One of the most interesting business transformations I have been involved with, the implementation of HP’s Human Resources (HR) Portal, required substantial work in user centered design. The methods used during that multi-year program are timeless and the focus of this case study. For more methods and tools for user centered design, see “The Design Thinking Toolbox” by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, and Larry Leifer.
The advent of internet companies in the late 1990’s and the dot-com boom/bust were the tumultuous beginnings of the online experiences that we have today for commercial services. Few companies survived that first wave but among them were companies that performed especially well in meeting customer needs and providing a user centered online experience including Amazon, eBay, and Priceline. Many companies, seeing this trend of portal investments that could both increase revenues and lower costs started looking inward at how similar investments could increase employee productivity and lower overhead expense. Creating a powerful employee experience and enabling self service in administrative tasks become a popular proposal from C-suite executives across Fortune 50 companies.
It was in this environment that the foundation of HP’s HR Self Service Initiative was laid and investments in user centered design began. Even within a technology company, however, the resistance to HR self service was significant with many claiming that standing up an HR Portal and driving administrative self service meant “taking the human out of HR”. The HR Self Service Initiative would need to be an overwhelming success to overcome this organizational resistance.
The first step for the HR Portal and Self Service Initiative was building a vision and using storytelling to communicate how we could create an employee experience where HR processes, applications and content were: Easy to Find, Easy to Use, and Easy to Get Help.
My thanks here go to Byron Westlund, who was instrumental in creating this vision and story and championing user centered design and design thinking within the HR technology organizations.
Through storytelling, we were able to align and get quicker commitment from company leadership because they could understand the vision in a more personal way. The story was a three-slide pitch and I’ve provided an example below:
Slide 1: What does a typical HR process or transaction experience look like today? What are the root causes of frustration for managers and employees? For example:
Slide 2: What are some best in class and well-known commercial benchmarks of online user experience for solving this problem? What similar day-to-day experiences have employees had where they were satisfied or even delighted by self service? These were companies delivering services that:
Slide 3: What will the future HR process and transaction self service experience look like if we leverage these best-in-class approaches to solving this problem?
At the time we were implementing this improved HR Portal experience, our benchmark companies usually excelled in a single area of the user experience. In our online world today, most successful companies have a solid user experience in all three of the areas mentioned.
Look to the bottom of this section to view the Current, Benchmark and Future state of the
HR Self Service Experience: Easy to Find, Easy to Use, and Easy to Get Help
In a large global company, embarking on user centered design means acknowledging that all users don’t have the same experience. There are differences in roles and responsibilities, language and culture, work environment preference, local technology environments, and unique regulatory requirements by country that lead to different policies and process steps.
The most important work as we launched the HR Self Service Initiative was understanding the environment well enough to know which HR processes were the best fit for global self service, what the logical entry and exit points would be for self service, and what localization may be required. We needed to engage HR teams that managed these HR processes end-to-end from each geographical area. We started by sharing our vision and story for creating an employee experience where HR processes were: Easy to Find, Easy to Use, and Easy to Get Help.
Then, we structured user centered design workshops for different target populations including groups of employees, managers, HR policymakers, HR training developers, HR support personnel and local HR representatives. These workshops helped the design team:
Within these workshops, we used user centered design methods throughout to better understand the existing processes, define problems, document and communicate user needs, and then develop and test solutions. I’ve highlighted the key techniques that we used based on terminology in the book “The Design Thinking Toolbox” so that you can access more information about these methods and how to use them. Here were some of the tools and techniques that we used:
This user centered approach focused the team on designing HR self service in a way that was effective and useful for targeted end users. As we evaluated end-to-end processes, the user centered approach often helped the team find lower cost ways to solve problems rather than just focusing on technical solutions. The role-playing exercise and the prototype testing were especially helpful for HR process owners and HR support personnel to “walk in the shoes” of managers or employees that would be using these new self service transactions. For example: the initial salary increase solution required the manager to enter the employee’s department number. However, this information was already on the employee record. Requesting this information in the transaction created unnecessary work for the manager, especially if they didn’t have that data available. The decision was made to auto-populate data from employee records, whenever possible.
HR self service does not stand on its own. It’s connected to many other company processes and even across HR, other interdependencies were in play. Once we had clarity on the HR self service solutions that we wanted, we needed to create an implementation roadmap that acknowledged these interdependencies. Since we had created service blueprints, we had a clear understanding of the complexity of each HR process area and the impact the changes would have on various employee groups in the company. Based on these, we prioritized work and created the implementation roadmap. A sample slide for one year of the HR Self Service Initiative Actions is provided here. We focused in five areas:
To implement the more complex HR solution designs, we would need to improve HR governance structures in several ways, as shown in the The HR Self Service Environment and Governance Structure slide in the first section of this case study.
For example, to enable managers to navigate a complex HR process, we needed clear information in a logical location on the HR Portal to guide them. This required significantly better governance for content on the HR Portal. To ensure we could direct managers and employees to current, correct HR process information and transactions, all global HR content had to be indexed, consolidated and placed in a global repository. Globally, content owners needed to be identified and administrative access restricted so that the HR Portal would be aligned with specific HR self service solution designs and the long term HR Self Service vision. This meant changes to roles and responsibilities for many HR employees which required building awareness, developing employee understanding and providing training. This is only one example of many global governance modifications that were required.
Ultimately, this HR Self Service Initiative would completely change the role of most in-country HR representatives from supporting administrative tasks to providing HR policy and process consultation to company leaders. Since current HR employees were considered experts and had great confidence in providing administrative support, this new direction created a level of fear and hesitation in some employees. At the same time, the remaining HR administrative work and all HR support were being consolidated into regional HR support centers. Substantial training was needed for these representatives and the HR process knowledge previously maintained in individual countries needed to be collected and consolidated into a Knowledgebase. This Knowledgebase would ultimately assist the HR support personnel but also be used to build FAQs and process information on the HR Portal to reduce the need for employees and managers to contact HR for simple questions.
To keep design thinking in the forefront, it was critical that new HR processes or applications were aligned to the HR Self Service vision. We established checkpoints in the IT software development lifecycle to ensure we could “catch” all changes in the HR process environment and direct them through standard design requirements. This would include ensuring the HR process or transaction could be accessed from the Manager Landing Page on the HR Portal, that transactions or task steps had gone through user centered design and usability testing, that all process information and FAQs would be available for managers and would be provided in advance of launch to the HR support organization. Everything was focused on making HR processes and HR self service, Easy to Find, Easy to Use, and Easy to Get Help.
Likewise, we recognized the impact this HR Self Service Initiative would have on managers. For example, to initiate employment changes, promotions, transfers, and salary increases, managers would be required to access the HR Portal and enter transaction data themselves rather than capturing data in a form to hand-off to HR for data entry. While some managers were confident in the change and even relieved to have more control, others felt that they were taking on HR administrative work.
To address these significant changes, the organization developed a comprehensive change management plan. This plan supported company-wide leaders, managers, HR personnel, and employees and was refined by country to support local needs. Considering the scope of change, the number of employees impacted and a broad spectrum of reactions (denial, fear, acceptance, excitement), change leadership was one of the most challenging parts of this business transformation.
We were committed to not “taking the human out of HR”, but rather using the humans in HR to deliver greater value! Having a powerful story about the HR Self Service vision was incredibility helpful in building support across company leadership and the HR organization. The initiative was well-sponsored and launched in a way that generated excitement and support. HR teams knew this initiative was foundational for the company to implement greater automation and free up resources to better support leaders in workforce decision-making and talent enhancement. The user centered approach to design, development, testing and implementation was the principal factor to successfully implement effective HR self service solutions. Finally, driving the required changes in governance were vital to sustain the design thinking approach, including:
On reflection, the business transformation could have been even more successful with a stronger, multi-layered approach to change management and greater visibility to users and leaders of the improvements made over time to self service capabilities.
From online shopping and apps for everything, the world has come a long way in providing meaningful products and services via the internet. However new technologies and evolving business needs create the same challenge – how do you design products and services in a way that meet user needs? Then how do you help people embrace the new solutions to get maximum benefit from them? At the core of this, is the timeless concept of user centered design.