Do UX principles apply to change management? Definitely. I’ll start by explaining the UX principles.
UX designers want to make life better and easier for users. Their goal is to create a human-centered design. Key questions guide the process: What does the user need or want to do here? What’s in their best interests? What’s the easiest and most intuitive way for users to accomplish their goals?
UX design seems to be about visuals, but actually it’s about guiding the user’s flow of attention and understanding, and building positive emotions. The user interface is just a medium for that.
I design each page of a visual interface like a ski hill. The design creates a path of visual attention, like a ski slope, that guides the user’s attention.
Visual attention has its own natural momentum. Using subtle visual cues, it’s clear to users where the path is. They’re naturally drawn to follow that path with little or no conscious effort. That’s the least-resistance path.
If I’m trying to force users on a path they don’t want to take at all, I’ve failed in my goals before they even start using the application. If I need to force the user to read a warning sign and suddenly turn left to avoid a cliff, it means I’ve designed the path wrong. But if I’ve designed it well, users will enjoy themselves and want to come back.
UX of the employee experience
What if organizations were like a ski hill, employees were skiers, and employee’s tasks were the ski slopes? What if managers were like ski coaches?
Skiers come to ski hills for one primary reason: The pleasure of skiing. Everything else is secondary for them. Free hot chocolate is nice, but it won’t compensate for a bad experience on the slopes.
From the employee’s point of view, everything is either a task or lunch. Their experience of work is mostly in the tasks. Tasks are goal-based activities. They combine across roles into business processes.
If tasks in an organization were meaningful, enjoyable and friction-free, then they would be a lot like skiing down a hill. Employees would need no encouragement and very little correction. They would finish their tasks quickly and efficiently, because the tasks would follow a least-effort, frictionless path down the mountain.
Skiers naturally enjoy skiing as fast as they can safely go, because that’s part of the fun.
If a skier makes a mistake and falls, their ski coach doesn’t punish them. Wiping out on a ski hill is enough punishment in itself.
At the end of the day, ski hills don’t need to reward skiers for all the slopes they accomplished, because the pleasure of the experience was its own reward.
That’s the way to design a great employee experience at the task level. I’ll get into the details in the next section.
Application to change management
Real-life jobs are rarely designed like ski hills. Tasks are rarely designed to be enjoyable. This creates hidden problems in change management projects.
Change management projects can go wrong by ignoring the ski hill or changing it the wrong way.
- Often they try to fix the symptoms of unpleasant tasks without changing the tasks. That’s like offering free hot chocolate to compensate for an awful experience on the slopes. It doesn’t really work.
- Some try to fix a specific employee behaviour with extra guidelines and rewards and punishments. That’s like having a ski slope that leads skiers into trees, and warning skiers to be more careful.
- Some aim to improve the efficiency of business processes, without considering what makes the tasks enjoyable. That’s like rounding out a few sharp corners on a fundamentally unpleasant slope.
Great change management makes the task enjoyable.
Making a task enjoyable is based on a number of principles: Define a meaningful task goal, understand and support the employee’s task goal, ensure flow, autonomy, control, reasonable level of challenge and workload, meaningful connections with other people involved in the task, variety in the task, margin for creativity and judgment, and a result that the employee cares about and can feel proud of. These are in addition to standard efficiency principles like automating certain parts of tasks and reducing task redundancy.
I design tasks and business processes using these principles. When you make the task enjoyable for employees, you simultaneously get all the business benefits of increased efficiency and performance. Plus employees are happier, feel valued and want to stay. Plus customers are happier.
Plus managers have less work supervising employees and fixing problems, so they can focus on other things that create value.
To improve the employee experience and generally in change management projects, apply the principles of ski slope design. Then consider how to support those changes in other aspects of the organizational design.
New questions to ask:
- If we saw employees as clients who can walk away, how would that change the way we designed their tasks and processes?
- How can we design tasks and processes so employees enjoy doing them and we don’t need to use rewards and punishments?