The Psychology of Disenchantment

Justice has always been a major issue among people. Especially in an organisational context, where many employees with different values, interests, and problems have to act in concert, a fair treatment is of huge importance. People who face injustice may become dissatisfied with their job, superior, or organisation and hence turn into a threat for the organisation by showing Counter Work Behaviours (CWBs). This article looks at the perception of injustice at work, and further motivational factors of CWBs.

The Edmund Snowden case has very clearly shown the problem of the‭ ‬Insider Threat:‭ ‬the threat to organisations from people working in‭, ‬or for‭, ‬them‭. ‬It is not only governments and security services that are deeply concerned with the leaking of important secret information dramatically illustrated by Edward Snowden and Chelsea/Bradley Manning‭. ‬The leaking of seriously important information to the wider world can also break commercial organisations‭.‬

Insider Threat is the term most commonly used when referring to current and past employees, associates and contractors who possess sensitive information about an organisation’s internal systems, information, clients and operating procedures. They then sell or utilise their knowledge for an inappropriate or illegal purpose. This misuse of information causes damage to the organisation in the form of financial loss, loss of productivity, damage to reputation or may have some form of legal implication. These individuals may act alone or in concert with others to perpetrate a variety of crimes against the organisation.

But what are the motives of those who commit fraud, theft, who disclose confidential information or who commit sabotage? Are they simply greedy, criminal or pressured from outside for financial gain? Do they start out like this, or do they have such bad experiences in an organisation that they become bad apples?


Counter Work Behaviours

Psychologists have a long list of Counter Work Behaviours (CWBs):

1. Theft (cash or property) and related behaviour (giving away goods or services).

2. Destruction of property (arson, Ludditism).

3. Misuse of information (revealing confidential info, whistle-blowing or falsifying rectords).

4. Misuse of time and resources (wasting time, altering times).

5. Unsafe behaviour (ignoring safety procedures).

6. Poor attendance (unexcused absence).

7. Poor quality work (intentionally slow or sloppy).

8. Alcohol and drug use on the job.

9. Inappropriate verbal actions (arguing with customers, verbal harassment of coworkers).

10. Inappropriate physical action (physically attacking coworkers, sexual harassment).


It is both too common and too easy to blame worker misdeeds and CWBs on the workers themselves, any more than to assert that all accidents are caused by accident-prone individuals. This is not to deny that there are devious criminal types. Investigations into those who have turned on their employer note that they have become seriously disenchanted from being very badly dealt with.

Many studies on those caught doing CWBs show that they were never immoral, devious or criminal types. Rather they were pushed into doing what they did as revenge for perceived maltreatment and injustice.


Poor Management

A great deal of blame can be laid at the feet of poor managers or poor managerial processes. The idea is that transformational leaders who inspire and model satisfaction (engagement) and productivity lead to healthy and happy relationships at work (leader-worker exchange), trust, and adjusted and motivated employees. That is, bad management, just like bad parenting, causes serious long-term problems for all concerned (staff, share-holders, customers etc.).

Below are some of the characteristics of bad managers.

• Arrogance: They’re right and everybody else is wrong.

• Melodrama: They want to be the centre of attention.

• Volatility: Their mood swings create business swings.

• Excessive caution: They cannot make important decisions.

• Habitual distrust: They focus only on the negatives.

• Aloofness: They disengage and disconnect with staff.

• Eccentricity: They think it’s fun to be different just for the sake of it.

• Passive resistance: Their silence is misinterpreted as agreement.

• Perfectionism: They want to get the little things right even if the big things go wrong.

• Eagerness to please: They stress that being popular matters most.


These managers not only alienate staff and lower morale but they can quite easily provoke reprisals in the form of CWBs.

Managers have two main roles. First, they are at the front line in identifyingcounter work behaviours and participating in any or legal actions against the individuals. Second, they have to generate an atmosphere and environment which actively discourages such behaviours. They need to generate engagement (commitment, satisfaction), loyalty and a strong work ethic, not distrust and alienation.

Too often they are blind to what is happening around them; but worse, their actions and own behaviours lead to resentment, which in turn leads to staff becoming disillusioned and vulnerable to CWBs.

People become angry and disappointed when they see others treated unfairly, such as during redundancies, lay-offs, etc. It is enough to see others badly treated for them to seek revenge.

The job of a leader/manager is to select, motivate and direct teams to achieve organisational goals. They need to set SMART goals, give timely and useful feedback, and support staff informationally, emotionally and financially. Good managers support both the organisation and employee goals. Tyrannical, autocratic leaders may only support the organisation (and themselves) and be less concerned with their staff. Poor managers are undisciplined: they flout guidelines and the ‘good psychology’ of management. They belittle and intimidate, threaten and tease, ignore and exclude their staff. This in turn can lead to employee revenge, followed by managerial counter-retaliation, which then escalates into entrenched conflict. This is the ideal breeding ground for the Insider Threat.

It is also important to bear in mind that people become angry and disappointed when they see others treated unfairly, such as during redundancies, lay-offs, etc. That is, people don’t have to always to be themselves the ‘victims’ of injustice. It is enough to see others badly treated for them to seek revenge.

For managers to be fully involved in the process of developing loyalty in an organisation and countering the insider threat, it is necessary to recognise the nature and potential size of the threat as well as the motivations of those committing the CWBs.

All organisations have a distinct corporate culture simply defined as “the way people do things around here.” They have easily observable (particularly to the outsider) implicit and explicit codes of behaviour, that specify what is acceptable, desirable and expected behaviour at work (and often outside it) that gains approval and reward – and that which does not. This culture is often established, maintained and changed by senior managers. Unfortunately, what they say is often not what they do. Many do not see their role in establishing healthy cultures that lead to Organisational Citizenship Behaviours (OCBs), rather than unhealthy cultures that lead to CWBs.

Finally although CWBs have always been around, the ways in which they are expressed have changed with the times. Thus, rapid and widespread developments in technology have lead to what is now called cyberdeviancy: cyberloafing, cyberaggression, workplace blogging and cyber whistle-blowing. As things change, so do the opportunities for, and incidences of, Insider Threats.


Cause and Prevention

Why do insiders leak information, and how can we prevent them? The simple and obvious answer lies in rigorous selection. Don’t let these people join your organisation and then you won’t have any problems. So government departments and the security services take selection very seriously. They screen their applicants very, very thoroughly. They know the cost of getting it wrong.

Yet, of course, some individuals do get through the net. Some attempt to join organisations in order to destroy them. Their aim is to infiltrate and to poison. And there are many well-known case studies, usually of people driven by a powerful political ideology to demonise and ultimately destroy anyone holding opposing opinions. Having penetrated the organisation, these types bide their time, collect information…then strike.

However, as many organisations find when they carry out the all-important and painful review of what went wrong and why, the cause is not necessarily a screening failure. Many whistle-blowers, spies and “enemies within” never start off with a motive to subvert or betray their organisation. Indeed, often precisely the opposite. But they turn sour because of the way they were treated.

The hottest word at work is fair. The feeling that you and others are being unfairly held back while a few succeed can stimulate a great deal of resentment.

It seems there are five reasons for why people go from being engaged to disenchanted; productive to subversive; a friend to an enemy of the organisation.

First, organisational lying/hypocrisy. This is the employee’s perception that what the organisation says about itself in public, and even to its employees, is a pack of lies. The more the organisation tries to capture the moral high ground and come out on ‘the side of the angels,’ the more outraged the astounded and angry insider becomes.

All organisations do PR about their mission, vision, methods, etc. Some trumpet them loudly and frequently. Most talk about integrity and transparency, about customer and employee care, welfare, etc. But for some this is patently not true. It can come as a shock to the staff; and some can’t live the schizophrenic existence of what they see to be a lie.

Second, perceived inequity. The idea that some people in the organisation are treated very differently from others. One law for the rich, another for the poor. The hottest word at work is fair: that people are fairly assessed, promoted and rewarded. And yet, it can seem to some that loyalty, hard work, and productivity have less to do with success than some other attributes such as demography, brown-nosing or particular experiences.

The feeling that you and others are being unfairly held back while a few succeed can stimulate a great deal of resentment.

Third, bullying and mistreatment. The belief that some senior people are callous, uncaring, nasty and manipulative, and that you are a victim. The workplace attracts all types: the demanding perfectionist, the geeky inadequate, the flamboyant self-publicist. This is to be expected and we all have to adapt to the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of powerful people at work.

But some at the top are bullies and backstabbers. Staff can forgive the occasional emotional outburst and unkind remark, but not chronic, remorseless nastiness aimed specifically at them. Further, some organisations have a management style that is essentially aggressive and Machiavellian. It is then not only the oversensitive type who buckles under the acute and chronic bullying that leads from disenchantment to the need for revenge.

Fourth, distrust. The feeling that the organisation does not even trust its own employees. It may have put in place a number of devious and not-admitted (often electronic monitoring) systems to spy on its own people. Whilst top management may talk about, and demand, loyalty from their staff, it is clear that they do not trust their own employees.

This, of course, is a two-way street. If the organisation lets it be known that it never really and fully trusts me with information, money and materials, why should I ever trust them?

Fifth, broken promises. This is all about expectations not being met. For some, the selection interview and the induction period are where people set your expectations about working for the organisation. They tell you what they stand for, what they expect and how things work.

But all too often an employee does not have his or her expectations clarified. Either supervisors do not know how to conduct, or they fudge, conversations about what the criteria are for promotion, salary increases, etc. Some feel they are personally powerless to bring these about while others use false promises as a sort of motivational technique that backfires.



So, soon the hopeful, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, potentially productive and loyal employee becomes disenchanted. Cynicism can set in, along with a drop in morale and productivity. This can take months or years. Some simply leave; others may not have that option and stick it out. For others, there is the possibility of revenge which may involve anything from arson to the exposure of secrets. Few people start out angry with their employer, but a worrying number end up that way through poor management.

HR vs OD: let there be peace

Effective collaboration between OD and HR is key to optimising a firm’s ability to initiate and sustain high impact change, writes Wayne Brockbank

The remarkable and challenging world of change has been well documented. Sources of change continue to accelerate: radical revolutions in technology, big data analytics, information asymmetries, hyper-competition, uncertainty in capital markets, morphing demographics, geopolitical disruptions, climate irresolution, globalisation, income disparities and emerging market imbalance. In sum, the management of change is a competitive imperative for virtually all market-based institutions.

In the Human Resource Competency Study at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, we have distinguished between two related but conceptually and statistically distinct aspects of change management: initiating change and sustaining change. Of the total impact of change management on business performance, 46 per cent is through initiating change and 54 per cent is through sustaining change. The overall message is that balance of the two is central to successful change.

Initiating change includes:

Sustaining change includes:

  • Ensuring that the right people with the right training are in the right place at the right time to drive change
  • Accounting for change initiatives in performance management, including financial and non-financial incentives
  • Providing the necessary capital and informational resources
  • Communicating the importance of the targeted changes, and
  • Monitoring and learning from the change experience. 

The roles of HR and OD
One challenge that companies face in their change management efforts is the clarification and integration of the respective roles of HR and organisation development (OD) in change management. Historically, OD professionals have tended to be the initiators of change – they identify and drive the momentum of change. They see themselves as the “change managers” who work with the line managers the make change happen, with the focus on initiating change as defined above.  They see themselves as strategic partners who implement team-based change processes. A challenge is that they sometimes see HR as inflexible tactical administrators who are driven by processes that may be obstacles to change.

On the other hand, HR professionals tend to strongly influence the levers for sustaining change as described above. They apply focused discipline in ensuring that the supporting human and organisational infrastructures are in place to sustain the requisite changes. HR professionals may occasionally view their OD colleagues as disruptive, in over their heads, undisciplined and (ironically) insufficiently collaborative.

Unifying HR and OD
But what should unify HR and OD is greater than what separates them. The fundamentals that both must exhibit to be optimally effective are a full understanding of the business strategy, an in-depth sensitivity to external sources of change, and a shared view of the cultural capabilities that both must create for sustainable competitive advantage.

Most important is that they must both understand and appreciate the role that the other plays in change management and work together as partners in change. To do so, HR needs to develop greater OD facilitation and process skills while OD needs to exert greater expertise in ensuring that HR and organisation practices are in place to sustain change. They must work together to provide seamless change management processes that include both initiating and sustaining change initiatives. As they do so, they will optimise the full impact and effectiveness of their firms’ ability to initiate and sustain high impact change.

4 steps to unifying HR and OD

  1. Your HR and OD professionals should meet to develop a comprehensive change management process that includes the above steps in both initiating and sustaining change.
  2. The respective HR and OD professionals should become conversant with and appreciative of their respective roles in change management.
  3. Since both are working towards the shared end of effective change management, they should both have some level of competence in the other’s domain.
  4. They should then co-operatively ensure the seamless implementation of both initiating and sustaining change initiatives.

2018 Workplace Trend: Focus on Filling Internal Skills Gap

The rapid pace of technological evolution has shrunk the life of learned skills and increased the skills gap. With the uprise of the digital world encompassing virtual reality, robotics, software development the internal employee skills expire within short/no duration. The importance to remain relevant to the present work profile is an immediate and top requirement for executives, managers, and employees in 2018. It is a considerable move to invest in the talent management to re-skill or up-skill the present diverse & multi-generation workforce.

Talent developers, here, play a crucial role in bridging the internal skills gap and hence accomplished a place on top management board. They are the architect of an organization’s growth as they recognize the skills gap, create learning content, and hone relevant industry skills.

According to 2018 Workplace Learning Report by LinkedIn that interviewed 1,200 talent developers, 200 executives, 400 people managers and 2,200 employees, 94% of staff members agreed to continue with the present company if it devotes finance, time and efforts in their career development. Overall, 68 percent of surveyed employees favor learning at work. Additionally, 58% of employees prefer opportunities to learn at their own pace and 49% prefer to learn when necessitate. This is an important insight into the current workforce’s attitude.

“As the rate of skills, change accelerates across both old and new roles in all industries, proactive and innovative skill-building and talent management is an urgent issue. What this requires is a [talent development] function that is rapidly becoming more strategic and has a seat at the table—one that employs new kinds of analytical tools to spot talent trends and skills gaps, and provides insights that can help organizations align their business, innovation and talent management strategies to maximize available opportunities to capitalize on transformational trends.” - World Economic Forum

“Laddering up, the age-old pattern of career development is replaced by multi-directional career approach in the lattice world”, advised Cathy BenkoDeloitte Consulting LLP's talent game-changer. The employee can go for sideways or diagonal moves in order to put on competencies, experiences, and relationships.

Internal Skills Gap

It is reasonable to cater skills gap of the present pool of workers who are already aligned with the company culture and working style. This saves time and money compared to the new recruitment process. Moreover, in the automation world, the new employees’ skills will also get obsolete in near time. This calls for another training session with the new bunch of employees. Therefore, the vicious circle of learning & development is the core of a continuous ‘hot skills’ supply and holistic expansion of a company.

Bridging Skills Gap

The LinkedIn report highlights a critical issue in the talent development priorities. The talent professionals put a focus on filling internal skill gap according to the present needs of an organization whereas the company executives expect much more. The top management demands talent managers to identify future industry trends too and design skills curriculum. To unlock modern employee’s potential, it is important for both parties executive & talent manager, to reach a consensus here.

Nevertheless, getting out time for learning is a challenging task for employees, as stated by talent managers. One of the ways to overcome this issue is encouraging digital learning solutions to update the skills. The industry terms like “microlearning” and “just-in-time learning” for the present workforce are in-trend. Talent managers can meet learners on the platforms where employees are available such as emails and messages. The continuous interaction between the teams and managers to recognize skill requirement will fasten the process.

Performance management – the ”soul-sucking monster” of HR

The way we currently do performance management, to me, is one of the most destructive things HR has ever created. [It’s a way] to reduce employee engagement and really piss off all your managers.

Nick Holley, co-director of the Centre for HR Excellence at the UK’s Henley Business School, certainly doesn’t sit on the fence when it comes to performance management.

But it’s an opinion he has arrived at after extensive research, talking to a series of major global companies.

Despite his invective lobbied at performance management, Holley is not advocating scrapping performance management.

Nor is he hawking some new prescriptive new performance management tool that will magically solve the problem:

What I’ve learned from talking to a huge number of organizations is that there actually isn’t a right way of doing it. It’s not about whether you do use ratings or you don’t use ratings.

Holley adds that following best practice is “irrelevant” without context: it’s about organizations individually coming up with a process that works for them not blindly following the latest management group-think.

During his research, however, Holley did begin to discern similar approaches and attitudes among companies with successful performance management approaches. He has distilled their experiences into eight key pieces of advice:


All of the organizations with successful performance management approaches were fascinated by the latest research coming out of neuroscience and its theories about what motivates people.

In particular, there were three experts that people kept mentioning. The first of these was Daniel Pink and his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which shows how the traditional carrot-and-stick style approach to motivating staff doesn’t work.

The second major influence was David Rock’s SCARFmodel, which basically pinpoints five areas – Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness-  which trigger the reward or threat circuitry in our brains.

The third is the idea of encouraging the growth mindset, outlined in the work of Carol Dweck, Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.

How that is being translated into the workplace, says Holley, is the idea that performance management should move from being a historical process, looking at past achievements, to how things can be done better in the future. It also means changing it from a negative process of what people have done well (or failed at), to how people can do better in the future.

What’s also important is that performance management moves from away its obsession with individual goals and targets, when what’s important is the overall team or organization performing better. As Holley notes:

We are the most collaborative species in the world and yet what this does is force us to stop collaborating and to compete.

Own practice, not best practice

Instead of researching best practice, these successful organizations researched their own internal practice. Holley expands:

What they wanted to find out was: what is the impact on our organization? Not measuring process completion but measuring the unintended consequences of the process.

One person gave me this great quote: the problem with performance management is that it’s become the Swiss Army knife of talent. What he meant by that was the core concept was good, but all the different people in HR have all added their own little bits.

As a result, organizations end up with, what Holley colorfully describes as:

A soul-sucking monster that’s attached to the business, which sucks the life out of people.

Ratings systems are a clear example of “soul sucking” at work. According to Holley, anyone who receives a ‘3’ rating, no matter how it is dressed up with positive language, will hear the word ‘average’.

It’s no better for the high performers. Those with high ratings won’t be motivated to work harder – why should they when they are already scoring highly?

Rating systems only generate resentment and short-termism. Worse still, as a rating is given a number, it’s seen as an objective fact. This is simply “rubbish” contends Holley, and it says more about the person doing the rating than the person rated.

So organizations need to be honest about how much time they are wasting internally on performance management procedures that don’t contribute to the business and simultaneously wreck motivation of staff.

Think business, not HR

When these organizations design their performance management systems, this is not an HR-driven process. According to Holley:

The CEOs I interviewed all said this is the single most critical tool in delivering our strategy.

If they focus too narrowly on HR concerns, then there’s a danger the “Swiss Army knife of HR” will rear its ugly head.
Instead, what they successful organizations do is identify the area of performance that is most going to make a difference to their business and that fits in with their company culture. Microsoft, for example, identified that it is collaboration that is the key quality that drove business success, so it sets up a performance management approach that values and encourages collaboration.


The organizations focused on one or two key things rather than try and take on too much. The emphasis was on the quality of the conversation between manager and employee, not the process.

This could involve scrapping ratings. No matter how they are dressed up, ratings are basically used as a tool to decide compensation, but there is actually a far simpler solution: managers can decide for themselves. One EMEA executive summed up the absurdity of the system, pointing out to Holley:

I have the power to make multi-billion dollar Capex decisions, but I couldn’t decide percentage pay increases for my immediate reports.

Far from creating mayhem and massive pay increases, in practice is that managers will simply talk to their compensation and benefits expert about the current market situation and make their decision accordingly. And he or she will take that decision far more seriously, because they cannot hide behind a rating.


According to Holley, the successful organizations involved key stakeholders in the design:

Didn’t go away into some darkened bat cave in the middle of HR and create something and then think how they’ll sell this to the business.

Instead, they worked with the business from the get-go, taking longer on the process if necessary, to ensure they had the full backing of all relevant people.

This could also involve talking to people outside the organization. Companies with European Works Councils or those closely monitored by regulators will need to talk to them and include them in the process.


Most of the organizations piloted their new system rather than design in one go, because, says Holley, no matter how much a design is modified, unexpected things can happen:

Have the self- confidence to admit when you’re wrong. Whatever you do, it won’t work the way you expect and if you try and defend that you’ll undermine your credibility.

These successful organizations built in an expectation that they may get it wrong at first. This flexibility extended not just to the design process but how it was rolled out to employees.


The organizations were all rigorous about what they measured. But measurement does not equate to ratings and doesn’t mean putting a specific number to success. Holley explains:

Measure but never forget what is meaningful is rarely measurable and what is measurable is rarely meaningful. It’s not just about producing numbers. How do you measure if they are the right goals? You have conversations with people and it’s subjective. You can measure that, but you just don’t put a number against it.

Quality of dialogue.

All of the firms recognized that the real issue was not the performance management process itself, but the quality of the dialogue. So they focused on providing training, not just for the managers, but the employees being appraised as well. Holley adds:

They also made training mandatory, because otherwise, guess what, the people who’d go on the training were the ones who’d be good at it anyway.

To emphasize how important performance management was to managers, it was made quite clear that there would be consequences for people who did not go on the training.

My take

According to Holley, these eight stages:

Are actually how we should think about HR in general. To me, good HR people are curious; we are fascinated by the art and science and heart of HR and by the way, we are actually fascinated by our business, by understanding what a particle accelerator actually does or whatever business you’re in.

Holley acknowledges that changing entrenched approaches to performance management involves a lot of risk and takes an “awful lot of courage” to step into the unknown.

But then, if the alternative is to carry on living with a “soul sucking monster”, this doesn’t sound such a terrifying step.

Holley’s take on what has become the whipping boy for all HR’s ills is enticing, but it is by no means an easy fix. It’s not simply a question of following the latest methodology and shoehorning it into your organization.

What Holley’s proposing is a more individual approach than a one-size-fits-all. And one of the key messages, writ loud and clear, is that ratings systems in their current form do not work.


Why #learning transfer is more important than evaluation

Most learning and development professionals are great at building content focusing on the learner. We can also evaluate and test if this knowledge retrospectively. However, we don't have the data and insights to know that behavioural and skill development is being displayed in the work place.

Being able to measure learning transfer and look at impact rather than ROI is key to influencing the future direction of L&D processes and culture in your organisation.

Painting a picture…

We work really hard to deliver a great learning experience, everyone on the course feels positive, energised and ready to take back these new skills and behaviours into the workplace - they ‘are’ going to be a better leader.

Learners are 100% committed to the change process. As the person who designed and probably delivered parts of this course you are feeling proud and energised that everyone had such a great time, and you feel super positive believing that the learners will go and action what they’ve learnt, and performance improves because of it.  

However, on returning to work the following week nothing much changes! Why?

The results from the latest Global Learning Transfer Research 2017 shows that only 7.7% of respondents felt that their approach to behavioural change was highly effective and 29% don’t actually know if their learning interventions are benefiting job performance. Yet still 30% believe their function is to “support their employees in improving job performance”. This is a huge disconnect!

So why is there such a void between what we in L&D believe is happening, and what is actually happening in the real world?

Evaluation is important but only a small part of the story. It allows us to ask questions about the course and trainer, or test ‘knowledge’, to see if the learner can actually retain information they have been ‘given’, however it’s delivered.

Learning transfer looks specifically to see if that new skill or behaviour is actually being displayed in the workplace, which is surely why we send our employees on courses.

34% from the research agree that their main aim is to ‘drive improved business results’.


I would also argue the data and insights we can gather from measuring the impact of effective learning transfer is hugely more valuable than that we get from our evaluation techniques. I use the word ‘can’ strongly; the vast majority of organisations are not gathering any data in this area at all.

In the future, this will be key to influencing the direction of an organisation’s learning approach. If we don’t have the correct data (or any data at all) how are we supposed to really find out what L&D activity works & what doesn’t?

L&D teams get hung up on ROI and attempting to measure in monetary terms and that’s understandable as professionals take steps to being more business-oriented. Let’s take it as a given that training is, the vast majority of the time, beneficial all round.

As we move into a data-driven world, we as L&D professionals will be expected to prove that: the intervention has had an impact on the individual; new skills/behaviours are being displayed; and that the training added value and had an impact, not just to the individual but to the organisation who invested in it.

This moves L&D into the role of performance consultants as well as content curators. 

How does this look from the learner’s perspective?

By way of an example take a leadership development course. Typically costing in the region of £10,000+ per learner and run over a series of months with the various modules focusing on all the areas it’s been identified that the leader needs to improve.

Both during and after the course, if the individual is not made accountable to apply what they’ve learnt they simply won’t - even with all the best of intentions! Accountability is fundamental to the successful learning transfer. We can’t say that purely delivering the programme means it was a success.

What measurements have we got to say that new skills and competencies are applied? Where’s the proof that this intervention has benefitted the organisation?

What are top-performing organisations doing?

Behavioural change is not easy. It can be done over time, but there needs to be a process of accountability all round and also the ability track & monitor these improvements. Creating the right conditions will certainly aid that process a great deal.

Top-performing organisations, as highlighted by the Towards Maturity Benchmark 2016/17 analysis found that companies in the top quartile align their L&D activity with business need, 93% vs 62%.

These companies are also building a culture of learning through allowing their staff to make mistakes, 72% vs 35%. This is one of the single biggest areas of thinking we should explore further. As adults, we are so frightened of making mistakes we can almost paralyse ourselves into not changing at all.

We need to accept that change happens over time and mistakes will be made along the way. Surely it’s far better to allow those steps towards improvement than to instill a feeling of fear that everything has to be perfect all the time! That’s simply not the way of the world, so let’s embrace failure and learn from it.

94% of top-quartile organisations also allow for new skills to be practised, vs 41% who do not.

Practice & reinforcement is absolutely key to allowing performance improvement to take place & flourish. If we are not giving our learners the opportunity to use these new skills how can we expect them to hone & improve upon them.

Finally, we look at engagement, 82% of top companies allow for sharing of successful stories, a very simple but effective way of highlighting to the rest of the business the value that L&D departments bring to the organisation.

Where to next?

With all of this evidence, why are we not concentrating more on learning transfer than evaluation? Good question!

Perhaps it’s because the evaluation piece is perceived to be easier and less complex, therefore cheaper and less time consuming. Could it be that because we as L&D professionals are not being asked for the data that we simply choose to ignore it?

As we often use external providers & once they have delivered “their bit” & have been paid, they don’t see it as their responsibility to embed the learning?

I don’t actually believe there is one single answer, but it’s a multitude of these elements combined.

However, what I am sure of is that in the future we will be asked for the data, and the sooner we start collecting it, the better our decisions will be and the more insight we will have into all our learning & development activity and effective learning transfer, thereby ultimately improving performance of learners and the business overall.

Building the Employee-centric HR with Service Design Thinking

As a consumer of various services, like banking, I’m occasionally frustrated by the surprising complexity of doing simple things, stuck in some multi-layered voice system or surfing across internal silos (sometimes in an endless loop) when trying to resolve an urgent problem.

I like to complain about customer service as much as anyone, but I must admit that on average, my experience has improved dramatically in the past few years as some of the better players out there have upped their customer service game. The very best deliver an effective blended online/bots/phone/in person experience that help me get things done easily. In more sensitive situations such as the occasional fraud on my account, a knowledgeable agent will (often) own the problem and eventually resolve it with empathy and courtesy. All this with no visible increase to the cost of service.

How did they get there so quickly and what is the secret sauce? Answer: Service Design Thinking and Customer Experience (CX) Management.

As employees, we’ve all experienced ‘Kafkian’ frustration with HR services or systems. In many respects, employees and candidates are the customers of HR services. We react to HR service experience in the workplace with equal or greater frustration / appreciation as we do when consuming banking services. Our expectations of HR are now shaped by ever-improving experiences as consumers – in other words the bar keeps going up for HR service quality and the pace is set by rapidly accelerating CX improvements outside of HR.

Service Design and CXHR management: Why bother and what’s at stake for HR?

In the world of customers, great service experience translates into significant Business Value, in the form of increased retention rates and customer spend, which in turn drives market share and revenue growth. Customers with a choice will naturally flow to the best available experience. An additional benefit is often reported: Reduced cost to serve and therefore higher margins.

In the world of HR, great service experience will drive engagement (of either employees or candidates) with benefits of increased retention and workforce productivity. This applies to the most transactional HR interactions, where employees naturally expect an effortless experience (for more on Effortless Customer Service see this excellent book). For the more critical ‘Moments that Matter’ (Onboarding, relocation, recruitment, life event, etc…) where HR creates – or destroys – disproportionate amounts of employee engagement, employees expect ‘White Gloves’ experience levels in return for engagement towards the company. In many ways what we’d expect from our banking provider in the event of fraud or other ‘charged’ event…

We live in a talent-constrained environment where employee experience is transparently shared on Glassdoor and good talent will pick their employer of choice. This is a ‘buyers’ market’. Just as customers flow to the best service experience, the best talent naturally flow to companies with the best employee experience.



HR does controls most (but not all) levers of Employee Experience and Service Design Thinking offers a potentially game-changing opportunity for the HR function to directly improve Engagement and workforce productivity. An added benefit of reduced cost to serve is the icing on the cake in a ‘do more with less’ world.

We’ve seen companies adopt two approaches to this challenge / opportunity:

First Approach: Do nothing for now and stay on the fence – ‘I never worry about action, but only inaction’ (W. Churchill). In current course and speed, HR Leadership Teams are consumed by two families of priorities:

1. Implementation of a cloud-based HR system

HRIS systems do deliver benefits such as data centralization and access, UI improvements etc… However, they are designed to advance HR staff experience rather than to improve Employee Experience. While there are possible secondary (one of our clients used the word ‘accidental’) employee experience benefits, weak end-user adoption and the failed promise of employee self-service currently get in the way of many HRIS business cases.

2. Focus on HR productivity

We see a mix of productivity/efficiency focused initiatives such HR Process reengineering, more automation in the form of bots and apps sprinkled throughout the HR service landscape, investment in point technology solutions that incrementally increase productivity in select areas, etc…

All good things on paper but one major piece of the puzzle is missing: The point of view of the most important person in the room when it comes to Employee Experience: The Employee.
Meanwhile, the bar for HR service experience keeps accelerating upward and more nimble talent competitors get ahead… Attracting and retaining the best talent is a zero-sum game.

Second approach: Put employees at the center and embrace Service Design Thinking for HR: A growing number of HR Leadership teams are keen to import design thinking principles from the product and service world and use the methodology to redesign HR services.

Cisco famously convened their global HR staff in a two-day giant hackathon, with a mission to redesign HR services and deliver on the vision set by the CHRO Francine Katsoudas and HR Leadership Team: ‘One size fits one’, i.e. mass customization to deliver the best employee experience in a scalable way.


We now see great urgency from global HR leaders to follow early adopters and innovate their services from an employee-centric perspective. However, the path to success is not obvious and still a work in progress for most. Let’s explore it in more depth, beginning with learnings from the world of Customer service design.

What is Service Design Thinking?

According to Ideo, one of its pioneers, product design thinking “Utilizes elements from the designer’s toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions. You make design decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying only on historical data or making risky bets based on instinct instead of evidence.’”– Ideo

When applying the principle to services rather than products: “A service is something that I use but do not own. Service design is therefore the shaping of service experiences so that they really work for people. Removing the lumps and bumps that make them frustrating, and then adding some magic to make them compelling.” – Mat Hunter, Design Council

The key steps of this method to innovate services are:

• Group users in segments represented by Personas
• Draw a customer journey map from the persona’s perspective through data and empathetic observation
• Clearly define the problem we’re helping the user solve
• Cross-silos teams collaborate to innovate a ‘Minimum Viable Service’ that solves the holistic problem (not just a segment) and re-draw the journey map
• Measure user experience (CX) and iterate

What lessons learned from Customer-facing teams who have implemented the method?

1. This approach is about fast experiment / measurement and redesign, not about getting it right first time. Over time, teams adopt a new mindset of continuous improvement and constant innovation of the services they manage.

2. ‘Service Design Thinking’ is really ‘Service Design Doing’: Teams learn by doing and practicing. Training, white papers and lots of thinking don’t change mind or skill sets. The website ‘This is Design Doing’ is a treasure trove of resources on how to do service design, including a recently published book. The site’s name says it all…

3. On how to transition an existing service structure to Service Design Thinking , three main lessons from practitioners and some good detailed perspective in this McKinsey article:
• Real gains in customer satisfaction are realized when optimizing journeys at the touchpoint level as well as the entire journey level – the whole experience is not necessarily the sum of its parts.
• Most begin with one ‘High Reward’ service to validate the concept and use early success as leverage point for change, rallying teams etc…
• Essential to manage through CX KPIs: measure CX early and bake it into management / recognition systems to reinforce customer-centric behaviors over time

One great piece of news for HR: Customer-facing teams had to overcome the major challenge of silos being owned by multiple functions (Sales, Marketing, Service, etc…), making it difficult to drive action and ownership.  We in HR directly own our service silos so driving change in our world should be much easier!

How are companies using Service design thinking in HR?

We have not yet encountered a mature implementation across all HR services (please let us know if you have!) but a blend of efforts involving Design thinking training as critical HR competency and part of a renewed focus on HR innovation; Hackathons (local or global) and Creation of Employee Experience committees / governance systems and EE communication streams.  Practitioners have reported 5 challenges and questions and here are some partial answers:

1. How does Service Design fit with other elements of our HR strategy (HRIS, digital, etc…)?

Service Design thinking is an essential asset in a fully digital HR function – see Volker’s post on the What and the How of a Digital HR strategy. By placing employees at the center, service design and CX measurement are the reference ‘truth-tellers’ of what should be automated and when… Automating a poorly designed service that generates negative experience will make it worse, under the cover of being cheaper in the short term.
Bots, apps, and other automation systems hold huge potential to handle HR service tasks with high quality / low cost to free-up resources. However, HR teams should use employee-centric service design to guide the roll-out and own the roadmap. Design and experimentation comes first – technology second.

2. We’re not sure about what to hack first – where to start?

HR teams do not have much spare capacity beyond their day job and must prioritize which services to redesign. Services are not equal in their impact on engagement and require different levels of experience:

• Moments that matter are the most critical. Employees follow a complex journey that often spans multiple HR silos during these moments (i.e. Onboarding or Relocation). Practitioners use a shortlist of ten or so, where the target for employee experience is at its highest, both ‘Effortless’ and ‘White-Glove’. In other words it should feel both easy and memorable (in a good way!).

Our co-creation group of 25 companies is currently building a CXHR measurement system for moments that matter: They have prioritized ‘Recruiting’ and ‘Onboarding’ as the first to tend to – not surprisingly given how much business value is at stake there. We measure two KPIs:  Customer Effort Score – CES – for effortlessness and Net Promoter Score – NPS- for satisfaction.


• The objective with Transactional services is less ambitious: To become Effortless, as measured by CES (Customer Effort Score). A rule of thumb is to begin with the most ‘abrasive’ service i.e. generating the most negative experience

3. How do you sustain the effect of Hackathons and Design Thinking training over time?

Hackathons (also see here) and associated training efforts are an effective point of rally for teams and a jolt of energy that sparks new ways to think and collaborate. However, in line with the principle of ‘Design by Doing’, HR teams should quickly bake Service Design in their everyday work to sustain the drive for service innovation and user-centric design over time.  To do so, a comprehensive and prioritized ‘service redesign roadmap’ guides teams as they tackle the long list of HR services. This map includes KPIs and progress milestones as well as suitable reinforcement through HRLT’s management practice and communication streams.

Some start small to validate the proof of concept before a broader roll-out, while others use a big-bang approach, but the philosophy is the same: Teams learn and embrace the concept ‘by doing’ not ‘by training or reading’

4. How do we use a scalable design method globally and still capture local needs?

Employee journeys at moments that matter can be quite complex and difficult to capture; in large, global organizations, applying different methodologies, terminology or tools when redesigning these journeys, leads to breakdown in scale for services that should inherently be global with local versioning.


For example, a recruitment journey (pictured above) should be different in the United States vs China but the methodology to capture, build and redesign should be the same. Some organizations use purpose-built tools to do so and anchor a consistent approach through the HR function.

5. We can’t drive forward without KPIs – what/ how should we measure and benchmark?

CES and NPS are the KPIs of choice. Measured at the touchpoint and journey level, they offer an exciting solution to manage the effectiveness of HR teams and services as perceived by the employee and user of these services.

As leaders of Customer-facing teams have found, these measurements will focus the HR function on what matters most: the experience it creates for employees. The ability to benchmark experience data internally or against talent competitors also offers a great opportunity to manage the function upwards in a spirit of continuous improvement.


Service design thinking (or doing!) is a relative newcomer to the world of HR yet brings a great pedigree of success and proven business benefits from the Customer-facing world. No other approach to HR innovation or process redesign holds as much potential to directly drive Employee Experience and shape HR’s contribution to Employee Engagement.
The method is intuitive and engaging for HR teams, does not require massive investment, promotes lower cost to serve and supports one of the major reasons why most HR professionals chose an HR career path in the first place: ‘to help people’.