We just found out one of our boys needs braces. Fortunately, thanks to a little forward thinking, we have a health care spending account (HCSA) to help soften the blow.

Not being one to procrastinate, I went to our HR portal to check on our HCSA. Let’s see, where would I find it? Braces are dental, so it must be under ‘Dental’. But wait, the HCSA isn’t just for dental, it can be used for other things too, right? Then it must be under ‘Health’, or is it under ‘Wealth’ because it’s part of a savings program? Who knows? I’m already 10 minutes in and I’m still clicking around hoping for the best.

“Every software vendor promises a solution that is useful and that delights and engages employees. So why is it that so few of them actually deliver on that promise? .” Shane Morgenstern, National Practice Leader and Creative Director Health, Wealth, Career Communications

Fast forward to Friday night, the kids were finally asleep and my wife and I were ready to snuggle up with Netflix.

“What do you want to watch?” She asked. “I don’t know,” I replied, “how about that series about the history of baseball? I think it’s under ‘History’.” “Yeah that sounds good,” she said, “but wouldn’t it be under ‘Documentaries’?” Here we go again.

Well, it turns out the baseball documentary was listed in both the history and documentary categories. In fact, it also came up when I did a search on baseball, and a search on sports. Our search even discovered three other similar movies that we agreed to watch another time. It seemed like Netflix had read our minds, or at least managed to categorize shows in such a dynamic way that made them almost impossible to miss.

Too bad our HR portal can’t be this easy to navigate. Or can it?

HR and Netflix: So close, yet so far apart

Most HR technology firms offer a robust solution full of data feeds, tools and features. They often push personalized content unique to each member through dashboards or pop-ups. Some offer total rewards information while others have modelers, calculators or estimators. Unfortunately, most are also loaded up with old pdfs with content that HR believes can’t be deleted. For all their capabilities, users like me have to sift through so much content and make so many decisions that finding the one thing you’re after is frustrating and time-consuming.

Yet every software vendor promises a solution that is useful and that delights and engages employees.

So why is it that so few of them actually deliver on that promise? Can they learn anything from the Netflix experience to make the HR portal more usable? After all, they both have more things in common than you might think:

  • Both have lots of information, with new content being added regularly.
  • Both will push targeted messages to the user, based on your previous activity and stored data.
  • Both have to sort and categorize all this content, so users can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily, even if they’re not completely sure what they’re looking for.

The future of portals, by Netflix

As technology evolves, user behaviour and expectations evolve as well. Instead of treating navigation, content and personalization as independent components of the online experience, portals need to combine them all seamlessly, delivering a portal that for the most part, is all on one level. Content should be revealed to you through thoughtful transitions, presented in logically grouped neat little modules. You can sort modules using a number of parameters and, as our baseball documentary showed, modules can belong to more than one category.

Essentially, Netflix has turned the content into the user interface, providing you with an experience that showcases content you want and helps guide you to content you might find relevant. And don’t forget, nearly all of it happens without leaving the home page.

A new approach to the HR portal

An HR portal modeled after the Netflix approach could eliminate all those cumbersome mega menus and present content in interactive modules right on the home page.

Instead of ‘History’ or ‘Documentaries’, modules could be grouped into HR categories like ‘Health’ and ‘Wealth’. And remember, it would be okay to include a module in more than one category. You’ll look for it in the places that make sense to you.

Including a powerful search engine lets you search for your content using the search terms of your choice. A sortable results page is an opportunity to serve up, not only your search result, but also any other related content that may be helpful.

It the end, you’d have an HR portal that is searchable, findable and sortable all on one page. As with Netflix, the content itself would become the user interface, eliminating most of the cumbersome traditional menu buttons. Your employees would be guided through a logical flow of interactivity to the right content, in the right place, at the right time.

As Netflix and other digital powerhouses like Airbnb, EBay and Amazon all look to the user experience as a driving consideration for their success, maybe it’s time for HR technology to get on board, too.