Driving Data Driven Decision Making

The Journey to Elevating the Employee Voice

Summary - As a teacher, I found myself increasingly frustrated by the lack of support and resources provided to teachers. It often felt that decisions were being made without teacher empathy or understanding what teachers need to be successful. I have found, through my journey as a UX Researcher, that I am increasingly passionate about driving internal empathy and providing a path to collect the insights needed to empower those who are doing the hard work. 

In 2018, Solstice found itself at the intersection of many changes. Our parent company, now Kin + Carta, pulled together a portfolio of brands to build a service line that would support our clients no matter where their needs fell. The business desired this collection of sister companies, Solstice included, to work collaboratively and share knowledge. This was called the Collective. At the same time, Solstice was rapidly expanding from what was a small to medium-sized, tight-knit consulting agency to a large consultancy where you could easily find yourself in a room where you did not know anyone else's name. 

At the time, I was a part of the Solstice onboarding process. I provided new hires, or new Solsties, an introduction to UX Research. I had a deck full of methods and activities to help educate new folks on interacting with a researcher. Typically scheduled towards the end of a new Solsties onboarding time, I quickly noticed that my attendees had so many more foundational questions about Solstice, our way of working, and the terminology we had gotten so comfortable throwing around internally. I remembered being in a similar place as a new Solstie and decided to alter my onboarding to include space to answer other questions about this new work environment. My teaching background reminded me that when an individual's basic needs are not met, it is difficult to take in new information. By allowing space for folks to express their needs, I found that I could make a lasting and positive impression of UXR that would pay off in the long term. 

I accomplished this by merely using UX Research practices to develop a more empathetic onboarding experience. I found this so rewarding to my attendees and myself that I began to look for other business areas I could impact. I was soon approached by a senior engineer who was driving an internal initiative to help improve the experience of engineers working in XP. We had worked together before, and he felt doing some research would ensure we were internally making the right decision for our employees. 

 

Internally, UX Research had been previously conducted on an ad hoc basis. The challenges to including UXR into internal decision making were, 

  • Time, stakeholders worked on quarterly timelines and often struggled to find alignment early enough to give research consistent directives. 

  • A False Feeling of Connection, since the firm had traditionally been so tight-knit, stakeholders often did not realize how detached they had come from understanding their growing workforce.  

  • Access to Information was usually held close and only shared with a select group, often causing researchers to redo work already done. 

 

To solve for all of these challenges would require a cultural shift that would not happen at once. I chose to start by showing the value research could provide through my work to improve the engineering XP experience.

My initial research focused on speaking with technical folks who had experience working in XP. Though these interviews gleaned useful insights, an issue requiring a larger audience surfaced. As Solstice was growing and the firm reached a point where nearly half of our workforce had been on staff for less than six months, it was clear our culture was not scaling. I conducted an additional round of interviews with a broader group which included business stakeholders and new and tenured employees on the business' consulting and operations side. It was important to ensure the inclusion of newer employees as it was common practice to rely on employees with more tenure and thus stronger internal connections for input. By ensuring all voices were heard better and unbiased decisions could be made.

What is our identity?

How do we define our culture? '

These were the major questions asked by employees.

This research uncovered many significant insights touching the areas of

  • Leadership and Business Strategy

  • Firm Development

  • Operating Model

  • Talent Management

  • Culture and Values

  • Effective Communication

 

These results help inform a strategy to improve the XP engineering experience and beyond. The engineering initiative's conclusion was just the beginning for this set of insights, which became known as the first holistic, qualitative company pulse. 

 

The next challenge was making this information accessible and available for daily to quarterly decision making. Working with a Business Strategist, I produced Insight Placemats to go along with the readouts I conducted. These placemats were created for Business Stakeholders to keep at their desks and refer to as they made decisions that would drive the company forward and hopefully answer the questions: What is our identity? How do we define our culture? 

I knew I had successfully shown the value of research to internal decision makers when I was approached by our then COO, who wanted to champion the development of a Voice of the Employee initiative. I felt all my hard work and my passions aligning. Working with other stakeholders and peers, we built a program to support any internal inquiry into the needs of our employees. This effort:

  • Reduced the number of redundant employee inquiries by connecting folks with similar questions and improving access to existing employee data where ethical.

  • Provided the guidance and support to reduce bias.

  • Allowed the opportunity for non-researchers to get involved in the research process, further evangelizing the value of research.

  • Ensured findings were shared with those involved and next steps were understood.

 

Through the Voice of the Employee program, I went on to continue to provide our internal stakeholders with the value of research through two more significant reorganizations along with numerous smaller but still impactful initiatives. 

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