Using Employee Personas to Drive Change

 In Change management


User experience techniques can be hugely useful to business transformation programmes.  Identifying employee personas provides you with a valuable way of thinking about the different types of employees you have within your organisation.

Marketing teams have various techniques to help them understand customer personas and there is an opportunity to use similar approaches in-house to identify employee personas. Well-designed employee opinion surveys can also be great sources of information if they consider the desire for personas as part of the question design. The key thing is to work out the parameters that signify the differences.



Just as your marketing department uses personas to identify customers, employee personas define the different employee types you have in the organisation. It then allows you to target change initiatives to meet their needs more successfully. Employee personas also allow you to be more informed about their opinions, attitudes, preferences, language, and storytelling. All useful data for a change programme.

A word of caution though is that people don’t like to be labeled. Personas used in this way should be applied at team level with teams of 10 or more. Often the findings come out of employee surveys that ask staff to give honest feedback in return for their answers remaining anonymous.  Findings will feedback which teams are deeply negative, positive or on the fence, and that allows you to see where team attitudes warrant change interventions.  Personas give you a much more human way of interpreting the data than numbers alone.



Below I’ve described six employee archetypes, based on attitudes to change, that illustrate how this can work.

Persona 1: Champion

Champions are high in buy-in. They have an early adopter mindset and want to be the first to get their hands on the next new thing, as such they will self-teach and readily accept prototype products in exchange for being first. They will be happy to help in converting others and talk about their early adoption experience.

These should be brought together into an influencer network which, if harnessed correctly, equip the organisation with a change-champion network.  Their enthusiasm and energy can be impressive, however, their numbers tend to be well under 10% of the organisation so mechanisms should put in place to amplify their positivity across the organisation.


Persona 2: Champion in waiting

Champions in waiting are positive about the change but haven’t yet adopted the new behaviours. This often warrants further ‘user’ (employee) research to understand what the blockers are to adoption so that the right interventions can be put in place to allow adoption.   The blocker may simply be because they haven’t had access to get to any training education or haven’t had the time to get skilled up which is easy to address.

If training is the issue then this group are relatively easy to convert as long as access to training can be provided. The key thing for this group though is to gain intelligence on what the barriers are to allow you to target effort based on accurate ‘user’ data.


Persona 3: Old school loyalists

Old school loyalists have low enthusiasm for the change and low adoption of target behaviours. This is the most common persona type and can represent around 40% of the organisation. Turning this group is when the real transformation happens. The old-school loyalist comes to work to do a job and has seen this all before. After all, these change initiatives do come and go with each new leader, and they have seen quite a few leaders in their time. As in most organisations, a high percentage of employees will be in this camp, the change work is highly targeted to this persona group you need to do is to prove this change is different and will have value for them.

To attract the old school loyalists your change narrative’s tone of voice needs to appeals to the masses. It should avoid early-adopter language suggesting revolution and instead make the change more palatable like it’s part of the way they work – a natural extension that improves their day to day processes.


Persona 4: Reluctant trendsetter

Reluctant trendsetters have adopted the new behaviours because they make their lives easier but may be totally unaware that they are part of a change programme. Having high numbers in this group is a good sign that the new behaviours have been adopted as part of natural learning function of the organisation and that they make sense.  High numbers in this group could warrant further user research but it can also be a sign that the changes are a natural evolution of working practices and if so little effort may be needed for this group.



Once you know your user personas and the level they exist within each part of your organisation, you can target your change effort to meet their needs. For example, whereas one area, like ‘Champions in Waiting’, may simply need access to the development mechanisms, other parts like ‘Old School Loyalists’ will require more engagement effort to open the door for wider transformation. Champions can be mobilised quite safely into early adopter test situations without fear of bad PR as they will forgive more. They can also help you transfer skills to other areas.


Employee personas also help in the following ways:

    1. It provides a common language to have sensitive conversations more freely. It’s a non-personal way of talking about behaviours.
    2. It helps staff recognise that not all employees are the same but also that they can move between personas.
    3. It helps staff recognise that not all teams have the same breakdown of attitudes. For example, persona work can allow you to identify where one team may be very extreme and consider its impact on teams around it.
    4. It allows you to target change initiatives to meet the needs of each group, avoiding blanket change interventions that may reap a poor ROI.
    5. It creates empathy for employee needs



Keep an eye out for employees who are overly extended versions of the most negative and positive archetype as both come with major challenges that can have detrimental effects on your change programme.


Persona 5: The over-extended champion

The over-extended champion is an employee with off the scale enthusiasm. I compare this persona to Charlie Frost in the film ‘2012. In this movie, a small number of world officials know that the world is about to end. Charlie Frost (a general member of the public) also knows and is in the unique position of having ‘early-adopter knowledge’.  He’s broadcasting relentlessly about it from a radio station in the hills on Yellowstone Park, but no-one is paying any attention. So why does no one listen to him?  Well apart from the fact it is a little hard to believe which we’ll leave behind for the sake of this argument, he’s just too extreme and too enthusiastic about the change and he just comes across as the ‘crazy’ person on the hill. Expect the following problems with this type of overextended persona:


      • This archetype tends to use revolutionary rhetoric, which includes ridicule of the status quo. Ridicule is never a real change mechanism. Think twice before using a persuasion approach that needs people to admit what they have been doing for the last 20 years is rubbish.
      • Over-enthusiasm doesn’t suit many cultures. The UK in particular, can shy away from this.
      • ‘Revolutionary talk’ alienates the ‘Old School Loyalists’ and creates divisions. Not everyone wants to be a revolutionary, lots of people just go to work to do a job. For those groups change will need to be process driven– not bullied.
      • And note that Revolutionaries will move on to a new ‘movement’ so try and anchor change in the more steadfast majority rather than the revolutionary segment.


Persona 6: The Negative Cynic

These people HATE the changes and will never adopt the new behaviours. They are cynical and suspicious about everything and usually very noisy about it or extremely passive aggressive. They undermine and change effort and believe everything is bad. Know that you will never win this group over and it is a waste of time trying to change them. They would be better suited working elsewhere as they are very noisy and although they will exist in small numbers their sheer volume can mean people around this person can assume everyone is anti-change. Know that these people are not part of the organisation’s future and don’t put wasted effort into converting them, it won’t pay off. Get rid of them if you can before their viewpoints spread.



There is a tremendous opportunity for change programmes to benefit from the use of employee personas.  It allows you to be better informed about your employee and target change effort to suit needs.



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Photo credit: Pascal Swier, Unsplash

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