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Why Design Thinking is a critical capability for HR professionals

Jun 08, 2022

The role of HR is changing rapidly.  The global pandemic accelerated us into this next phase.  We have long moved past personnel into business partner and I argue that we are now evolving into Employee Experience designers and architects.  

Employees are demanding more of organisations than ever before.  The topic of flexible and hybrid working has been debated and discussed in almost every executive team.  Companies are experimenting with hybrid, totally flexible location-independent working to  requiring 40 hours at the office (Tesla is a recent notable example).  Yet when you talk to people it is clear that everyone is still figuring this out and just specifying a certain number of days or hours in the office isn't the answer.

Yet me know intuitively that coming together in person is important; that conversations are different face to face and that those "accidental" water cooler conversations can breed ideas and cross-pollinate innovations.

It's a problem without a clear solution.

Which means it is perfect for Design Thinking.

Design Thinking has been around for a while but most people think about it in context of the external customer; creating products and services based on the user-experience.  Which means it is also a brilliant approach when we think about Employee Experience.

We've been talking about EVP (employee value proposition) for years; this is how we attract people into our organisations.  But that can be a bit like a tinder profile; you hope the reality is like the photo but often it really is not.

Employee experience is what retains people.  It is how they experience all aspects of their working life; from the recruitment process, how they are developed, how they contribute to company performance, their relationship with their manager, how easy it is to access the information they need, the systems etc.

How often have you been frustrated at your experience at work?  How easy is it to find the information you need; it is stored on a sharepoint with great search capability or is it held in individual folders on people's laptops?  If you want to learn something, are you able to do what you can at home with looking up "how to.." on you tube or are you scrolling through an online learning management system that is out of date and not curated or organised?

Design Thinking starts with a really deep understanding and empathy for the user-experience.  How do your employees experience learning at work, career development, hybrid working or whatever the topic.  Only after we collect data and distill it into insights do we decide what the problem is.  That's a total flip from our normal approaches which value deciding what the problem is first.  It is interesting as after you do a few design thinking sessions you will realise how often we leap to the wrong problem because we started there first!

Only after defining the real problem do we ideate and come up with ideas.  And this is when quantity over quality is initially required.  Our best ideas are normally not the first ones we come up with and learning the discipline of withholding judgement and continuing to put ideas on post-its allows us to access some deep creative parts of our brain.

Then it's time to start bringing some judgement in.  If we have 120 ideas, then let's decide what we think are the best options to solve this particular problem.  And we are not looking for just one perfect solution, in fact we want to take that 120 ideas to maybe 10-15 ideas to prototype and test.

The biggest benefit in prototyping is that we fail fast!  Say if we take 10 ideas for the solution, we want to know what of these ideas will actually work, or needs to change and adapt in order to work.  Prototyping means low investment of time to create something simple that you can share and get feedback on.

Testing prototypes means we get real data and feedback on what will work and what won't.  We've all heard the research around 70% of change processes fail; this is about putting a structure in place so we reduce this.

In fact when it comes to employee experience which is where HR is evolving to, in my opinion that is no better methodology or approach than design thinking to build our capability in delivering on these expectations.