Design Thinking & its relevance for HR

Author: Sanjiv Jain – Enabling World (

Originally published in Academy of HRD, India Quarterly Newsletter April-June 2020

Design thinking ( DT) is simply a human-centric approach to solve a problem. As per Design Thinking principles the end-user is the central focus while solving the problem. The process of developing the solution is iterative, with periodic user feedback.

Initially during the  1950s and 1960s  Design Principles were used by professionals to mainly design consumer goods and houses.  The Concept evolved gradually involving both industry and academia and the next 20 – 30 years human angle and empathy with user became essential components of the approach. Recently especially in the last decade Design Thinking is used in a variety of fields from products to services. Some of the key companies that leverage DT are Google, Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, IBM & Cisco.

In my view last decade four key trends  have contributed to the application of DT in HR

  1. A) Consumer behavior  – wanting to get a personalized, online and instant service
  2. B) Influenced by employee’s consumer-like expectation,  HR is transforming from one fit all, annual processes meant for masses to ongoing, personalized processes with a focus on employees experience
  3.  C) Design Thinking application in services besides products
  4. D) Technology revolution: especially Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning  helping HR design personalized and on-demand HR systems 

While there are many prevalent models of Design Thinking, I feel Enterprise Model is best suited for HR being used largely by enterprises. Whatever be the model, there are five steps in this approach e.g.   Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. In the process, you not only worry about what will employees or candidates want but what will they value. It’s a typically Consumer-Centric approach.

The current pandemic situation across the world has had a major impact on the way organizations and HR processes work. The Majority of the organizations are forced to adopt work from home policy depending on the nature of work. As a result, many HR processes that were not meant for virtual working were changed overnight. The meaning and approach to employee engagement saw a major change and engaging and managing remote employees became an essential and new skill essential for Managers and HR. Organizations are quickly finding solutions to these new problems and are a perfect opportunity to leverage Design Thinking with empathy with the key user –  employee.

There are two ways for HR to leverage DT for re-creating its people processes to meet the new reality. The preferred one is for HR to learn the DT process,  principles, tools, and techniques. As an alternative, one can borrow DT process champions from business to work with HR specialists. Of various HR verticals, Talent Acquisition, Performance  Management, Learning, and Employee entitlements have seen the greater application. IBM used DT principles to completely change its performance management system to Checkpoint with the deep involvement of employees at all the stages including naming the new system. Cisco created a new Onboarding application YouBelong as one of 105 ideas created during Breakathon leveraging DT principles. There are numerous other such examples

There are various tools used while implementing DT like Brainstorming, Empathy Map, Prioritization Grid, and Storyboarding. The selection of these tools depends on the type and scale of the project and also prevailing management practices in the organization.

To conclude, I will say that DT is a Process, Framework, and Mindset all in one and is a great tool for HR to keep in its arsenal to fight with current and new challenges.

Sanjiv Jain – Enabling World

Enhancing Employee Experience

Author: Suman Singh – Enabling World (

Success in business begins and ends with people. That’s why it is even more important to create an environment in which people can excel and they want to work in. People should not only have to be engaged to the organization, they should experience the vibrancy and other likeable attributes of the organization daily in their work-life. Gone are the days for measuring annual employee engagement / satisfaction.

Organisations are busy creating the fun activities believing that shall enhance the employee’s engagement with the organisation. It may to a very limited extent. We have seen across organisations, these events have become burden for HR professionals as employees participation is reducing constantly.

The need of the day is to provide best working experience possible – physical, cultural and technological environment to employee on regular basis.

“Employee experience” is the sum of everything that an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to the organization — every employee interaction, from the first contact as a potential recruit to the last interaction after the end of employment. Employee experience is every experience where employee has the opportunity to make an impression about the organization. Every experience is Moment of truth for the employee.

Organisation have to look at the wholistic view and have to redesign the processes, the way internal services are delivered and must know what does employee(s) values in the outcome of the process.

Organisations needs to start looking all system & processes through the eyes of the employees. Applying Design Thinking principles shall immensely help in mapping the employee lifecycle journey and enhancing the employee experience throughout. It is all about employee Centricity in everything we do.

Employee experience is a strategic initiative whose aim goes beyond making employment more fun and enjoyable but involves designing and delivering distinctive experiences for employees that are aligned with your desired culture.

As Simon Sinek said “Customer will never love your company until the employee loves it first”. A happy employee creates happy customer. Understanding the needs, emotions, motivations and drivers of behaviours of those employees is the first priority in design thinking. Knowing what they value the most in each process is of critical importance. As with most design thinking projects, it may rely on thinking outside of the box and considering methodologies that have not been tried before. This could be through role playing, exposing employees to potential new tools, or tool mock-ups, or whatever works to make test interactions less about policy and more about real potential experiences.

Employee experience is a way to become more aware of what your employees think about their experiences within your business, and can help leaders find more effective, efficient and satisfying solutions to the challenges that are presented.

Enhancing Employee Experience requires organisation to look at 3 broad areas. 1. Space in which employee operate; 2. Technology, System & Processes and 3. Culture of the organisation.

Some action that may enhance the overall employee experience:

  • Map employee journey – Walk in the shoes of the employees as they interact with the organization. Taking real time feedback from the employees will bring more clarity on what they want and how to improve their experience.
  • Defining focus on Employee Life Cycle (ELC)- The ELC shows the phases of the employee’s relationship with your organization from their point of view. One cannot and should not change everything at once. Focus on the stages which brings more value to the employee and to the organization.
  • Create the “employee persona” within your organisation – Just like a predefined buyer persona affects the customer experience, the persona of your employees will determine the quality of experience in the workplace. This way you can match employee with the appropriate experience design and establish achievable goals.
  • Diversity and inclusion stance – Studies have shown that there is a significant difference in engagement and productivity of the team with high diversity (gender, age, ethnicity etc) Vs. others. Promote diversity and inclusion to enhance employee experience  
  • Creating multifunctional group – Multifunctional group will bring more ideas and perception on a common table. It will increase the horizon of thinking and will also develop in-depth understanding.
  • Focus on the technology, system and process and constantly upgrade the technology, remove bottlenecks in the delivery of efficient & effective service, focus on simplifying and use of use of tools & technology deployed to complete the task in hand.
  • The employee’s immediate manager- Not every manager is skilled to provide the best experience to its team. This makes it essential to regularly upgrade the manager’s people skills. One could even reassign an employee to another team or manager if their personalities are entirely out of sync.
  • The job role-The various aspects of the job role are essential factors contributing to the employee experience. High-pressure jobs with daily targets will create a vastly different experience than a more senior role, requiring strategic decision-making duties. That’s why delivering a positive employee experience requires a highly personalized experience framework. That would balance the seemingly negative aspects of the job with more positive elements.

Enterprise service management is the key to improving employee experience as it requires coordinated services from all different functions within the organisation. All functions have to be in sync and aligned for this common goal. One single function cannot act in isolation to provide enhanced employee experience constantly.

In conclusion A positive employee experience will eventually impact your engagement & retention rates. It is an integration of benefits, physical environment, values and your company’s culture. It is the factors that will make your employees want to come to work every day.

Suman Singh – Enabling World