Transforming HR with Design Thinking #SHRM19


The 2019 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition (#SHRM19) offers sessions across cross-functional topics within the HR functional areas, of particular interest to me, is the topics in the HR Tech space, the meeting of “Transforming HR with Design Thinking” session caught my eyes and reached out to the speaker Stuart Chittenden to discuss his presentation.

Before we get onto the interview, a brief look at Design Thinking

What is Design Thinking:

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO says that “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of the people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.”

Design Thinking is a five-step process as listed in Fig.1

The five steps of Design Thinking  

The design of products and services is a significant part of business competitiveness. Hence the organizations are increasingly focusing on Design Thinking to increase their competitiveness (Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012).

Design Thinking in HR:

Design Thinking being people-centric focuses on problems that are complex impacting people, organizations like Citrix, Cisco has fruitful experiences in implementing the Design Thinking in HR. In the traditional world of HR, HR systems/programs were ‘pushed/rolled out’ to the employees without much of their involvement/engagement. Design Thinking methodology changes that entirely by learning their needs, understanding what they do, also engages employees at every level, then re-design, prototype, test for greater success. As Josh Bersin says, Design Thinking “focus on productivity, better decision-making, quality, and empowerment. So now, our HR “program” is more like a work-related intervention rather than a work interruption.” I will stop here and share my conversation with Stuart Chittenden, Founder of Squishtalks.

About Stuart Chittenden: Born in sight of England’s Canterbury Cathedral, Stuart has called the Midwest home since 2004. Stuart believes that conversation helps us to live better and work well in our organizations and our communities. Stuart founded the conversation catalyst Squishtalks in 2010, working with Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits, leveraging the power of conversation to unlock the capacity of human relationships and spark innovation and performance. Previously, Stuart was a UK lawyer and a partner at a branding agency. He is a member of the U.K.’s Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development with Master’s level accreditation in Organizational Learning and Development.

Tell us about your "Transforming HR with Design Thinking session at #SHRM19, and what will be the key takeaways for the attendees?

Many people lack creative confidence and feel stuck. Many organizations are risk-averse, discourage innovation, and are stymied from developing breakthrough ideas. This scenario includes HR professionals and their organizational HR context. My intentions with this session are, first, to introduce attendees to some core principles of design thinking and, secondly, how it might apply to HR by taking them through a design thinking sprint tackling some typical HR problems. It will be fast and interactive. No one will get to sit it out!

I apply Design Thinking approach in my HRIS/HCM consulting practice, do you have any favorite/specific areas within the HR to use Design Thinking approach?

Design thinking is a methodology that has utility in any context and area. With that said, the most obvious area is with talent development and generating a culture of innovation. Design thinking is a great approach to equip employees with creative confidence and skills while teasing out an organizational culture encouraging of innovation.

Design Thinking is catching fire in the HR world, and your session while covering the various tenets of Design Thinking will also include the challenges/ limitations of Design Thinking in HR as well?

Actually, no! With just an hour, I have an ambitious interactive program taking attendees through a design thinking sprint. It is intended to get attendees to realize not only is design thinking valuable for HR but that they can apply it with confidence themselves.

How Agile (approach to problem-solving) and Design Thinking (approach to problem finding) can work in conjunction to address HR issues?

 I really like that you note Design Thinking’s ability to effectively “find problems.” I see Agile as a useful element in the prototyping, testing, and refining stages of design thinking, once human-centered problems have been surfaced and ideas generated.

Do you think the Design Thinking approach can be applied to small and medium-size companies as well?

Absolutely. Design thinking can be applied with an individual, a small team, an organization and perhaps even a larger system (a nation?!) The point of design thinking is to observe how we experience our lives, challenges, and opportunities and then to conjure ideas to either improve a situation or seize an opportunity. What follows is a process of low-to-higher stakes prototyping, testing, learning, and iteration. The process needs to be cognizant of the number of people, though the number doesn’t necessarily preclude the utility of design thinking as an approach.

What is the best way for the readers to connect with you? 

LinkedIn is a great way to connect. I am here! Also, people can find me at Squishtalks and Gilbert+Chittenden



About the Writer:

Baskaran Ambalavanan, has more than two decades of HR experience in India, Oman, and the U.S. with unique experience in both the functional HR and in the HRIS/HR Technology space. He is the founder and Principal of Hila Solutions, LLC, a ‘soup to nuts’ HR Technology Advisory firm assisting small, mid-size and enterprise. He earned his MBA from Alliance Manchester Business School, U.K. and also certified in SPHR, SHRM-SCP, GPHR, and PHRca. He believes in giving back to the HR community and serving as the Programs Chair for PIHRA, Member of SHRM Global Panel and also serves as member at the California State University, Long Beach - HR Advisory Board. A firm believer in networking has a robust digital presence, he can be reached via :, Twitter, and Linkedin.


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