Applying Ergonomic Design Thinking to Grow Businesses

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hen we think about ergonomics, the first things that come to mind for most people are work stations, key-board placement and adjustable chairs. But this is just a small component of what ergonomics is, and understanding it and applying it effectively can change your world.

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics (or human factors as it’s referred to in North America) as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system”. From this definition, we see that ergonomics extends far beyond the physical domain. But what does this have to do with business? Everything. Let me explain.

Managing Complexity

At the most basic level, every business in the world is simply a system of inputs, processes and outputs, populated – at some level but without exception – by humans. This might sound pretty elementary at face value, but the implications of putting an ergonomics lens over your entire business are enormous. Let me give you an example.As businesses grow in size and complexity, they invariably begin to develop policies. There are policies for everything, from health and safety to procurement to social media. There are even policies on how to apply policies. What all policies have in common is that they’re intended to drive employee compliance with the requirements of the business. Ergo, policies result in processes and procedures and work instructions and any number of other business documents that need to be developed and maintained. Employees then need to be trained and then someone needs to monitor and measure the businesses compliance to its policy. Exhausting, right?

We see businesses all over Australia suffering from a lack of compliance to their policies, processes and procedures, and it’s costing them money. According to a range of research from Big 4 consulting firms, value leakage due to compliance issues can be costing business anywhere between 8% - 40% of their annual spend! Just think about that from a gross margin perspective!

Human-centred Design

Hundreds of years of psychological research has confirmed over and over and over again, that people will always do whatever takes the least effort. This is largely why policies exist in the first place. But what if – instead of using policies to force unnatural compliance – we simply designed our business around people? Around our employees, around our clients, around their customers, around ourselves? What if – instead of shaking the stick at employees that use unapproved procurement channels to print marketing collateral or use an unapproved web-storage platform to transfer large files to a client – we just simply designed our business to make it easier for them comply than not to? Imagine a world where it was more effort to pop down to the printer on the corner than to run the print job through an approved vendor that’s contracted annualised volume discounts? Imagine a world where collaborating on large files with external clients was enabled from the desktop with just one click (this actually is a reality right now, yet despite this, many organisations still retain archaic restrictions)?

By applying customer journey mapping to your own business, you can not only drive compliance but also create happier, more enabled, more empowered, more productive and more loyal employees. Happier employees invariably lead to happier customers, and happier customers is what we all strive for.


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