How HR can use design thinking to improve employee experience

The phrase “design thinking” brings to mind popular, easy-to-use products from successful companies such as AirBnB, Apple, and Google. At its most basic, design thinking is a methodology used to develop simple solutions to complex problems by adopting the perspective of the end-user.

AirBnB revolutionized the travel industry by designing all aspects of their business around the traveler and host, including:

  • Offering lodging in a wide variety of locations and price ranges
  • Providing information about the local neighborhood, including where to eat and what to see
  • Establishing trust via a two-way rating system
  • Allowing users to “favorite” listings and create destination wishlists

For AirBnB, user-centric design thinking was the key to massive success. In just ten years, AirBnB became the world’s second-largest hotelier, behind Marriot.

What does design thinking have to do with HR?

An HR department can help their company gain a competitive advantage by adopting a design thinking mindset. A 2016 study by Deloitte found the more emphasis an organization places on design thinking, the faster it grows. Specifically, companies with 10 percent growth or more were twice as likely to report they embrace design thinking.

  • Industry leaders such as Adobe, Autodesk, and New York Life use design thinking to improve coaching, performance management, and recruitment.
  • FiveStars, a customer loyalty platform with 400+ employees, adopted design thinking and saw their employee engagement scores jump to 86 percent.
  • After redesigning its employee portal around the end user, DuPont significantly reduced the time employees spent on HR management.

In 2016, Cisco hosted an “HR Breakathon” where a large group of employees, including HR professionals, identified ways to reimagine their human resources department. Cisco came away with 105 ideas to improve employee development, onboarding, and recruitment. Many changes centered around key “moments that matter” like dealing with a family emergency or changing jobs. These solutions centered on being simple changes at key moments that solved pain points. Ultimately, by considering employee experience, they were able to make headway in improving it.

How to implement design thinking

You don’t need to be a multinational company to use design thinking. An HR department of any size or budget can get started by asking user-centric questions, such as:

  • What motivates employees to refer new hires?
  • How can employees from different generations collaborate and learn from each other?
  • What do employees and managers want from our onboarding process?
  • How can we improve cross-departmental communication?
  • What does a fair salary system look like?
  • Do employees get frustrated trying to complete routine tasks?
  • How much time do employees waste completing tasks or finding information?
  • Are there legacy processes that can be simplified, automated, or eliminated?

At its most basic, design thinking develops processes and systems around the end user – not legacy processes or the assumptions of decision makers. Here are some examples of traditional vs. design thinking:

Traditional Thinking: A project committee chooses new enterprise software.

Design Thinking: Employees test drive enterprise software from different vendors and provide input. Decision makers observe users interacting with the software and record their feedback.

Traditional Thinking: All employees receive training on how to use the new software.

Design Thinking: A small group of employees test the new software. Their suggestions are used to improve workflows and other processes before the software is rolled out company-wide.

Other ways HR can leverage design thinking

Design thinking can transform routine HR activities, such as onboarding, scheduling, and benefits administration into automated or self-serve processes that save time and increase productivity. On a more human level, design thinking has the power to transform how employees get work done and increase employee  happiness when they have the right tools.

  • More than 40 percent of employees say they spend ten hours per week or more performing repetitive tasks, and 59 percent of those surveyed said they could save 6 or more hours a week if their repetitive tasks were automated.
  • A Forrester Consulting study of more than 109 businesses found half of the employees simply wanted workplace tools that integrated with any one of the channels they already used, such as a mobile device or Slack.

When employees have customizable, digital tools that enable them to complete their daily work wherever they are, regardless of what channel they are using, they are able to work more efficiently and feel empowered to do their best work. By emphasizing the “human” in Human Resources, a design-thinking mindset can pay significant dividends through improved employee productivity, satisfaction, and long-term talent retention.

Topic: Employee experience

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