Use Journey Maps to Jumpstart Your Employee Experience Efforts

December 7, 2018 Megan Burns

In a recent survey, 80% of executives said employee experience (EX) is important to their company’s future, but less than a quarter think their firm does a good job with it today. One of the easiest ways to get better is a process called journey mapping. This article explains what it is and offers tips for using it to drive EX improvement.

Journey maps turn abstract experiences into concrete pictures

A journey map is a visual diagram of the steps someone goes through to accomplish a certain goal. In the example here, a woman named Jane is trying to buy health insurance. The map shows:

  • What happens. We see what Jane does to reach her goal and what she hears from others along the way. This particular journey puts her in contact with a friend, a state website, and the insurance company.
  • Her thoughts and feelings. Experiences are subjective, so the map also shows what’s going on in Jane’s head. Position and color show when she feels positive, neutral, or negative. Quotes at the bottom shed light on what’s causing those feelings and how Jane would articulate them.

Maps like this are powerful because they tell the story of a real person. Humans are wired to hear and remember stories, so a journey map helps leaders understand and empathize with employees in a way survey data never will.

Because the journey mapping process is fairly straightforward, it’s easy to get started. All you need for a first draft is sticky notes, markers, and butcher paper. Just be careful – a map isn’t “done” until it’s been validated with primary research. You have to go out and talk to employees who have had the experience personally to make sure you’ve captured what’s actually happening, not just what you think happens. That research has its own benefits, though. Employees who participate report feeling seen and heard in a way they haven’t in the past.

Just make sure their input doesn’t fall into a black hole. Journey maps start out as a diagnostic tool, but they’re also the foundation for ongoing EX governance. Every map of “what is” should be converted into a blueprint for what will be. Those blueprints can be used to train managers on how to run meetings or handle certain situations. They can also be used to help everyone see (literally) how a proposed change in policy or process will look to employees before it gets rolled out, saving lots of time and headache in the process.

Get quick wins by mapping employees’ everyday experiences

To get started with journey mapping, you must first decide which journeys to map. The good news is, you can map anything. That’s also the bad news. The choice can feel overwhelming.

In HR, your first instinct may be to map something you manage like recruiting or open enrollment. That’s not what I recommend. Those journeys are important, of course, but they’re also infrequent. You’ll have more impact more quickly if you start with common experiences like:

  • Completing job tasks. Customer service agents can talk to as many as 1,000 customers a month, most of whom are upset or frustrated when they call (CallMiner). What is it like to get yelled at 10, 15, 20 times a day for things you had nothing to do with?
  • Sitting through meetings. Companies hold about 3 billion meetings a year, most of which stink, and as more go virtual the experience gets even worse. Why? What makes 73% of people tune out in meetings? How does it feel as a speaker to know no one is listening?
  • Managing email. Still the most popular form of business communication, a 2018 survey found employees spend an average of 3.1 hours each day on work-related email. Forty-one percent of those feel indifferent about the task, and 22% reported feelings of anxiety, dread, or guilt. We can do better.

These seem like small things, barely big enough to be called journeys, but they add up. As the saying goes, you don’t know the impact a small thing can have until you’ve spent the night with a mosquito. And while they may not be things HR controls directly, they are still things you can impact through job design, training programs, and ongoing manager coaching.

Whatever journey you choose, it’s usually not hard to find opportunities to improve in your map. Most people include them right in the final product. But then what? How do you actually improve the journey you’ve identified?

Ask employees to co-create a new and improved journey with you

No one knows better than employees what kind of experience they want, so ask for their help when it’s time to design solutions to problems a journey map has revealed. This approach, called co-creation, is often used to fix customer experiences and is starting to pop up in EX with great results.

My favorite example is Delta Airlines, which used co-creation to redesign employee uniforms for the first time in 12 years. Designer Zac Posen led the project, but its focus was squarely on employees. Posen and team started by understanding the journey of many different workers. He personally “shadowed dozens of Delta employees over the last few years to learn every inch of the cabin and every detail of their duties – from in-flight services to baggage handling – so he could create a look and fabric that worked for their every need.”

A cross-functional team gathered input from 21,000 people and field-tested prototypes with 1,000 of them for months. It wasn’t just about function, either. The team was just as concerned with the invisible, emotional experience employees would have. Delta team members said they want to feel polished and professional at work, and when they do it makes the travel experience more pleasant for everyone.

This attention to detail is exactly the kind of thing journey mapping helps bring to your EX efforts. The ROI can be huge, but only if you do it. Having done dozens of journey mapping workshops I can say with great certainty it’s worth the time, and it’s actually pretty fun. So, grab some sticky notes and markers, gather a few colleagues, and give journey mapping a try.

About the Author

Megan Burns

Megan Burns is a speaker, writer, and executive coach who helps leaders find practical, sustainable ways to change company habits so their customer experience doesn't just get better, it stays better.

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