Outside in

A challenge aimed at most HR functions is how can we be more innovative in improving the way people experience work.    You see it regularly in the work place as new initiatives and changes are made and then there is a feeling of disappointment and frustration when they fail to live to deliver the anticipated outcomes.   We need as an industry to challenge the way we do design.   Often these processes and policies are designed from a technical perspective that lacks any engagement with how people that will actually consume it.   As HR practitioners we need to think more about how our processes and systems look like from the outside than from the inside.

Design thinking is the way forward

HR could learn a lot from the approach of Design Thinking to create a great user experience.   The approach focuses on how people feel when they experience a system or process.   The essence is to collaborate with your people and develop new ideas that can be quickly bought to life.  It brings an end to the development of new processes in dark rooms that are a million miles away from the people on the ground – who will have to consume them.

How does it work?

Design thinking is about iterating solutions and ideas quickly with a diverse set of stakeholders.    The themes I think represent some of the greatest value are these:

  • Empathy – you first look at what is the problem from a user’s perspective and through the use of personas connect with their emotions to help frame the challenge and objectives
  • Ideation – again through engaging with a diverse set of stakeholders you can crowd source potential solutions, the essence is one of exploring the art of the possible, not just getting locked into the first idea that comes to mind and going head down with that
  • Prototype – iteratively building potential solutions quickly to understand what works and what doesn’t, key here is adopting a ‘fail fast’ approach where you learn quickly from failure and refine it.

Starting points

Implementing Design Thinking doesn’t necessarily need to require wholesale changes.   You can start straight away with simple steps.    In reality I think it is more about a philosophical intent to engage with your users than to follow strict methodology when you’re making improvements.    There are a number of great tools to use (the ideas from IDEO are great).    But in essence it is about engaging stakeholders throughout the design process and implementation.    So often due to time constraints we fail to engage people in the process.  We prioritise time without considering quality or usability.     This can lead to a failure in addressing the real systemic issues.  Design thinking challenges this and if you are looking to make long-term sustainable solutions.    It’s worth spending the time to get it right, and it is more fun than being locked in a dark room on your own.

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Your people are your greatest advocates

Organisations have always been quick to position themselves as ‘great places to work’ who treat their ‘people as their greatest assets.’   The straplines are endless.

However, the practical experience on the ground often fails to live up to the grand rhetoric.     There is a fundamental disconnect where the high-level statements get lost in the day to day reality of what it is really like to work in the business.

Organisations are missing a fundamental trick to the bottom line by not addressing this.  They need to start treating employees as consumers and less like cogs operating in a machine.

The public are more likely to trust employees

Results from Edelman’s recent Trust Barometer highlighted employees are seen as the most credible source to communicate information about an organisation, rather than the media, senior executives or consumer activist groups.    The public trust people on the ground.   When you think about it, it’s hardly surprising.

From a marketing perspective, the case for advocacy is overwhelming.   For example, look at it from the perspective of social media.    Even if you assume each employee has only 500 connections on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc.) then in an organisation of 1,000 employees you are able to directly connect to a network of over 500,000 people.    This provides a market that is bigger and likely to be more credible than any feed an organisation can broadcast from.

Businesses are missing a fundamental trick when they’re not engaging their employees to help advocate their brand.     They need to start to communicate more to their people to get them to authentically advocate the brand to their networks.  There is now a host of platforms enabling organisations to do this.   However, much of this lies in mindset and organisations need to embrace and engage their employees to help them promote their brand to their trusted networks.

Referring where everyone wins 

Recruitment is another area that employees hold the key to answering the problem of how do organisations acquire talent.     Research shows that referrals can transform your recruitment process.    It’s not surprising that increasingly referrals are seen as the most successful channel to attract high quality candidates.  You can get better candidates in a shorter space of time.

It is therefore frustrating when a number of employee referral schemes fail to move with the times and provide a meaningful incentive to employees to refer prospective talent.   Referral schemes are often archaic processes with ‘one size fits all’ schemes that fail to engage employees and are poorly internally marketed.     Against the current cost of recruitment it makes commercial sense to engage your people in innovative and exciting ways to help them attract the talent that resides in their network.

I was proud that at Travelex we completely revamped the referral process and provided a graded set of incentives depending on roles communicated in an imaginative interactive way.    For certain roles we significantly increased the incentive (still significantly under what agency costs were) filling critical vacancies.    Direct marketing of roles enabled us in a year to attract 32% of new hires directly into the business, reduce cycle time by 20% and save 40% on our overall recruitment costs.  At the heart of the approach was going direct to our people and engaging them with the process.

We need to up our game

When you start thinking about your people as advocates and not as assets it starts to change the rules of the game in how organisations manage and support their people.   We need to hold the lens up on our approach and treat our people as consumers and brand advocates, which they are.   As a result a lot of what we do needs to change.    We need to be unrelenting in the service we offer our people and be more innovative in how we do this.   It’s time to treat our people as consumers not simply registered assets allocated somewhere in a machine.

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