Meet Karen Jaw-Madson, Principal, Design of Work Experience

AllVoices Team
AllVoices Team
July 19, 2021
5 Min Read
Meet Karen Jaw-Madson, Principal, Design of Work Experience

This article is part of our new State of Employee Feedback Series which will interview a diverse mix of HR experts and thought leaders with a goal of better understanding their perspectives on the current state of and future of HR.

The following is an interview we recently had with Karen Jaw-Madson, Principal, Design of Work Experience.

What is the state of the human resources industry today?

Even without the pandemic, HR’s been in transition. What I mean by that is this identity crisis around its role in business. Is it an administrative function? Part of operations? A strategic partner? HR plays different combinations of these from company to company. It’s hard to know until you’re on the inside. At the same time, two other forces are at play. Technology continues to automate and disrupt business operations, HR included. The Future of Work is leading to different configurations and dynamics around talent. HR will either be right there with the action or be left behind. So you can see why the industry’s in flux.

What are the most common challenges you face when managing employee feedback and reporting?

I’m on the outside now as a management consultant. In addition to my depth of experience, I have much more breadth across companies and different industries. There are a number of challenges I see when it comes to managing employee feedback and reporting. First, is that it happens at all. There are some organizations where the leaders don’t want to know, so they don’t ask and they choose not to listen. Ignorance is false bliss. This is avoidance, and will only create bigger issues until they can’t be ignored and the challenges are that much harder to overcome. It’s like the organizational form of cancer. Wouldn’t you want to know early so you could do something about it? Second, is in the quality of the feedback. Many approaches to this are problematic because it doesn’t capture the true picture and context. Surveys provide feedback and a starting point, but you need more. Other interventions need psychological safety to begin with in order to get honest feedback. 

What are 3-5 pieces of advice for organizations in your industry looking to improve their employee feedback culture?

1. Step off the ladders of your hierarchy and engage in meaningful, productive dialogue with your employees. Form genuine relationships up, down, and across the organization. 

2. Use my framework, Design of Work Experience (DOWE), which I explain in my book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work. It is the step-by-step “how to” for culture and employee experience that begins with a deep-dive, baseline study of the current state in partnership with employees. We use multiple people-centered feedback methodologies to achieve a deep understanding of the context that ensures strategies and solutions are relevant, have positive impact, and sustain change. 

3. Endeavor to become a learning organization, one that maintains self-awareness,  encourages a growth mindset in all, and builds learning agility as a capability. Continuous feedback plays a large role. Results will follow because learning together and transformational change go hand-in-hand. 

4. Cultivate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and everyone will benefit. We know that psychological safety is key to leveraging DEI. It ensures that everyone can speak up, offer feedback, and collaborate productively together. Research has established that organizations with greater DEI innovate and perform better.     

What’s the future of HR?  

HR has a choice on whether to be out front leading us toward the Future of Work. Sadly, there are some HR departments out there that are ill-equipped to do this. The future of HR depends on our ability to upskill ourselves for the Future of Work—become more forward thinking, strategic, knowledgeable experts in both business and people. If I had a magic wand, I would move a majority of operations out of HR, automate and leverage technology where it makes the most sense, and redesign HR. The new HR would not just be leaders, business partners, and internal consultants, but also experts and essential members on teams leading strategy and business. To keep myself up-to-date, I have a side passion project called A New HR, which is a place online where people can learn about the Future of Work. I recommend everyone find somewhere in or outside their jobs to continuously, not episodically, develop. 

How do you see your role evolving over the next 3-5 years?

I’m a management consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, educator, and investor. I love the variety in what I do now, and the beauty is that it forces me to keep evolving. I want to continue to empower and enable organizations to do the development, change, and leadership work themselves with me as their advisor. I do what I do because I want to make a positive difference. I enjoy collaborating with amazing people. That’s why I participated in 3 book projects in the past twelve months. Mobile Medicine: Overcoming Culture, People, and Governance is the resource for all things digital transformation in healthcare. Punk XL (Experience Leadership) “explores what it means and takes to deliver a great experience at different levels (individual, team, organization, customer, and beyond).” The Secret Sauce for Leading Transformational Change (forthcoming in 2022) lives up to its name and more. Because I like to be needed and I like to help, I tend to get a lot of requests. Since I am in demand, I’ve learned to challenge myself and ask: do you need someone or do you need me? I recommend everyone take the time to figure out where you can uniquely add value. You’ll be amazed where you’ll end up.

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