The positive impact of design thinking on HR

The Mindspa Institute’s Elmarie Pretorius says design thinking can drive innovation in HR.

We have seen the role of Human Resources evolve over the years during our skills training sessions at The Mindspa Institute. As technology and societies continue to change, so the roles we play in it will also change.

HR has gone from being personnel and admin focused to obtaining a seat at the leadership table, fulfilling a more strategic role. Companies have realised that people are their biggest assets, thus HR managers are asked to solve more complex problems in a diverse workforce and to spend time strengthening company culture.

Companies with a forward-thinking approach are taking on and testing the results that design thinking has to offer. There is no doubt that design thinking has had great success in companies like Google, Nintendo, Apple, Samsung, Starbucks, Airbnb, etc. in the areas of product design, technology, and marketing efforts. Why not in HR? 

Companies must evolve to meet employees’ ever-changing needs. Design thinking can do just that. This concept can be used in all departments of a business, so why not start applying this in HR?

What is virtual design thinking?

In a nutshell, it is an in-house or virtual process that teams use to understand their target, argue theories, and creatively solve problems, all by creating innovative solutions for their target using five phases. When HR goes through design thinking, they will do so with the employee in mind.

  • Stage 1: Empathise – research your employees’ needs.
  • Stage 2: Define – state your employees’ needs and problems.
  • Stage 3: Ideate – challenge assumptions and create ideas.
  • Stage 4: Prototype – start to create solutions.
  • Stage 5: Test – try your solutions out.

Design thinking can help discover many innovative solutions that can help to reinvent HR and enhance things like workplace wellness, skills development, and learning, so that HR becomes an effective employee experience.

Face-to-face vs. virtual

Design thinking has traditionally been done face-to-face. Teams often say that actively collaborating as a group, face-to-face, creates more of a buzz, because ideas and creativity flow freely when people come together.

Employee engagement is a core focus in HR, and HR professionals should not be reluctant to convert to a virtual setting, however, for fear that people will not participate in the brainstorming process when online. The reality is that the pandemic has limited face-to-face workshops and meetings in all areas of business. HR managers around the world must equip themselves with the skills to become more comfortable to conduct their think tanks virtually and to promote better online employee engagement.

This has many benefits for HR. Imagine how much more documented, effective, efficient, convenient, and fast the process might become if design thinking workshops are taken to a virtual level.

Five benefits for HR managers

Design thinking done virtually is next level because there are no physical barriers. Its benefits for HR include:

  • It is more cost and time effective to host virtual design thinking meetings because there are no logistical arrangements or travel costs to get everyone around one table. HR Managers can call a meeting instantly and have follow-ups more frequently.
  • The right leaders and staff can be involved right from the start as they can work from anywhere across the country. Virtual platforms make it possible to talk directly to the team leaders who make the decisions.
  • It is Covid-19 friendly because it limits physical social interaction and minimises infection risk.
  • Virtual think tanks leave room for ideas to marinate. A lot of people can’t think creatively on the spot in face-to-face meetings, but in virtual design thinking workshops, there is a bit more time to think about it and talk to other members of the team. Since virtual design thinking workshops are so easy to organise and set up logistically, follow-up meetings are also quick and easy to set up.
  • Digital meetings can easily be recorded and used as “minutes of the meeting”. This means that individual accountability is increased.

In essence, design thinking puts HR in the shoes of their employees. During the pandemic design thinking becomes a ‘virtual reality’ which can reinvent human resources. Time to get comfortable and get on board.