many also took this opportunity to peak behind the curtain of other organisations, which not only offered fresh perspectives but also certain eye-openers: “The Tax & Customs Administration is a much more dynamic organisation than I had ever imagined,” one participant remarked.

Agile coaches guided the teams, as they bravely struggled due to their inexperience with employee experience and often the agile approach as well. That the entire process was held online and not ‘live’ did not seemingly deter collaboration. Some participants did indeed struggle with a specific employee experience approach and therefore reverted to a familiar HRM position. One team noted that a proposed project name would likely already impact the level of internal support. It turned out that there were deep-rooted cultural issues behind many puzzles: on several occasions the question was why existing initiatives failed to work well.

Much work was also devoted to finding solutions. Guided by the agile coaches, the teams created personas and journey maps and devised ‘sprints’. They also made apps and digital solutions and one team even built an entire virtual world. The participants learned to use new tools like Miro and Mural and made creative videos.

3 take-away’s for your organisation

The hackathon’s kick-out occurred on February 19, 2021: the participants were shown videos of the process; each team was presented with a demo of their designed solution; and the participating HR executives gave retrospectives. After each team had received ‘feedforward’ from the jury (consisting of myself and Kars Veling, CEO of LessonUp), the winner was announced: the hacking team of ABN Amro! The Randstad and WUR teams shared joint second place.

I’d like to share my 3 take-away’s from the event:

1.Crack the actual nut

Often, following more in-depth research, the issue raised by the HR executive proved to be not the ‘actual’ problem. The puzzle the hacking team started with was too broadly formulated or tightly guided, was not an actual priority or was not recognized by the target group.

At Randstad, the issue of ‘Leadership at a distance’ was quickly replaced by ‘How do all employees keep connected’, because the answer to the latter question had higher priority. DAF Trucks’ puzzle was ‘Remote assessment’, which, when asked, neither management nor employees perceived to be problem; managers did however seemingly need skills for enhancing team bonding. At WUR, it transpired that many initiatives for the hack topic, ‘Digital skills for online teaching’ already existed and it was better to link to them than add a new one.

If you would now like to get started on your own ‘puzzle’, do not start with an assignment for a new system or product. Rather, start with research: which problem needs solving?

2. Co-creation with the end user

Working on employee experience means that you must listen carefully to the end user, and the teams energetically put this aspect into practice via online interviews, surveys and sounding board groups. The Randstad team for example asked the participating employees to create a mood board of things they wanted. Some teams got all their ideas for solutions from the target group itself, involving the same group of end users in every subsequent step – now that’s what I call co-creation! This approach ultimately yields more support than if only the hacking team generates ideas, and if the client chooses the solution.

3.  How do you ensure that people actually use your tool?

Even if you have successfully validated, fully coordinated with the end user and built a beautiful app…that still doesn’t guarantee you’ll get off to a flying start. So how do you ensure your solution is used? Firstly, start small: use storytelling, and the answer to the question ‘what’s in it for me?’, to sell your solution. Moreover, ensure it aligns with organizational goals and values. Instead of a static PowerPoint presentation, use a compelling video to tell the story from the target group’s perspective. Look for opportunities to use attractive apps or new technologies, like VR, as solutions. Measure every step you take and use the findings for further innovation.

This employee experience hackathon whetted our appetite for much more, for the HR Business Network, among the participants and hopefully for you, too. Are you interested in organizing your own internal hackathon? Above all else, start with the employee experience. Assemble an enthusiastic, multidisciplinary team led by a coach. And together take the steps needed to take the employee experience in your organisation to a higher level.


Author: Heleen Mes