Like customer personas used by product and marketing teams, employee personas are a useful design thinking tool for HR and Employee Experience teams.
As the team at Pyn is working on our new Employee Journey Mapper, another design thinking inspired tool, we decided to look into the ways in which employee personas can support employees across their journeys.
We spoke with two industry experts with experience working on employee personas: Andrea Egert, currently the Head of Productization at LiveRamp, who worked with many growing companies during her time as a Lead Strategist specializing in the future of work at ERA-co and Calder Consultants, and Anne Cannady, the Director of Employee Experience at Fastly.
From their experience, you’ll learn what an employee persona is, what benefits it can bring (and when it’s maybe not the right tool for the job), and get insight on how to start creating and using your own employee personas.
What is an employee persona?
Both Andrea and Anne agree that an employee persona is a tool that helps you understand different segments of employees. Anne says, “It's an archetypal descriptive profile of different employee segments that are based on motivations which influence their wants and needs.”
Andrea adds, “It’s both an abstract and a personal way of describing groups of people working in the organization including what drives and motivates them.”
For larger and more complex organizations, employee personas can be a useful tool for communicating more effectively with employees and managing change. Anne used an employee personas exercise to help plan a return to the office, and Andrea has seen it benefit companies through different types of experience design and change management.
“Given the time in which we're in where the workplace is being reimagined, our personas were developed to include people's life goals and career goals and how they intersect. We’re understanding people’s relationship to work and how it fits into their life,” explains Anne.
The benefits of using employee personas
It was while consulting with Atlassian that Andrea first started using employee personas. Her goal was to “elevate the effectiveness of the Atlassians because the best companies focus on designing, delivering and continuously improving their external and their internal products and experiences.” Creating employee personas to understand the “internal customer,” or the employee, was the first step towards that goal.
“When the rate of change and complexity is high, it can be hard to create a common understanding around what matters most. Personas break down that complexity, they anchor and align everyone,” says Andrea.
It’s also important to understand what will drive your business and your people in the future. “You can ask yourself, ‘Where do we want to be as an organization?’ and therefore, ‘How do we want these personas to evolve?’” says Andrea.
For companies working with a remote or hybrid workforce for the first time, employee personas can be particularly helpful. By looking at the physical and digital tools that any employee uses for their job, rather than creating a separate “remote” persona, you can understand the experience of all employees.
When the Great Resignation was taking place, Anne and her team carried out focus groups based on persona type to understand how to retain their employees during that time.
Companies that may benefit most from using employee personas are tech companies, any organization that is familiar with design thinking, or uses customer personas. When they may not be as beneficial is if your organization changes so much that the personas always seem to be lagging behind. “For organizations that restructure and evolve that often, a higher level employee journey map is more appropriate,” says Andrea.
What’s included in an employee persona?
Your employee personas are an artifact that could be presented as a PDF document, a Google Slide deck, Word document, or an interactive tool. Most employee personas include the following elements:
- A picture: Could be a stock photo or illustration of that persona. Typically is not a photo of a current or former employee, as the intention is for the persona to apply to a segment of employees. Ensure you reflect the desired diversity of your teams.
- Name or title: The persona can be given a name, like, “Taylor,” or a more descriptive title like, “Knowledge Seeker,” or a title that is specific to a department or specialty like, “The Engineer.”
- Information about their day: Both Andrea and Anne emphasized the importance of including detail about their time at work and outside of work. You want a full representative picture of the employee as a person.
- Motivations: What drives and motivates them? What’s their personal mission? This is an important piece of information that should be uncovered by your research.
- What they need to be successful: Is this persona particularly in need of support from a manager? Or are they more self-managing? What sort of tools and workplace environment do they need to be effective? This is another section that should be uncovered by your research.
- Moments that matter: By exploring the moments that matter most to that persona and why, you can use your personas as an input on your Employee Journey Map.
Andrea explains how personas are unique within the business, “Everyone's very used to looking at job descriptions. Personas are not job roles or JDs. They may broadly describe the work someone with that persona would do, but they mostly focus on what drives that persona and what they need to succeed.