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Design thinking used in HR – why it’s fun – Part 2

By | S. Naga Siddharth – SPAR Hypermarkets India

So, if you were the CEO of Coke, would you advertise and have similar commercial structures for China, India and EMEA? I can almost see you crinkling your eyebrows and not agreeing to it.

Take a moment, why do some companies insist on uniform employee policies and (hold your breath) events across geographies? Is it simple? Truly? For whom? Remember, in design thinking, we put the customer’s needs first. Having a bouquet of HR interventions available as tools for business managers in one of the companies I worked at helped drive sales from 87% to 101% of targets in 6 months of implementation.

Figure 1: Design thinking process by School of Stanford

 A good way to institutionalize design thinking is to have what I called “My learning” sessions in a company I worked at. The “My learnings” was a small group activity where employees got together and shared the one big mistake they made in serving the customer, what was the actual customer need, and what they learnt from their mistake. The learnings were celebrated and others got to avoid making the same mistakes!

Having fun is an integral part of human experience. People are willing to pay to have a fun experience. Disney is a great commercial example if one is looking for it. Southwest airlines is probably another example. Fun is a great outcome to design for. However, it comes with it’s mandatories. Structure cannot drive a hierarchical culture at the backend. Achievement and expertise have to be celebrated. Control and dependency motives need to be bid good bye. As is often the case, people and companies want a different outcome while wanting to live life the same old way. Institutional existence becomes a non probability in that case! I recollect the case of an entrepreneur who passed a verbal order that his frontline employees should read more joke books to be more fun. Yeah!

What makes Design thinking in HR a little bit more fun?

In typical design thinking, the team is designing for the final customer’s experience. In HR design thinking, one has to achieve business outcomes by designing for the employee’s experience that will drive customer experience!

Figure 2: Typical design focus is on final customer

The unsaid subtle aspect of design thinking

Often the process of design thinking is raised to a level of worship. While I do not disagree with this, what is extremely important while following the process is that the best of the design companies get an extremely heterogenous team in place. Psychologists, anthropologists, doctors, engineers, graduates of fine arts and so on.

This is where the subtlety lies. To be extremely effective, design thinking needs domain expertise. The anthropologist should be able to apply his learning to the design problem to achieve a great outcome. The doctor should be able to apply his learning on temperature for optimal pre-term growth to help design a great incubator.

Coming back to the point, a great designer in the HR domain needs to have atleast a “meta” knowledge of the HR domain. Else, the design is going to be good at best, never great.

So, is there a syllabus for this? More of that in my next article of the series.


S Naga Siddharth (Siddhu) works on Talent, Org. Effectiveness and Innovation at SPAR Hypermarkets India. In his career, Siddhu has worked across industries of Airline, IT, Healthcare and Retail. A keen author, his ebook on HR Design and HR metrix “….is, dare I say it, revolutionary…” according to Dr. Marshall Goldsmith in his foreword.

His other ebooks on Checklist for People Managers, Compensation design and HR analytics in 10 Tweets are all available on Amazon. @nagasiddharth is his Twitter handle

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Ramesh Ranjan

A Business Consultant, Executive Coach, Visiting Professor, Content Manager & Editor. Ex IIM NASSCOM LRC, ex VP NHRD Bangalore Chapter, ex VP-HR@Schneider Electric, Head HR@ APC, Caltex,Co Systems, Natural Remedies. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rameshranjan/

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