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HR’s lightbulb moment


With the business landscape forcing companies to reassess their resource need, could HR take a different approach?

Words by Dan Cave | Design by Matt Bonnar & Theo Griffin

 
 

What is design thinking?

Design thinking has increasingly become the de facto mode of operation in business. There is a high chance that most individuals engaged in modern work are implementing some of the core tenets of it even if they’re not aware they’re doing so. In essence, it’s about making a product more attractive to customers to gain as much potential value as possible.

Over the years, the process has got more complex and good practise is understood to involve elements of marketing and innovation. Some, like Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, a global design company who has worked with brands such as Shimano to improve its product range, think design thinking needs to be realistic; taking into account what is feasible whilst also aligning to business strategy.

Jon Kolko, Partner at Modernist Studio, a strategy partnership, wrote in Harvard Business Review that design thinking should be empathetic towards the potential product user and should build failure into the design process. “Team members [involved in this process] should discuss the emotional resonance of a value proposition as much as they discuss utility and product requirements,” he explained. Christian Bason and Rob Austin, writing for the same publication in 2019, added that if these aspects are performed well then design thinking could bring about transformation within the business.

Definition:

Design thinking


Designing, iterating and developing products or services with a deep interest in the people who they are aimed at.

 

How could design thinking help HR?

But what has design thinking got to do with HR? Well, as HR literally designs the employee experience and products that employees use – overseeing L&D, elements of company culture and how employees engage with work – it is literally in the business of manufacturing products and services for users. This user base is the talent that either works for the organisation or might potentially do so. These days as business leaders consider talent so critical to their business success – and getting hold of it a harder job than ever before – the biggest are scrabbling to design talent attraction processes, and employee experiences, that allow them to acquire and retain the skills they need.

In fact, 84% of respondents to Deloitte’s latest annual human capital survey cited employee experience as an important issue facing their organisation. For firms that get the employee experience right, they can see a boost to the employer brand, favourable scores on employee review sites and improved retention – all benefitting this increasingly difficult talent acquisition process. So, having a good design process behind this is important.

For Tim Scott, Director of People at Fletcher’s Solicitors, HR must involve the eventual user – the talent in the organisation – to ensure it gets this right. He continues: “HR leaders should take the opportunity wherever possible to involve team members as active participants who are given the opportunity to provide input and shape decisions as early in the process as we can. This will help to ensure everyone has a good understanding of the benefits of new strategies, ways of working or platforms before they are introduced.

“Once a change has been implemented, it’s important to get qualitative and quantitative feedback from team members in order to establish its success and whether improvements are required.”

Below are examples of HR leaders who have used elements of design thinking to inform the manner in which they craft the employee experience or roll out new programmes and products. Read on to find out more.

 

Designing employee experience

Catherine Allen, Head of Keeping People Happy at Ella’s Kitchen, has incorporated elements of design thinking into the way she has constructed the organisation’s wellbeing strategy. The Chilterns-based firm’s Wellbeing Calendar is customisable, allowing employees to choose which benefits they want and how they want to structure their working life.

This user-focused approach has obvious benefits for the business to. Allen explains: “Employees expect more personal growth so if you want to attract the right people and keep the right people then wellbeing should be an area of focus for all employers.”

You can be the best designers of a service or a product – it can even be the best thing you’ve made in your career – but if you don’t communicate it in the right way, you’ll go bust

Marketing their products

One person who understands that HR must become product marketeers – and build this important facet into whatever product they are designing – is Jig Ramji, Global Head Leadership and Talent Development at Bloomberg LP. Earlier this year, he oversaw the release of a development hub to improve leadership capability at the organisation. Designed as a self-access service, Bloomberg’s leadership honcho knew that to ensure it was both used – and subsequently supported the business – it would need a strong internal marketing campaign. “You can be the best designers of a service or a product – it can even be the best thing you’ve made in your career – but if you don’t communicate it in the right way, you’ll go bust,” he explains.

Therefore, Ramji’s team created a social media presence for the platform, hosted a town hall, and shared communication from Bloomberg's Head of HR about why leadership is important, working this marketing approach into the design element of the product. “Success is about how you engage with your stakeholders and communicating things in a way that captures hearts and minds,” he adds.

 
 

HR leaders should take the opportunity wherever possible to involve team members as active participants who are given the opportunity to provide input and shape decisions as early in the process as we can

Experimenting and iterating

BP understands that designing a product means building failure into the process. The multinational is experimenting with different innovations in its talent acquisition processes to improve its performance. These include better integrations with ATS and cloud-based people modules, as well as video interviewing, online interview scheduling tools and other AI elements. However, Simon Lancaster, Talent Acquisition Director EMEA at BP, isn’t worried that not all elements will work.

He says: “Not all of these tools are guaranteed to improve our processes, so we have to be flexible in how we use them. I believe that piloting new technology is the best way to find out what works, but also to quickly move on from what doesn’t.”

 

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