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The problem with People Process Design

People (HR) processes like performance management are under pressure. Some companies have decided to get rid of performance management because it did not have enough added value. I am accomplice to the creation of state-of-the-art (irony) people processes within companies. I admit. Some of them proved to work, others did not. And I’m not alone to experience that. Here are some reasons why some of these processes do not deliver what they promise.

  • They focus too much on the process and not enough on the value they need to add to the business
  • They make simple things too complicated.
  • They focus on control and administrative processing rather than on enabling.
  • They are too much HR and not enough business-driven.
  • They are not flexible enough and cannot adapt to the VUCA-world.
  • They are digital, but not mobile.
  • They do not spark enthusiasm.
  • They forget that the processes are human.
  • They aim at analytics, but analysis in not the target.
  • They do not do what they are supposed to do. Efficiency is not effectiveness.
  • They do not reinforce leadership.

Not all of these characteristics apply to all of the people processes in all companies. Some processes do work, others do not.

9 Tenets to design people processes

It’s clear that the HR profession should review how it designs its processes to increase their relevance and impact. Here is how:

  1. Start with defining what the processes should deliver in terms of customer value. This is the purpose of any process within the company, including people processes.
  2. Define the essence of the process. Performance management is about feedback and conversations. Make sure that the process supports that.
  3. Design for change. Do not make the process too heavy and over designed, so that changing it becomes difficult and expensive.
  4. Have the user experience in mind. A process should be simple, easy, fun.
  5. Co-create together with the business. If the people process is not seen as a business process, it will be obsolete.
  6. Focus on Leadership and engagement. Ask yourself how the process reinforces leadership and engagement within your organisation.
  7. Don’t be tempted to follow fads. Do what is necessary in your company.
  8. Don’t adapt your strategy to the process. Design a process that matches and supports your business strategy.
  9. Make sure they are mobile.

If you follow these tenets when designing a people process, you will deliver something that is impactful, accepted and more sustainable.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.


  • Bart Derre says:

    10. Measure your process, learn and If necessary adjust. Single and double learning loops.

  • I’d like to add a tenth tenet: only install a process after you have tried everything else

  • Michael Jakob says:

    For me this is too much black & white and in addition I’m missing Process Management! Let me explain:
    If People Management want’s to run processes it has to provide the professional frame of process management containing e.g. a process owner, respective communication or a process monitoring and improvement approach.
    This is less complex as it sounds and it is scalable!
    Doing this enables many of the topics mentioned in the article and much more… success and acceptance!
    Remember: most of the so called HR-models provide an organization and roles & responsibilities but no processes (we all know the disastrous results when implementing) vice versa to HR processes will happen the same without adequate Process Management providing e.g. process planning, design, process-organization, roles & responsibilities, monitoring, communication, etc.
    Nobody in the business would implement processes like it frequently happens in HR… Process Management in HR has to grow and get professional
    Most important for processes in HR is the change caused by processes (in most cases it gets denied, because we think it will be caused by something, which may happen or not) and the anticipated change in design (in most cases flexibility get ignored, because we create harmonized, standardized, … processes).
    The real life tells us change is always existing – change is intrinsic – innovation, process implementation will just accelerate it – so you will need Change Management for successful innovation and process implementation… and Change Management is only nice and cosy it can be disruptive, hard and painful.
    About standards… somebody is praying agility, disruption, innovation, YUCA… I add diversity, customer segmentation, skills and competency, growth and M&A, and, and, …
    Means processes must be designed for CHANGE,…. the standard-thinking of STANDARDS does not fit this definition also not agility but what fits is professional Process Management! It’s MANAGEMENT and goes hand in hand with Change Management! It’s MANAGEMENT, too.

    • David Ducheyne says:

      Michael. So a 10th tenet would be process management. I believe the 9 tenets that I propose could be guiding principles to manage the process (and the design). But I agree that it’s best to have a process cycle to review the process itself and let it evolve.
      The reason why this is lacking is that HR processes are seen as stable and often the result of negotiation. But periodic review can be a part of any agreement on how a process should look like.
      – The reason to blog is to have an exchange of ideas. Thank you Michael. And should you wish to blog on this site, please feel welcome to do so.

  • SC says:

    The big challenge is in defining the customer value. Too often this exercise leads to standard answers, like improving employee satisfaction, which is of course important but too general for process design, you will get a standard process out of it, which will probably not spark lots of enthusiasm.
    I agree that process management is key to embedding change in the organization, and would like to add that good design, starting with a great design briefing/prinicples (incl.customer value) is key to making processes more human oriented.

  • It is indeed important to find a balance when designing people processes. It is vital to think from a company’s point of view, but also from the employees’ point of view. I find your tenets easy to implement and with a positive impact.

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