Employee experience is all about making work better by redesigning workplaces and HR processes around the needs of employees. So if you want to improve your employee experience then the first step is to really understand who you’re designing and building these new products and services for – your employees. 

In a company of any size it’s impractical to design for individuals. Instead you need to create personas… 

A persona is a representation of a segment of your audience with similar perceptions, thoughts, feelings and actions.

One of the questions I’m often asked is, “how do I identify our different personas and how many should we create?” 

Here’s my advice for creating employee personas to inform your employee experience project…

1. Look for shared experiences around which to form your personas

We have a tendency to over-emphasise the impact of personality on people’s behaviour and miss situational factors that often play a bigger role. This is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. When we try to segment people into different personas, our first thought is often to jump to personality traits like extraversion, conscientiousness or agreeableness. The risk with this approach is that these traits are likely to have less of an impact on people’s experience of work than situational factors. 

For example, if you’re looking at redesigning the way people submit expenses, you might think that conscientiousness is a key determiner of how people currently do this i.e. someone low on the conscientiousness scale does it at the last possible minute, frantically searching for receipts. Whereas someone who is highly conscientious does it like clockwork on a Friday afternoon with receipts attached in date order. However, if you dug into the issue a little further you might find that a stronger determiner of expense submitting behaviour is actually whether people spend a lot of their week travelling for work or are predominantly desk based in one location. If you were looking to improve the expense submitting experience for employees in this scenario, creating personas around people’s work patterns would be more useful to you in informing the design of new processes.  

Rather than identifying personas by personality type (how extravert someone is, how conscientious, how friendly etc.) instead look for shared experiences e.g. whether they have kids, are single or in a relationship, the types of culture they’ve worked in before, when they left school etc. Personas formed around these kinds of common experiences are much more useful to you when it comes to designing new elements of your employee experience because they’re the things that affect people’s experience of and behaviour at work.  

2. Create fewer personas in order to move more quickly

In an organisation of any size, you can keep creating personas indefinitely but this is neither helpful nor practical when it comes to building new elements of your employee experience. If you find yourself splitting off endless sub-groups of personas, “Oh but what if they have triplets not twins…?”, stop and re-assess. 

The point of creating personas is to gather insights into your employees which inform the design of new people processes. One persona is clearly not enough – this will leave you in the old HR camp of designing a one-size-fits-all solution. Conversely, if you try to design 10 different on boarding experiences at once you’ve probably taken on too much!  

If you’re just starting out with employee experience, try creating two or three personas that you feel cover a large proportion of your employee base. Then learn by doing…

Design interactions that allow you to learn more about your personas. The most important thing is to start testing and learn from how people actually interact with the new service – what’s working and for who? You can then use these insights to refine your personas and/or split them into new segments and then build new journeys as part of your ever developing employee experience.

3. Try to capture the narrative in the head of your persona

People will interpret their present experiences in the context of their past experiences and future expectations. For example, if I believe I’m going to be with the company for another 10 years I’ll have a very different expectation for (and therefore experience of) my personal development at the company than someone who’s expecting to leave the company in the next six months. 

To design good employee experiences, you therefore need to start by understanding the story that’s already in the heads of your personas. Try answering these questions:

  1. Who are they? What do they care about? 
  2. What’s going on in their world? What obstacles are they currently facing?
  3. What are their goals?
  4. What do they currently need to get done on a daily, weekly, monthly basis?
  5. How do they want to be treated? What are their values?
  6. What does success mean to them?