Design Thinking For HR Innovators: The What, How And Why

In the race to create more agile, engaged and innovative organizations, companies are expecting HR to revamp our outdated processes to match this new environment. This business need creates a golden opportunity for HR to recast its core people processes which are often rightly maligned by leaders, managers, and our team members alike.

Many HR innovators have already begun to proactively take advantage of this push to tear down antiquated processes and the inherent mindsets of less progressive HR teams in the past and construct new processes that reflect the unique people and purpose that drives their business.

Yes the rebranding buzz to change ‘HR’ to ‘People Operations’ or ‘Employee Experience’ is fairly superficial in itself but when HR leaders combine this rebranding with a new mindset and approach, the impact can be material.

Despite what you may think, this is not reserved for the known HR superstars everyone quotes or who write books. Even without a big budget, you too can transform your organization in a meaningful way.

The key is to begin questioning EVERYTHING with a Design Mindset

Today’s HR innovators don’t take any process, program, or practice for granted. The only way to discover what truly works best is to put yourself in the shoes of the people who work and run your organization and open your mindset to new possibilities. While it may sound intimidating, this isn’t a call for all out anarchy. Design thinking is a highly ordered approach that will provide you with a new lens through which you can view your organization.

Why design thinking?

In an illuminating TEDTalk “The way we think about work is broken”, Barry Schwartz encourages us to think about whether it is human nature that creates institutions or institutions which can shape human nature. In traditional factory lines, work was based simply on the exchange of labor for money. We all know better. What drives people to get up and go to work every morning is about so much more.

Rather than creating an environment in which people do the bare minimum, designing an approach that allows and facilitates people’s innate need to play (use their creativity and discover), find purpose and reach their potential will shape the way people feel about their work.

What actually is design thinking?

According to Tim Brown, CEO of international design firm IDEO:

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

Until now design thinking has mostly been used to create a customer focused approach to designing and marketing products. However, today’s HR leaders are realizing they can use this methodology to design better experiences. In fact, the adoption of this process has had so much success that Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital trends recognized design thinking as one of the top trends to follow.

The design process encourages you to look at three main touch points within the organization to better understand what’s needed. These are the processes, people and technology that your teammates come into contact with at each stage of their journey throughout the organization. Which processes are heavy and bureaucratic? Which need to be straight up eliminated? How much support do your people receive from team leads or peers? Are there new solutions that can make it easier for people to deliver impact?

There are two tools which can help you get into the design thinking mindset. One is journey mapping. This allows you to map out the stages and assess touchpoints at each step using your people data. The other is people personas. These fictional characters allow you to visualize and put yourself into the mindset of your employee.

Whether you dive all in to design thinking and the tools/techniques associated with it or not, one thing is clear, we need to think differently about our people programs and processes to create an environment where people can thrive and change the long held view of HR or whatever buzzword you wish to call yourself to what we can really be: a contemporary discipline that gets it and is directly helping to unleash the skills and abilities of your company’s people to deliver real business impact.

Jeff Diana
Jeff Diana
Chief People Officer, Advisor

Jeff Diana is the former Chief People Officer at Atlassian. He currently works as a high growth consultant helping pre IPO companies on how to successfully scale their businesses from go-to-market design to product roadmaps to senior leadership assessment and much more. He is focused on partnerships with key VC firms, CEOs, and other world class HR consultants to solve the challenges of hyper growth and to build incredibly successful businesses.
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