Does HR and People Operations Need More Design Thinking?

December 12, 2016 Zuman

The HR industry is nothing like it was just a few years ago. As we've touched on several times in recent weeks, there is a top-down shift occurring in HR offices nationwide.

Perhaps the most obvious change is a newly developed interest in technology, which helps leaders better engage employees and rework HR's primary responsibilities. Similarly, outsourcing is having a profound impact on HR as a whole, shifting people's perspectives toward more strategic goals.

However, there's another component of this ever-changing HR dynamic that merits discussion. As IDEO U pointed out, a number of HR departments are bringing in elements of design to bolster their efforts. The results push the work of HR further into new and exciting directions.

Rolling Up the Sleeves
This notion of implementing design thinking is championed by Tim Brown, David M. Kelly and Roger Martin, who teach a virtual class via IDEO U on the fundamental ideas of this approach. According to LinkedIn, there are three main pillars into design-centered thinking.

The first involves asking employers what they want and learning how they behave; this helps you develop theories for new projects or techniques to better serve and engage them. From there, it's time to test out these ideas, looking for feedback from employees to see just what kind of impact they will ultimately have. Finally, identify those services or techniques that have the most benefits for employees. Once you know what works, you can then bring it to employees and executives for implementation.

Ultimately, the focus should be about placing spotlight on human behaviors and putting people first in People Ops (POPS).

Putting People First
Johannes Meyer is a design thinker who operates out of Berlin. In a post on his website, he explained this approach is about creating human-centered experiences. But then that begs the question, how does one connect HR with these experiences? Meyer believes this is accomplished in one of two ways. The first is that HR departments are already meant to be "facilitators of infrastructure," as Meyer calls it, with jobs that are meant to help activate innovation within a company's employees.

Taking a design-centered approach can build the kind of environment where people think about ways to streamline and expand company efforts. Meyer also believes that, as an extension, HR plays a huge role in designing a workplace, help with how people interact within a given space. HR leaders can help create a workplace that helps motivate workers, lets them communicate and rewards them for hard work.

Think Tech-Centric 
According to the Deloitte University Press, more companies need to take steps to embrace designing thinking. This approach will help these departments embrace their full potential to create an employee experience that's geared toward maximizing everyone's potential. To really move beyond employee programs to that next echelon, HR departments have to use design thinking to create a workplace where employees feel the most satisfied, they enjoy their roles and don't have to struggle with complicated processes.

Technology is going to be a huge help in this regard, and new approaches - like mobile apps and digital design - can aid employees to get the most out of their workplace. This approach has its benefits. In a Deloitte survey, workers who reported the highest levels of job value were five times more likely to have implemented design thinking protocols.

HR and other departments must continually ask what all of this information means and how it can be applied to improving the work of employees within a company. Ultimately, it's about finding new, more efficient methods to making people the driving force for success in every conceivable definition. 


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