Outside In

Posted: November 30, 2012 by Matthew Hanwell in Customer, Human Resources, Leadership, Organization

A term I started to use around 15 years ago when developing an HR technology strategy was ‘Outside In, not Inside Out’ – the intention being to consider the end users, their experience when using HR technology, thinking from a ‘customers’ perspective. This was in addition to, if not as a priority over satisfying the data, transactions, features and functions that were required by the Human Resources organization. Now to put this in perspective; this was at a time when very few HR organizations delivered any employee or manager self-services on their intranets, a time when it was the norm that only HR people had access to HR systems, and these HR people usually needed to be trained to use it. I’m sure some people at the time must have wondered just what I was talking about!

With this as background, I was quite pleased to see Dave Ulrich’s latest book titled HR From the Outside In. The books focus is not on HR Technology (although technology is a key HR competence these days), but on the business, and while ‘HR business’ efforts are important they are not the business, they are in support of the business, and the real business is external. “If HR professionals are truly to contribute to business performance, then their mind-set must centre on the goals of the business. They must take outside reality and bring it into everything they do, practicing their craft with an eye to the business as a whole and not just their own department.”

Dave (and several other books advocating an Outside-In approach) has obviously taken the concept far more broadly than my HR technology strategy of 15 years ago, but I think the intention is the same; to take an external perspective, to consider the real external business and the experiences of people outside of the HR department; Employees, Managers, Customers, Stakeholders.

For me this is all about attitude, wanting and using an external perspective to shape and influence the things you do, not getting exclusively caught up in the internal necessities, the internal discussions, and the internal politics. This external perspective serves as a reality check; it can be a very harsh one, but for me this is essential if you are to create products or services or experiences that will deliver value that the ultimate customer will appreciate.

No matter which team, department or organization, I have often wondered how they know that they are working on the right things. Yes I’m sure they are important things, even interesting things, sometimes mandatory, but are they the same things that are important from the external perspective? Are they the things that will matter to your customer? Are we so busy that even thinking about and considering the external perspective is overlooked or neglected?

I would suggest that teams, departments, organizations invite a representative (or representatives) of the ‘Outside world’ to their meetings, so a customer, an employee, a manager, an investor, to represent and convey this ‘Outside In’ perspective. The person(s) would know little (and caring even less I suspect) about the internal workings (or even technical details) of the organization. Of course it may well feel like airing your dirty laundry in public (not a lot of people are prepared to do that), but in my experience where this has been done it has been of great benefit, and has brought an appreciation of what is actually important and why we are doing it. And that to me is a key driver of performance.

  1. Jarmo O says:

    Very good points. Many are trying to figure out what HR business understanding means in their own environment and how they could bring outside more and more. It is a tough question but in order to move on ang provide higher value as a business functionthat seems like one of the most viable ways for HR to deliver.

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