Why design thinking is now an essential capability for HR (and how to adopt it)

Why design thinking is now an essential capability for HR

Design thinking can assist HR professionals in achieving impressive results, writes Jeff Mike, who explains that the process is better understood and approached as a set of three working principles.

HR is undergoing a fundamental shift. The rigid, policy-driven programs and processes of yesterday, which were primarily focused on compliance, efficiency, and conventional approaches to talent management, are giving way. Leading HR practitioners are replacing top-down programs and processes with more agile, worker-centric offerings – offerings that are personalised for employees and that are informed by a robust understanding of work and workforce segments – and design thinking can play an important role in this process.

Bersin research backs this up, and high-performing HR organisations are 3.5 times more likely to focus relentlessly on user experience when designing HR offerings than lower-performing organisations. This is a significant finding: High-performing HR organisations are also associated with a host of positive business outcomes, such as meeting or exceeding financial targets, improved processes, greater responsiveness to change, and enhanced innovation. It is also why design thinking is becoming an essential HR capability.

A design thinking mindset can drive results
Design thinking is more than a set of rote practices. It requires a mindset composed of three elements:

  • User-centered design, which places the employee at the heart of the design;
  • Human-centered design, which ensures that the design speaks to the emotions of users;
  • Soft systems methodology, which ensures that multiple, divergent perspectives are incorporated into the design process.

When HR practitioners operationalise this mindset, they can achieve impressive results. Witness one of largest companies powering prosperity, use of design thinking to re-engineer its candidate assessment and selection process. The online financial solutions company’s redesign produced a 14-point increase in quality of hire (with almost two-thirds of new hires now receiving the highest quality rating), reduced average time to fill 12 days (or almost 20 per cent), and boosted new-hire net promoter scores by 14 per cent year over year.

A global leader in consumer transaction technologies used design thinking to address high rates of employee attrition, especially among new hires and key worker categories, such as customer engineers. It developed and used its new employee experience model to rebuild its onboarding process. The result: the volume of new hires who left dropped by 22 per cent, resulting in a savings of $7 million. In addition, turnover within the critical customer engineer segment fell from 34 per cent to 10.9 per cent.

Three working principles
Once HR has begun to establish a design thinking mindset, it can turn its attention to implementation. Design thinking is not a set of concrete steps followed in a specific sequence; it’s better understood and approached as a set of working principles.

1. First, seek to understand your employees and the problems they face
A key tenet of design thinking is the ability to empathise with employees, that is, to share their experiences and feelings. Design thinkers use observation and interview techniques to achieve this. Then, they develop personas (representations of the qualities and characteristics of typical users) and journey maps to better understand user populations.

2. Second, generate a variety of options and shape them into potential solutions
One of the pitfalls of problem-solving is rushing to find a single “best” idea. Instead, design thinkers seek to identify a variety of alternative solutions. This can increase the chances of discovering robust and innovative designs, especially when the options are generated by diverse and inclusive teams.

3. Third, test potential solutions with employees and refine them with data and feedback
Design thinkers don’t put all their eggs in one basket. They test solutions in the real world and collect both qualitative and quantitative data on the results. This allows them to deepen their empathic connection with users, define problems more precisely, and refinement solutions before committing to them.

A certain mystique has arisen around the design thinking, but there really isn’t any magic to it. HR professionals who develop the right mindset and put these three principles to work can soon reap the rewards of this essential capability.