Article: Thursday, 4 November 2021

Do your employees roll their eyes at the performance appraisal process? Do they believe that training and development activities are misaligned with what employees really want to learn? Do people in your company take full advantage of your wellness programme? Perhaps a better question is: are you investing in people management practices that meet your employees’ needs?

Investing in people is central to successful organisations. But many HR initiatives fail to hit the mark. This has become clearer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which left many organisations wondering how best to support managers, employees and their families. 

Dr Rebecca Hewett from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) and Professor Amanda Shantz from the University of St. Gallen point out that leadership teams and HR departments don’t need all the answers. Instead, they call for a shift to a more user-centric approach to HR, bringing employees, managers, and other stakeholders to the table to co-create people management solutions.


HRM constantly evolves

A traditional view of HR management in organisations is that HR practitioners design practices, they train managers to implement them, and employees are recipients of these efforts. Although HR professionals have the expertise and skills to build effective people management practices, they are not always implemented by managers, or received by employees, in ways that they were intended. 

People management is a dynamic process, where policies and practices change as managers and employees put them to use. This is particularly the case given the changing nature of organisations – think about flatter hierarchies, digitization and teams that bridge different functions. Employees now have more responsibility than ever to evaluate their own performance, select their working conditions, and decide how best to organise their work.

The problem is that a traditional HR mindset doesn’t take these dynamic processes into account, nor does it really give stakeholders an active voice in explaining how HR practices evolve in organisational life. In practice, adaptations of HR practices by managers, employees or other stakeholders often go unseen, or are stopped before these ideas can spread. Hewett and Shantz point out that this limits the value of HR practices; if they don’t meet stakeholders’ needs, they add no value.

HR practices don’t create value in themselves. Value only comes through the use of HR practices.

Stakeholders are the creators of value

HR practices don’t create value in themselves – if a flexible working policy is never communicated to employees, not clearly understood by their family members, or is seen as unhelpful by managers, it does not create value. Value only comes through the use of HR practices. This means that stakeholders are value creators; a flexible working policy creates value when employees are able to decide how to divide their working time.  And when they do, managers have happier, more productive workers, and customers receive a better service.

That’s why HR creates value when it adopts a user-centric approach to the design of HR practices. To do this, they need to engage in a process of HR co-creation: a continuous process in which HR and stakeholders collaborate to problem-solve and innovate in the design and use of HR practices to better satisfy stakeholders’ needs.

In practice, this means placing user experiences first. Take Marcie, the manager, and Bob, her direct report, for example. Marcie and Bob decided that the performance appraisal form was not fit for purpose – it required too little detail about some things, and too much about others. And worse, it didn’t allow Marcie to motivate Bob in the ways that she knew how. Marcie and Bob changed parts of the form so that they could take into account the most important aspects of Bob’s past, present and future goals, while removing elements of the form that were seen as a waste of time. These adaptations created value for Marcie and Bob, but that’s where the value creation stops. If Marcie and Bob shared these changes with HR, then HR could seek additional feedback from other managers, and adapt the performance appraisal form for the entire company.

But this isn’t always easy. It requires trust in others’ abilities; psychological safety so that people feel that they can make adaptations and share suggestions without fear of criticism; and a recognition that power comes from users’ knowledge about their own needs and experiences.

How can organisations engage in HR co-creation?

Organisations can help co-creation efforts by:

Building HR practices around principles rather than strict processes.

This means clearly communicating the goal of an HR practice, while allowing flexibility in how people management goals are achieved. Focus on training managers in why principles are important, and coach them to find an approach to suit them.

Relinquishing control over practices.

In the wake of COVID-19 no one is expected to have all of the answers about what the ’new normal’ should look like. Employees, managers, family members, customers and suppliers have all developed valuable knowledge and experience during the past year and half, so start by asking these stakeholders what they need.

This also has important implications for HR practitioners, who need to be…

…a knowledge broker

encourage employees and managers to customise HR practices, but ask them to share why and how they did so; HR is then in an excellent position to adapt practices to meet different users’ needs.

…a design expert

they need to have expertise to know how to harness users’ experiences into design of practices, which can be built through experience but also formal training and adopting the principles of evidence-based practice.

…a relationship manager

adaptations to HR practices often happens in different departments. HR can help to build connections across functions to share insights and build trust to encourage open to sharing. 

We would like to build partnerships to share research insights, offer development to HR practitioners and aid evaluation of efforts.

Building a better society

HR co-creation is inherently a more ethical approach to people management; it recognises that multiple stakeholders are important, and gives stakeholders an active voice in shaping HR practices and processes. If organisations, and particularly HR practitioners, adopt the principles of HR co-creation, it has the potential to create value not only for shareholders but also employees, their family, customers, suppliers and society as a whole through decent work and sustainable economic growth (aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8).


Want to become a partner?

Researchers Hewett and Shantz have set out these theoretical principles, and can see some examples of organisations adopting this approach. They would like to build more partnerships to share research insights, offer development to HR practitioners, and help organisations to evaluate their efforts. Is your organisation trying to take a more user-centric approach to HR, and could you benefit from this? Please contact Dr Rebecca Hewett via

Dr. R.L. (Bex) Hewett
Associate Professor
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Bex Hewett
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