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5 Reasons You're Burning Thru Money on Programs and Perks With Little Progress

The Power of Perception to Make an Impact

I was reading thru the latest on LinkedIn on one of my favorite hashtags - #designthinking when I came across a post I had seen a while ago. But this time, it hit differently. Or, to align with this post, I perceived it differently than I had before. I looked at it through the lens of my passions - leadership, employee experience, and innovation from the inside out. Here's the post.

A Dutch bike start-up VanMoof reported an 80% drop in damages to their deliveries by doing one simple design change. In 2015 they began shipping bikes to the USA. The only problem was that a lot of them were arriving to their new customers damaged. It was annoying for the customers and expensive for the company to fix. So they made their packaging look like one for a TV to stop careless couriers damaging their deliveries. Result - 80% drop in damages! A good example of using design thinking to solve a business problem. They wrote an amazing blog post about the story of their "TV" box.

The post included a picture of the redesigned shipping box, which I included because it illustrates the simplicity of the solution. My comment, which garnered more attention than I expected (80 likes and counting), was simply this: "Clearly illustrates how perception is as important as reality. Carriers didn't see boxes with bikes as easily breakable and acted according to their perceptions. Yet when they perceived something as fragile, they treated it accordingly. As the old cliche goes - perception is reality.

Translation to HR

While product damage is not necessarily high on the list of priorities for Executives and HR professionals, employee turnover is damage that impacts or reflects on everything that IS a priority. Namely, according to Gartner, the following are the top 5 HR priorities for 2023.

  1. Leader and Manager Effectiveness

  2. Organizational Design and Change Management

  3. Employee Experience

  4. Recruiting

  5. Future of Work

Employee retention affects each of those. And yet there are several similarities in this win for VanMoof that apply to the world of HR. For example,

  • Key elements outside of your control. Like VanMoof, HR professionals and their job are directly impacted by employee turnover. However, they do not have direct authority over the employees or their day-to-day job experience.

  • The budget has its limits. Just as VanMoof, couldn't keep pouring money into bike repairs but needed to get to the source of the problem to stop it. Likely if you're reading this post, you're coming to the end of your budget and perhaps a list of ideas for creating programs and perks that keep employees. Or perhaps you've just discovered that programs and perks are a temporary bandaid.

  • A real business problem in need of a simple solution. A business problem that is ripe for the use of design thinking to address the complexities of the problem with the simplest of solutions. Namely the complexities being employee needs (what they perceive is missing), HR needs (the headaches associated with turnover), and financial impact on the company.

Yes, perception is reality. Now what.

In the same way, VanMoof redesigned its packaging by understanding the perception of the delivery drivers. You can learn the impact of employee perceptions on your challenges. How can you learn? Thanks for asking. Let me give you five ways to learn about employees' perceptions.

L - is for lived experiences.

Each of us has lived experiences - good, bad, and ugly. The more emotionally charged (positive or negative) the experience is, the more that experience lives on in our subconscious and affects our day-to-day choices and actions. While VanMoof's issue was pretty simple to deduct - delivery drivers didn't see their boxes as fragile. They had proof through market research or personal experience that people see TVs as fragile. Now for the delivery driver, he may have gotten to that conclusion either through excellent training by the company, a fond memory of his parent bringing home a new TV and treating it with kit gloves, or from his childhood when he got in trouble for busting the TV when playing ball in the living room with his brother. Nonetheless, his perception was "TVs are fragile" was imprinted through his lived experiences. On average delivery drivers handle 225+ packages a day. You can be assured they aren't reading every box before they handle it.

Understanding the impact of lived experiences on delivering packages, you can see how even more crucial it is when we are talking about employees. Suppose an employee experienced family trauma where they weren't supported in the way they needed, were used or abused by the adult figures in their life or had any other issues. These experiences with the "leaders" in their families have a lasting effect on them subconsciously and show up consciously in their interactions with you and the other leaders in your company. It is not until a person can make the subconscious conscious that they cannot only heal the trauma but also separate what happens to them as a child as different from what is happening to them as an employee. Most leaders do not intentionally fail to support their employees, use or abuse them. However, this may be, in fact, the employee's perception based on their lived experience. This is where design thinking and the power of empathy (phase 1) play a role in helping leaders understand their employee's perceptions, perspectives, and needs.

E - is for Empathize and Encourage

In using design thinking, VanMoof took the time to empathize with the challenging task delivery drivers faced daily. Their article didn't mention it, but it is custom in design thinking to spend time with users (employees in our case). Not only questioning, what's working, what's not working, and what's missing, followed by 3-5 layers of why. Also, observing them in a situation, what they encounter, the actions they take, and questioning why they are taking the actions they are taking. Walking in their shoes.

The beauty of using design thinking as a leadership practice goes beyond the fantastic internal innovations you will develop by creatively solving problems like employee turnover and extends to the development of extraordinary gifts and talents of the individuals. By adding a simple question to your user interview questions mentioned in the paragraph above, you light the spark of greatness in your employees. That question - what part of the potential solutions excites you? Once you know their passions handing off meeting logistics to someone who loves organizing all the little details becomes a welcomed task and break from the usual mundane work. Same for one gifted in hospitality to head a self-made welcoming committee for new customers/employees. These are just a couple of examples. Often times employees are dissatisfied with their job and dislike delegation because they don’t get the opportunity to share their gifts. The opportunity to really shine and where work is effortless for them.

A - is for Assigned Meaning

Humans are meaning-making machines. And it is the meaning we assign to things that determine the world we experience. And you may have noticed that one event will mean a positive thing to one person while the same event will mean a negative thing to another person. Traffic, for example. One will deem lousy traffic to be the bain of their existence, ruing a day before it has barely begun. While another individual will see traffic as a blessing in disguise, the channel through which new wisdom and insights arrive as they listen to their favorite podcast. Traffic just IS. It's the meaning we give it that makes it horrible or a welcome reprieve. The same is for employee experience in the workplace. Work is work. However, it is the meaning that we assign to it that makes it the bain of our existence or a breath of fresh air that enlivens us.