Sunday, November 23, 2014

UX From The Inside Out: Practicing UX Through Company Culture

Anne Petersen
Culture

We’re pretty proud of our culture here at Rightpoint and we’re not terribly shy about it. We’re also incredibly pleased that we’ve recently been included in the Chicago Tribune’s Top 100 Workplaces, among many other prominent lists like Forbes' America’s Most Promising Companies, CRN’s Fast Growth 150, Fortune and ICIC’s Inner City 100 and Crain’s Fast 50 (and that’s just from this year). 

As consultants, we get to spend time within other companies and get a taste of their respective cultures. And as a User Experience Consultant, I look at many business processes—including culture—through a UX lens. I’ve found that each organization has its own spot on the UX Tipping Point spectrum. Including us! 

Specifically, Rightpoint is happily beyond the point at which UX saturates the organization cross-silo. 

In the language of companies far larger and more siloed than Rightpoint: UX doesn’t just live in the CTO’s side of the organization. It’s also not just in the CMO’s side. Instead: the COO gets it. The person on the phone doing customer support gets it. HR gets it.

User and customer experience touches everyone. As Jared Spool puts it: "In this phase, it becomes impossible to separate out the investment in UX from the rest of what the organization delivers.” In short, we’ve created an experience culture

This topic certainly crosses over into areas like change management and customer experience—since as Ross (one of our two co-founders) once put it: "Rightpoint believes that great customer experiences start with happy team members.” Not to mention crossing into customer obsession, which we also believe starts with culture.

In Rightpoint’s practice of internal UX, we do what UXers do best: listen, empathize, synthesize and implement. It’s not just UXers doing this—it’s throughout the organization, though the internal focus is officially concentrated in People Potential and those responsible for the care and feeding of our culture. But in practice, that means everyone

Listen

Both formally and informally, we’re listening to each other every day.

Formally: we conduct a People Pulse survey quarterly that goes out to everyone at Rightpoint, we give each other Super Simple feedback after every project, we award each other badges supporting our values and WOWs whenever appropriate, and we recently implemented breakfast roundtable discussions to help ensure that feedback is as holistic as possible. Some of the direct, measurable results from these formal systems include: 

  1. individually understanding what we do well and what we need to improve
  2. improved internal tools for time reporting, expenses, reviews and project management
  3. better coffee in the office (!)
  4. more soft skills training
  5. improvements to how we onboard new Rightpointers
  6. more internal communication and transparency
  7. upgrades to the survey itself

Informally, both team members and people we don’t work with directly at all will stop by and check in regularly. Those informal check-ins lead to all sorts of cross-pollination as we discover solutions and resources that can be shared between projects and people. 

Similar activity happens inter- and intra-office on Yammer, which is front-and-center on our intranet along with top-level internal communication items, helping to coordinate our geographically dispersed offices. Our WOWs and badges are also pulled into Yammer, which highlight to everyone what we’re doing well and what to shoot for. 

This ear-to-the-ground mentality leads us to discover things which otherwise would have gone unnoticed. 

Empathize

Whether or not the challenges our colleagues express are challenges we share, Rightpointers generally tend to empathize with one another. We take into account each others’ points of view and excel at supporting each other. When folks on my team bring up a problem they’re facing, the responses are often equal parts commiseration and solution suggestions, which end up being immensely constructive if only by reducing the feeling of facing the problem alone. 

Even in disagreements between colleagues, there’s an effort toward refocusing the conversation to see the situation as if you were in the other person’s shoes. That moment of getting out of the position you’ve taken will often lead to a resolution. This reflects the breakthrough moment of usability testing: when you’re able to see first-hand the worst moment of user frustration, the cause and its effect on the person doing the testing, and thus feel their pain. That moment—often referred to as the “a-ha” moment—often leads directly to a solution. 

We take it a step further with Compassion Crew, the group that spearheads our effort to support the communities in which we live. Compassion Crew often takes on causes that Rightpointers care about, facilitating Rightpointer donations of time and/or money to many local charities, the majority of which the company will match or otherwise defray costs for. 

Among many, many other projects, Compassion Crew has organized or contributed to: 

  1. our Day of Service, during which all our offices donate a day’s physical labor to a local charity in need—in the last three years we’ve supported Friends of the Parks, YMCA of Metro Chicago and Heartland Alliance
  2. a drive for Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, which provided gas and food cards to families with kids in the hospital
  3. a “signing event”  where a team pre-signed 1,000 cards with positive, supportive messages so these cards could be distributed to the above kids throughout the year
  4. a chili cook-off which raised money for the Greater Chicago Food Depository
  5. a holiday donation of time to cook and serve food at the Lawson House, the largest SRO that provides services to low-income and formerly homeless men and women in Chicago
  6. a holiday gift drive for orphaned children living in a group home
  7. a trivia fundraiser for Heartland Alliance
  8. our annual Movember drive, including mustache competition, which this year benefits Gilda’s Club Chicago
  9. a book drive for Bernie’s Book Bank

Synthesize

During both formal and informal listening/empathizing cycles, items that get repeated bubble up to the top and are then prioritized as making the most immediate impact—this happens in both UX processes and in our own internal Rightpoint experience process. 

In synthesizing, we also distill: five similar problems might have a single solution if it can be identified and solved for the greatest positive impact. 

In UX, the result of this stage may look like a report, audit or analysis, or perhaps a journey map or series of user stories, but almost certainly it will contain a series of recommendations. In our internal UX practice, this ends with a plan—and that plan has a champion, either someone involved from the beginning or someone excited to take up the cause. Sometimes even both: Culture Club is one that has both an official sponsor (Vaiva, who leads People Potential) and an enthusiastic cross-section of team members who represent various geographies and service lines (Josh, one of our developers, even wears the “Boy George” hat).

Culture Club ends up being our synthesizer (might’ve walked into a Rock Band pun there) of informal feedback to improve Rightpoint culture since its mission is to purposefully evolve our culture in a productive way. While Culture Club does casual fun events like Gaming and Movie Nights, it also provides vital input about how to evolve our onboarding of new folks and show recognition, among other contributions.

Implement

In UX, implementation might look more like sitemaps, wireframes, prototypes and user flows. In our internal implementation, it looks more like—if you’ll excuse the colloquial swearing for emphasis—s*** getting done. 

And we see that change quickly, whether that’s a change to our physical environment, a change in tools, or a further opening of lines of communication. Usually that means things flow more freely, which is the state we aim for in our UX projects as well. We want to get out of the users’ way as much as possible, simplifying and streamlining to help them reach their goals as efficiently as possible.

Rather than seeing our culture and environment as ideal and being unwilling to change anything about either, we see Rightpoint in a state of continual change—partially due to our rapid growth, and partially because if we want to be agents of positive change we have to practice positive change—so we consciously work on continuously improving. To continue iterating internally, we need to listen to and support those who make up our culture—that is, all of us. And we do. 

We can absolutely do things better than we do now, but the point is: we’re continuously working on it.

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