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Jon Ingham

Jon Ingham Strategic HR Academy

Strategic HR Academy Trainer and Learning Facilitator

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The human-focused workplace: how to redesign your organisation to achieve people-centricity


In part three of this three-part series on ‘Making HR truly strategic’, HR expert Jon Ingham outlines three requirements for redesigning an organisation with people at its heart.

An increasing number of organisations are using a growing range of approaches to help build an environment in which people can do their best work. For example, process design is now being supplemented by journey mapping in order to help design the employee experience from the employee’s perspective, based upon what the journey looks and feels like to them.

These are great approaches and I hope HR will grow to use them even more than we do now. However, they also assume that the organisation has already been designed in a not very human way, and that therefore the best that can be done is to tidy it up and make it slightly less awful for people.

To me this cannot be the right answer. If you have heard the phrase lipstick on a pig, then to me employee journey mapping often tries to put shiny engagement lipstick on a clunky organisational pig. Actually, we need to change the pig. Or, in business terms, we need to redesign the whole organisation for people to do work, rather than just for work to get done by people.

Requirements for organisation change

When I have done organisation design in the past, I have set two key requirements for the redesigned organisation to deliver on.

The first ongoing requirement has been to specify what the organisation needs to provide, which is to meet the needs of the business strategy. This is usually best expressed as the organisational capabilities which the organisation, including the people in the organisation, needs to provide to enable the business to meet its operational, customer and financial objectives.

The second requirement is a clear set of organisation principles. These specify how the organisation needs to work in meeting the needs of the business strategy. These can include how power should be distributed; the level of autonomy in individual roles; and how the company wants to use technology, contingent working or outsourcing.

A new requirement for people-centric organisations

But there is now an additional requirement to become more human focused, which entails meeting the workforce’s main expectations of the company.

What do employees expect and desire in terms of their jobs and careers, reward and benefits, managers and other employees? Where possible, these expectations should be articulated as outputs or benefits rather than just experiences.

One really useful approach, which builds on understanding employees, is to develop personas that represent useful portions of the workforce.

If we can articulate these expectations, along with the organisation capabilities and principles, we will be in a much better position to design the organisation, culture, and physical and digital workplaces to meet the needs of the employees and the business. Consequently, we will not need to rely quite so much on tactical approaches like journey mapping.

However, just as with journey mapping and other similar approaches, defining employee expectations to include within the requirement depends on a deep understanding of employees’ needs and pain points, hopes and fears, and so on.

Asking, observing and understanding employees

Defining expectations usually entails asking employees about what they want, but we should not necessarily expect that much insight from asking them.

People are good at saying what they like and do not like now, but often find it difficult to say how things could be improved, or what else could be provided. The people who can best see these new opportunities are often those working close to the people, rather than the people themselves.

For example, customer-facing staff can often spot opportunities for innovation better than the customers. And HR staff can often see opportunities for organisational improvement more easily than other employees. So as good HR people, we should already have a fair understanding of how the workplace can be developed.

This understanding can be enhanced by just being really interested in the lives and behaviours of employees. To me, this is the greatest benefit that comes from spending time in the business. Yes, we grow our credibility in the business and, yes, we get better at being able to support the rest of the business too.

The reason that the three requirements – the organisation capabilities, principles and workforce expectations – are so useful is that they enable us to design best-fit workplaces.

But there is also nothing better to enable our strategic, people-centric role than really understanding what people do, and therefore how they might be able to do these things in different and better ways.

Organisational improvements should always be informed by data and this can go well beyond self-reporting from and observations of employees. In particular, other people data on recruitment, performance and retention can often offer important insights into how easily people can do their work as well as the impacts on them of doing it.

Other data may be available from customers. And approaches like process data mining can surface issues related to errors, inefficiencies or delays, which can help identify areas where people may find getting their work done more challenging too.

Developing personas

One really useful approach, which builds on understanding employees, is to develop personas that represent useful portions of the workforce. This means that when we design processes, the workplace or other organisational changes we can easily keep the needs and expectations of these personas front of mind.

I am increasingly seeing HR teams ‘invite’ these personas into the room when they are designing new approaches or just having an ongoing meeting that includes the potential for identifying workplace change.

Team members can then easily refer to a particular person and ask about the impact on them if they sense a particular change may not be sufficiently human focused.

Personas also help segmentation and personalisation, tailoring approaches to each of the persona’s needs and encouraging HR teams to think about opportunities to adapt these more deeply, allowing each individual to interact with the workplace in a more personal way.

Divergent and convergent thinking

The reason that the three requirements – the organisation capabilities, principles and workforce expectations – are so useful is that they enable us to design best-fit workplaces.

The first stage in doing this is to think expansively, looking at different ways in which organisational requirements could be met.

The second stage, once these opportunities have been identified, is to think reductively, comparing the various options back to the initial requirements in order to choose the one which meets these needs best.

Any trade offs between meeting the needs of the business and the expectations of the workforce can also be clearly understood.

Doing this often results in better, more creative thinking as it avoids the tendency to just go with the first solution that someone thinks of and encourages people to think of alternative and perhaps even better options. And it ensures the solution that is chosen is selected because it is the one that is most focused on meeting both business and human needs.

Author Profile Picture
Jon Ingham

Strategic HR Academy Trainer and Learning Facilitator

Read more from Jon Ingham

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