UX is everywhere around us, even if you don't know it. The apps you love and use every day...all rigorously tested and researched to ensure every swipe, color and action promotes a positive reaction and keeps you coming back. It is the User Experience and it is a force in product development and product marketing.

And its not just for the way physical products are developed. Think about a store like Ikea, which promotes a curated trip through a wonderland of sleekly appointed homewares. That journey through the store has all been crafted to highlight products, create an experience and promote customer satisfaction. The smell of a Cinnabon shop or the music in a Starbucks is all part of the UX-and its all focused on creating a distinct connection to the brand.

UX is part of a discipline known as human centered design, where empathy is king. Knowing what customers care about and how the act, means that brands can understand how to best serve them.

So the real question here is...why doesn't user experience factor more strongly into the workplace? Sure, open offices and collaboration tools like Slack are improving the way we work together. But, are we missing an opportunity to understand and optimize the EX-the employee experience? Unfortunately, according to Harvard Business Review, the answer is probably. "Even the most customer-savvy organizations often fail to understand that they should also be working to enchant their employees."

The answer, according to UX expert, Paul Canetti is to make user experience (and that includes HR and employees) a directive from the top-"Almost every one of today's most valuable companies is run by a CEO who puts user experience first-Chief Experience Officers."

The EX journey is one of focusing on distinct employee needs and mapping their journey, from pre-hire to hiring and onboarding to development to leadership and ultimately succession planning. And the way to do that in a way that deeply understands employees as people with distinct needs and opportunities is to use proven principles of User Experience (UX).

Here's what my firm, General Assembly, recently did with one of the world's largest industrial organizations. First, we gathered leaders from their HR and Learning & Development functions from around the globe to understand what the employee experience currently looks like. We interviewed them and reviewed employee satisfaction scores and other data. This kind of research is one of the first principles of UX.

Then we asked them to envision different types of employees within the company. Everyone from new graduates fresh from college in the US to tenured engineers in Malaysia were considered as part of the process of creating employee "personas" which are archetypes of similar people who in consumer terms are a company's customers. In organizational terms, customers are your people. Finally, we developed an employee Journey Map which highlighted how employees would work in different scenarios. We helped the client uncover gaps in the way they communicated with newly hired employees and promoted rising stars.

So how do you make your company more employee centric? There's three key principles of UX that apply perfectly to the employee experience.

  1. Create Employee Personas: Personas are representative of a certain type of employee your company has and cover everything from demographics to interests, behaviors and motivations. Buyer personas define how companies market to their customers, while Employee Personas help create definition around what's important to certain employees and how to best engage them.
  2. Develop an Employee Journey: A big principle in UX Design is the customer journey, where every step of a customer's buying process is mapped out in order to maximize the effectiveness of various touchpoints and communications. An employee's journey is no different. Check out this picture from one of our workshops that illustrates an employee journey.
  3. Research and Rapid Prototype: The core element of any UX design is intel about people, as empathy must be at the center of any great experience. When a product feels like it works exactly how you want it to, it is due to loads of research and many iterations. This the heart of EX as well. Businesses often need to pull teeth to get customer feedback, but employees are a captive audience-they have to talk to you! Ask questions and seek deep understanding so that your solutions actually matter. Then start experimenting, as no design is perfect from the start. By constantly innovating and iterating and getting feedback from your employees, you can start to get a sense of what will make the biggest impacts.

EX isn't just a nice to have as companies are experiencing rapid turnover and a new crop of employees who've grown up in a digital world. Your employees are used to products working seamlessly and blending into their lives. The same should be true of their work.