By Peter Eckert
In any business environment, an organisation’s ultimate goal is to deliver a product or service that provides a solution to one or many issues. To do so, they typically have employees who use tools to deliver these products or services.
But frequently, these tools are outdated tech solutions sold by tech providers that are rarely focused on the experiences of the employees.
This is especially true in large organisations, where enterprise tools are procured by IT department – often for millions of dollars.
We frequently find a mismatch between the people working within an organisation and the tools that they use, which are either outdated, or not tailored or easily navigated, without actually addressing some or all of their day-to-day work issues.
Organisations simply need to identify shortcomings in their experiences that prevent them from being efficient. We see this, for example, in paper processes, which is very common in any business across many industries.
If you walk around any given office and you look at employees’ work spaces, you may, for instance, find some who use sticky notes pinned against their monitors or desks, for a number of reasons.
What that indicates is, they have developed a “workaround” – a tell-tale sign that a certain process or processes aren’t working for them as they should.
In this scenario, sometimes using paper may be the right way to go. But most times, it indicates a systemic lack.
For some organisations, a go-to fix is to turn to off-the-shelf Experience Design or UX solutions, which is often viewed as an all-encompassing panacea.
But it’s not quite as simple as sprinkling a little bit of UX fairy dust. UX is merely the execution to adjust something that is otherwise broken. It is just a technique. Without looking at the underlying core problem, UX may actually misfire. It is only effective after the core problem is identified.
For an example, we saw this at play with a European luxury carmaker, which had previously implemented a UX solution to manage their maintenance departments task flows. This turned out to be a complete waste of millions of dollars in investment, because employees in the maintenance department couldn’t use this very expensive solution.
They would instead print out the tasks on a piece of paper, which they would place on to their workbench, before huddling around the paper to identify their respective tasks. A simple push notification system, sending tasks to mobile phone would have been so much more efficient.
Eliminating wasted processes usually drives efficiency. But in order to do so, organisations need to fully understand their core problems and issues.
They need to observe employees’ day-to-day work processes. They need to investigate where they may have unwittingly developed so called workarounds, which are usually the biggest identifiers for areas for improvement or innovation.
After this, they can more easily and effectively custom-design better bespoke solutions.
The role of HR and Behavioral Science
Generally, most organisations measure efficiency to some extent. They have key performance indicators (KPIs) to actively track and measure throughput and volumes of data processes. But they only allow organisations to merely see what is happening, without really identifying why it is happening.
Businesses need to use techniques that will identify qualitative data points, which fundamentally reveal why human beings behave in a certain way.
In this regard, behavioral science is a tool we typically use, where we employ people with backgrounds in anthropology and psychology, to just sit next to employees in organisations and observe them going about their work. Their role is to learn about fundamental issues these employees face and why they are happening. We call these, contextual inquiries.
This is where HR, particularly, can play a fundamental role to get this process started in just about any organization.
They need to go beyond merely asking employees what they need. They need to walk around their own organization and honestly observe how people truly perform at their respective tasks. They need to observe what these employees are doing and identify workarounds that may have developed.
These qualitative insights – the identification of underlying issues through structured observations of how people work and what they do – can usually provide understanding into areas where adjustment may be required.
These observations could be as mundane as going to where employees get coffee, or listening to what kind of conversations they have amongst colleagues, or how they help each other to overcome things that the system doesn’t provide for them.
And the best people for the job are usually from HR.
HR people are essentially ‘people-people’. They can transcend the disconnect between the various business units within an organisation which have different needs.
Procurement, for instance, may need solutions completely different than talent managers, who in turn require solutions completely different than the supply chain manager in the warehouse.
But today, we often see all these business units being treated homogenously across the board by overarching solutions that don’t identify needs of individual units.
At best, they’re just a quick fix to treat the symptoms. They don’t delve into the core issues. Simply “reshuffling the bundle” doesn’t work either. This is very common in sales where a company may have a package that isn’t selling. So, they repackage, instead of looking at what’s inside the package.
The findings after the observation process may be a bitter pill to swallow for many organisations.
Very often, it could mean fundamental management flaws or failed investments amounting to millions.
One large HR company we engaged with did not like what they learned after we went through this initial observation process with them. We were told to eliminate certain elements of our findings in our report because it showed failed investment and revealed mismanagement.
Conversely, we have an example of a really big bank in the US, which were initially in disbelief at the findings after the observation process. But after three months, they came back to us, humbled.
It took some self-reflection, but they finally came to an awareness that they needed to address some of the issues which they didn’t even know existed.
As a result, they were able to completely change their business approach, how they addressed the market, how they set up their internal processes, how they treated people, and how they allowed careers to unfold.
Once companies identify fundamental underlying issues and address them, the impact can be tremendous. They enable positive change, and become increasingly successful. It’s a snowball effect.
The organisation’s culture improves. They’re driving efficiency, which in return drives employee satisfaction and their motivation to come to work, which in return drives positive market sentiment and perceptions. From HR perspective, this bodes well for employee attraction and retention.
The entire turnaround process could take anywhere between three to four weeks, or in more rare and complex situations, as long as 14 months. But the outcome usually far outweighs the effort, which potentially large savings on investments down the line.
More often than not, companies will do more than merely identify areas for improvement or change in business processes.
They could also potentially recognise otherwise untapped areas for innovation – a new product idea, for instance.
In our work, typically 40% percent of our findings are actually brand-new ideas for innovation and product strategy that organisations wouldn’t have thought about because they simply didn’t adequately understand the problem.
Not too long ago, we did an investigation for Charles Schwab in the US for one of their trading platforms. After the entire exercise, we identified a diverse suite of ideas for innovation and development, that the company initiated a five-year product roadmap for this single platform alone, which is one of their top performing platforms today.
It could start with HR
It’s really exciting to think about the potential that HR has in initiating this positive change. HR units within an organisation usually have a good handle on some of the company’s shortcomings because they interact with just about every talent within the organisation. They can already observe issues and are therefore better equipped to document some of an organisation’s problems.
Many HR departments have probably already done this. Analysing their own wealth of information and data, they can initiate the change process on their own. They may not have anthropologists or psychologists among them (although many do), but they are pre-destined and hardwired to be best-equipped to look into issues they already know about within their organisation.
And that’s where change begins.