Why pay experts when you have customers

by Rebecca Hendry

Rebecca Hendry explains the logic in businesses stepping aside so customers can show them how it can be done better.

Taking a human centred approach is really about having a genuine desire to work with and understand people’s experiences. It means applying that understanding to the solutions we’re creating for them; and involving them in that process.

You might say it’s about putting humans at the heart of it.

Having positive, sustainable impact, looks like listening to and observing the people we’re creating solutions for. It means giving them the opportunity to be the experts in their own lives. We get them in the room with us when we’re creating solutions. We create those solutions together. We test our ideas and iterate the solutions. We then have a much better chance of solving the right problems and meeting the right needs.

It’s a belief that anyone can privilege the human context in the work they do day-to-day. It’s turning that belief into something tangible for people; to improve their lives as they interact with the world around them.

A team workshop with post-it notes on butchers paper

Three keys to a human-centred approach: mindset, solutions, culture

The recent Financial Capability Community of Practice event explored three areas of focus for taking a human-centred approach:

Mindset

This is the idea that anyone can approach their work day-to-day with a human-centred mindset, which can be characterised by things like:

  • Empathy
  • Curiosity
  • A willingness to explore
  • And an openness to learning from that exploration
  • Then applying that new learning to make things better for people.

A man tests a product on a mobile phone

Solutions

Creating solutions with not for could be considered a subtle shift, though invariably an important one. It means giving people the agency to be the experts in their own lives. It means their involvement shapes our work. It’s a shift in our thinking from expert to learner early on, as we get clarity on the problem we’re solving and how we’re going to do it.

When we create with people, we start by:

  • Better understanding them and their lives
  • Making decisions based on what they need rather than what we think
  • Getting clearer on the problems we’re solving for – and we start to solve for the right things.

With a human-centred mindset and the practice of creating solutions with and not for, it’s important to make the distinction that this isn’t just for the people we serve. It’s also for the people inside the organisation.

That means creating with the people who are on the hook for delivery, for making it better, the people responsible for learning what works and what doesn’t. It means considering the whole, not just the sum of the parts, understanding the systems and dynamics between the people involved.

A man tests a product on a tablet

Consider the organisation’s culture

Human-centred efforts are often at the level of project or program, and aren’t always embedded in the way we work. To move beyond the project we need human-centricity as a core cultural value of the organisation. Taking the human-centred approach can be hard, because often in the environments we work in we’re hired for being the experts, or we hire experts to give us the answers.

As Meld co-founder Iain Barker aptly described in his article on designing human-centred organisational culture, “… (we) realise there can be a low ceiling to human-centred ambitions if we don’t push further and influence the organisational context within which we are trying to work in human-centred ways.”

If we understand some of the challenges organisations face in being more human-centred, there is an opportunity to gain a deeper level of support for the approach. Understanding legacies like the way business objectives are created and prioritised, how funding models work or the way people are measured and rewarded, can help in making a case for new, more human-centred ways of working. Ways of working accessible to all of us.

Rebecca Hendry is a principal at consultancy Meld Studios. She spoke at the Financial Capability Community of Practice event in September on the topic of why a human centred approach matters, speaking alongside ASIC deputy chair Peter Kell.

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