Can Human-Centered Design Finally Change HR?

Key take aways from my presentation at the 2019 annual SIOP conference

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Ya’ll, we’ve been talking about it for as long as I can remember. HR needs a make over. We’ve gotten creative with metrics, we’ve recognized the importance of “human capital,” we’ve invested in training, we’ve gotten leaders engaged in messaging and values… we’ve made a lot of progress! But we still aren’t the favorite child at the functional leadership round table. In fact, we sometimes still feel like the stepchild that was invited there because it’s the right thing to do. Why? Business can’t exist without people. In fact, there’s no need for it. Work provides us with the opportunity to invest in ourselves and each other in order to make this whole living thing feel a little bit more purposeful. So, if that’s all true, shouldn’t Human Resources be THE most important thing in business?

Like many others, I decided to pursue a career in HR because I have a passion for people and a deep desire to leave this world just a little better than I found it. However, it is my observation that as the field has advanced and divided into specialized functions (e.g., recruiting, compensation, benefits, talent, engagement), our initial “why” has occasionally been lost in the details. That passion for creating a better work experience and helping others fulfill their personal potential has been slowly diluted through multiple “best practice” filters. In an ongoing battle to “get a seat at the table,” have we lost our unique voice?

For me personally, Design Thinking has given me a fresh perspective on my role as a professional people person. It pushed me to simultaneously experience two things:

1. Permission to focus on what brought us to this field: a focus on authentic human values and unmet needs.

2. That we can (and should) be equally as aspirational and innovation-focused when it comes to developing solutions for our internal employees as we are for our external customers.

By simply embracing these two principles, we (the HR community) can totally rewrite our job descriptions and reimagine how we spend our time. Guess what? Evidence still matters. Best practices are valuable. Compliance is there for a reason. I get it! We just don’t have to lead with it.

Instead, by empathizing with our employees to create something delightful for them, we begin to open up new doors for ourselves. If we become creators instead of just process guides, our role can radically shift to one that is meaningful to both business and our human-centered spirits.

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