How to re-energise every employee in your health startup

Go find a good designer and ask them if design research is important.

Sorry if I just made you subjected to a verbal tirade.

There’s a reason why designers become so passionate about talking to real users. It creates better products. But there’s also another byproduct: it is inspiring..

When your designer speaks to the people whose lives your company is making better, it’s like magic. They become re-energised for the company’s mission and are excited to be a part of the team solving a problem.

Doing research can make the greyest, wettest Monday morning better.

So how do we spread that feeling to the rest of the company?

Often other teams miss out on these moments. The only part of the research they see are the outputs like personas and requirements lists.

That sucks! When those people first joined your company, they felt excited too. They were behind your mission and saw the problems you were trying to solve. But in-between the sprints, meetings and TPS reports it’s easy to lose that feeling.

That’s a big problem in a healthcare startup.  You’re solving big problems, which have real, meaningful impacts on people’s health and lives. If your team loses sight of that then you won’t get the best from them.

How TrialReach uses stories to engage their team

Here is a simple way of using research to engage your team. It’s cheap, powerful and simple;

Talk to people, record it, show the team

You, as a leader in the company, can do a lot to promote culture. But you’ll never be as effective as a first hand account of the problem you’re solving from a real person.

And it works.

Just ask FJ and Cole, the London design contingent from TrialReach. We spoke to them about how TrialReach tackles this problem, especially with a distributed team.

FJ told us about some particularly moving interviews they’d previously conducted with stage 3 and 4 cancer patients. Interviews like this are normally the preserve of the design team, but not in TrialReach;

The interviews aren’t just for the design team, they provide amazing insights for engineers and the product team as well. We played the cancer interviews for the engineers and you could just tell that the weight of what they were doing was so manifested for them.

Each interview gets a 10 minute highlight reel. We hear comments from the team like “Oh, we had no idea they did that” or “Oh this is a really important part of their life”.

In most companies, these interviews would stay in the design team. Sharing them wider allows everyone to learn from people’s stories and the benefits are huge.

So, how can you replicate that for your startup?

Find your story teller

First, figure out who’s going to own this role. If you have a designer on the team, it should be their job. If not, figure out who your storyteller is. They might come from your development team, or maybe from customer services. Or maybe it’s you?

Look for someone who’s got great empathy skills, is comfortable talking to people and isn’t scared of difficult conversations. Remember, these conversations are not about testing your product, you’re gathering stories.

Plan the conversations

It’s important these sessions happen often and don’t become a one-off event. Practise makes perfect and you want your storyteller to develop their skills.

We’ve got some ideas about how to find people to speak too, but what about the actual conversation? Discussion guides help your storyteller guide the conversation without scripting it. Make sure you’ve written one.

Document the interviews

Video can be a cheap, quick and powerful method of sharing these stories with the team. Interviews conducted over Skype can easily be recorded using a screen recorder. Or in-person interviews can be documented on your phone.

Produce some awesome videos

Don’t worry about production values, what’s important is the story being told. Free software like iMovie makes the process simple and even if you’ve never used it before, it’s easy to learn.

Edit the clips into a 10 minutes film and so it’s easily shareable with your team, no matter where they are. It can also be more comfortable for people to watch a video in their own space, especially if it’s a particularly difficult topic.

Experiment with methods of sharing

An alternative would be holding a monthly ‘story slam’. The UK’s government design team use these informal, 15 minute sessions to share the stories researchers have heard with the wider team. They’re very lo-tech, just showing a picture of the user with no audio or video. The researcher then has 3 minutes to recount an experience that a user shared with them.

Things to remember

  • Before you do any research interviews you’re going to need to get consent. Make sure it includes this usage.
  • You’ll need to be careful about how you share the videos with your team. The content is likely to be personal and sensitive. If that’s the case, arrange a few screening times across a couple of days.

The impact of exposing your team stories from your users can be profound. Some stories can be difficult to hear, especially in the health sector. But by re-humanising the problem for your team, you can relight the enthusiasm they had in those first few weeks.

About KennedyTurner

KennedyTurner are a design agency who specialise in working with healthcare startups like Wing and Insulin Angel. We use our design skills to help ambitious startups solve enormous, live improving problems.

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