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A guide to employee personas

Last updated

27 June 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Lara Leganger

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If you want to communicate more effectively with employees, enhance productivity, and avoid misunderstandings, it's essential to understand the people in your workforce as much as possible. Employee personas can help you accomplish this.

What is an employee persona?

Buyer personas are a familiar concept in marketing. They are used to target customers more accurately by understanding their needs and preferences.

An employee persona performs an analogous role when it comes to understanding your employees. A "persona" of any kind is an imaginary composite representing a "typical" group member. While every employee is unique, you can identify certain characteristics that let you develop employee personas.

You will probably want to identify multiple employee personas to categorize your employees by various criteria. Some of the characteristics that may contribute to personas include:

  • Self-motivation and initiative

  • Professional experience and background

  • Location — For a remote workforce, this includes where employees currently reside. For in-office employees, where they are from originally.

  • Goals and ambition — Do they seem content with their current position or strive for advancement?

  • Communication style — Some people have an assertive or aggressive communication style, while others are more passive.

  • A team player or prefers to work alone

The particular categories you select depend on the workplace and the characteristics most relevant to the job.

Why do you need employee personas?

Developing employee personas helps you better understand the diverse qualities that employees may have. They allow you to recognize important differences in employees' personalities, backgrounds, work styles, strengths, weaknesses, etc. They help you engage better with employees and enhance cooperation and productivity.

Top benefits of using employee personas

The following are some compelling reasons to create employee personas:

Increased empathy

Employees bring various experiences, abilities, and personality traits to the job. If you assume everyone is the same, you miss the chance to connect with employees more personally and empathetically. 

Indeed shares guidelines on how to engage effectively with different workplace personality types. Among the types that they identify are perfectionists, people-pleasers, individualists, and motivators. 

To communicate with employees, you must understand their needs and quirks. You don't necessarily have to use these categories when creating employee personas. You may identify types that are more relevant to your organization. 

KPMG identifies several advantages to a personalized approach to employee engagement, including higher employee retention rates, higher profitability, outperforming competitors, and better sales.

A key insight shared in the KPMG report is that modern workplaces often have people from diverse generations working side-by-side. The needs and values of Baby Boomers, for example, can differ significantly from those of Millennials or Gen Z employees.

More targeted communications

Almost everyone today suffers from information overload.

Advertising and marketing departments understand the need to precisely target customers. Similarly, companies can benefit from targeting communications to the appropriate employees.

Employee personas can help you ensure that internal messages such as emails, chats, and memos are sent to the right people.

An employee persona can also help you understand people's preferred methods of communication. For example, some people respond better to phone calls, while others prefer emails. 

Knowing someone's communication style makes it easier to ensure he or she receives the information you're delivering.

Improve leadership and management

A common challenge companies face is leadership that is out of touch with employees. 

Inc reveals some alarming statistics on how employees view leaders. For example, 88% of employees believe that the onboarding process was mishandled.

Employee personas are a way for leaders to learn more about their employees so they can tailor their approach to different types of people. A leader can use this information when crafting messages, talking to employees, and making decisions that affect the workforce.

More effective hiring and onboarding

Employee personas can help you identify the type of employee ideal for a position. In some cases, you may find that you want to balance a team or department with people of different backgrounds or characteristics.

For example, you may want a mixture of more independent and team-oriented employees. With onboarding, you can target the process to the personalities of new hires.

How to create employee personas

Creating an employee persona isn't just a matter of making a casual guess at what category someone fits into. To do this effectively, you must base these personas on quantitative and qualitative data. Here are the steps to take:

Use the data you have

You can start with the data already in your possession. Your HR department, for example, will have demographic data such as age, educational levels, and experience employees bring to the job. Other helpful information includes absentee rates and length of time with the organization.

Reach out to employees

In addition to demographic data, you can compile useful information by interviewing employees, conducting employee focus groups, and having them complete surveys. Such methods allow you to identify employee pain points and help you devise more effective policies.

Study external research

You can learn a lot by examining data compiled by researchers and competitors. The more similar the companies you study, the more relevant external research will be. While not publicly available, this type of data can be purchased from companies that collect and sell company data.

The Society for Human Resource Management offers tips on benchmarking HR metrics as well as links on where to find data.

Identify the characteristics to segment

The most critical part of creating employee personas is deciding which qualities to use to segment these categories.

The following are a few examples of segments you may want to identify:

  • Job description, e.g., IT, marketing, accounting, sales, etc.

  • Generational, e.g., Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z

  • In-office vs. remote workers or full-time vs. part-time employees

  • Work style or personality type, e.g., team player, motivator, contrarian, or mentor

Note that for some segments, such as those based on job description, you can use quantitative data such as those provided by HR. Segmenting people based on qualities such as communication style requires more subjective and qualitative data.

Build employee personas based on the data

Once you have compiled the data, it's time to actually build your employee personas. Like a customer persona, an employee persona is a semi-fictional composite based on researching actual people. 

An employee persona may include the following:

  • Name — Giving your personas a name helps to humanize them.

  • Headshot —It can help to have a photo to go with the persona. You can use stock photos for this.

  • Demographics — The job title, length of time with the company, educational background, and work history.

  • Strengths and weaknesses

  • Category — You can use categories that you prefer related to the employee's goals, personality, style of communication, and other factors.

Analyze your personas in relation to your current practices

The whole point of employee personas is to help you communicate more specifically and empathetically. It's instructive to consider how your employee personas will likely respond to your policies and internal communications. 

You may find, for example, that your persona John B. would find the formal and impersonal tone of certain emails off-putting.

On the other hand, a friendly and casual approach might be less appealing to persona Amy G., who has a more analytical personality.

Constantly test and tweak your personas

As with customer personas, employee personas should be continually evolving. They are likely to evolve over time as your company and employees change. 

For example, in the last few years, many companies have shifted to using more remote workers. As Pew Research reports, even though the pandemic was the original motivation, many companies and employees continue this practice in the post-pandemic world. 

Remote work is only one example of a quickly-changing practice that will likely impact employee attitudes about work.

Common employee persona examples

The following are some examples of employee personas.

Mentor Mary is a marketing professional who's been with the company for 2.5 years. She loves to help, educate, and motivate others. She's also ambitious and aspires to a management position.

Creative Chris is a developer who's great at thinking outside the box and coming up with innovative solutions. His approach is not always practical as he may veer outside the parameters of a project if not reigned in.

Analytic Alex is a numbers person who is introverted and not inclined to speak up in group settings. He often has valuable ideas but is more likely to express them in writing rather than at meetings.

Networking Natalie is a salesperson who excels at meeting people and making useful connections both inside and outside the organization. She's good at explaining product benefits and identifying customers' needs.

Use an employee persona template

Using a template can help you create a consistent and complete employee persona. 

The Dovetail employee persona template simplifies the process of creating employee personas. This template is specifically made to help you create personas using tags. It's ideal for using qualitative research in your personas. You can collect this data from ethnographic methods such as observation and interviews

The template lets you tag employees by creating tags such as role, primary behavior, and secondary behavior. For example, primary behavior includes areas such as activities, motivation, and skills. Secondary behavior includes the user environment, pain points, social interactions, and substitute solutions.

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