When Design Thinking meets HR

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 research revealed that “the more importance an organization places on design thinking and the readier it is to embrace it, the faster the organization grows”. The most innovative companies like Google are those that regard design as a strategic aspect of their activity and not as a menial one. What singles out Apple or Nespresso isn’t only what they sell: they both provide a unique buying experience that stems from a deep understanding of their clients, exclusive distribution channels and a real focus made on design. They have created a culture that is one of a kind. Customers are not buying a phone or a laptop, they’re buying an Apple. They’re not purchasing a coffee capsule, they’re going to Nespresso. In other words, innovation must not only be sought in the product but in the very business model of the company.

Nespresso — a unique buying experience

What does Design Thinking consist in ?

Design Thinking can be traced back to the early 50s with the emergence of brainstorming with Alex Osborn, which subsequently made companies aware of creative thinking. In the 70s, intellectuals brought some theoretical support to this new way of thinking -Herbert A.Simon about artificial sciences and Robert McKim with his Visual Thinking both paved the way to this new method advocating technology, creativity and empathy. Then, it was formalized during the late 80s within the prestigious Standford University until it become eventually popular with the design consulting firm Ideo, run by David M.Kelley & Tim Brown.

In an article from the Harvard Business Review, the latter defines Design Thinking as « a creative and human-centered problem-solving approach, adapted to innovation and that uses the designer’s sensitivity and methodology to link what is humanely desirable, technologically feasible and economically viable ». It implies an on-going synthesis between the engineers’ and marketing professionals’ analytical skills and the intuitive skills from creative people.

How can it impact HR ?

Services, that have taken over products, are now standardized, forcing companies to innovate more in terms of experience to attract and retain their customers whether they are internal (employees) or external (clients). Since resorting to Design Thinking implies paying attention to the person and the experience -and not to the classical HR bureaucratic processes — it comes down to wondering “what does a great employee experience look like?”. Digital tools that can be created through the process of Design Thinking can contribute to making routine HR tasks more efficient and easy, while improving the employee experience and sharply reducing the time employees spend on traditional HR management processes. When it comes to employees, Design Thinking can also be used to build very intuitive learning programs offering engaging and stimulating trainings.

It can also be applied to create a successful experience for the external customers of a company. Indeed, not only for its clients through an appealing recruitment website created through their needs but also for its suppliers through a new supply chain management.

We do believe that Design Thinking has a key role to play insofar as it can enhance the role of HR whose relevance is undermined by new forms of organizations that want to do away with them (like holacracies). By giving HR the key to innovation, this method can -if applied intelligently- enable it to be a prominent department and help restore its image.

We are eager to see if those new “Chief employee experience officer” will remain or if this is just another trend that will someday fade away…

Lawrence BELLON & Anthony GUINOT