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Design Thinking for HR- Applying Design Thinking To Enhance Employee Experience



Suvodeep Das, VP-Marketing, Sodexo


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Design thinking is all about creating compelling, meaningful individual experiences. It is thinking different to make an impact, to empower employees to use their talent and potential to the maximum.

A significant contributor to a company’s business strategy and success, HRM’s current role in organisations is crucial, transcending the traditional responsibilities. In the continuously evolving business environment transformed by technological advances and globalisation of markets, managing expectations of employees and creating the ‘perfect’ environment at work is critical. Adapting and embracing the changes, organisations are becoming open, transparent and fluid, seeking to create workplaces which are accessible and inclusive, supportive and rewarding, places where the employee is central to growth and success.


In its 2016 Global Human Capital trends, Deloitte identified Design Thinking as one of the top trends to follow. So what is Design Thinking? Simply put, it is a way of offering novel, creative and practical solutions for problems -universally applicable to all aspects of business or life. The spotlight in design thinking is on the person and the experience. With the continued evolution of businesses, revamping of age old processes & mindsets through innovation and adopting of technology is essential for HR to remain relevant. Design thinking in HR is, therefore, inevitable.  Design thinking implicitly fosters a collaborative &creative approach; and facilitates the ability to anticipate and innovate, while allowing the flexibility and the options of multiple solutions based on user experience.


What would be the ideal ‘employee experience’ program? Definitely human centric, but also engaging, rewarding, easy to implement and administer, creative and collaborative. As with other design processes, the first step in applying design thinking to employee engagement starts with understanding the employee, placing oneself in the employee’s shoes. What do the employees think – of themselves, of the workplace, their peers, what values do they hold, how do these values integrate in the workplace, what are their main motivators and obstacles? Incorporating these insights is essential for the optimal employee experience.


Only by comprehending the journey of the employees, (which actually begins even before they join), the relationships, the collaborations, the processes and technology, the goals and expectations, and assessing the various touchpoints, can an innovative, enriching experience be created. Design thinking has the implicit tendency for a more compassionate and considerate approach to business process. Putting people before process, identifying and bridging the gaps between expectations and reality, assessing and assimilating employee needs and incorporating the same in processes and practices, aligning the company vision and goals with the individual’s – design thinking, with its inherent open and creative nature, makes all this possible.


How to incorporate design thinking in HR/Employee engagement?

Integration of design thinking into a company’s HR strategy can be fairly simple, without need for big budgets and reforms. It is more in the nature of questioning and changing mindsets for a fresh outlook. Begin by asking questions and understanding the employee mindset and expectations, then design innovative solutions, test and implement them.


Analytics and data, for example, can be a driver for improved solutions related to departmental cross linkages and productivity. Workplace experience, the quintessence of design thinking, can be leveraged to innovate, re-think dated/non-essential procedures, improve efficiency, and optimise the use of in-house talent; making work easier, gratifying and rewarding. Learning, professional growth and development is another aspect of employee engagement wheredesign thinking can be highly effective. No two persons learn at the same pace or in the same way.  The benefits of an immersive, flexi-learning programme, where individuals have the choice of what, when, and how much to learn can be huge. Technology has already made benefit administration simpler. Innovation through design thinking in benefit administration can be as simple as personalized gift cards to premium passes packed with multiple options.  With a little ingenuity, inspiration, vision and the advantages of technology, customized employee experience packages can be a reality, thanks to design thinking.


Design thinking is all about creating compelling, meaningful individual experiences. It is thinking ‘different’ to make an impact, to empower employees to use their talent and potential to the maximum. Design thinking is an opportunity for HRMs to not just make a positive impact, but also provide the impetus to drive the organisation to greater success.