From our mind palace comes great colleague experience

Recently, two of my colleagues, Luke and Ruth presented at a BIMA Breakfast Briefing (view the slide deck) in Edinburgh on the rising new discipline within service design, Colleague Experience.

This is a relatively new and exciting field, and a topic I feel strongly about. Going to work is so much more than the actual job – and it’s not about the perks and benefits either. Colleague experience brings brand experience to every touchpoint the employee comes across, ensuring a wide range of things from consistency of culture, efficiency, productivity and job satisfaction.

A lot of what was discussed in Luke and Ruth’s session really resonated with how I feel about work and made me grateful to be where I am today.

Why are we talking about this now?

Employee expectations have changed significantly in recent times. Increasingly, there is a trend towards people needing their jobs to be about more than income. Many are looking to their employers to provide them with a meaningful experience – even a sense of purpose.

If a company is unable to provide more than ‘just a job’, then employees (much like customers) are more likely to seek out other places that will give them what they need.

5 tips for approaching colleague experience design

While there is a lot of correlation and crossover between customer and colleague experience methodologies, there are some unique challenges that HR teams face.

If you are thinking about working on your colleague experience, here are five things you should consider:

1. Treat colleagues as customers, but remember the key difference.

One key difference between colleagues and customers is remembering that designing colleague experience is not about pleasing everyone who currently works for you.

Designing experiences for colleagues should be done in the same purposeful and rigorous way that we currently do for customers. You can use similar tools such as research, ethnography and co-design to identify insight and generate ideas, and build traction with new workplace initiatives.

Organisations need to change their mindsets from finding the best people, to finding the best people for them. Turning people who aren’t a good fit for the company away is just as important as attracting candidates who do fit and the ultimate goal should be to find those who genuinely share your values and can create an authentic, consistent experience across your organisation.

2. Colleague experience design needs to come from the top down as well as the bottom up

One important but understated challenge organisations face is defining and communicating clear brand values for internal teams. It’s often more effective to develop and agree internal organisational culture strategy at the top before it can be developed at a colleague level.

Once the strategy is agreed, you can then conduct research and co-creation sessions with colleagues in order to take the strategy forwards efficiently and effectively, and then apply it to build on-brand colleague experiences.

It’s important to remember, that in order to identify what the business needs to be to meet its strategic goals, you may need to conduct research with: existing employees, potential employees, ex-employees and even candidates that were rejected. By speaking to people who do not work for the company you can get a more balanced and diverse view.

3. Use your HR team’s super powers & recognise where they need support

Handily you have a team of inhouse subject experts – your HR team. Their entire role revolves around people and hearing all types of stories and situations. They are fantastic empathisers.

Similarly, they are also well connected across the business, great at engaging stakeholders and getting that necessary buy-in further up the company foodchain.

So why do HR teams even need the help of service and experience designers? Although they do have great insight into the employee experience, they can struggle to know how to apply it. They aren’t typically set up to design and deliver solutions. This is where designers can support them to make a difference.

Whilst organisations are typically drawing on agencies for this help at the moment, we predict the role of Colleague Experience Designers will become more prevalent in the coming years.

4. Remember the power of storytelling – unleash your inner Sherlock

Keeping senior stakeholders informed and engaged can make or break a complex design sprint. It is particularly important in colleague design projects. Engaging with this group of stakeholders early and regularly throughout a project with a consistent message is crucial to overall project success – especially in the colleague experience space as HR often need to convince the wider business why they are designing at all.

We approach projects using a sprint methodology with outcomes being reached a lot faster than HR teams might be used to, but complex colleague design sprints can still go on for a few months. The challenge is to keep people engaged along the way. We have a variety of ways of achieving this, including weekly video diaries, drop-in sessions and stand-ups.

We have found that one of the most effective method is the ‘Mind Palace’. This is a physical space that has a visualisation of what the team are working on. It’s great for creating a shared understanding of the work being done and is essentially the project brain – documenting and capturing the project story to ensure consistency, keep everyone engaged and helping wider teams see themselves in the outcomes and feel like part of the process.

During the BIMA event someone asked if the Mind Palace could be done digitally. We’ve yet to come across a solution that is a good enough replacement for the physical experience, this is largely driven by the fact that so much of good design is driven by group face-to-face conversations. However, if you have heard of or seen one yourself then let us know – we’re always up for experimentation!

5. Start with the low hanging fruit

Keen to take this forward? We have one last piece of advice for you.

As we’ve talked about before, a crucial thing to get right when you’re sprinting or on any short term project, is a clearly defined problem statement. This is extremely pertinent in the HR environment due to the high levels of complexity across an organisation.

There are various touchpoints across all teams and departments and this can lead HR teams to thinking they need to design for complex and varied needs across the business. Often HR teams face decision paralysis, making it difficult to know how to start or which issue to tackle first.

HR teams will find that the above situation is avoidable because they have access to a wealth of data. This can be used to identify, define and prioritise the problems which can be solved using design thinking processes, including design sprints.


Luke and Ruth’s really enjoyable talk highlighted that it really is time for organisations to get on board with colleague experience. Not least because the traditional HR model is changing significantly and existing teams need to be brought on the journey to delivering genuine colleague experiences or risk losing or missing out on the right talent for them.

HR teams should not fear change, but use design thinking to make the most of it and gain competitive advantages by building on existing assets.

Are you interested in enhancing your colleague experience or hearing more about how you can make changes within your organisation? Get in touch.