Use Product-Development Principles to Improve Your Workplace Culture

Technology products are often known for being cutting-edge and meeting user needs. Here’s a look at how the same principles applied during tech product development can be used to improve the culture at any organization.

Although Pantheon and fusionSpan were used to thinking with a tech-first mindset with their customers when working on digital strategy and other technology implementation, the two tech companies decided to apply that same mindset to their organizational culture to be sure they were creating the best work environment for staff. During a recent session at ASAE’s Technology Exploration Conference, leaders from both organizations spoke about how product-development principles can also be used to improve workplace culture.

“When you think about a chair, it really can’t evolve once it’s out into the world,” said Rhoni Rakos, director of user experience at Pantheon. “If it’s a little bit too tall or a little bit too wide, then you’re stuck with what you got until the next chair comes out. Tech products aren’t like that. We can continually improve them on an ongoing basis. They keep evolving.”

Rakos said tech products evolve in a four-step process where those making the tech: figure out who the user is to help ensure the product works for them, use data to drive decision-making, continuously improve the product through updates and patches, and deliver value by figuring out the most-used product features and focusing on those.

“We decided, let’s focus on culture and the employee experience using this product mindset,” Rakos said.

Gayathri Kher, president of fusionSpan, noted that the pandemic made the organization rethink their work environment.  “We had to make that very intentional transition to creating digital experiences where employees felt valued and heard in the digital world,” Kher said.

Both companies spent a lot of time on steps one and two of the process: understanding their employees and gathering data. They surveyed staff and looked at pain points for every step of the operation—from interviewees to longtime team members. The data led them to make changes to the early parts of the process.

“When people were learning about our company, we realized that because our website didn’t fully communicate everything we did, [applicants] were confused and a bit skeptical about who they were actually applying to,” Rakos said. “That led us to a full website redesign.”

For Pantheon, the data also showed that employee needs changed based on their career stage. “You can really subdivide your team members into different audiences,” Rakos said. “For example, someone fresh out of school might value that engagement factor more—happy hours, connecting, and doing group activities—whereas someone with 15 years of experience might be looking to climb the career ladder and be much more interested in that growth factor, professional development. So, understanding where your pain points are across different audiences really leads to different solutions.”

Creating a Plan From Your Data

Once an organization understands its employees and their pain points, it can look for solutions. For fusionSpan, this meant researching tech solutions that could help create the culture they were striving for. “We had personalized demos based off of all of the research findings—those user stories—so that we could actually see the experiences in action,” Kher said.

After implementing any solution, it’s important to remember the job isn’t done. The organization should continue to get feedback and use that to improve the work environment.

“Building in continuous feedback loops, whether those are low-burden surveys and pulse checks, … is going to help you make sure you are moving in the right direction on the implementation side,” Rakos said. “Allow yourself room for trial and error, for quick course correction by taking little steps and deploying quickly and iteratively, rather than saving everything up for one big change.”

In addition, organizations must understand that there are costs involved with having a high rate of staff turnover and reduced staff engagement. “We did find that every time we had to onboard a new team member, the cost to the company was approximately $20,000 a month,” Kher said. “And if we did have a disengaged employee, the cost to the company was about $10,000 a month.”

Finally, Kher noted that organizations should remember that culture change doesn’t happen overnight.

“It takes 12, 18, 24 months to really see the impact of everything that you’re doing,” Kher said. “I wish I had set expectations around that a little better.”

(Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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