Like agile methodology, design thinking has been mainly applied to the development of new products, services and business models. In human resources, design thinking is a people-oriented, prototype-driven process for creative problem solving that helps develop innovative human-centric programs and experiences in the workplace. It is a useful approach to understand and solve complex challenges when other methodologies fall short.


What is design thinking in human resources?


In short, design thinking can be used in HR to help drive creativity, engagement, excitement and new ways of thinking and doing. Design thinking can take your HR team to the next level of innovation and strategy - giving your company an edge in a tight talent marketplace.


In short, design thinking can be used in HR to help drive creativity, engagement, excitement and new ways of thinking and doing. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHr @RiseSmart

The difference design thinking can make is similar to how agile project management methodologies help HR and recruiting teams organize, anticipate, and adapt to changes - but carries the thought process a step further into intentional design and how it impacts the user (employee) interaction and experience. This applies to all areas of employee engagement, from candidate experience, to onboarding, to leadership.


Design thinking to improve the employee experience


Service design thinking is a human centered approach to creating new, often innovative, solutions to complex challenges impacting human experiences around products, services, environments and interactions. It is a method traditionally used by designers across various design disciplines, elevated by technology industry and successfully introduced to the corporate world by companies such as Apple, Phillips and Google.


Given the changing nature of a global workforce and rapidly growing percentage of next-generation employees, concerns regarding skills shortages and the gradual shift of “power” to the employee, as well as changes in consumer behaviors related to new technologies, employee experience should be a primary focus area for any HR transformation program, digital redesign projects for a company portal and employee interaction tools.


Related content: 5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement and Performance


Design thinking can help your team understand and redesign each aspect of the employee experience by leveraging new technologies and responding to the changing aspirations and needs of tomorrow's workforce – starting from the recruitment and new employee integration, through learning and development, work environment, collaboration and reporting.


Design thinking can help your team understand and redesign each aspect of the employee experience by leveraging new technologies and responding to the changing aspirations and needs of tomorrow’s workforce. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHr @RiseSmart

How to apply design thinking concepts in HR


We instinctively develop patterns of thinking that are modeled on repetitive activities and commonly accessed knowledge. This can help us quickly apply the same actions and knowledge in similar or familiar situations, but they also have the potential to prevent us from quickly and easily accessing or developing new ways of seeing, understanding and solving problems. With design thinking, the primary intention is to improve products by analyzing and understanding how users interact with products and investigating the conditions in which they operate. It’s the difference between speculation and analysis.


Design thinking offers us a means of digging a bit deeper; it helps us to do the right kind of research and to prototype and test our products and services to uncover new ways of improving the product, service or design. Design thinking gives us data points via a creative process, and is commonly referred to as “outside of the box” thinking (as much as we’d like to drop that from our vernacular).


The actual application of design thinking starts with five basic stages of project innovation. They don’t have to be carried out in order, just applied to a problem-solution(s) model of creative problem solving. Once you identify the process or problem to solve, the five areas to consider are:


  • Empathize with the user
  • Describe the users’ needs, problem, and your insights
  • Ideate (brainstorm, green light session) by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions
  • Prototype to start creating solutions
  • Test solutions


These phases are not a hierarchical or step-by-step process. Instead, look at design thinking methodology as an overview of the modes or phases that contribute to an innovative project, rather than sequential steps.


Related content: 5 Ideas HR Should Steal From a Marketer’s Playbook


At its heart, design thinking is an iterative and non-linear process. This means that a design team continuously uses results to review, question, and improve their initial assumptions, understandings, and results. Results from the final stage of the initial work process inform our understanding of the problem, help us determine the parameters of the problem, enable us to redefine the problem, and, perhaps most importantly, provide us with new insights so we can see any alternative solutions that might not have been available with our previous level of understanding.


Benefits of design thinking innovation in HR


Josh Bersin at Deloitte predicts HR teams 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: Incorporate design thinking when restructuring roles or the organization itself
  2. Engagement: Research shows employee engagement can be driven by using design thinking to make work easier, more efficient, more fulfilling, and more rewarding.
  3. Learning: 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: Data analysis and design thinking can be linked to recommend better solutions directly to the employee.
  5. HR skills: Upgrade the skills within the HR team to incorporate an understanding of digital design, mobile application design, behavioral economics, machine learning, and user experience design.
  6. Digital HR: Design thinking is critical in developing new digital tools that can make work easier and better.


Finally, while the concepts surrounding design thinking are not new and have been used by the design, engineering, and marketing industries for years, they have not always been applied to the kinds of challenges that HR leaders face. However, design thinking concepts and approaches are becoming more common and are having a positive impact on the design, delivery and success of HR programs and HR-technology solutions. Due to the war for talent, HR has more of a spotlight shining on it in all areas, including retention, development and recruiting. To improve outcomes in all these areas, HR can use design thinking as a way to help HR to become more strategic and to create better solutions and experiences for employees.

20 December 2018

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