Use Design Thinking to Improve HR Processes

Phil Smithson and Marc Wernicke

Design Thinking is one of the most flexible and reliable ways for any company to improve its internal processes, especially in the context of HR. For those unfamiliar with Design Thinking, it’s a structured problem-solving process centered on the end-user of a solution.

Above you can see what the Design Thinking process looks like visualized. You can see that the whole process starts with Empathy, which is arguably the most important part in Design Thinking. There’s no hierarchy in Design Thinking, no boss’ whose opinion is more important than anyone else’s - the most important opinion to consider is that of those who you’re building a solution, a process or a product for. Empathy is a tricky thing as it requires us to disconnect from our own emotions and dig deep to understand our stakeholders at a fundamental level. There are several Design Thinking techniques we use to deeply understand those we solve problems for.

Once you have a deep understanding of a user and their problem, the next step becomes to reframe the problem. What’s the root cause of their problem? Can you solve a different problem which makes their initial problem obsolete? We use what we call “How Might We” statements for this. “How” to underline possibilities and to force ourselves to think as divergently as possibly, “Might” to reinforce that any problem is solvable and “We” to let everyone know that this is a team effort. Design Thinking works best when applied in groups.

The next step is what’s so fun about Design Thinking - and you can see many pictures of this in action when you do a quick Google search of what Design Thinking looks like: putting ideas on Post-it notes and sticking those onto walls, windows or whiteboards. We call this process “Ideation” and focus on getting as many ideas as possible out of a group. This is the part where you go crazy and write down any and all ideas you can come up with to solve the problem you’re trying to solve.

The group then combines similar ideas and votes on the ones they want to try first. From there you start prototyping different solutions - what would it look like to implement your top ideas? We employ something called low-fidelity prototyping here - no matter what you’re trying to prototype, be it a product, a process, a benefit, a system… you can use pen, paper and post-it notes to conceptualize anything.

The last part of this process is to take your prototypes and get feedback on them. Get internal feedback from the people around you, from those who’d be affected by the solution you just came up with. Ask them what they think about your solution, how they’d imagine it to look in action and what they’d like to change or improve.

And the next thing you’ll know is that you have a solution concept ready to be improved, iterated and implemented.

Phil Smithson and Marc Wernicke work together at On-Off Group, an innovation agency that helps organizations thrive through the application of Design Thinking and Design Sprints.

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