97. Does product design and work design go hand in hand? | Jonathon Hensley, CEO at Emerge Interactive


Jonathon Hensley | CEO at Emerge Interactive



Welcome to Episode 97 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The Future of Work is NOW.

In the past 2 episodes with digital product design CEO at Emerge Interactive, Jonathon Hensley, we have looked at the basics of product-building principles and the whether work should be designed in a similar way.

In this final episode, we focus a little more on the work Jonathon’s company does and how they approach a client request to design a product, and how that is intertwined with looking at the company’s work experience.


Jonathon Hensley Web


Jonathon Hensley is co-founder and CEO of Emerge, a digital product consulting firm that works with companies to improve operational agility and customer experience.

For more than two decades, Jonathon has helped startups, Fortune 100 brands, technology leaders, large regional health networks, non-profit organizations and more, transform their businesses by turning strategy, user needs and new technologies; into valuable digital products and services.

Jonathon writes and speaks about his experiences and insights from his career, and regularly hosts in-depth interviews with business leaders and industry insiders.





[00:00:00] - Jonathon Hensley
Great customer experiences are a direct result of the employee experience. In order to really create transformational customer experiences, we have to focus on that employee side first and start working from the inside out.

[00:00:23] - Doug Foulkes
Hello and welcome to Episode 97 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. This is the podcast that continues to look at every aspect of work in the future, and it's also always brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn.

[00:00:38] - Doug Foulkes
I'm your host, Doug Foulkes, and I'm with my co-host, the CEO at WNDYR, Claire Haidar.

[00:00:44] - Doug Foulkes
Claire, we're coming to the end of a very interesting conversation with Jonathon Hensley. He's the CEO of Emerge Interactive. Maybe just tell us a little bit about the shows if our listeners have missed the first two, and then just bring us up to speed and how we're going to finish things off today.

[00:01:01] - Claire Haidar
Doug, this very, very worthwhile conversation that I highly recommend people listen to all three segments has been about the application of UI, UX, and product building techniques, frameworks to the process of work, so actually designing work experiences.

[00:01:19] - Claire Haidar
In this segment 3, we get really practical and personal with Jonathon. We ask him about his company and what they do, the approaches that they use, the most dominant frameworks that they use, but we also then ask for a very practical walkthrough. If I, as an executive, were coming to you today wanting to design my work experience or wanting to design a product, what would that typically look like?

[00:01:43] - Claire Haidar
It's always the case on our podcast. We like to get a little bit of the background, we like to get a little bit of the theory, but we always end it on a high note with the real practical things. So walking out of listening to this podcast today, what can I go and implement immediately that will shift my company forward?

[00:02:02] - Doug Foulkes
Yes, it certainly was practical. Let's head on over to Jonathon.

[00:02:07] - Claire Haidar
So Jonathon, moving specifically to the third part of this conversation, which is around you and your company, Emerge Interactive is a company that you've built. Before we get into the specifics of that, I'd love to hear from you, have you actually had any of the customers that you guys have worked with specifically come to you regarding designing work experiences rather than a specific digital product?

[00:02:33] - Jonathon Hensley
Well, in our situation, they're intimately intertwined. So if we're developing a product or the potential of a product, we are usually first evaluating the work streams and the workflows of an organization so we can understand their current state, so we understand if and how the technology might be able to support that improvement. I would say yes, but it's usually so intertwined to what we do that it becomes a byproduct of just the way that we approach the work.

[00:03:10] - Doug Foulkes
You said they're intertwined. Is it a chicken and egg type of scenario where you need to look at the one before the other or is it all mixed in?

[00:03:20] - Jonathon Hensley
Well, it depends on the client's situation. Many times you have a client who understands that there's a challenge and they're aware of the problem, but they don't actually understand where the problem manifests, what is actually driving that problem.

[00:03:36] - Jonathon Hensley
One of the first things that we have to do is say, "Okay, we have this problem or this challenge defined. We have a clear understanding of what, from your perspective, a solution might look like, or the vision, if you will, of that process in the future." Now, let's actually go back and let's audit the actual workflow and let's look at both functionally how that workflow happens, the systems that are maybe integrated into that workflow, and how people work within that workflow.

[00:04:08] - Jonathon Hensley
Do we have knowledge that's been institutionalized with somebody who's just been with the company for so long and they've never been able to scale that out? Or maybe is there a challenge of the company has grown over years and there's different systems so they're just duplicating work multiple times. There's all sorts of different reasons that can come into play when we get involved.

[00:04:31] - Jonathon Hensley
But almost with every project, we have to start with that foundational piece of assessing the current state and really understanding what's happening, why is it happening this way, so that we have the foundation not only to understand what the ideal future state would be for all those involved but also to understand the interdependencies.

[00:04:53] - Jonathon Hensley
If we're going to recommend change in a specific way, what's the ripple effect? What else has to change in order to support that? And that becomes one of the foundational steps that we have to take with every project.

[00:05:06] - Doug Foulkes
Would there be any differences from going from designing a digital project to designing a work experience as a process?

[00:05:16] - Jonathon Hensley
No, not from the work that we do. Whether it's an external product or it's a work experience, we're looking at that same fundamental understanding of what's the workflow? What are the interdependencies? What is the human and the technical connection that's being made to fulfill that task and drive that outcome?

[00:05:42] - Jonathon Hensley
And that is a necessity for whether we're designing an experience and understanding which employees or groups where we need to support or we're creating a much larger product.

[00:05:55] - Claire Haidar
I love the answer Jonathon has just given because for me, this is the penultimate reason why we brought Jonathon onto the podcast is that is the exact light bulb moment that I want our audience to have. Digital transformation is ultimately, in my opinion, about redesigning work.

[00:06:17] - Claire Haidar
Sometimes it's happening at a micro scale, sometimes it's happening at a cross-organizational scale. But ultimately, that's what digital transformation is, because in the design of products or new customer processes and service offerings, which is what digital transformation is all about and is exactly what Emerge Interactive and the whole team under Jonathon are doing, is they're taking work that is no longer optimally functional and no longer creating value the way it should, and they're redesigning it with the new tools and technologies that we have available today.

[00:06:53] - Claire Haidar
For me, that's really the message that I want to drive home is that you cannot undergo, if you are a C-level executive, with a digital transformation mandate and budget on your head right now, you can't not look at the work, which is exactly what Jonathon is confirming.

[00:07:13] - Jonathon Hensley
I think just building on top of that, which I think is beautifully stated, is that I think one thing that if anybody can add to that light bulb moment, if you will, is to understand the relationship between customer experience and employee experience because great customer experiences are a direct result of the employee experience.

[00:07:35] - Jonathon Hensley
There's such a critical element to understanding that if we, as organizations, and this actually goes perfectly back to the hospital or healthcare example as well, is that in order to really create transformational customer experiences, we have to focus on that employee side first and start working from the inside out.

[00:07:56] - Jonathon Hensley
When you look at the research, I believe there's a Gallup poll that I last saw on this, that depending on things that you look at, companies with higher engaged employees are outperforming their competition by something like 147%.

[00:08:11] - Jonathon Hensley
That starts with that idea of reinventing work, creating a better experience, connecting and aligning that individual team and organizational purpose for each and every person in the team so that they can actually be empowered to do the work that will eventually generate that incredible customer experience or that patient experience so people have the time that they need to serve others better. I think that's a perfect highlight.

[00:08:40] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, you've perfectly summarized the whole area that I'm so passionate about. One of the things that if you look at what companies have done to date, in this era of digital work that we work in, is that they've simply taken various tools that have been made available, whether it's Slack, the Microsoft Stack, the G Suite Stack, and they've literally just given them to people and said, "Work."

[00:09:09] - Claire Haidar
Nobody has done what you're currently doing in product building to take a step back and say, "Hang on a minute." The technology is just such a tiny piece of this. We actually need to design the experience. We need to look at the employees who are going through this work process, look at the value that they're supposed to create, and optimize the entire experience to enhance that value creation.

[00:09:38] - Claire Haidar
I think when companies have that light bulb moment and they actually start taking that really seriously and investing dollars into that, we're going to see transformation on a whole new level that we haven't seen before.

[00:09:50] - Jonathon Hensley
I could not agree more.

[00:09:52] - Claire Haidar
Doug, over to you.

[00:09:54] - Doug Foulkes
Jonathon, that's pretty much the end of the serious stuff. As always, I've got a couple of just very quick short couple of sentence answers, if you like, which sometimes we stick in at the end of the podcast. Sometimes we just use it as background information to help with the intros and things. First question, outside or inside?

[00:10:15] - Jonathon Hensley

[00:10:17] - Doug Foulkes
Where outside and where inside?

[00:10:20] - Jonathon Hensley
For the outside, I love to spending times in the mountains and hiking and exploring with my kids so that would be the outside. For me, inside, it would be on the living room floor playing games with my kids. That's my happy place.

[00:10:41] - Claire Haidar
How old are they, Jonathon?

[00:10:43] - Jonathon Hensley
My oldest just turned eight and my youngest is four.

[00:10:48] - Claire Haidar
Very similar to mine, 10 and three. I know that it's definitely floor time. Floor time is good time with the kids.

[00:10:56] - Jonathon Hensley

[00:10:58] - Doug Foulkes
I unfortunately ran out of floor time a while ago. My daughter is just 18, and passed a driving test, and my son is 22. [crosstalk 00:11:05]

[00:11:08] - Jonathon Hensley
You have lots of wisdom to share with us of what we're to expect.

[00:11:14] - Claire Haidar
So much wisdom. You have no idea, Jonathon. I watch him and Tracey very closely when it comes to parenting.

[00:11:23] - Doug Foulkes
Okay, next one. When was the last time that you got so absolutely lost in a conversation around a topic that fully absorbed your mind?

[00:11:35] - Jonathon Hensley
Ironically, it was just last Friday. I had an opportunity to go into the mountains with one of my good friends for a 26-mile hike. We had plenty of time to explore all sorts of conversations. It was just a wonderful experience and time to connect with friends.

[00:11:55] - Claire Haidar
Amazing. Twenty-six miles can definitely give you that.

[00:11:59] - Jonathon Hensley

[00:11:59] - Doug Foulkes
That's a long way.

[00:12:01] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, it's a long way.

[00:12:04] - Jonathon Hensley
We were lucky. It was part of a fundraiser for some kids so we were well motivated.

[00:12:11] - Claire Haidar

[00:12:12] - Doug Foulkes
Brilliant. And then lastly, from my side, Jonathon, have you evolved as a human in the last 30 days, apart from on your hikes?

[00:12:21] - Jonathon Hensley
Well, I try to better myself all of the time, but in the last 30 days or more, one of the key things that I'm working on is finding more time for reflection. I find that I don't give myself a lot of time for that with how busy I am and also with my kids. I've really tried to put more importance into having time to slow down and reflect on the day, the week, and what's been going on so I can be more present and prepared for the day ahead of me.

[00:12:57] - Doug Foulkes
Fantastic. Good luck with continuing along that path. [crosstalk 00:13:02]

[00:13:03] - Jonathon Hensley
Thank you. I'm not the most patient person so.

[00:13:07] - Claire Haidar
Jonathon, thank you. This conversation has gone from really, really theoretical and philosophical to really practical with real good examples that I think people can wrap their heads around, and thank you for giving us an hour of your time. Thank you for being really thoughtful about the answers that you've brought to the table.

[00:13:28] - Jonathon Hensley
Well, thank you so much, Claire, and thank you, Doug. It's been wonderful to be on the show and have just a wonderful conversation with you both today, and I really appreciate the time.

[00:13:39] - Doug Foulkes
That is the end of Episode 97 and our in-depth look at how digital product building techniques can be harnessed to help build and design better work environments. If you found this podcast of value, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Catch us on Spotify, Google, and Apple Podcasts, or on WNDYR's website, wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, bye for now.

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