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Design Thinking for HR – from “Process Design Developer” to “Experience Architect”

Posted By Carmen Panzar, Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Updated: Thursday, July 20, 2017

Comments following the NYHRPS Forum, April 25, 2017

Deloitte research1) shows that “people collectively check their phones more than 8 billion times each day, yet productivity is barely rising”. Employees are overwhelmed and HR could help by creating simple employee experiences when navigating organizational processes.

On April 25, members of an NYHRPS Forum discussed with Claudio Garcia – EVP Strategy and Corporate Development at Lee Hecht Harrison – how HR professionals can leverage Design Thinking2) to focus beyond building programs and processes by creating simple solutions for people processes where employees can enjoy productive and meaningful experiences.

Design thinking is the methodology that makes it possible for HR to shift from process monitor to designer of worker experience that drives business results2). The two principles we worked on are: when solving a problem, make sure it is a business problem (and not an HR one); and start understanding the  employee current reality  first before you design a solution.

As uncertainty drives businesses to look for more possibilities how are management practices evolving?

In response to the economic environment becoming ever more complex and unpredictable the business community shifted from singular business models to a mix of possible models to help cope with uncertainty: investments shifted to portfolio of assets, and corporations include now portfolio of businesses.

Management practices facilitate the implementation of viable business models by bringing together skilled people and relevant technologies. HR can help make  management practices respond better to uncertainty  by using  design thinking to develop and try new possibilities to people processes.

Design thinking requires empathy to study people at work and identify ‘employee profiles’ – or ‘personas’, to understand experiences based on employee demographics and work environment, and define their challenges. It relies on creating solution ideas that allow for rapid prototype testing, decision making  and implementation. Iterative enhancements enable tuning-up the experiences for best fit to each persona’s reality.

Why is Design Thinking Important?

As an innovation tool for tackling complex systemic challenges, design thinking reduces the risks associated with launching new ideas by accelerating organization’s learning about what works and what doesn’t, generating ideas that are innovative and elegant, not just incremental.

Applying design thinking to people processes design compels HR to understand what a great employee experience looks like end-to-end, and provide employees a few easy-to-understand choices facilitated by technology, so they can make decisions faster.

Several top companies already took advantage of design thinking3) to streamline their processes, including benefits, recruiting , engagement and more.

How can HR become more effective in implementing design thinking?

As HR professionals, we take responsibility of providing employees and managers turn-key solutions to their challenges that would be perfectly tackling all situations, and will work for decades, or at least several years. But is this point of view still viable in a fast-changing business environment, new emerging technology, and diverse people behaviors? Should accountability reside with just HR, or should it be shared across the organization? Should the solutions deal with the entirety of complex work challenges, or could they be broken down and prioritized to accelerate the time to implementation?

By combining Design Thinking with Agile Methodology – as perfected by IT professionals, HR could deliver faster – better – more nimble solutions to the organization.

First, HR would identify what are most critical issues to address, and narrow the scope of the design by taking a sequential approach. Each issue would then be tackled with a design thinking approach to generate simple and fast solutions.

Agile Methodology

HR professionals would also share accountability by partnering across the organization and engaging a cross-functional team to design  and implement – the solution is then the team’s shared accountability and will more closely reflect the diversity of the employee experiences, while also contributing to enhanced team and organizational effectiveness.

HR could follow McKinsey “braided” design model4) to ensure alignment with strategy, leverage advanced technology, and design with employee experience in mind for greatest impact. HR could leverage behavioral sciences5) findings to get empirical insights into how people interact with their environment and each other under different conditions, to implement solutions that work and yield competitive advantages.

Where do we go from here?

The NYHRPS Forums aim to deliver industry knowledge and thoughtful business considerations to be taken back for debate within our employer and client circles of influence. In closing, we walked away from the Forum committed to a Part II, that we envision as a hands-on workshop where we would apply the designed thinking methodology to one or more critical processes where organizations are still experiencing challenges: career development, leadership development, engagement. To create momentum for the exercise we want to invite all interested NYHRPS members to participate. We will communicate soon the details for participating in the workshop.

Our aspiration is to use design thinking to transform employee experiences in organizations, and ultimately to evolve HR as a function.

Meanwhile, we invite you to keep the conversation going by responding to this post and telling us what you have done with your Forum insights.

Carmen Panzar is an independent consultant specializing in leadership & organizational development and serves on the Forum Committee of NYHRPS.


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