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The New Role of HR: ‘Experience Architects’

-by Ben Whitter

It’s not time for something different. It’s time for something better. A lot of my work and research on employee experience (EX) involves the HR function in some way. Although many of the touchpoints within EX revolve around and are under the direct control of leaders, HR remains a key player in shaping and building positive experiences in work, but how are HR leaders transforming and what capabilities are coming to the fore?

Historically, HR has been caught in the middle. The orders coming down from the top and a deep mistrust rising from the bottom. It’s been a no-win game. Things going well, the brand wins. Things going bad, HR gets the blame for the poor culture. Indeed, leaders routinely name and shame HR by pointing the finger at colleagues who are often not able to fight back.

However, the more enlightened CEO is demanding something else from HR. To be an adored brand, you need a good amount of love in the marketplace. The C-suite is now recognizing, at a level scarcely seen before, the connection between how their consumers AND employees feel. Thriving employees creating a thriving brand experience.

Now, this area is rife with distraction. The shiny new tech, the incredible new apps, the amazingly colourful workplace experiences and all that. Yet, within all the glossy marketing and all the content from the EX being shared by employees on social media, one thing is clear.

It is the highly visible shift towards human-centricity. Companies are actively building around what it is to be a human-being. The whole being too, in and out of work. How can you get the best out of people if you don’t understand them? How can they thrive if they are set up to fail by outdated workplace and HR practices? How do you do this when things get tough?

I got a great question at a keynote for HR professionals this week. A HR Director explained that her company was laying people off and going through a very rocky period. “How do I create a better experience for people facing redundancy?”

Well, there is no off button for being a human-centred company. Regardless of the situation, we can always apply that lens to deliver a positive experience. So, a company needs to re-organise. Perhaps this is due to poor strategic leadership. Perhaps due to poor market conditions. Whatever the reason, it is fact that you will be doing something to address it. Lay-offs may well be the way your business decides to go. John Lewis in the UK, a company heralded as being a great company to work for, took this approach this week. They have opted to slash senior manager roles. Regardless, as a HR professional, you may not be able to influence a lot of this, but you do have to deal with the consequences.

In this case, employees may not like the decisions, but they will respect an employer more if the experience of ending the employment contract is handled with empathy, care, and is well-designed based on the needs of the employee, not the employer. Letting go of loyal employees is hard, they deserve a well-supported experience. The best you can put together. Go over the top to help people through this.

Focus on their transition experience.
- What do they say they need and want? 
- What is possible with your context?
- How can you keep the conversation, and the experience, human and focused on them?

They may not like the situation, but you give yourself a very good chance of retaining their goodwill and respect. As I say in my speeches and our HEX Practitioner certification, the contract may end, but the connection will continue forever. Try to make sure the connection is a healthy and positive one.

Thinking more with the business in mind, the outcomes will be clear from reputation gains, marketing and brand advocacy outcomes, and in tangible business metrics like revenue as employees will continue to refer people to the brand BECAUSE of the positive experience they had when they left. It is pragmatic to look at the human and business outcomes. Not just one or the other given you’ll need to manage internal and external stakeholders effectively, and their motivations may not be as human-centred as yours! This is reality within the current model of the economy, but may not always be if we grow this movement out effectively to leaders across sectors and organisations.

Forget the organizational charts, this worldview, which is difficult for some to come to terms with, positions humans at the heart of the business model. At every touchpoint. In effect and design, every single thing or project is led with people in mind. The upskill required here is extensive and substantial. It requires deep levels of empathy, an approach based on co-creation, and an unyielding development of emotional and psychological intelligence. Driving successful behaviours and outcomes with employees also calls for the right mindset from the HR function and professionals within it. The mindset aspect is often the hardest step to overcome, but once people do get beyond it, the possibilities are limitless.

HR has a golden opportunity to become the architects of experience. Rather than let circumstances and challenges dictate our approach, with this mindset, we can make any situation a part of our grand design to deliver exceptional business and human outcomes.

 

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