The gray side of Design Thinking in HR

Cindy Costa
Apr 16, 2019 · 5 min read

Since early in my career, I got used to people saying that Human Resources weren’t a creative area. For me, that didn’t make sense. If you think about it, HR is one of the most challenging jobs. It’s not easy to be between the business, employees and client wishes. In the last year terms as ‘Psychological safety’, “Employee Experience”, “Candidate Experience”, “Agile HR” and “Marketing for HR” have been winning the hearts of the public. Everyone in HR is speaking about it. Don’t tell me that creativity and innovation aren’t essential in this kind of environment. What happened is that for a long time we had professionals spreading this kind of thought, that HR was gray, and we didn’t do anything to show them that they were wrong. How lucky we are that in the last 3 years we saw people coming forward and joining creative thinkers in the debate. Tim Brown from IDEO was one of them. When I discovered the book Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, I felt that I had found something that I could relate to and that I needed to see for myself if it was real. During the next words, you’ll find some of the quotes, from the book, that complemented my thoughts.

“What we need is an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective, and broadly accessible, that can be integrated into all aspects of business and society, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and that therefore have an impact. Design thinking, the subject of this book, offers just such an approach.”

Last year a started to think seriously about using Design Thinking. I gained the courage to propose my leadership the possibility of attending training on the matter. I was so excited, so ready to learn more. But the excitement didn’t last. I can tell you that I left the training sessions feeling disappointed. I left the room always feeling that something was still missing. And that was the first gray sign. Design thinking is all about exploring different possibilities and we kept ourselves so close to the script that we didn’t have the chance to do that. Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe I didn’t get lucky with the program. The only thing that I knew it’s that I have been more engaged by the book.

After that bump, we thought about using the methodology to re-design an old recruitment process that we had. We prepared a sharing session with the team to discuss the What, Why and How we were going to do it. This is something that I always try to do at the beginning of something I implement. If we want people to embrace a new mindset we need to make them understand what that implies. We started with the basics, creating a framework to help us.

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After that, we started navigating across the different phases of Design Thinking — Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation.

We went to the Inspiration Phase — the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for a solution — thinking that we already had the problem identified. That was supposed to be easy. But when we started the brainwriting we understood that there were too many problems and that we needed to focus on the most critical one. The technical assessment.

“It is better to take an experimental approach: share process, encourage the collective ownership of ideas, and enable teams to learn from another.”

In the next phase, the Ideation — the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas — we decided to split the group into smaller teams so we could tackle the problem from different points of views. We created personas for our Hiring Managers, Recruiters, and Technical Interviewers. Each of these people had different needs and the most challenging thing was to understand them. We did a brief Ethnographic​ ​Interview script with the purpose of spending some time with our subjects asking them questions and capturing their attitudes, beliefs, and motivations.

“The mission of Design Thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives. Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations. If we are to ‘borrow’ the lives of other people to inspire new ideas, we need to begin by recognizing that their seemingly inexplicable behaviors represent different strategies for coping with the confusing, complex, and contradictory world in which we live.”

After those first two phases, something happened. The pressure and urgency that all talent acquisition teams have, the need to Hire. This word as the power to make people leave anything on hold. Think about it as The One Ring and see yourself as being part of The Fellowship of The Ring. Some of us will not resist his call and a few will fight to go forward. In our case, we moved the project to the backlog. This was the second gray sign.

In the meantime, I left this company so I’m not sure if the project is still ongoing or not. In the bottom of my design thinker heart, I hope it’s.

The third phase is the Implementation — the path that leads from the project room in the market. In the ideal world, this is where we take one of the prototypes created during the previous phase and we test it with real users. Normally, we try to use a small number of users with the purpose of seeing how they react to the prototype. This is a really amazing part of the journey because it enables us to collect unique input that can help us reshape the newborn. If everything goes well, we’re ready to make a choice and to implement what we created. If something doesn’t go well, we can always come back and make changes. That’s the beautiful thing about Design Thinking, it’s always in motion. It’s a continues learning methodology. You don’t need to get it right the first time. The ability to fail and learn from it, it’s what makes us disruptors.

This is where we need to arrive in HR. I believe that some people still think that Human Resources is gray because most of us are still getting lost in our routines. From my side, I don’t want to get to the third gray sign! I’ll try harder to resist the pressure. We need to break the old ways and we need to start fighting for TIME to be creative. Companies can’t continue to demand innovation and reject the fact that it requires time and commitment from everyone. People need time to experiment with new methodologies as Design Thinking, Agile HR & Storytelling. People need to feel safe to explore them. There is a quote that I truly loved in the book and that I think is the best to end this post:

“A culture that believes that it's better to ask forgiveness afterward rather than permission before, that rewards people for success, but gives them permission to fail, has removed one of the main obstacles to the formation of new ideas”.

So let’s fight for this.

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