I was at a conference recently where a speaker used the term “HR Lab”. I thought it was pretty cool. My vision of a lab is a place where you test out new things. Or you take existing things and tweak them a little. When I think back on my HR career, I know there have been times when I would have loved to spend more time thinking through a policy or procedure. And lots of times when I wanted to test out a new idea on a small group before implementing it company-wide. What a perfect time for an HR Lab!
Now of course, when we’re talking about creating an HR Lab it goes without saying – but I’m going to say it anyway – that this isn’t a place to try out things that are unethical, immoral, or illegal. Here are four situations where I could see this kind of lab being helpful:
An HR Lab could be used as a focus group for new ideas. I’m thinking about all those times when senior management has said to me, “What do you think about this...?” or “I wonder what employees would think if we did this...”. Instead of having a focus group, why not bring employees together in an HR Lab conversation. Using an HR Lab brand could set the level of expectation that the group can talk about anything, but that doesn’t mean that the discussed ideas will be implemented.
Human resources could test out a policy change in the HR Lab. How many times have you wondered, “Do we need to create a policy about this?” or “This procedure is five years old, should we update it?” While policy and procedure changes never make everyone happy, is it possible to test out potential changes in the HR Lab? It would be necessary to give employees total freedom without repercussions to share feedback about the considered change.
The company’s HR Lab could be the pilot group for new programs. We have a tendency to think of pilot groups for training programs, why not use the HR Lab for any kind of change? HR wants to roll out a new program? Let the lab test drive it for a few weeks and provide feedback before the program is finalized. This would also mean that companies have to ensure employees don’t lose pay or benefits while they’re helping out the Lab.
The HR Lab could be the first group in phased implementations. Let’s face it, there are times when organizations don’t have the time or resources to do a pilot as well as a phased implementation. The HR Lab could serve as an initial place for policies or procedures to be implemented. Like the other reasons, employees need to feel free to offer unfiltered feedback and not lose anything in the process of helping the organization out.
I think one of the reasons that I like the HR Lab concept is because it can be branded as this place to experiment and be curious. As human resources professionals, we don’t get to do that very often. Instead of saying “no” to a request, the lab could be a place where senior management and employees say, “Hey! Can we try this out in the HR Lab?”.
In fact, as I’m writing this it occurs to me, maybe instead of having an HR Lab, companies should just have a Lab. A place where all departments can test drive new ideas, policies, procedures, etc. Not only could it be fun, but it could be profitable. Think of all the great ideas to try!
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Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender (www.hrbartender.com), a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When not tending bar, she is president of ITM Group Inc., which specializes in training solutions to help clients retain and engage talent. She can be contacted on Twitter at @HRBartender.
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