Ready to get “inspiHRed”?!


When summer approaches, it is a good moment to look back and think about this ending 2016/2017 academic year. It has been particularly exciting for me because for the first time I have a run a full-year module/project on Human Resource innovation for the super students of the International HRM Master at the Ciffop (school specialized in HR at Paris 2 University – Panthéon Assas, in France). I am really grateful to Yasmina, in charge of this Master, who agreed to give it a try together.

We started the year working with the students on the basics of innovation and design thinking and on how to apply them to Human Resource Management. It was also the moment of inspiring them by sharing some examples of successful HR innovations on the market. Later in the year, I trained them to become innovation catalysts, that is making sure they could facilitate innovative approaches and methodologies in the organizations in which they work. Indeed, these students work part-time in HR fields such as training & development, compensation & benefits or career management in a variety of sectors and companies such as L’Oréal, LVMH and Schneider Electric among others. Based on these new approaches, around 20 HR innovation workshops and experimentations run by these students took place in these companies with great feedbacks – well done guys!

One of the deliverables we asked to students was to identify some of the best HR innovations on the market and centralize them on the first existing HR innovation database. Under the name of “inspiHRation” this database created by the students has more than 50 innovations in the HR fields worldwide, and future students of the Master should continue it…

Just to mention a couple of examples, did you know that employees at the dutch home care organization Buurtzorg fully manage their training in an autonomous way? Were you aware that when some Zappos staff log in their computers in the morning a picture of a co-worker appears, and they have to guess his/her name between 3 options as a way to connect employees? Did you know that Deloitte proposes in New Zealand a fun online interactive game in order to know if you would fit in their company and values? And what if I told you that several HR hackathons have already taken place in the world?

This is just a bit of teasing. I let you now surf and discover this great HR innovation database. You will be able to navigate via tags or categories such as recruitment & employer branding, training & development, career & performance and other HR subjects…

You find here the link to the “inspiHRation” HR innovation database.



To innovate, find your own way

Better be 2.png

Let me tell you today the story of Carolina, a passionate Spanish girl who decided when she was 8 years old that she would become the best badminton player in the world (by the way, badminton is the second most played sport in the world just behind football-soccer). This is an impressive ambition for a child of this age but, how realistic is this for a person living in Spain, a country with no badminton tradition at all?


Carolina trained very hard from the beginning and when she was 14 she did something that changed her life forever: she proposed to a young sport teacher called Fernando Rivas to become her coach and she shared with him her dream of becoming the number 1 badminton player. Fernando was very impressed by her determination, as well as by her playing style and personality. He accepted this proposal and started coaching her right away.

Fernando had developed his expertise not only in Spain, but also in England, France, Germany and The Netherlands. He had also explored a wide range of fields and disciplines: ”I liked sitting for classes at University and listening to teachers speak. I picked notes from science, history, architecture that could help me in sport. Later I specialized in physiology, psychology, bio mechanics”. All this led him to acquire a very rich and diverse experience and, over time, develop a different and innovative way of understanding badminton. His radically new method includes among others original ways to approach physical and mental preparation, game visualization, studying the opponents, moving differently on the court and using science. In Carolina’s own words, “Fernando is very innovative, he likes always creating new things, be different. We can’t be like Asian players because otherwise we would never win”.

Fernando has developed a revolutionary method already known as “the Spanish method” or “the Rivas method” in the badminton world. And it works. This new approach allowed Carolina to become world champion in 2014 and 2015 as well as winning the badminton Olympic gold medal in 2016, becoming the first non-Asian athlete in history to achieve this feat.

But what interesfrts us today is not the detailed content of “the Rivas method”, but rather the MINDSET that allowed a humble coach to develop a brand-new approach to his sport that made him become the best badminton coach in the world. This achievement is particularly extraordinary considering there is no badminton tradition in Spain, especially compared with other countries: currently there are around 2,000 licensed badminton players in Spain versus for example 100 million players in China! However, Fernando managed to upturn the 100-year Chinese tradition of badminton by challenging status quo: “I’ve never accepted what’s taken for granted. China were the best at badminton. Ok. So what”, and mixing science, creative thinking and a lot of hard work: “It’s about studying, innovation, studying more”.

What made Fernando become a man of genius lies in the fact that he managed to transform a strong weakness in a unique strength… if you come from a country with no tradition in a specific sport, why not seize the opportunity to rethink it totally from scratch? This is what Fernando did, was this is his philosophy in his own words: “because we did not have any badminton tradition in Spain, we had to implement a different method based on things that are not done in other places precisely because tradition impedes them”. “Badminton is very new in Spain but very developed in Asia. If we do exactly the same thing they are doing, we would be at the tail end. If I don’t create new knowledge, a new method, and I explore other ways, I will lag far behind”.

Fernando’s key lesson here is that in order to innovate with success, even with unbelievable success as he did, you need to find your own path: you better do things your way, think differently, experiment, take risks… than doing things exactly like everyone else. This will only lead you, after a lot of hard work, to eventually become what we could call “the worst of the good”.

There is a Spanish saying that goes like this: “más vale ser cabeza de ratón, que cola de léon”, which means literally “better be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion”. There are other versions in the world such as “better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion” and several others including -believe it or not- chicken, oxes, lizards, pikes, cats, foxes and even sturgeons… I let you chose the animal you prefer, but you get the idea: It is better to be able to lead a small humble project or adventure your way being free (and innovative!) than to be obliged to follow and stick to the norm in bigger ones…

This was the story of Carolina Marín and specially of Fernando Rivas; I hope you enjoyed it. Coming back to you now… In which subject can you innovate and find a unique way that will bring brand-new results and value? Or in other words, what lion can you stop following to start leading innovation as a small mouse full of potential? Food for thought…



Informe Robinson: El Milagro de Carolina Marín (video, 2016, in Spanish):

Enfoque TVE – Fernando Rivas (video, 2016, in Spanish):       

How to tame a dragon: Coaches are overcoming the dominant Chinese badminton world (The Indian Express, 2016):

HR Design Thinking


Design Thinking is mature enough for more and more people knowing and using it, but also new enough for it to be useful to start by providing a definition.  Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO, said to be one of the most innovative design companies in the world) defines Design Thinking as “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity”. It is also described sometimes as an innovation methodology/technique or a problem-solving approach.

According to Brown, there are 3 phases in Design Thinking, that are described as follows: “inspiration,” for the circumstances (be they a problem, an opportunity, or both) that motivate the search for solutions; “ideation,” for the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas that may lead to solutions; and “implementation,” for the charting of a path to market. Projects will loop back through these spaces—particularly the first two— more than once as ideas are refined and new directions taken”.

One of the key characteristics of Design Thinking is that it is an empathic human-centric approach. This means that the person (eg. the customer, the user, the employee) is at the core of the inspiration-ideation-implementation loops mentioned. This is also why empathy is a critical success factor in Design Thinking. And now comes the question I have been asking myself for a while now… if it all starts with observing and understanding the preferences and drivers of human beings in order to come up ideas and proposals that make them more satisfied… how is it possible that Design Thinking is so rarely used in the Human Resources Management field?!

Indeed, I strongly believe Design Thinking is going to become a major trend and approach in HR in the very close future. Therefore, better understanding HR Design Thinking, its power and its implications is crucial for HR professionals. I am not saying HR Design is not at all applied in HRM (I will actually provide some examples below), but I think it is really underused taking into account its potential to fully reshape the HR function.

First of all, what exactly is HR Design Thinking? According to Deloitte University Press (see references), applying Design Thinking to HR means “to focus on the employee’s personal experience and to create processes centered upon the worker. (…) new solutions and tools that directly contribute to employee satisfaction, productivity, and enjoyment”. In other words, it is all about “designing a productive and meaningful employee experience through solutions that are compelling, enjoyable, and simple”. To do so, according to the author, HR professionals need to start working in questions like “What does a great employee experience look like from end to end?.

In practice, and following IDEO’s philosophy, HR design thinking can take the form of rapid prototyping workshops powered by collective intelligence aiming to boost subjects in HRM by putting back the employee experience at the center. More concretely, it involves aspects like identifying innovation or improvement needs, brainstorming and idea generation, building-up concrete tangible prototypes and finally testing and improving them through series of feedback and new prototypes. Brown advises to “seek outside help”, which in this case would mean to involve non-HR professionals, such as managers, experts or even students. Another advice is to “try early and often”, what highlights the fact that failure is also a key element in Design Thinking. Indeed, some of the learning and improvements you will achieve during this process are only possible by trying and experimenting things, failing, learning from it, trying again, failing better, further learning, etc. That is why one of IDEO’s mottos is “fail often to succeed sooner”. In that same direction, I personally like very much the sentence “sometimes you win, sometimes… you learn!”. This aspect has a strong implication in the corporate culture of a given company: you will never manage to be innovative unless you encourage experimentation and grant the right to fail. This also explains my opening quote: Thomas Edison did not fail at inventing the light bulb… he just found 10,000 ways that did not work until he came up with the one that did work…

Let me share a few examples of HR Design Thinking that can be found on the market. Let’s start with the field of Learning and with a company in the telecommunications industry facing a very high turnover of the sales agents in their retail stores. Upon arrival, these employees were asked to learn in little time a very large amount of information about the company’s products and services, what explains that 2/3 of them left within their first 60 days. As a traditional training program was not seen as an adapted solution, the company decided to leverage on Design Thinking to adopt a brand new approach to training. They started by observing and studying the sales agents in their stores (identified as representative “personas”). This allowed the company to build a “journey map” which highlighted the key learning needs of each sales agent over their first months in that position. Based on this, the company proposed an app which made the agent’s life much easier. To start with, the could begin discovering the company and its offer even before joining. Once in the company, this app gave them access to internal development resources such as social networks, coaching and videos which supported their progression in a personalised way, also adapting it to their specific stage in the learning journey. Thanks to this stimulating Design Thinking approach, the company improved both the turnover and the satisfaction of their sales staff, but also the business results of their stores and very likely the image of the HR function as a key Business Partner for the company. The essence of this short case study by Bersin  (2016) is summarised in this central idea: “shifting from instructional design to experience design”. According to Deloitte, other companies such Deckers Brands and Nestlé also leveraged on Design Thinking to propose highly experiential and engaging learning programs. Looking backwards, the case of the telecom company follows -without a surprise- the “HR innovation cycle” I shared some time ago: opportunities identification -> HR innovation design and implementation -> HR added value and recognition.

Mars, Inc. also leveraged on Design Thinking to renew some HRM subjects such as talent attraction and C&B according to an interesting MOOC on Design Thinking proposed by the University of Virginia. Deloitte proposes other examples such as Adobe applying Design Thinking to performance management, Zappos to redesigning the candidate experience and DuPont to leveraging on digital tools to improve employee experience. As we can see, Design Thinking can help rethink, boost and reshape any HRM field, what highlights its huge potential for HR professionals. Beyond HR, a book called “design your life” just released by Stanford professors invites you to apply Design Thinking even to your full life…

On top of being a strong collective intelligence booster and a powerful team building exercise, facilitating innovation workshops is something fascinating I have the chance to have done for a while now. So, did I manage to convince you that Design Thinking can be a new and powerful way to rethink Human Resource Management in your organization by becoming more employee-centric? If yes, how ready is your organization to think a bit out of the box and embrace HR Design Thinking? Deloitte shares three interesting figures: 79% of the Executives consider Design Thinking is important; the readier a company is to embrace Design Thinking, the faster it will grow, and finally, the most value-adding HR teams are almost five times more likely to be using Design Thinking than their peers. Food for thought…


“Design Thinking”, Tim Brown (HBR, June 2008)

Global Human Capital Trends 2016 – The new organization: Different by design, Deloitte University Press, 2016

“Using Design Thinking to Embed Learning in Our Jobs”, Josh Bersin  (HBR, July 2016)

Innovation in schools…


After presenting some examples in previous posts of how human innovation takes place in some companies, I would like to share today some stories about successful innovations in schools in 3 European countries where I have lived: Germany, Spain and France.

In Berlin, not far from the impressive Museum Island, you will find the ESBC (Evangelical School Berlin Centre). Despite its “evangelic” name, only 1/3 of the students are baptized and classes are very heterogeneous in terms of profiles, origins and cultures. The philosophy of this school is very clear: in the current fast-changing progressively digital world, the key mission of a school is to develop students with determination and strong personalities, able to make the most of constant change thanks to a strong ability to motivate themselves.

According to Margret Rasfeld, the school’s headteacher, “nothing motivates students more than when they discover the meaning behind a subject of their own accord” and therefore, there are no grades or exams in this school. Indeed, until they turn 15, students decide the subjects they want to work on in each lesson and when they want their exams to take place. And actually, when exams can be avoided, students can propose other ways to prove their skills, for example by coding a videogame. There are few subjects set in advance, namely Maths, German, English and Social Studies as well as more innovative ones such as a “challenge” course, in which students are sent on an adventure fully planned and organized by themselves, such as trekking abroad or working in a farm.

More and more schools in Germany want to adopt this philosophy not only for its novelty, but also for its results, as year after year the students of this institution have better results that the other Berlin schools. Other schools in the country are adopting these methods and rely on the teaching materials that are developed at the “education innovation lab” of the school. For the moment they are 40 but the number keeps increasing…

2,000 Km away from Berlin, “Las Musas” high school in eastern Madrid also has an innovative approach to conflict management. Indeed, they launched 3 years ago a peer mediation program with the objective of preventing bullying (suffered by 1 student out of 10 according to “Save the Children”) and any other conflicts that may arise in the school. This includes anticipating new possible ones, for example by paying attention and spending some time with students seeming lonely or having integration problems. The peer mediation team is very small, it is only composed by 16 students out of 1,300 in the high school, aged between 12 and 14. What is important is that the members of this team are chosen by their peers in the school, which gives them the legitimacy to act. The skills needed for this mission are among other communication skills, conflict management, active listening, empathy and social skills.

So, how does this peer mediation actually work? It is very simple. Students having a conflict are first of all encouraged by mediators to find a solution informally by themselves. For example, in the past, two students having had a fight agreed to do a presentation about violence in front of their class. If this first level does not work, any of the parts can ask for a formal mediation, that is, a meeting with the mediators (and sometimes a teacher). During this meeting, mediators listen to both versions, take notes and help find a solution which is agreed by both parts with a 15 days follow-up. Most of the problems of the school are solved through this channel.

This approach has some major benefits. First, being among the students allows mediators to have a much sharper view of the problems and of the possible fair solutions. Furthermore, they manage to get information not accessible to adults, such as some personal problems, or some conflicts on social networks. The good news is that mediation can reach even this level. Indeed, if mediators see a possible conflict starting for example in a whatsapp, they can send the logo of the mediation team to the group to remind everyone of their presence, what usually puts the tension away. Second, this approach is also positive for the mediators, who perceive it as a unique learning experience allowing them to develop social skills useful even outside the school. Finally, people involved in such initiatives consider that peer mediation is very positive even beyond the context of the school, as it empowers students and makes them learn to become committed and trustful citizens. This initiative can also be found in other regions of Spain, such as the Basque country, Catalonia or the Valencia region, where a recent study highlights that 90% of the students would strongly recommend this system. Other countries are very active in this type of initiatives too, such as Finland, which has been using them for long time now.

1,000 km away from this high school in Madrid and about 5 km away from where I write this blog entry, the “Ecole élémentaire Dunois” in Paris also adopts a quite innovative approach to some of its activities. For example, self-management is strongly encouraged and these 9-year old students are used to propose and vote solutions to solve the problems the class finds. Also, students can choose the subject they want to work on among the ones proposed by the teacher and work at their own rhythm monitoring their progress via an “individual work plan”. Furthermore, students can work in pairs and mark their peer’s homework under teacher supervision (funnily enough, this trend of relying on peers for learning and development is more and more present in Executive Education too). Finally, mornings often start with a “what’s new?” ritual, during which each student shares any news or subject he/she wants to share with the class or by filling a self-reflection school journal that each student has. These are just some examples of the Freinet philosophy, created in the 1920’s by Frenchman Célestin Freinet and followed by the school. This philosophy is also called “the pedagogy of the chosen work”, because according to a teacher of this school, when students express themselves through their work, they decide voluntarily to take work and it becomes a need. Like the ESBC school in Berlin, this shows the importance given to developing the self-motivation, the autonomy and the uniqueness of each students.

In order to encourage innovation in schools, the French ministry for Education launches an annual contest in which schools all over the country share their innovations and apply to specific categories such as “avoiding school drop-out” or “primary schools evolution”. In this category, the winner idea this year was the “Twictée” a collaborative learning device to improve orthography inspired by Twitter. After the contest, a Top 30 of the most innovative initiatives in published by the ministry. I consider this is a simple yet powerful way to encourage and value innovation in schools.

There are of course many other innovative initiatives taking place in the schools all over the world, but I found interesting to highlight some concrete inspiring examples here. After all, schools educate and develop future generations, who will have in their hands the difficult task of inventing the future of the world – the sooner they get in contact with innovation, the better!


“No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down” (The Guardian, july 2016)

“Chavales que atajan el acoso de raíz” – in Spanish (El País, March 2016)

“La méthode Freinet, une pédagogie innovante au cœur de l’école publique” – in French (Le Monde, September 2014)

TOP 30, cahier des actions school initiatives, journée de l’innovation – in French (French ministry of Education, March 2016)


HR, let’s play! (Insights on HR gamification)


I had the chance to do some research lately with my colleague Ludine on gamification and HR gamification and I wanted to share here some of the discoveries I made. To start with, according to Werbach & Hunter (2012), gamification is “the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”. This means gamification can be applied to any organizational subject, including of course Human Resources.

What are the benefits of gamification? Personally, I would say that FUN is the commodity of gamification. When we play, we have fun, and the motivation and concentration increase, what reinforces our engagement to further play and progress.

But what makes people actually want to play? The best answer we found is given by gamification guru Yu-Kai Chou. According to him, there are 8 drivers that push people to play and progress thanks to gamification. In my own words, these motivation factors are:

  • Living epical adventures that make you progress and learn in real life
  • Feeling you are progressing, reaching new targets and accomplishing new goals
  • Learning or achieving new goals thanks to a continuous creativity-feedback-creativity-feedback loop
  • Owning and developing “virtual objects”, one’s own avatar or one’s online profile. By making them better and better you also learn and progress in real life
  • Learning through the contact with others, for example thanks to the help of a mentor in a game or via a collective challenge with other players
  • Using curiosity to further learn and discover what’s next…
  • Avoiding that something bad happens to you in a game
  • Learning or progressing thanks to the impatience to achieve or access something which is difficult to have

These levers are based whether on extrinsic, left-brain motivation (obtaining/winning something new) or intrinsic, right-brain motivation (enjoying the play itself), what makes them very complementary. It is very useful to understand these motivational drivers in order to make the most of gamification. For example, if you plan to gamify a training, it is key you master and leverage on the drivers that will make participants play and progress.

Let’s look for a concrete example of how gamification was applied to an HR subject on the market. Deloitte decided to leverage on gamification to boost the popularity and the use of its “Deloitte Leadership Academy”, an online program to train its employees and clients.  The company decided to gamify this learning experience using elements like online interactions among users, making them take up new challenges, or allowing them to win progression badges.

Deloitte used at least 4 of the motivation levers we just presented. First, they encouraged user progression and accomplishment by making them receive badges to mark their achievements. Second, they allowed players to enrich and customize their online profile on the platform. For example, employees had the option to connect to their personal networks on LinkedIn or Twitter to upload a profile or a photo. Having a more and more rich and personalized online profile contributed to reinforce their engagement. Third, Deloitte leveraged on users’ curiosity by proposing for example secret badges when a whole team watched the same video in the same week. Finally, learning through the contact with others was encouraged via competition with players with similar levels and scores through a customized top-ten leaderboard proposed to each user.

Some dramatic results confirm the success of gamification for the Deloitte Leadership Academy. Since the use of gamification, there was a 37% increase in the number of users visiting the platform each week and a 47% increase in the number of users visiting it every day. Furthermore, the average user completed online trainings to earn 3 badges and one single user actually won 30 bagdes!

Now that you see clearer on the benefits that gamification can have in HR… how about trying it in some of your current HR subjects? Food for thought…


For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business (Werbach & Hunter, Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press, 2012)

How Deloitte Made Learning a Game (Meister, J.C, January 2, Harvard Business Review, 2013) -available at:

Yu-Kai Chou & gamification: