Today’s blog post is inspired by this great piece (no, he didn’t make me write that!) from Matt Macri-Waller, Benefex Founder and CEO, which focuses on the importance of simplicity when it comes to the employee experience. I wholeheartedly agree. Complexity rarely breeds a great experience for the user.

It is perhaps ironic then, that of all disciplines within an organisation, HR are quite often their own worst enemy when it comes to simplicity versus complexity. Let’s think for a moment about the average HR process. For example, a request from an employee to change their working hours.

A never-ending process

At present, in most organisations, it likely goes something like this. The employee asks their line manager if they can change their hours. Their line manager goes to speak to HR. HR pull out the flexible working policy. The employee is asked to submit a formal flexible working application. HR reviews the application. The line manager and HR converse. The employee has to attend a formal flexible working request meeting. HR types up the notes from that meeting. HR and the line manager review. A decision is reached. HR writes to the employee. The line manager arranges a meeting to talk through the outcome with the employee. HR updates the system. The system updates payroll. And so on, and so on, and so on.

You get the idea. What in theory should be a simple request – “I want to leave 30 minutes early on a  Tuesday each week” – turns into death by red tape, paperwork and meeting requests. The employee experience has effectively been sacrificed to satisfy HR and system requirements.

Simplifying things

The irony in this is that, when we simplify things down, it’s almost always a win win for all parties. Let’s contrast the scenario above with how things could have played out. This time, the employee goes again to their line manager with a request to change their hours. Their line manager runs the request past HR to ensure this doesn’t cause any issues. HR gives the nod, the line manager goes back to break the good news to the employee, HR updates the system and everyone’s happy. A great result all round.

The problem I believe we have is that we tend to start from a position of fear and mistrust when it comes to our employees. This is precisely the reason the HR function tends to err towards a tendency to put everything in writing, in triplicate, following rigid and extensive procedures, never deviating from the standard approach. That way, we think, those pesky employees can’t possibly catch us out.

Alienating the majority

Of course, the reality is that, in 99.99% of cases, those ‘pesky employees’ aren’t there to catch anyone out. They’re there to do a job. They’re looking for their line manager and their HR team to support them in doing that job, alongside their personal responsibilities. And therefore, every time we design HR processes with a view to helping us address the 00.01% of the workforce who might be out to cause trouble… we directly alienate the 99.99% majority.

Think about those interactions at work which have had the most significant impact on you; which have left you feeling the best about your line manager and about your organisation. I’m betting almost none of those interactions were those which were tied up in a complex process. It’s highly unlikely your ‘wow’ moments were those which came as part of a structured, HR driven meeting, or as a result of the new ‘8 sides of A4’ policy which has just been rolled out.

No, far more likely is that those ‘wow’ moments came from an interaction which wasn’t structured at all. Maybe it was your line manager taking you out for a quick coffee to congratulate you on that project you’ve just seen go live. Perhaps it was a passing comment from your CEO as they observed the great client presentation you’ve just delivered. Or it could be something as simple as your colleague coming over to tell you they wouldn’t have hit that deadline without you.

Finding those ‘wow’ moments

As HR practitioners, this is what we need to take notice of. We need to observe and find those ‘wow’ moments within our own workplaces. And when we find them: no, we don’t start trying to capture them and turn them into a standardised twelve page policy. What we do instead is to understand the series of events which led to them taking place, and then work on carving out more opportunities within our workplace for similar chains of events to materialise.

A great employee experience isn’t about process. It isn’t about policy, it isn’t about procedure and it certainly isn’t about 3-month long paper trails to cover our backs. It’s about the little things. Because it’s the little things that add up… to make a really big difference.