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The Power of Human-Centric Strategy Design in Transforming HR Processes

By: Chelsea Howard, Founder, Drift

I heard an amazing quote from a leader once.

“In HR, we spend way too much time preparing to talk to ourselves.”

I’ve always found that to be true. In the over-a-decade I have been working on HR strategy teams, I have been struck, astounded, and often frustrated by the time it often takes to make key people decisions. In my experience, this is usually related to direct interventions with employees. I believe it comes down to fear.

Let me explain.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when we create things in the “HR Vacuum” — that is, we design a program or process with a group of our HR peers, stakeholder it with HR leads and ultimately have it approved by HR executives — we aren’t prepared to take those things to market and we stumble when it comes to delivery. That can be due to a few things — I tend to believe that it mostly has to do with a lack of confidence that a program or process created it a vacuum with succeed when tested with a group of real people. That’s why we see so many amazing strategies stuck in ‘decision-paralysis’ stages of stakeholdering for way too long, often leading to losing critical competitive ground, wasting time and money, creating disengagement on strategy teams and disjointing the candidate experience.

At Drift, we believe the answer is bringing human-centred strategy design into HR.

Human-centred design is a problem-solving method that requires the designer to put real people first. To use this methodology, you need to know your audience deeply, empathize with a real-life problem they are facing and come up with solutions they can embrace and adopt.

In HR terms, we are talking about future employees (talent) and current employees. Human strategy design in HR means understanding how we can continually mend fractures in the employee experience, strengthen a connection with the organization through culture and disrupt talent processes to open up new talent pools and extend your company’s narrative authentically.

Human-centred design is a relatively new concept. It was first introduced by an American political scientist, Herbert Simon, in 1947. Simon’s model for human design served as the foundation for his life’s work. Bringing in concepts of cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology, Simon put forward a theory of human-decision making, and started a movement in marketing and design, placing that intelligence at the centre of everything.

A flow chart of key activities in human resources strategy.
Simon's Human-Centric Design

How can we start using human-centred strategy design? It starts with asking the right questions

  • Which problems could your employee face when it comes to feeling their most successful? Your solutions will offer a more cohesive, streamlined employee experience. Note: Disrupting bias and challenging the status quo will become absolutely paramount here.

  • Why should people want to work for you and stay with you (consult your employee value proposition)? What do you offer that is unique, differentiated or competitive? An employee-centric design will grant you a competitive advantage that will benefit your company.

The distinguishing factor between human-centred design and other problem solving methodologies is it’s relentless prioritization of the perspective of the person who is experiencing the culture, the solution, the advertisement… or whatever it is you are trying to create. At it’s best, the people who will be on the receiving end of the ultimate deliverable become an intrinsic part of the design process.

Let’s look at the five stages of modern human-centric design through the lens of a major HR priority right now — employer branding.

  • Empathize

  • Define

  • Ideate

  • Prototype

  • Test and Iterate

When it comes to employer branding, one of the most important things to capture is an authentic, honest portrayal of what is happening inside your company, for your employees. But, that doesn’t mean using your EB platforms as a megaphone to blast company messages. You also have to tune into the needs of your future employees (your talent), and craft campaigns and messages that share your culture narrative authentically, but also leave space to share what is unique and exciting about your company, from the perspective of your candidates.

Empathize The founding principle of human-centred design is that you should try to understand your audience before you design a solution to serve them. This means, immersing yourself in the talent community that represents your future workforce. You need to do deep internal and external research to understand where the intersection between you current culture and future workforce happens. This stage is about asking questions, adopting a ‘learners mindset’ and involving and engaging your audience in your brainstorming process.

Psst…On November 16th, Drift is hosting an event focused on taking this exact process from strategy to action. It’s called “What is Human-Centric Employer Branding?” Register today here!

Define This is where you create the rest of the process. You’ve learned as much as you can about your target audience (your future employees) and what they are looking for in a career. You can now map that to your company vision, EVP, values, purpose, and anything else that defines the culture and employee experience at your company. This helps you define your focus. The best human-centred solutions happen when you ask why. Why should these people want to work with us? What can we offer that is unique and different? The way you define your focus is important and should be phrased in a way that allows for flexibility and creativity.

Ideate It’s time to brainstorm and vision-board. This is the fun part. We need to define a creative identity for your employer brand and an actionable plan to release it to the market. A critical part of the ideation process is who you involve. At Drift, we use a model that takes an iterative approach to ideation, bringing in business, marketing, ED&I and leader stakeholders at various stages to ensure the end solutions is informed by diverse perspectives. However you do your ideation, remember: all ideas are good ideas. Start with coming up with as many as possible and whittle them down as you go.

Prototype Create different treatments and formats for your creative identity. As you go through the development process, don’t wait until the final creative concept is complete to start building potential solutions. Try to align with the 80–20 rule… it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get the idea across. For example, as you are ideating and building the final creative concept, you should also be mocking up example of how it could show up across different platforms. Create ‘prototypes’ of your career site, social platforms, and more traditional assets to explore the full breadth of a creative concept’s potential.

Test and Iterate Now, it’s time to get this out into the market and see how the creative concept performs. This is typically where we would see some ‘decision-paralysis’ aforementioned in this article. However, the empathize — define — ideate — prototype process up until now should mitigate the fear and reticence on the part of decision makers. You’ve done the research and you can draw logical connections to the data from the creative concept. But, it’s not over. This process is non-linear. It’s cyclical. Once you release the employer branding into the external market, start learning about how your future workforce responds to it. What do they like? What don’t they like? Why? You might end up going back to your ideation group to iterate a new concept… or you may end up building and strengthening the original one.

I encourage you to look at adopting this thinking into your own HR strategy practices. We exist in a very different world than Herbert Simon’s. We are getting closer and closer to optimizing the full potential of our society and economy… but that will only happen when we really put human beings at the centre of how we design our organizations. The science backs it up — when we empathize, ask why?, and create space for continuous improvement our organizations become healthier and our people perform better.

If you are interested in learning more about how to bring human-centred design into HR, reach out to book a consult with my company Drift at If you want to meet and network with passionate employer brand professionals in Toronto on November 16th on this very subject, register to attend my event: Conversations with Impact: What is Human-Centric Employer Branding?


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