Embracing a Design Process for HR Teams

Whether justified or not, human resources as a business function has a certain perception around it. Think about a stereotypical HR department at any corporation. You’re probably imagining a group that is process-oriented, clinical, or even robotic in the way it moves. And they may not be the first group invited to out-of-office gatherings (but I promise they’re more fun than you think). 

Before my move to People Operations, I spent the better part of fifteen years working as a designer. As you can imagine, clinical and robotic were not my cup of tea. But I’ve learned that the best People Ops teams have more in common with what I’ve experienced in my creative career than you may think. As I have tried to do my part in building a healthy culture at Studio Science, there are design approaches I’ve found to be critical for success. 

Have a design process baked into everything you do

Whether I was creating a brand identity or an immersive experience, the process remained mostly the same. It started with research and initial ideation, then I created multiple options, got feedback, refined based on that feedback, and ultimately, we launched the most fitting output. HR processes can and should follow a similar progression.

Making big decisions, like rolling out a new employee program or switching insurance providers, doesn’t work well when executed in a vacuum. ‘Here’s your new plan, it’s taking place in a month, enjoy’ rarely gets received well. HR should feel like a partnership with the employees it serves, not a singular authority. 

Obviously, some processes and initiatives are rigorous for a reason. There’s not much wiggle room with legal and compliance protocols. But what I’m focusing on is more of the cultural aspects, where you can customize a bit more to fit your audience (aka your people). 

Here, ideation and optimization are key. Provide options, get feedback, and collectively work toward the best possible outcome. Not everyone will be happy with everything in the end—that’s an impossible goal to chase—but the likelihood of maintaining a strong culture is greater if a wide breadth of voices are heard along the way. 

Human-Centered Iteration 

We pride ourselves on being human-centered in our design approach for our clients. We target the real people using their services and products and try to pinpoint what they need and when they need it. The same should be true for your HR team. 

Designers seek user feedback all the time. For us in HR, our people are our users. Make sure you’re being intentional about listening to them. Start with what you have, listen to what your people think about it, and iterate from there. You’re not going to get it right the first time, but that’s OK. If you listen well and are able to spot trends, then you can make the program or strategy better in the next iteration. 

And the listening portion of the process can’t be a one-time event. The workforce, economic landscape, and employee behaviors are constantly evolving. Making improvements from one group to the next may not always look like adding more or searching for better. Rather, adapting and tailoring your programs to those needs and landscapes as they evolve will ensure you’re meeting your team where they are. 

One-Offs vs. Trends

Just like how it’s impossible to please everyone in an organization with every decision, your employees are often going to give you conflicting feedback. But that doesn’t mean you stop listening to everything. One of the best skills you can develop is your ability to find the signal through the noise. 

My rule is that if I see or hear it once, I listen, but I don’t act. If I see it 3–5 times, then it feels like a trend that needs attention. A largely remote working environment makes this more challenging. Five years ago, I could sit in a room with a group of colleagues and easily read the energy in the room. That’s much harder to do over Zoom. 

The best way I’ve found to identify trends in a virtual setting is to build and maintain trust through regular check-ins with managers. Understanding when they just need space to vent, when they need a thought partner, or when they need me to solve a problem has proven to help in understanding any trends in behaviors that may come from their team members. 

When you’re in a creative field, your work as the designer, writer, producer, you name it, leads to the output. That work is molded by inspiration, recommendations, and ideas from countless other stakeholders along the way. The same can be true for HR. One of our responsibilities is to help build and maintain a positive culture, so let the culture help mold your HR practices. And never stop iterating on it, because the most impactful designs and experiences aren’t just seen—they’re felt, appreciated, and remembered.

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