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Gold Stevie Award Winner 2021, Click to Enter The 2022 StevieĀ® Awards for Great Employers

Name of Organization/Company: Experience Willow, Decatur, GA USA
Category: Business Acumen & HR Strategy Solution Provider of the Year

Entry Title: Experience Willow: Disrupting HR with Human-Centered Design


You know that kid who never stopped asking why? That was Kevin Finke. And asking why—finding out why something works and how to make it better—still drives him to this day. His trademark curiosity, which has been called “contagious,” can be found at the heart of the culture-rich employee and customer experiences he designs for the most progressive brands—from Disney and HBO to Heineken and Coca-Cola.

In 2012, it was that innate sense of curiosity that led Kevin to start his own design boutique, Experience Willow. Nine years later, his Certified LGBT Business Enterprise now partners with clients across the world to design meaningful experiences that move people, brands and organizations forward. For the last 5 years, Willow has been named to the Eventex All-Star list, an accolade that celebrates the top experience agencies across the globe.

Willow has been growing steadily since its founding. However, the past 3 years that growth has been exponential, and it was cultivated by the employee experience (EX) transformations the agency has been leading inside global companies like NCR, Cox Enterprises and IEX Group. These partners are part of Willow’s growing movement to disrupt traditional HR practices with human-centered design.

Willow weathered year one of the pandemic casualty-free and attributed the resilience to an NCR experience that led to more EX wins.

In 2020, BizBash named NCR: On the Move to Midtown its Team Building Experience of the Decade. This 6-month campaign to transition 2,600 employees to a new technology campus had been previously recognized for Employee Engagement and Team Building excellence by American and International Business Awards, Eventex Global Awards and Event Marketer.

These recognitions led to new partnerships. Two of the most notable:

Cox EXLab, a change movement and design lab that brings Cox employees together to innovate people experiences. Our achievements included:

• Facilitated 4 CPOs to formulate vision, mission & guiding principles
• 1,500 sq. ft. design lab buildout
• Branding & launch communications
• 3 design trainings delivered to 500+ leaders
• Helped prioritize 20 top design projects
• Coached 5 high-priority designs; transitioned 3 projects to 100% virtual
• SHRM recognizes Cox Enterprises & EXLab for HR Excellence

IEX2: IEX People & Culture design practice focused on cultivating the IEXceptional Experience. Our achievements included:

• IEX2 vision, priorities & protocols; Virtual design lab with proprietary tools
• Employee design training
• Lead design coach on performance management (PM), onboarding & training initiatives
• In 2020, IEX achieved exceptional results (attributed to impacts of new PM design): Beat revenue projections & innovation goals; 100% participation in new programs; Engagement +11 YOY; Trust & Respect +19; Collaboration +10; Coaching & Feedback +15; Learning & Growth +12

Experience Willow is a small, mighty and hungry team of underdogs:
As a boutique design consultancy competing in the big leagues, the Willow team defines themselves as underdogs who sit at the table, compete in pitches and hold their own with much larger consulting firms. Willow competes by employing high-caliber talent who want to keep overhead low and productivity, quality and service levels high. That translates to high-impact, cost-effective client solutions.

Experience Willow is here to disrupt HR and modernize its value proposition:
Agile design labs, empathy mapping, user personas, journey maps and high-fidelity prototypes are normally tools and terms used by product developers and managers, not HR professionals. In 2020, Gartner’s Agile HR Function study cited that 78% of HR leaders have neither a defined agile strategy nor outcomes in place and that only 29% of employees agree that HR programs address their needs and expectations.

Experience Willow’s clients are clear and consistent about the impacts being driven by their human-centered design contributions:

"We are a better company and culture because of Willow's contributions to our business." – Bill Nuti, Former CEO & Chairman, NCR

"Since the initial EXLab pitch, Willow has been igniting an internal transformation that has revolutionized how we think about HR and people solutions." – Jill Campbell, Chief People & Operations Officer, Cox Enterprises

"Willow’s ideas and impact are felt throughout IEX. The VAMOS performance management program alone has transformed how we work and win together." – Andrea Ledford, Chief People Officer, IEX Group

The following links and materials have been curated as evidence for the claims made in this nomination:

• NGLCC LGBTE Certificate 10988 certifies that Experience Willow is a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise™: https://vo-general.s3.amazonaws.com/a1ab4161-9c30-4e28-88fc-d6ad384e3fe2/c846f9cc-b2a0-41fe-a940-c30bc2e8babc?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ4PRWO26HAX3IOCA&Expires=1720468549&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3D%22NGLCC%20LGBTBE%20Certificate%2010988%20Experience%20Willow.pdf%22&response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&Signature=%2Fjs3M3rLj737KWpui8ZnTivviK4%3D

• The Experience Willow website and social media tell the story of the agency and the work they do helping others transform their lives and organizations for the better: https://www.experiencewillow.com/

• This NCR On the Move to Midtown video reveals the story of why this experience design was named 2020 Team Building Event of the Decade: https://vimeo.com/330860952

• This first of two Cox videos shows Kevin Finke in action at the EXLab Kickoff Summit he designed with his Experience Willow team to help 100+ senior HR and business leaders prioritize their most critical design initiatives: https://vimeo.com/331316973

• This second of two Cox videos delivers an animated tour of the new Cox EXLab inside their corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia: https://vimeo.com/331331377

• These excerpts from the Cox EXLab Handbook walk through the story of the Lab and how lab design projects are managed: https://vo-general.s3.amazonaws.com/a1ab4161-9c30-4e28-88fc-d6ad384e3fe2/ed327a8c-91ba-487f-ad81-600e6ae59b8c?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ4PRWO26HAX3IOCA&Expires=1720468549&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3D%2207.13.21%202021%20Stevie%20Awards%20for%20Great%20Employers%20D01%20Business%20HR%20Strategy%20Solution%20Provider_EXLab%20Handbook.pdf%22&response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&Signature=sdlpfA0mSqihtxM4hQbwLgV0SSE%3D

• These exhibits show how IEX2 is being used to cultivate the IEXceptional Experience and how initial designs are positively impacting key performance indicators and business results: https://vo-general.s3.amazonaws.com/a1ab4161-9c30-4e28-88fc-d6ad384e3fe2/69c88d7e-9a8b-491f-ab4e-0501d37e75a6?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ4PRWO26HAX3IOCA&Expires=1720468549&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3D%2207.13.21%202021%20Stevie%20Awards%20for%20Great%20Employers%20D01%20Business%20HR%20Strategy%20Solution%20Provider_IEX2%20Exhibits.pdf%22&response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&Signature=gBObhn%2Bt11JqD1m2XUjtTMoHzjA%3D