Article: Adding the design thinking lens to your people strategy

Strategic HR

Adding the design thinking lens to your people strategy

People Matters in association with DarwinBox - a technology company that provides cloud-based integrated HR management and analytics platform for businesses, recently hosted a session on Impacting business through talent - Adding the design thinking lens.
Adding the design thinking lens to your people strategy

Leveraging the power of design thinking to foster the culture of innovation echoed as a prevailing sentiment of HR Leaders, during the roundtable hosted by People Matters and Darwinbox on “Impacting business through talent - Adding the design thinking lens.”

Tim Brown, Founder and CEO of IDEO- an international design and consulting firm, defines Design Thinking as 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. To put it simply, Design Thinking can be explained as a solution based, problem-solving methodology used in businesses. While many companies are using Design Thinking primarily to develop products and renew business strategies to woo customers, some businesses are successfully implementing it in business.

Here are few guiding principles on how you can start approaching design thinking:

Empathize with your employees:

Tim Brown, a leading voice on the value of design thinking once quoted, “Build bridges of insights through empathy, see the world through the eyes of others, understand the world through their experiences and feel the word through their emotions.”

Empathy is the first level of the design thinking process. It requires us to put aside our learning, culture, knowledge, opinions, and worldview purposefully to understand other peoples’ experiences of things deeply and meaningfully. In this stage, your goals as a designer are to gain an empathic understanding of the people you’re designing for and the problem you are trying to solve. This involves empathizing with, engaging and observing the people, i.e., your target audience, whom you intend to help.

Chaitanya Peddi, Co-Founder of Darwinbox explained how design thinking is pivotal in product making process at Darwinbox. He also shared, “Empathizing with the users, i.e., with the employees is the first step towards crafting a design thinking process in HR,” He said interestingly most of the market-dominating companies which also achieved highest levels of employee satisfaction like Apple, Google is design driven. As design thinking with the customer centricity to develop new products or technology is ingrained in their DNA, they could successfully instill the same in crafting their HR processes as well by keeping employees at the center. This resulted in optimized business processes as well as innovative, happy and prosperous employees directly impacting their business performance in a positive way.

Identify the business problem:

There are many successes; however, most of the design thinking endeavors fails because organizations fail to identify the actual problem they are trying to solve. Inability to recognize the business problem leads to poor direction scoping and wrong implementation of the process.

For example, In 2016, Cisco hosted the first Global HR Breakathon. This HR breakathon was a global event dedicated to hacking puzzles that are hindering HR from providing the people experience at Cisco to its talent and themselves. “Fran Katsoudas, Chief People Officer of Cisco shares “The goal is to create a nimbler, more responsive HR department where silos, time zones, and cultural barriers are broken down so we can create innovative new HR solutions.”

Katsoudas and her HR team used design thinking to “break” and then re-imagine HR solutions for 71,000 global Cisco employees. Cisco closed HR for 24 hours and announced to the employees they were using this time to engage the HR team and key stakeholders to create innovative HR solutions to deliver a memorable employee experience. Using design thinking, CISCO studied areas where HR could intervene in tangible, practical ways. They emphasize and identified the problems and addressed them in a step-by-step process. Cisco skillfully converted the principles of design thinking: empathize, define, design, prototype, and test into action.

The outcome of the Cisco Global Breakathon gave birth to 105 new HR solutions covering talent acquisition, onboarding, learning and development, team development, and leadership.

Mindset shift:

To generate, embrace and execute new to survive and eventually thrive – we need a creative and capable workforce. This does not necessarily mean hiring a bunch of people with design thinking approach, but it requires the leaders to imbibe design thinking at the core of their business strategy.

One major challenge that most organizations face is that each generation replicates the way of working of their previous generation. There is a huge need of mindset shift required especially at the top leadership and senior level. While applying design thinking, a team of individuals when faced with a problem, needs to have a mindset where they question, “What question can you ask that might move you forward or help you understand the situation better?” instead of a mindset, “ I have to solve this.”

Nandita Gurjar, Advisors to the Boards of multiple startups and one of the panel members of the session shares, “The best part about the design thinking process is you get buy-in from the employees when you decide to implement a process or policy.”

She shared her experience with design thinking while she was working with a major IT firm. She recalls there was a time when Appraisal time was a highly stressful time for both the Manager and Employee.  And the noise was about the Bell curve. "My team was under the constant pressure of removing bell curve as a part of the performance management system. While that seemed to be the simpler answer to the problem, we believed it would only shift the problem to Rewards - How will I fairly reward my people without aligning it to performance?” stated Gurjar

The HR team discovered that most of the employees and managers were unhappy about their goal setting and lack of flexibility there she shares, "In our case, the bell curve wasn’t the real challenge, but goal setting was the real issue." The team empathized with the employees and understood the grievances they faced in the entire performance management system. They found that managers found it extremely difficult to give feedback to their employees. They were hesitant to share the accurate feedback with employees and thus formulating appropriate goals was emerging as a challenge. As the "design" part of the thinking process, the organization hosted training programs on giving feedback to employees. This workshop was mandatory for both the managers and the employees. Teams were included in this workshop to enable them to bring forward their ideas in a structured manner.  While defining the problem, the other issue faced in a performance management exercise is the last phase, i.e., rewards and career progression which were stacked in favor of the top rated performers. So the huge majority in the ‘meets expectation’ category felt dejected and felt the process was unfair. The company answered this grievance by creating a transparent communication to reach out to the employees and answer their concerns.

The case of Cisco and the experience shared by Nandita Gurjar reflects that human-centric design thinking fuels the creation of not only the products and services strategy but talent strategy that resonates with the employees.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Talent Management

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