The Design Thinking Revolution In HR

Business and its every facet have changed in leaps and bounds over the past decade or so. Business success was earlier tied only to product/ service optimization in the context of large investments, long timeframes and higher risk associated with investments. Changes (whether to improve the product or the process) could not be made suddenly, not without heavy losses and higher risks. Data from the past history and otherwise was limited and was only used for future predictions. Using such forecasts, businesses would plan years ahead to roll out changes so that they can achieve predictable results.

In today’s day and age, business norms have changed owing to the rapid advent in technology and communication. It is possible to use real-time data (business, HR, customer, etc.) to effect changes in the product/service or test new ones, change the process or bring in completely new processes and so on. The risk attached to effecting changes as well as experiments can be reduced and effectively managed using both data and technology.

One of the most important changes in the way business operates today is the emergence of design thinking.

Design Thinking (DT)

Design thinking is a creative approach to problem-solving that puts the user (customer, employee and so on depending upon the context) and their needs at the center. It is a prototype-driven process that looks to imbue innovation, creativity and people-centricity in solving complex and challenging business problems. It enables businesses to effectively and efficiently rethink the status quo in terms of processes, systems and the product/ service itself.

In today’s world where businesses are flooded with ambiguity and complexity, design thinking enables them to make sense of these. Since it is not a correlative approach and does not require people to complete one task before taking on another, it enables businesses to go back and forth, make changes to the prototypes or products based on real-time inputs from users, changes in the markets or competitive spaces and so on.

Design thinking process typically follows the following route:

  1. Empathize with customers/ users/ employees and understand the problem at hand, needs, preferences, expectations, etc.
  2. Define the problem for clarity and understand why researching and moving further with solving it is important
  3. Ideate and innovate
  4. Identify the best/ optimal solutions and create prototypes
  5. Test to see how it works. Check to see if it is economically and technologically viable. Refine the solution further.

Design thinking revolution in HR

It is often misconstrued that design thinking approach can only be applied to product development and design and not to other aspects of business. This people-centric approach can be applied to a wide range of business functions starting from product development to operations, budgeting, HR, marketing, technology, etc.

HR is particularly an area where design thinking has come to play a revolutionary role. Why? HR deals with employees, humans… because of which the challenging and problems facing are often complex, ambiguous and even abstract. As discussed earlier, DT is great at creatively solving such problems. Also, since DT takes a people-centric approach and imbibes the core value of empathy it is apt for HR.

How is design thinking applied in HR?

Design thinking provides great alternatives to the traditional process-based HR models and approaches and enables organizations to develop people-centric, customized/ tailor-made models that help address the issues facing employees (existing and aspiring). It helps elevate and enhance the experiences of employees and candidates aspiring to become part of the organization. Such an approach is gold because organizations understand that employee experience translates to better customer experience and that it is at the core of business success, sustainability and growth.

The application of DT in hiring, onboarding, learning and development, performance management, talent management, workplace design and so on has helped usher tangible and successful changes to the way organizations function.

Companies such as Cisco, Nestle, Citrix, LinkedIn and so on have leveraged DT in HR by using the collaborative design approach wherein they brought together employees and stakeholders from diverse functions, departments and roles to rethink and/or co-create the above-mentioned HR processes. This way diverse opinions and ideas are reflected in the processes and the models so developed will reflect diverse needs, preferences and aspirations as well.

Using DT, HR departments can nourish and develop a culture of innovation with the organization. So, new ideas, innovative approaches and creative thinking of employees will not be limited to HR policies and approaches alone but reflect in their every day work irrespective of the department or domain they work in.

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA): Strategic and Powerful Design Thinking Method

As discussed earlier, HR professionals are leveraging DT in creating people-oriented approaches and models that will elevate employee experiences and transform the performance of both employees and the organization.

An important part of this puzzle is knowing how the organization functions in reality and how communications and relations between the different teams and individuals work within the organization. One thing HR professionals know with absolute certainty is that an organization’s ‘org chart’ does not really reflect any of these or how an organization really works.

Enter Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), a design thinking method which creates images that portray how information, communication and decision making actually flows throughout the network of relations within an organization.

An org chart will not be able to capture, for instance, that a department is working in silo. Using ONA, it is possible for HR professionals and the management to learn:

  • If there are influencers or change agents within the organization or different department who can affect others positively and identify who they are.
  • If some mid-level managers or employees are considered more approachable and people from diverse departments consider them to be the go-to for queries, etc.
  • How does communication flow within the organization, are some teams isolated or working in silos?
  • If there are some employees who are close to burn out.
  • If there are barriers to information flow within the organization, etc.

By visualizing all this through ONA, HR professionals can break down age-old bureaucracies and silos within the organization. They can help improve the operational efficiency by assigning the right talent for the right work, easing frictions where they exist, breaking barriers in communication flow and enabling different teams and actors to coordinate, cooperate and collaborate with one another.

Using this design thinking approach, HR professionals can identify the real leaders who are change agents and possess natural leadership qualities within the organization. Such leaders cannot always be identified using org charts as managers may not always be leaders. Leaders identified using this DT approach can be honed further and can be shifted to job profiles that match their talent. Similarly, with underperformers and employees on the periphery who are close to burn out can be engaged with to help eliminate redundancy.

Join us at the session to know more about design thinking, organizational network analysis and their applications in HR.



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