More and more HR leaders are realising that design thinking might be the answer to providing value to an organisation beyond just “managing the process”. If we are being honest, HR has a history of treating the symptoms and not the cause. For example, if an organisation has higher than normal attrition, rather than to do a deep dive in to the organisational culture to identify a root cause, the HR team will often provide a surface level response, such as more team away days to create a more “fun” environment. But gradually, more and more HR professionals are realising that the proper use of design thinking can help solve the real issues at the heart of a HR metric.


The first phase within design thinking is a lot easier said than done. It is to take of the rose-tinted glasses as to your own personal views on what may be the problem and begin to look at things from the employee’s perspective. It is aimed at gaining an understanding as to what the real challenges are. This can be done in many forms, it could be surveys, workshops, one to one meeting, informal or formal observations. But all of this is put together and then collated to understand what needs to be solved.


If done correctly, this can be a truly eye-opening experience for those involved. The answer is rarely found in the most obvious place. For example, your company may not need a new system or competition to increase the number of referrals, the current system may work fine, and employees think it is great. The reason your employees are not making as many referrals as you would like, is because most of them actually think it’s a mediocre place to work and they do not want to recommend it to their friends.

Therefore, the problem statement from design thinking would be something like “How do we create a company that will make our employees proud to work here”. Whereas the traditional HR question would have been “How can we make our employees refer more people to work here?”. Small nuance in language, big difference in the overall aim and impact of the work being done. One is aimed at simply getting more people to do a task, the other re-evaluating the entire ecosystem of the organisation and redesigning it to be more employee centric.


The third stage of design thinking is focused on coming up with ideas and solutions to the core issue identified within the first two stages of design thinking. At this stage, there is no bad idea, in fact the more ideas you can generate the better. Ideas can range from simple and basic ideas all the way out to insane ideas that are so far out of the box, the box cannot even be seen anymore. Whenever I have done these sessions over the course of my career, I do not think I have ever seen a session that didn’t produce at least several dozen possible solutions. It is incredible what even the most conservative of colleagues can come up with, when a platform allows no restrictions in thinking.


Most people misunderstand the fourth stage of design thinking and think that building a prototype is about picking one idea and creating a prototype for it. That is not the case. Let’s say you came up with 30 different ideas to potentially improve the scenario outlined. There is nothing to stop you drawing up plans and potential solutions for the best 5 or even 10 ideas. There is nothing wrong with taking 5 ideas and finding ways to implement them. You could potentially try all 5 on 5 separate teams. You may also find that when creating prototypes, the team can find a way to get that crazy out of the box idea to work.


The final stage of design thinking is to put them to the test. Run a small pilot and see whether the proposed solutions work. There may be some issues to work out, but that is fine, its why you do a pilot and test the idea. You can always go back and tweak it and test it again with the proposed changes. In fact, as design thinking is an iterative process, it’s quite common in the tech industry, that rather than this being the end of the process, it actually kicks off the entire process again and it begins all over.

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