What Would it be Like to Deal With People in a Human Way?

In: BlogDate: Mar 01, 2019By: Henry Stewart

“The idea is to make our onboarding process human-centred, not HR-centred.” Tracey Waters explains how she was inspired by Agile Methodology and Design Thinking principles to improve Sky’s onboarding experience, in this interview with Henry Stewart.

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At Sky, every manager is expected to contact new recruits, two to four weeks before they join, to explain how to get there, what to wear, what to expect, check if they’ve got any questions or concerns and to let them know that they are looking forward to them arriving.

This is not simply the outcome of a brainstorm in the HR department.

“We use Design Thinking principles,” explained Tracey Waters, Head of People Engagement and Development at Sky UK. “So we went to the most recent recruits and asked them was easy, what was difficult. Then we tested it with people having the experience, with our next recruits.

“The idea is to make our on-boarding process human-centred, not HR-centred. Typically HR will take a problem, take it into HR and find a solution in their own heads with no relation to what people want. There seemed, to me, to be four problems:

  1. Pace – simply not responsive enough.
  2. Using opinions not data. You need data which would override the most senior person’s opinion, otherwise you are always designing from your own model of the world.
  3. Waste – people were spending time and energy and money on a solution but, because they hadn’t talked to people, it didn’t solve the problem.
  4. Silos – individuals were working within their individual functions. They were trying to solve different problems. I just saw potential if we could bring a team of people together.

“We are moving from 20th century to 21st century workplaces. It’s about empowerment, wellbeing, collaboration and connection. HR is meant to be in service of people, to help them reach their potential and contribute to the best of their abilities. It’s about HR being more human-centred, less HR-centred.”

Among the sources Tracey turned to were those of Agile and Design Thinking. Both of these put human experience at the centre.

“Design Thinking is about going to the people who are having the experience. Then you define the issue with them, test it, and build a prototype for them to try and see if it solves the problem.

“Think of Design Thinking and Agile as cousins. Broadly speaking, one focuses on understanding the problem and the other focuses on delivering a useful solution. They share a mindset about putting the human (or user, or customer) at the centre.”

When people say they are building an Agile culture they often just mean they are trying to be flexible. Tracey is referring to the Agile Methodologies that grew out of software development.

“There are four elements to an Agile mindset:

  1. User centricity: I would call it human centricity.
  2. Be data driven: you have to do research, look for evidence, not just develop off your own opinions.
  3. Collaboration: get more creativity, more energy.
  4. Iterative: Instead of a Big Bang approach, how can you quickly test your idea by creating a simple prototype?

“HR has the problem of thinking if they do a Big Bang launch designed only by HR that staff will love it. But staff don’t love it because they haven’t been involved in its creation.

“This approach applies to everything. How you do performance, development, onboarding, it’s all about starting with the people concerned at the beginning.

“Agile Methodology is about rituals and routines. Having daily stand ups (where each person in the team states briefly what they are doing), holding planning sessions and retrospectives after each ‘sprint’ and using showcases to bring a team of people around a shared problem.

“Then we use digital products that have real time analytics so can see: have they opened it, have they clicked it, are they interested? We use data not from focus groups or surveys but actually look at what people do. That is much more evidence based.”

How does she know it’s working? “We can see the numbers improving, we see if people are speaking positively about what we do and we use the survey data. The numbers for engagement, empowerment, growth, and collaboration are all now above benchmarks and improved dramatically after we changed the way we worked.”

Let’s make working with people a more human activity.

Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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