HR is UX

Over the past few years, I’ve written repeatedly about simplicity being fundamental to the future of organisational management. I’m not alone, and increasingly there is a trend to recognise this. You know that when Deloitte starts referring to it as an emerging trend that it is no longer niche.

And whilst it is well acknowledged that simplicity is harder to achieve than complexity. I think, simplicity is…..well a little simple.

For me, the future of HR management lies in a concept that is often attributed to technology, but has as much, if not more, to do with human interaction. I’m talking about “user experience” or UX a term that didn’t really exist in this way until the mid 90s.

But UX and the approach to it can inform our HR and people management practices both in our use of technology and in the wider approach to employees.

It’s Sunday at time of writing and I’m feeling a bit lazy, so let’s borrow from Wikipedia the main benefits of UX based design,

• Avoiding unnecessary product features
• Simplifying design documentation and customer-centric technical publications
• Improving the usability of the system and therefore its acceptance by customers
• Expediting design and development through detailed and properly conceived guidelines
• Incorporating business and marketing goals while protecting the user’s freedom of choice

Anyone arguing with any of those? No, I thought not. But do we really practice it?

Think about when you open a new technology product. Let’s take an iPhone. The design, the presentation, the simplicity that belies the complexity beneath, the configurability and personalisation, the navigation and experience. Think of the excitement you felt the first time you saw or experienced one.

When smart phones came in to existence, nobody could see the point. The seemed like an expensive, laborious waste of time and money. But in time we’ve come to find them an essential that we can’t live without.

Now there’s a thing…..

Essential HR marketing

Last week I wrote about the consumerisation of HR, the fact that we need to be obsessive about simplicity and “end user experience”. HR is essentially a series of products that we are trying to sell in to the various other parts of the business. Too often though, we overlook this and instead try to mandate, which has the impact of both disempowering us and annoying everyone else.

Which is really not cool.

We were looking at a particular HR intervention recently and sought feedback from line managers and employees across the globe on how we should go about it. Regardless of whether people came from Europe, Asia or the US, their answers could broadly be summarised as,

Keep it simple
Explain why things need to change
Explain what’s in it for me

Which is about as concise a summary of how to take a product to market as you’ll ever get. I’ve written before about the questions that we can use when evaluating what we do and whether it is value adding activity or HR nonsense. But it seems to me that these additional employee questions beautifully compliment that design framework when it comes to marketing our products and services.

Have we kept things as simple as possible? Is the design user friendly? Is it sexy and nice to look at, to touch and to hold? Does it have more tick boxes than a social security form or have we thought more cleverly about design? Have we chosen our language to engage and relate rather than to alienate and patronise?

What is the compelling message? Can we clearly articulate why we are doing something and the business or social imperative? Can we win hearts and minds and consistently and coherently explain the changes that we are making? Is the narrative the same everywhere or are there different complimentary messages for different groups?

What is the individual win? What will each employee group get from this intervention? How will employees benefit? What will managers get that is helpful and different? Will the leadership team be benefitting in a different way? If you sat down for thirty minutes with any single employee, could you (and every member of your team) clearly articulate the “win” for for them and each and every other employee?

Successful product design is hard. It requires thought and focus. It requires innovation and experimentation and it requires courage. But thinking about the end user, thinking about their experience and thinking about what they want is more likely going to make it successful than thinking about what you as a HR professional or team need. And ultimately more likely to get you success.

We shouldn’t be afraid of marketing, we shouldn’t be afraid of selling. We should always be out to win hearts and minds and gain commitment and “buy in”, rather than to seek mandates and enforcement. But at the end of the day, it’s a hell of a lot easier to sell in a well designed product than a lazy, thoughtless piece of work.

Which is why it is always worth spending the extra time thinking about the design and what it means to your people.