Context: These questions were recently sent to Ben Whitter from a journalist at a HR magazine. The answers were sent back to the journalist within a few weeks. In that very short period of time the journalist was made redundant. All content at the magazine is now being written by AI. We wish the journalist well in finding a new employer. So, we publish the answers here. Enjoy the experience.
Why is co-creation so important in the employee experience field?
Co-creation can often be something that is only taken seriously as a last resort when all other approaches (consultation, diktat, executive orders) have failed to produce a desired solution or outcome. Then a company or HR team may ask the pertinent question: how can we co-create something that works for people and the business? There are far too many instances of one party or another only seeking the outcome that works best for them. This breaks or severely fractures the employment relationship, and it is a relationship.
Employee experience and related business approaches have brought this corporate weakness into full focus. A more people-centred approach demands co-creation from the outset of any project. Increasingly, organisations with any sort of scale are turning to platforms that deliver that into practice - co-creation at scale and at depth. Not just listening strategies across markets, but ideation in real-time with co-producers (workers, employees, and partners) from across an enterprise. This is important for many reasons, but creating a sense of belonging/ownership, aligning people with business outcomes, and keeping up with expectations in a rapidly changing world of work are certainly at the top of the list. If a company suffers from a weak or poor organisational culture, just take a look at the level of genuine co-creation that is taking place. It consistently tells a story about the future of a business.
Beyond traditional surveys and manager 1-1s, what are the most exciting avenues or platforms for EX co-creation you have come across?
The most exciting ones are the ones that produce, improve, or fundamentally change something about a business in real-time. It’s not just a tick-box corporate exercise. I’ve seen teams and workers come together with nothing, with a blank piece of paper, and no pre-conceived ideas, and then take that nothingness and turn it into something remarkable. That’s where co-creation starts. That’s where it thrives. With people determined and excited to make a difference. This is delivered in many ways including hackathons, design sprints, or technology-enabled ideation sessions yet the focus remains the same across all platforms - to ensure it is the people that lead these projects and bring them to life.
The problem in most companies is that surveys have made employees and workers passive - they just have to give their views and then the company or HR will magically fix things for them. Wrong. It doesn’t work like that in life nor should it work that way within organizations.
Everyone has a role to play in the performance of the employee experience and business, and no role is more important than that of employee/worker. They create all value for a company; therefore, they should be at the leading-edge of shaping the company and its culture. Co-creation elevates their role from passive to active, and it changes things for the better, rapidly.
What steps could an HR leader take to create an open, engaging, and novel approach to EX co-creation?
Wherever people are, co-creation can happen. In one company I worked with we listed about 30 different co-creation hotspots for leaders and teams to navigate to in order to improve the work and impact of the organisation. Many were naturally high-touch and engaging spaces to co-create on the front-lines of the business. These hotspots became quite absorbing because they were immersive. HR working with people where the value is created and learning about how to improve the experience of work at the same time. Co-creation is as much operational as it is strategic so I’d be looking for HR leaders to build co-creation into many aspects of their portfolio of services. Co-creation should be the default approach for the business and it starts from every employee’s day one experience and throughout their career. Taking HR to the frontlines, engaging workers in EX projects, elevating the role of all leaders in EX performance, and storytelling the outcomes of the EX approach creates a sustainable platform for business progress with real momentum.
How would such avenues ensure employee input is not just seen in the planning phase, but felt in the execution? How can they be engaging?
If co-creation is a core principle of organisational design/development, employees and workers will be involved from the outset and at the outcome. The execution is just a way to bring this principle to life. Indeed, co-creation when done well is an enjoyable thing to be part of, but there are usually safeguards in place to ensure that it is a key part of project delivery. Every project requires some kind of approval to launch, and some simple co-creation check-points along the way can practically help this.
I have shared many examples in my books, but one that springs to mind now is IKEA’s Failure Fridays. To accelerate learning, change the corporate culture, and improve execution on business-growing ideas, the firm facilitated events and experiences run by and for employees that enabled them to celebrate, share and learn from their failures in the past week. Through this novel co-creation process people gained immense value that could be directly applied in their work and performance. It also helped the company become more entrepreneurial, more comfortable with risk, and more accepting of failure as a key part of eventual success. As I wrote in Human Experience at Work (2021) and reinforced in Employee Experience Strategy (2023), there’s one other lesson we can all take from this too. True co-creation is experiential. It’s an experience in and of itself.
A few questions help guide and maintain this in my experience are:
Has this project been co-created across functions, leadership teams, and with direct involvement from workers/employees?
Is this project aligned to the organisational Truth? (purpose, mission, values)
Does this project directly advance and align to the business strategy?
Have people enjoyed the experience of taking part in this project?
These questions are important as co-creation does not take place in a vacuum and it also shouldn’t feel like a slog or like herding cats. It happens at all levels of the organisation, and done well, it is a highly fulfilling and rewarding experience to be part of.
Ben Whitter, author of Employee Experience Strategy, Employee Experience and Human Experience at Work, is the CEO of HEX Organization and the Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI). Ben was recognized by Thinkers50 as one of the top management thinkers in the world for 2021 for his 'compelling' EX research. Ben is best known for pioneering and popularizing the concept of employee experience worldwide. He shares his work & research through popular keynotes, advisory services, coaching and the global HEX Practitioner programme. His work has reached 18 million people, inspired the first EX conferences, and has been featured in publications including The Times, The Telegraph, Forbes, The Financial Times, The Economist, MIT Sloan, Thomson Reuters, and many more.
Ben Whitter is a prolific global speaker on human and employee experience topics and has introduced his ideas to audiences in more than 40 countries. He is a frequent advisor and strategic coach to the World's top companies and helps them to develop strategies that deliver exceptional business and human outcomes. In 2021 he was named as one of the Most Influential HR Thinkers by HR Magazine.