Design thinking meets HR Operational Services

Posted by Kraig Eaton, Mustaque Ali, Maribeth Sivak and Kelyse McKeon on April 11, 2017.

As organizations strive to build a differentiated employee experience to drive engagement, growth, and a Simply Irresistible Organization™ , HR can take the lead by architecting and stewarding the HR customer experience by rethinking how HR work happens. Transitioning from cost-focused HR Shared Services to experience-focused HR Operational Services is on many HR agendas. But how do you make this shift happen? The answer may lie in applying design thinking to shape an effective, intuitive, and engaging HR customer experience.

Shared Services versus Operational Services

Transforming shared services into high-impact operational services involves a shift from the traditional shared services organization, which focuses on minimizing cost, processing transactions, resolving general inquiries, and maintaining day-to-day operations. Roles in these organizations tend to be viewed as entry-level or low-level HR positions with limited upward mobility and thus high levels of turnover.

The new generation of HR Operational Services presents a different picture. In addition to providing more accurate and cost-effective solutions to the business, these organizations tend to adopt an outside-in perspective that puts the HR customer experience at the center of every decision. The typical result is an organization that:

  • Embraces design thinking to discover new ways to simplify work and improve productivity, performance, and engagement
  • Focuses on the HR customer experience holistically, considering how the design of its products and services can contribute to workforce satisfaction and engagement
  • Invests strategically in new technology to break down organizational silos, enhance productivity, drive adoption, and deliver a differentiated HR customer experience
  • Takes the lead in building the HR customer’s and HR function’s digital experience
  • Moves beyond traditional shared services metrics and embraces open feedback systems to capture Net Promoter Scores® to measure HR customer satisfaction and business value
  • Taps the power of the crowd to continually evolve HR Operational Services’ scope of services and online content

These organizations can be leveraged as incubators for HR talent and often become desirable destinations for professionals with specialized skill sets, enabling them to become more sustainable and forward-thinking.

Applying design thinking to HR Operational Services
Effective HR Operational Services is meant to continually evolve, and requires an approach that is grounded in design thinking, an agile and iterative methodology for solving problems that places the customer in the center of the design. This means that while HR Operational Services holistically addresses the needs of both HR and HR customers, the needs of the customer are placed before the needs of HR to create a solution able to deliver an engaging HR customer experience and add meaningful value to the business.

In order to do this effectively, customers are involved in every step of designing an HR Operational Services organization. Tactically, this includes:

  • Leveraging HR customer personas and moments that matter to inform desktop procedures, online content, and call center scripts
  • Identifying enabling technology (case management, knowledge management, and web chat) to deliver the desired HR customer experience
  • Conducting experience labs to observe how HR customers interact with enabling technology to validate that the solution is delivering the differentiated experience that matters most to various HR customer segments
  • Conducting focus groups, voice-of-the-customer surveys, and pulse surveys to test the design early and often
  • Building checks on the customer experience into user acceptance testing and service rehearsal testing to confirm that the experience is delivering what HR customer personas desire
  • Incorporating learning gained from quickly iterating customer experience solutions, revising ideas early and often
  • Empowering HR customers to evaluate, review, and develop online content through ratings, just-in-time content reviews, and crowdsourcing content development

Even after it has matured, an HR Operational Services organization grounded in design thinking can remain customer-centric by updating its tools to engage HR customers on an ongoing basis (with pulse surveys at least) to help continuous improvement teams understand more fully what their customers expect and value. Said another way, applying design thinking helps shift from the classic “set it and forget it” approach to a “test and learn” approach.

A real-world example: Creating an HR Operational Services organization
Decreasing employee satisfaction and productivity, combined with a reduced ability to provide meaningful insight to the business, pushed one company to leave its traditional outsourced HR Shared Services model behind and design an internal HR Operational Services organization.

The company began with a strategy phase to define HR customer personas (representations of the qualities and characteristics of typical customers), identifying the moments that matter to those customers, and creating journey maps of their employment experience.

The team kicked off the next phase, detailed design, by applying an Agile methodology that employed models, prototypes, and multiple voices to design, test, and refine the HR Operational Services solution. This solution integrated chatbots and natural language processing with case management, content management, and easy-to-use mobile and web portals to provide a desirable employee experience for numerous HR transactional and service needs.

Where is the company now, seven months later? Celebrating the successful launch of its HR Operational Services organization, measuring a positive impact on the HR customer experience via Net Promoter Scores, and delivering on financial business case targets. In fact, the team is already at work using customer feedback to continuously evolve the organization’s scope of services, online content, and organizational capabilities.

This is just one example of how HR can apply design thinking to reimagine and craft the HR customer experience to drive sustainable business performance. For more examples, see the other posts in this series, focused on HR customer strategy, Design thinking in action, HR process transformation, HR operating model, and HCM technology selection.

We would love to hear your story about how you applied design thinking to develop and enhance your HR Operational Services.


Kraig Eaton is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the practice leader for HR Operational Excellence. He collaborates with complex, global clients to achieve high business impact with a focus on transforming human capital processes, digital technology, and outsourcing services.

Mustaque Ali is a senior manager with Deloitte Consulting LLP, where he specializes in global HR service delivery and shared services design and deployment, including selective outsourcing and technology solution implementations.

Maribeth Sivak is a manager with Deloitte Consulting LLP, where she focuses on full life cycle global human resource transformation initiatives. Maribeth is also an active blogger, focused on the intersection of design thinking and the HR customer experience.

Kelyse McKeon is a consultant within Deloitte Consulting LLP, where she focuses on HR Operational Services design and deployment for large organizations.

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