User Experience and Management

uxYou wouldn’t think of designing a piece of software these days without considering the user experience. There is now a whole cadre of “user experience professionals” (with their own association, of course) who help to ensure that the end product is designed very specifically with the user’s experience in mind. In the “old days,” software was more frequently designed in ways that simply made sense to the designers and coders, often leaving the users frustrated. In today’s digital world, that is no longer acceptable.

This is a big shift. It puts the user at the center of the universe, rather than the company or organization, and that’s hard. Users are a diverse group, and can be quite fickle. It’s much easier to decide things centrally and make everyone else fit into your plans and preferences. But if I get an app that is hard to use, I delete it instantly and go download another one. Companies can’t afford to design stuff that doesn’t work for me, the user.

And while more and more people get this around product/software design, the idea hasn’t quite made its way into the internal workings of the organization. We get that customers drive the business, so we are starting to put them at the center, but why isn’t that true when it comes to our employees and how we run the business? Personnel costs are typically the highest category of expense, by far, in organizations. We frequently cite how valuable these human “resources” are and how we couldn’t get anything done if it weren’t for all of our employees.

Yet we rarely design our “product” (our organization, our processes, our culture) with those users in mind. We typically design it with maybe a handful of the most senior leaders in mind. I think a lot of managers would consider it inefficient to try and design processes that took into account the unique nature of each of our employees, even though we’re now gathering that kind of data about customer segments and personas as we develop our products.

But there are companies who are applying this user experience design internally. One Danish company that provides software design and testing services has a large percentage of employees who have some form of autism spectrum disorder. These individuals have particular talents that are perfectly suited for the jobs at hand, even though they struggle socially or with other tasks. This has been eye-opening for the company, and others who are trying similar things:

Such companies are discovering important but unexpected benefits. For example, some client managers who supervise Specialisterne employees have said that learning to design a work environment to maximize the effectiveness of people with autism–and learning to adapt a management style to better fit an individual employee–helps them to achieve better results from a broad range of employees. In other words, thinking about work environments from the employees’ perspective can provide managers with  a tool that can generate impact in many parts of the organization.

This is one example of applying the mindset of the digital world to how we run our organizations, and I think you’ll be seeing more and more of this in the years to come.