Design Thinking

Design Thinking has become an essential problem-solving tool for HR

Originally, Design Thinking was used by creative teams like architects, artists and civil planners. In these environments, artistically oriented professionals solve complex and multidimensional problems and so, this solution-based methodology has provided critical insights and many successful outcomes.

However, in recent years, other types of organizations have started to recognize the value of this essential problem-solving tool and embraced it. HR teams, our own included, have been able to link increases in productivity and engagement directly to initiatives that have stemmed from internal Design Thinking workshops.

Alternative strategies don’t yield the same desirable results

Before taking a closer look at the five stages of Design Thinking, it may help to compare the model with an old-school methodology that strives to solve issues, but often falls short.

Traditional Steps for Problem Solving:

  • Step 1 Understand the Problem
  • Step 2 Devise a Plan
  • Step 3 Implement the Plan
  • Step 4 Review

This traditional approach may seem like a logical process to help teams come up with viable solutions to workplace problems, but the difference between traditional and Design Thinking methods lies most notably in the first and final steps.

To begin, the traditional approach has a focus on problems rather than the needs of people. Has your team ever been asked to name a problem to solve? Or asked for feedback about how to fix an issue?

If so, you might have noticed that there is, invariably, one or two group “experts” who do most of the talking. Very quickly, others become silent.

Studies have shown that just a few people do 60-75% of the talking in group settings.

The danger in this unintended bias of a single voice is that an issue might not be fully understood, differing opinions or potential solutions aren’t voiced, and other, possibly more urgent issues are never considered.

Conversely, Design Thinking is unique since the team sets out to tackle issues that are unclear, or even completely unknown to them at the outset. A deeper understanding of people and empathy for their needs is required before a problem is identified.

Furthermore, the final steps of the Design Thinking method offer an opportunity to ensure the solution fits the needs of the employees through prototyping and testing. There is a chance to rethink or customize the solution during the process instead of after implementation.

For complex issues, the traditional method can allow a solution to roll out prematurely and fail – an unfortunate and expensive misstep.

Design Thinking is a Saving Grace

For instance, if your team comes up with a prototypical scenario that involves flexible work hours that turn out to be unsatisfactory for the employee or too cost prohibitive for your organization, the testing phase allows you to make reasonable changes for an improved outcome before everything is locked in for the long-term.

Traditional problem solving is an effective strategy for idea sourcing and simple projects, but it is not nearly as effective as Design Thinking when striving to solve an unknown or complex problem with a well-tested solution.

Other problem-solving strategies, such as forming committees are similarly disappointing in their results since they also lack crucial elements that are both organic and finely tuned in the Design Thinking process.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking and How to Put Them into Action

Design Thinking is helping to improve workplace conditions and relations for employees and their organizations. HR leaders have discovered many positive returns on investment associated with committing to solving problems through an approach that places employees’ needs at the center of the process, using the five stages of Design Thinking.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the five stages and how they work.

1. Empathize

At the beginning of each project, it is important to learn as much as possible about the people at the center of the problem you’re working to solve. You may perform interviews or distribute anonymous surveys to learn about a suspected underlying issue.

Here are a few types of issues you may discover during the empathic phase of the process:

  • Your employees feel stressed out and worried about meeting professional goals.
  • Your employees worry that they spend too much time away from their spouse, children, or other personal pursuits or obligations.
  • Your employees do not feel that they receive adequate recognition for their accomplishments.
  • Your employees do not feel like they are an integral part of the organization’s vision.

2. Define

After you have gathered your empathic research data, it is time to analyze it all to better understand your findings. In this step, you have the chance to define the basic problems and scope of the process, as well as any challenges you may face.

It is important to define the key problem as a problem statement, emphasizing the gap between the current state and the desired state, thus creating a broad road map.

A few examples of this stage might include the following:

  • Your employees feel a great deal of stress, so your goal is to find ways to create better work-life balance to reduce stress.
  • Your employees feel unappreciated, which means you need to find ways to provide better recognition and rewards for accomplishments.

3. Ideate

At this point in the process, your team has the opportunity to generate feasible ideas to help solve the defined problem, thus finding avenues toward solutions. More commonly known as brainstorming, “thinking outside the box” is crucial during this stage.

Here are just a few possible ideas your team might generate that your employees might appreciate:

  • Greater scheduling flexibility that may include telecommuting availability.
  • Programs that promote fitness, nutrition and well-being.
  • Recognition for accomplished goals, excellent attendance or the contribution of winning ideas.

4. Prototype

With ideas in hand, it is time to create some reasonable beta solutions, like the following:

  • Various flexible schedules, such as a compressed work week, split shifts, a results-only work environment, a completely flexible schedule and telecommuting availability.
  • A health and wellness program, in cooperation with a local nutritionist and fitness center.
  • An official employee recognition program that grants awards for various achievements.

5. Test

To fully understand if a certain prototype has solution potential, it is important to test it out so you can do some troubleshooting. Invite employees to try various flexible scheduling options on a temporary basis, for example, to see how it works in a live environment.

Remember that, while this is the final official stage of the process, it does not necessarily end here. Unless you nail the solutions on the first try, the process allows you to return to any phase that will help you find the ideal solution. The information gathered at the testing phase lets you know how far you need to go back.

Are You Ready to Take on the Five Stages of Design Thinking?

DACH Design Thinking Webinar

  • Why employee experience matters
  • How to get answers to what is, what if, what wows, and what works
  • How you can apply disruptive technologies to HR
  • Hot related topics in HR

Would you like to put the five stages of Design Thinking to the test for your organization? If so, we can help you get up to speed and make the process work for you when you attend our forward-thinking workshop, led by an NGA HR digital expert. Take a quick look at what we plan to share with you:

If you would like to learn more about Design Thinking and how its five stages can improve your workplace contact us and we will be happy to host a session for your business.