The Balance of Process and Experience

By Mandy Chapman

There is such a spectrum of capabilities and passions within the HR industry. Lots of smart minds and emotional intelligence. And also people on opposite ends of a spectrum. I read recently in Lucy Adams’ new book about the need to move away from designing process and the need to think more about employee experience – in fact one chapter is named “Design Experiences, Not Processes”. Considering what HRCubed specialises in, I thought Lucy and I may be on opposite ends of the spectrum. Now, this short but impactful chapter struck me hard as I mulled over the implications of this. Was she really suggesting that we don’t design process?

HR departments for decades have struggled with making processes lean and efficient, leading to real business impacts and poor employee experiences. In fact, I had a client today who asked me to help them improve some recruitment processes to be more focussed on the candidate experience and the business need. I wholeheartedly agree with Lucy about the focus needing to shift towards thinking of the experience of the employee but I’m also torn by the suggestion that we should not focus our design thinking on the process.

Processes are made up of inputs, tasks, outputs and outcomes and it’s the outcome that I think Lucy is asking us to think about. What outcomes are we looking to achieve for our candidates, employees, partners and customers? What policies, processes and technologies will we need to support those outcomes? I think process and experience are inextricably linked and the trusty “People – Process – Technology” trio still hold as fast today as they did when I started in this industry in 2001. What I think Lucy also points to is a need to ask ‘Why’. Why do we have this process or policy in the first place – is it helping us to achieve the outcome we desire or is it a hindrance?

In my experience the very best of anything involves balance and the need to know when to sway slightly in one direction or the other. I have experienced organisations who are absolutely focussed on the employee experience and work like Trojans to ensure that their messy processes don’t impact the employee in a negative way. The unwelcome paradox here is that they either ultimately do impact negatively or the costs of trying to prevent the impact are inexplicably high.

I have also worked with organisations who have very slick automated processes but have lost the focus on employee experience – this is a common scenario and why it is so important to have both.

Process is often a good place to start having real conversations about what’s going on as it’s the area that people feel most pain, both within HR but in the wider business. Some questions we should always ask ourselves: Why are we doing this? Should we continue to do it? What does it help us to achieve? What outcome do we expect? In my customer’s example, this would be the right new hires for the organisation and an employee who is warmly welcomed into a role which will maximise their skills, abilities and potential. What do we need to do to make the outcome a reality? This is “The process” – and this doesn’t mean just a process map showing the tasks. This means a real look at what needs to be done operationally to help achieve the outcome. What tools do we need to employ to help support us? “The technology” – with so much technology on the market it is essential that you consider what you need before jumping into a vendor relationship that may not deliver your outcomes.

In her book Lucy Adams says “You can see how thinking from the standpoint of an experience takes you in all sorts of directions that would never occur to you if your starting point was a process.”

I think taking the view of experience is a great and refreshing idea, but used well this needs to be backed with the reliable “People, Process, Technology” trio, which isn’t always the joined-up, holistic approach that organisations take today. Perhaps why Lucy Adams feels the need to ‘disrupt’ this thought process.


Mandy Chapman has been helping HR and payroll teams create great employee experiences for the past two decades. Now as head of the HRCubed team she regularly delivers talks, runs workshops and helps organisations with all things “people”.