Why Your HR Department Should Adopt Design Thinking

  • Design Thinking Training in London UK. Photo by Linda Naiman

How can HR create great employee experiences that empower creativity, collaboration and innovation? Design Thinking is an approach that works

Design has a tremendous power to influence human behaviour and thus effect change

Richard Farson PhD, psychologist, educator and author of The Power of Design, asserts: “Design, the creation of form, has the power to transform culture, ignite education, foster community, and even broker peace. Design achieves its power because it can create situations, and a situation is more determining of what people will actually do than is personality, character, habit, genetics, unconscious motives or any other aspect of our individual makeup.” As Farson points out, “Nobody smokes in church, no matter how addicted.”

It stands to reason that if design influences behaviour, bad design will have a negative effect on behaviour. We can see examples in urban blight, at high crash intersections and in the workplace. For example, The Talent Board found that more than half the candidates who find the job-application experience difficult, develop a negative impression of the company’s products and services.

Design succeeds when it finds ideal solutions based on the real needs of real people. In a recent Harvard Business Review article on the evolution of design thinking, Jon Kolko noted, “People need their interactions with technologies and other complex systems to be simple, intuitive, and pleasurable. Design is empathic, and thus implicitly drives a more thoughtful, human approach to business.”

When done well, human centred design enhances the user experience at every touch point and fuels the creation of products and services that deeply resonate with customers. Human centred design is foundational to the success of companies like SAP, Warby Parker, and AirBnB.

Why not apply design thinking to improve the employee experience with the same care given to delight customers?

Cisco hosted a non-tech hackathon to explore a wide range of HR issues with its employees. The result: 105 new solutions for its global workforce of 71,000 people to improve employee experiences in recruiting, onboarding, and learning and development. To delight employees, Cisco has identified “moments that matter” — such as joining the organization, changing jobs, and managing family emergencies — and redesigned its employee services around these moments.

AirBnB has changed the Chief HR Officer function into a Chief Employee Experience Officer function recognizing that “experience” is the essence of a workplace, especially among millennials.

At Pixar, the Employee Experience Manager provides outreach, consultation and support to a variety of groups and individuals. This means lots of face time, and conversations with employees and managers to better understand experiences, challenges, and development needs.

6 trends linking HR and Design Thinking

Josh Bersin at Deloitte predicts HR teams in 2017 will stop designing “programs” and instead design integrated, high-value “experiences” that excite, engage and inspire employees. HR can leverage design thinking via:

  1. Organizational design, which can incorporate design thinking when restructuring roles or the organization itself
  2. Engagement, which research shows can be driven by using design thinking to make work easier, more efficient, more fulfilling, and more rewarding
  3. Learning, in which new, self-directed learning experiences can be shaped by design thinking’s central principle of putting the user experience ahead of the process
  4. Analytics, in which data analysis and design thinking can be linked to recommend better solutions directly to the employee
  5. HR skills, which must be upgraded to incorporate an understanding of digital design, mobile application design, behavioural economics, machine learning, and user experience design
  6. Digital HR, where design thinking is critical in developing new digital tools that can make work easier and better.

Questions to help you think like a designer:

  • What do employees experience on their journey from getting hired to leaving the company?
  • What does a great employee experience look like end to end?
  • How can HR help build human centred design principles throughout the organization?

This post was originally published in my column on Inc.com 

Learn more about thinking like a designer:


About the Author:

As founder of Creativity Work, I help executives and their teams develop creativity, innovation, and leadership skills via arts-based learning and design thinking.(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases on blog posts)
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