How to Incorporate Design Thinking into HR Processes

It’s everywhere you look these days: “modern HR, “the new HR,” the “future of work”—all of  which naturally leads to discussion of new skills needed in the modern world of HR. We can’t pick up a magazine or attend a conference without seeing one of these critical skills mentioned: design thinking.

What Is Design Thinking?

Simply put, it’s designing with intentionality. The hype around it is fascinating to me because one might be tempted to think HR has never designed processes, capabilities or tools with intentionality. We have, actually. But the audience has changed.

What HR professionals once designed for HR professionals (processes, workflows, etc.) they now design for the entire workforce—a workforce that’s busier, more easily distracted, has more noise coming at them from all directions and is being asked to do more than they’ve ever been asked to before. It’s a phenomenon ripe with irony; we have ready access to so much information, so much technology, we’re always on and always connected. We can quickly become counterproductive and overwhelmed if we don’t protect and preserve mindful focus and productivity.

So, what’s the keyword and critical factor here? Empathy.

Designing with Empathy

Breaking down the definition, we can take design as the plan produced to show the look and function of something before it is made. Then comes thinking—the process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something. This means truly reimagining how things have been done in the past and focusing on our workforce of today. Finally, we apply empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When we bring these concepts together—design, thinking and empathy—we are presented with an explosive approach to rethinking the world of HR forever, with our workforce at the core.

Has HR not employed empathy in the past? Of course, but we have been empathetic toward our own function and use cases, not toward this new audience called the workforce. Considering this new audience, what are three ways design thinking truly benefits HR and changes the way we will work forever?

  1. Effortless Capabilities

Design thinking allows us to push people capabilities to the workforce, using empathy to consider what they’re doing on a daily basis in their real jobs. This means we want those capabilities to come to them naturally, in an effortless way. Workforce experience should be singularly focused on making sure we design the way we consume people capabilities in an effortless manner.

  1. Addiction Drives Value

Design thinking enables HR to drive adoption but toward addiction. For far too long, our primary measure of success with the tools we implement is simple adoption. Are we using them? But to realize meaningful business value, we need to drive toward and measure addiction. What we really want is for people to become addicted to the tools provided, addicted to our employee-value proposition and addicted to working in our organization.

  1. Data Are Powerful

Finally, HR should be designing with an output or an end in mind: data, which can make HR the most powerful, value-driving function in an organization. HR manages workforce experience, productivity, output, compensation, benefits, rewards, and where and how to deploy skills to achieve business goals. This produces an incredible amount of data (or should), which means analytics, which means HR produces critical business intelligence the organization can use. We designed process and capabilities in the past to serve ourselves as HR professionals, but when we leverage design thinking in an intentional way, we suddenly produce processes that give us data to serve the business like never before.

Strategic HR

Design thinking is not new and certainly not new to HR; the only new ingredient is the audience we’re designing for. And what’s most important about the concept of design thinking is that we get out of the HR function, we get into the business and we get into the minds of our employees and managers. We do that by being empathetic toward the needs of the workforce. Most importantly, we embrace the fact that HR is strategic in the business, not a function to the business.

In order to be strategic in the business, we have to be in the business. We have to design for the business and design with the business. Our thinking has to be tied to how can we best provide a strategic advantage to our company with “our important asset, our people.”

In summary: HR, you’re kind of a big deal.

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