We present a creative method for applying the UX technique of journey mapping to improve the onboarding experience of new employees in any organization. Journey mapping is a well-known design research tool used to gain insight into how a user experiences a service, process, or product, with the goal of making informed improvements to deliver a better experience for future users. We argue that journey mapping can also be used to improve the internal process of onboarding new employees and improve the experience for future new hires, which is important because positive onboarding experiences are linked to increased productivity and greater employee retention. We share how other organizations can use journey mapping to improve the onboarding process utilizing our employee experience journey mapping project toolkit (Frank & McKelvey, 2017) designed to help guide similar projects, complete with shareable templates. In addition, we share the methods used at our library, as well as our findings, recommendations, and lessons learned.

This paper was refereed by Weave's peer reviewers.

Improving Onboarding with Employee Experience Journey Mapping

A number of libraries use methods to better understand user experience, and make decisions based on that insight to guide their futures. Journey mapping is one such method that can be used to document and communicate a user’s experience of a product, service, or process from beginning to end, by comparing an expected journey to the actual journey experienced by the user. Kaplan (2016) defines it as “a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. It’s used for understanding and addressing customer needs and pain points.” Journey maps usually have three parts; the first section is “a lens that provides focus and context for the journey being mapped, [the second is] an area depicting the user’s experience, and a third zone [is] for insights derived from analyzing the journey” (Williamson, 2016). Journey mapping allows organizations to gather information that will help them better understand “the frustrations and experiences of [their] customers” (Boag, 2015). Once the user’s feelings regarding their interaction with a product or service has been captured (Schmidt & Etches, 2014, p. 1), pain points and happy moments are organized into a visual journey map (Williamson, 2016). Visualizing a user’s feelings allows frustrations to be identified and addressed by creating solutions that will accommodate the preferences of many users (Marquez, Downey & Clement, 2015). Happy moments or positive experiences can also be identified and amplified with the goal of improving the experience for future users. See an example of a journey map below (fig. 1).

Figure 1. Example of a traditional journey map of a chat reference transaction (Samson, Granath, & Alger, 2017); this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Journey mapping has been used in libraries to understand how students, faculty, and staff use library services with the intent of improving the overall experience of the user. One journey mapping pilot study conducted by a library with first through third year college students, resulted in an increase in usage of their chat platform (Samson, Granath, & Alger, 2017). Journey mapping also helps libraries to create consistent experiences for their users. In a study conducted by the Birmingham City University Library, journey mapping improved the experience of first year students by “provid[ing] a fresh perspective, increas[ing] librarians’ understanding of the student experience when using library services... [and] gave ideas for larger changes for future services developments” (Fichter & Wisniewski, 2015). Other organizations have utilized journey mapping in similar ways. A study in Ireland focused on how journey mapping can be used to improve the patient experience within the healthcare system by using a human-centric design tool to better understand how patients navigate such a complex system (McCarthy et al., 2016). Additionally, large companies such as Amazon and Google, now have customer experience officers on staff, and compare the importance of understanding the customer experience to journey mapping (Lemon & Verhoef, 2016).

While the most common type of journey mapping focuses on external customers, there is also a less common application of the technique that DesigningCX (n.d.) refers to as employee experience journey mapping. DesigningCX (2015) defines this as “a people-centric discovery process” that considers the employee, rather than the customer, as the user in an organization. They describe journey mapping as a way to quickly determine challenges employees are facing, and offer solutions in innovative ways to eliminate, fix, or help solve those challenges, with the goal of improving performance and engagement of employees. One such application is teasing out individual organizational onboarding experiences and improving that experience for new employees. Journey mapping is a helpful design research tool to determine satisfaction of a user, changes in their needs, and other details in each phase of their experience (Howard, 2014). Therefore, journey mapping can be an effective method of assessing an onboarding program from the perspective of the new employee. It can help libraries gain valuable insight into the experience of new hires in the organization, with the goal of improving the onboarding process to boost productivity and retention.

Improving the onboarding experience of new employees is important for the wellbeing of any organization. Research shows that onboarding programs that are viewed positively by employees lead to increased retention, increased employee satisfaction and engagement, and a reduction in the time it takes new employees to become productive in the organization (Hall-Ellis, 2014; Snell, 2006). Snell (2006) suggests that organizations lacking a comprehensive onboarding process risk losing productivity and the interest of their employees. An engaged workforce leads to better services for patrons, and can also lead to a more positive work environment for both staff and library patrons alike. It can also help generate positive perceptions of the library within the community.

We improved onboarding at our own institution by deploying employee experience journey mapping and focusing the lens inward on the Learning and Research Services department at Montana State University Library and its internal onboarding practices. Using employee experience journey mapping, we gained a clear understanding of existing assumptions and the current onboarding culture at MSU Library, which we found to be sporadic and inconsistent. We identified key challenges and areas of improvement, including lack of documentation, outdated procedures, and inconsistency in the way new employees were oriented to their job. Once we identified the challenges, we were able to implement solutions to improve the onboarding for future employees.

Project Overview

In April 2016, two new hires began their employment in the Learning and Research Services department at MSU Library, presenting an opportunity to learn from new employees and improve our onboarding processes. We suspected our onboarding process could be improved if we just understood our current situation a little better. Utilizing journey mapping as a tool, we captured the experience of both new employees over the course of six months, gathering data we then turned into journey maps. We then used that data to make significant improvements to our new employee onboarding process. As Graybill et al. (2013) writes, “by evaluating and making adjustments to both individual performance and the onboarding process itself, organizations can continually improve getting new employees up to speed, retention rates, job satisfaction levels, and performance results” (p. 203).

At a high level, the project goals were to learn about the current onboarding experience, learn about journey mapping as a design research tool for gathering information, and to identify improvement opportunities within MSU Library. The goal of using journey mapping as a specific tool was to highlight those areas of improvement that would enhance employee onboarding experiences from the user perspective, and challenge assumptions about overall hiring practices. Feedback from participants about the project was also solicited and is discussed in a later section.

In addition to these project goals, an unexpected outcome was the creation of an employee experience journey mapping project toolkit (Frank & McKelvey, 2017). We did not have a toolkit for our project and felt it would have been helpful, so we created the toolkit to help guide other organizations through their own journey mapping projects. The project toolkit contains necessary documents needed to recreate this project, or variations of it, designed to help improve onboarding at other organizations using journey mapping as a tool. We encourage others to borrow and adapt what we have done for their own use.