Design Thinking and How it Can Make You an Employer of Choice

by Toni Sorenson, CEBS, CMS

Bulletin,  Federal,  HR Expertise and Support

Human Resources careers are no longer limited to HR Generalist, HR Manager, and Director. Now there are HR Business Partners, Chief Employee Experience Officers, and Employee Experience Managers–to name a few. These positions are about living and working in the Experience Economy.

Life today is about the experiences we have, and our employees are looking for a meaningful experience from their employers. Employees want choice, flexibility, and to work for an organization with a mission that is meaningful to them. The question for HR is, How do we create the best employee experience and help our organization be an employer of choice? Design thinking can support those objectives.

What is design thinking? First, let’s look at our world, where instant information and gratification are the norm. Employees are overwhelmed with social media sites, hundreds of app choices, and a constant flood of information. Yet our productivity has not increased. Design thinking is about employers managing the information overload and simplifying systems and processes for employees. Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon introduced design thinking to the business world in 1969. According to an article from the Interaction Design Foundation, it is a five-stage process. Companies like Airbnb, Pixar, Qualcomm, and Nestle are applying Design Thinking to HR portals, training, and goal management. The five stages are:

1) Empathize: The first step is to gain an empathic understanding of the actual problem by observing and engaging with your employees to understand their motivations and concerns. This can involve submerging yourself in their physical environment and using other data.

2) Define: The second step is to compile and review the information you obtained in the Empathize step to define the core problem. You will need to create a problem statement defined in a human-centered manner. An example would be, “New applicants under the age of 25 require an application that can be completed on a mobile device in order to increase our applicant pool.”

3) Ideate: At this stage, designers will start generating ideas for tackling the issue.

4) Prototype: The design team creates and tests several versions of the product or solution called “the prototype.” The team updates versions and works out bugs based on information received in the ideate stage. Sounds similar to how new products are created for your customers. You are now applying it to your employees.

5) Test: The organization next creates a beta group of employees to test the prototype. These testers should understand the earlier “empathize” and “define” steps. They will conduct extensive testing and offer refinements and possible alterations.

Before jumping into design thinking, you must start thinking like a designer and ask some questions. First, what do you want your employees’ journey to be like–from the moment they apply to their exit from the organization? Next, what will that great experience look like for your culture and mission? Finally, how can HR build those human-centered design principles for your organization?

It is always best to start small, perhaps with the applicant and new-employee experience, as this is where employees first experience the organization. Then expand to learning and development. Then goal creation and employee performance. Your total-rewards processes should be intertwined into your design as well.

In addition to the employee experience, design thinking can be applied to organizational design, employee engagement, employee learning, and digitizing HR. Remember, your HR staff will need to update their skills so they understand design thinking.

In the end, employees will find their interactions with technology and other complex systems intuitive and enjoyable, thus, creating a desirable employee experience and establishing your organization as a company where talented individuals want to work.

About the author
Toni Sorenson, CEBS, CMS

Toni Sorenson joined Employers Council in summer of 2016. Her background is in employee benefits management and corporate wellness. She holds a CEBS designation, a master’s in Organizational Leadership from CSU Global, and a bachelor's degree in Accounting from Regis University.