One of my favorite things about Liferay’s annual symposium in North America is the chance to meet new people and hear how they’re solving common challenges that we all face at their companies. This year, I had a chance to talk with Andrea Chase from Genworth about her role in designing the company’s intranet. Genworth Financial, Inc. is a Fortune 500 insurance holding company that helps families achieve the dream of homeownership and address the financial challenges of aging through its leadership positions in mortgage insurance and long term care insurance.

At Genworth, Chase’s main priority is to bridge communication gaps between IT and Business and help each side learn how they can work together to build a better experience for their employees. We hear all the time that the most challenging part of digital transformation is not the technology, but the cultural changes that must happen in order to put customer experience at the center of business strategy. This is true whether you’re building digital experiences for customers, partners or employees — technology alone is not going to solve all problems. You need to cultivate a desire to understand your users’ needs before you begin to build a solution.

Communication Is the Foundation of Cultural Change

When I asked Chase how she would describe her role in designing Genworth’s intranet, she laughed and rattled off a handful of adjectives. “Diplomat, Orchestrator, Conductor, Peacemaker… When I started my role, there was a lot of tension from previous attempts to improve the intranet. My job was and is to get people to listen to each other. Through that, I drive the value of what IT can provide.”

For the most part, Genworth’s IT team owns the intranet strategy and is in charge of identifying requirements and implementing new features for their co-workers. When Chase started her role, she saw that, although IT was working hard to implement good solutions, their business users felt that the improvements didn’t address their real needs. Something was being lost in translation between researching requirements and delivering new features.

According to Chase, “IT and Business weren’t talking to each other. I asked IT whether they had sat down with the business users and really tried to understand the problems they were grappling with each day. Who are you building this for? Did you ask them how they want to use it? They weren’t doing that.”

Uncover What People Actually Want Before You Begin to Build

It sounds pretty obvious: before you start planning features for your project, you should be sure you understand what people want. In reality, unclear or misaligned requirements are a common struggle for many companies. In fact, up to 15% of IT projects are abandoned and at least 50% of a programmer’s time during the project is spent redoing work due to having the wrong requirements. If proper measurements, goals and test processes are implemented upfront, the majority of this wasted time can be prevented.

This is why user experience (UX) research and design has become so important to development today, whether you’re designing for an internal or an external audience. Good UX is about more than usability or visual design; it’s the job of the UX researcher to find the core problem that users are facing and figure out the best way to solve that for them. Like Chase, UX designers bridge the gap between users and IT to ensure that what’s being developed will provide true ongoing value.

Create a Culture of Listening to Find Real Value

If you’re new to UX research, your first instinct might be to sit down with your end user and ask them what they want. The problem with this is that people don’t always know what they want. In Chase’s case, employees knew what their challenges were, but didn’t know how to ask IT for the solution they wanted.

“Requests would go to IT, and IT would send back that they need more information about the business requirement. But the business users didn’t know what further information they needed. People don’t know what they don’t know, so obviously this process wasn’t working and more education was needed on both sides,” said Chase. “Without that, you have no validation that what IT is building will match what the business needs. They would build a feature and if they heard nothing back, they assumed that no news was good news, which often wasn’t the case.”

If Tension From Past Projects Is Weighing Your Team Down, Start Over With a Blank Page

At Genworth, it was clear that Chase would need to try some new communication strategies to ensure that all parties felt confident in the plans for their intranet.

“When I started, Business was afraid to talk to IT,” Chase told me. “IT was frustrated that they were spending all this time on new features that the Business side didn’t want to use. To change this, to get people to really listen to each other, I decided to do a reset. Instead of letting tensions simmer and implementing short-term fixes to problems, we would start with a blank page.”

Chase brought all of her stakeholders into a room and gave them space to air the current issues with the intranet. “I told them to get it all out there so that we could get to the point of talking about what’s not working now instead of what didn’t work in the past. Without that, we couldn’t move forward. We needed to address the elephant in the room in order to forge credibility and trust on both sides that this process would be different.”

Stakeholders Need to Contribute From the Beginning if You Want to Take Down Obstacles Together

One of the key things Chase did before the meeting was set the expectation that everyone would need to contribute. “For me, contributing means talking,” she said. In the past, there were some stakeholders who would stay quiet during a meeting, then later have side conversations with other stakeholders to share that they disagreed with what had been said.

To really move forward together, it was important to have everyone share their perspective in the meeting so that everyone else took it into account. “For me, an intranet is an experience, so I wanted to know from our users what experience works for them,” said Chase. “It’s not like every employee is the same. Things are different for new hires, for transfers, for different departments, for managers. We needed to hear every perspective in order to build the intranet we wanted.”

Today, Genworth is much further along in their process of getting IT and Business to work better together. It’s been a year since the reset, and the team has tackled challenges like improving how they onboard new hires. In the past, new hires would miss deadlines to turn in required forms because they couldn’t figure out where to find them on the intranet or weren’t aware they were needed. Now they’re able to save time and reduce frustration during this process.

If You See These Communication Challenges in Your Organization, Here’s How to Get Started

To finish our conversation, I asked Chase what advice she would give to an IT or Business leader who wants to fix these kinds of communication issues in their own organizations.

“The first thing you should do is set up some small conversations,” Chase said. “Go to each stakeholder and tell them that you want to hear about what was frustrating in the past. Then just listen. If they tell you about a problem and you immediately switch into fixing mode, they’re going to stop talking and feel like you didn’t hear them. Just listen and ask questions.

“Then, after the meeting, follow up with an email that summarizes what you heard and lists some next action items. This will reaffirm that, one, you heard what they said and two, that you’re ready to work with them to improve things.”

When it comes to digital customer experiences, culture outweighs strategy. At Liferay, we increasingly hear from IT leaders that they see their co-workers as their customers and are applying the same techniques that marketing and sales use to create better digital experiences. As digital transformation continues to drive companies forward, those that take the time to create listening cultures across the entire organization will reap the benefits of superior experiences at every touchpoint.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genworth Financial, Inc.

Communication Matters

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