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The best HR teams think like product managers

The best HR teams think like product managers

people-product illustration on pink background

It’s time for HR & People Ops practitioners to rethink what HR means and change how they support employees and the business.

The rise of the employee experience era goes hand-in-hand with the adoption of product thinking and product management techniques in HR departments. 

So, the change is already happening, but it’s time to make it official.

HR as a product

As an HR person, you’re a product manager. The company culture, HR services, programs, processes, and policies are your product features. Employees are your users. And the employee experience determines whether they’ll become loyal customers and employer brand advocates.

Product managers actively manage the user experience. HR practitioners can actively manage the employee experience to drive business results.

Jessica Hayes, former VP People and current COO at video meeting tool provider Whereby, put it this way

“The best People Operations teams in the world run like product management functions. That may not be how they describe themselves, but it is often one of the reasons that they are successful, admired, and do innovative work.” 

Experience over process

Within that “product”, employees now expect consumer-grade standards for HR services and technology.

HR & People teams can no longer implement processes and policies and expect employees to simply follow them. 

Instead, they need to design experiences that solve employees’ problems in a delightful way.

Tanuj Kapilashrami, Group Head of Human Resources for Standard Chartered Bank, said this:

“If you’re competing for talent, especially on the digital side, and people’s work experience is not in line with what they experience as consumers, they’re going to walk away.”

But how do you meet those expectations and stay competitive in the war for talent? This is especially tricky during times like these, with 41% of the global workforce considering a job change in the next year.

Take inspiration from those who’ve been defining consumer experience in the digital age: Product teams.

“We need the same thinking and techniques for our employment product that our product design teams deploy for consumer or client needs,” Kapilashrami says. This is because “companies that have a strong employee experience outperform companies that don’t, and the employee experience in the most consumer-obsessed companies in the world is increasingly strong.”

From outputs to outcomes

A traditional approach to introducing HR programs and policies is not only likely to miss the target – it bears business risks, too.

If your business was launching a new product or service, it would be extremely risky to skip the testing phase. Well, the same risk would accompany an untested launch of new internal processes, incentive programs, or ways of working. 

An iterative and exploratory approach is the way to go. Analyze quantitative & qualitative feedback. Come up with a hypothesis. Test it. Incorporate the learnings. Analyze results. Iterate. Roll it out to more employees.

Easy, right?

Here’s how Jeff Gothelf explains this idea:

“When the HR team implements a new vacation policy, they too are launching their product. Their goal is to drive an outcome as well — a change in the way the staff behaves AND provide an added value for those considering applying for positions with the company in the hopes of increasing the number and quality of applicants.”

Future-proofing the HR function

Embracing this change is how you stay relevant as an HR professional.

That doesn’t mean changing your job title to People Product Manager right away (feel free, though). 

Rather, it means opening yourself up to the idea of doing things a bit differently.

Jessica Hayes reminds us to think about this from the employee perspective – those who are “purchasing” your “product.”

“Being recruited by a business, working inside their walls (physical or otherwise), and growing your career according to their values, policies, and programmes form some of the biggest ‘purchasing decisions’ you will make in your life. The work an effective People Operations team does is building, maintaining, and iterating on that product so that it can be the best in the world.”

For your team to succeed, it’s time to productize your HR and your culture. “Do research, ask questions, analyze data — listen and then iterate. Just like finding product-market fit, culture-candidate fit isn’t easy.”

As you can see, progressive People leaders are already starting to reshape their role within the company: As product managers whose job it is to design experiences that solve employees’ problems in a delightful way. 

HR teams who can make this shift will be leaders – not laggards – in the employee experience era.

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