Starting at the end

by HRD28 Mar 2017
As the user experience is now a key priority for technology vendors, HRD chats to one expert about how HR is also starting to adopt the same design thinking into its own processes

Bersin by Deloitte is a name synonymous with HR thought leadership. The man spearheading that innovation is David Mallon, the firm’s head of research. Mallon is the former steward for Bersin by Deloitte’s L&D research practice, and has been central to the firm’s thought leadership relating to HR’s operating models, governance, and the evolution of key roles, such as the HR business partner. Mallon will be a keynote speaker at the National HR Summit, held in Sydney on 29-30 March. The theme of his talk, Innovative HR: Enabling the Workplace of Tomorrow, will challenge attendees’ preconceptions and encourage fresh thinking around the role of HR within today’s organisations.

As a taster for the event, HRD chatted to Mallon about why HR should be incorporating design thinking into all of its practices.

HRD: You’ll be talking at the National HR Summit about some of the ways in which HR can transform itself – and one way is to incorporate design thinking into people strategies. Can you outline what this means?

DM: There are a number of theories about design thinking out there, but regardless of which of those existing sets of theories you take on board, there are some common threads. One is the notion of empathy – not empathy in the emotional sense but rather walking in the shoes of the people you serve. In this case, rather than HR looking to solve a problem by creating a top-down process based on consistent stepby- step guidelines, HR instead should embed themselves with the employees to gain intimate knowledge of everything happening in the employees’ world, all the disruption they are facing and what competes for their attention.

Designing with employees in mind, how can you then help them be successful, productive and engaged employees? It’s about having a relentless focus on the people you serve.

Another part of this is experimentation and iteration. A key element of design thinking is that you go into whatever the problem is without thinking that you have the perfect solution. Instead you should generate many possible solutions, try to test as many that you can, as fast as you can, and then constantly iterate. That process never ends. It’s frankly something that HR is not naturally predisposed to being good at.

HRD: Can you provide some examples of how this might work?

On the transactional side of HR there are plenty of great examples. Let’s say you’re an employee and you want to obtain a verification letter in order to buy a house or car, or you want to change your schedule or request leave. Many HR functions are looking to put these transactions into mobile apps, for the simple reason that this is what employees now expect. It should mirror how they do their banking, for example. It requires thinking about how to make the employee experience so easy that people barely know they are doing HR tasks. HR blends into the woodwork and employees don’t think about it; it’s just there and it works.

But you’re also now seeing it show up in the more substantive things like career conversations. Rather than the HR person being someone you go to when there’s a problem, increasingly HR is someone you go to when you need counsel, when you need to think about where you might grow in the organisation. HR provides guidance as to the paths the company would like you to go on, the tools available to you, and the internal steps you need to take.
David Mallon suggests three tips for introducing design thinking into people strategies:

1. Understand your workforce “Don’t be afraid to talk to people. It’s odd to say this in the context of HR, but don’t be afraid to go out and talk to your employees and spend lots of time with the people you
serve. Be willing to use their feedback in the design process. Be willing to bring them into what you’re doing.
You cannot have too many conversations with the users of whatever it is you do.”

2. Don’t do it all at once “You can find individual aspects of the talent experience to tackle first and learn from that. It’s OK to learn as you go, to try new things. It’s also OK to put out a project that isn’t 100% complete; it may only be 80% complete and that’s OK. Tell the employees it’s 80% done and you’ll figure it out as you go and make it better as you go. You see that a lot in performance management. What’s interesting is it’s one of the few areas where HR has been willing to experiment. They’ve been willing to say, ‘OK, let’s try it; let’s try a different process in three parts of the company and see which one works best.’ ”

3. Don’t forget to ask why “It’s a good opportunity to hit reset. Why do we have these processes and policies in place? Often the answer is not clear and when HR starts to ask itself, we often find that it’s not the value they want to be driving. They want more productivity; they want people to spend less time on the transactional. We want them focused on the day job and that’s not what they’re doing. That’s not how you’ve designed all of this.”

HRD: Should HR feel threatened by this or is it an opportunity for them to have different sorts of conversations with staff?

DM: I don’t think they should feel threatened at all. Look at banking as an example. Around the world today there are more bank tellers than there have ever been. That’s hard to get your head around when you think about how banking has changed.

However, when you go into a bank branch and sit down at the teller, what they’re doing today verses what they did 10-20 years ago, it’s not even the same job. Being a cashier, exchanging money and so forth has gone away almost entirely. What’s going on in bank branches today is relationship building. They sit down; they want to know more about you; they’re going to recommend other kinds of products and programs and so forth.

That’s essentially exactly what’s happening with HR. The skills required in HR, and the kind of skills required in the rest of the business for that matter, are becoming essentially more and more human. There have been studies done that show that wherever new technology – robotic process automation or cognitive technologies like machine learning or AI – has been introduced there have been more jobs generated, not fewer. But those jobs being generated are requiring different skill sets: relationship building, storytelling and data analysis.

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