A crisis by default but possibilities by design thinking in HR

Search Results Web results Harini Sreenivasan - Affiliate Partner - Semcostyle Institute
In the design thinking process, you try to understand the problem statement and through empathy, define the problem, ideate a design, prototype it, and test the results.

A COVID-19 crisis by default but possibilities by design thinking in Human Resources

Amidst jokes about the Coronavirus actually going viral and the unlocking gradually showing its face, we are learning to come to terms with the effects of the pandemic. While HR teams are exploring ways of aligning policies to the ‘New Normal’, there are many unanswered questions. Amidst these complexities, it is important that we look for new possibilities.

“As the popular saying goes, “What goes up must come down”, the pandemic curve will certainly flatten. At the same time, we will maintain a positive outlook for the economy to go up quite contrary to the curve. So we believe that the advantages that the “future new normal” can bring to design and society are innumerable.”

The current situation given by the COVID 19 emergency has created new and, in some cases, unusual scenarios and approaches to work. It has pushed many employees to adopt “remote working” solutions and organize their workflow by relying on platforms for virtual meetings and experimenting with tools for file-sharing. Let’s visualize what is the workplace that we are soon going to walk into. Technology-enabled workplaces or digital transformation seems like an obvious future as organizations constantly try to use digital tools to improve productivity. Tools will be up to date, cloud storage will become a must and everyone that works remotely is already starting to learn how to use all those things because it’s not an option anymore. Let’s explore the role HR has to play in dealing with the situation. Here is a familiar situation.

The Managing Director has called the HR Director on an urgent virtual meeting. He is facing many challenges due to the pandemic and is seeking solutions from his Directors. The workload is dropping and there is no attrition. Employees have moved to their homes and even to their hometowns across the country and are working remotely. He is afraid to take on more projects because he is not very confident in the effectiveness of the hiring and on-boarding process. He is also looking at better systems in place to manage virtual teams. But his biggest challenge is profitability now and he instructs that 10% of employees need to be laid off!

The HR Director, initially overwhelmed by the challenge dons his Design Thinker’s hat and ponders over the situation. The virtual meeting turns into a brainstorming meeting room and ideas are seen floating around as virtual sticky notes. Design thinking is simply using the designers’ toolkits to solve problems innovatively. HR can get innovative by generating various options to solve organizational problems. In this case, HR can suggest job design and work simplification process as options. In the design thinking process, you try to understand the problem statement and through empathy, define the problem, ideate a design, prototype it, and test the results. The current challenge is written on the virtual whiteboard and the empathy map is getting drawn. After about an hour’s empathy conversation, the HR Director is able to articulate the problem statement more accurately from the perspective of the Managing Director, who is a key stakeholder. He then moves on to having empathy conversations with other stakeholders in the business and makes exhaustive notes of insights.

He schedules brainstorming sessions with clusters of stakeholders and keeps refining and redefining the problem statement. The HR design team then gets into action and the design lab is buzzing with activity again. By the end of 4 working days, a prototype of the HR strategy is ready. The HR Design team presents this to the stakeholders for testing and they tweak the road map here and there till all arrive at a consensus. This becomes ready to release and implement.

“Hey wait! We started with challenges looming large over our heads, didn’t we? What we expected to do was job cuts to save costs and budget freezes to curb spending. How do you think the elaborate HR strategy planning is going to result in cost-saving?” Is this what you are thinking? Well, here is the answer so that you get full clarity.

The problem statements when redefined after the empathy conversations sounded something like these –

  • Flexibility in working could be the need of the hour as candidates and even employees would expect the same.
  • Agility in response to customer requirements and the ability to quickly change  course to meet market needs
  • Digital transformation to help the above and to stay relevant to the time.

Therefore, instead of knee jerk reactions, Design Thinking helped the HR Director to identify key steps for approaching the problem–

Digital HR Transformation

HR digital transformation is the process of changing operational HR processes to become automated and data-driven. Its goal is two-fold, to transform HR operations on the one hand, and the workforce and the way work is done on the other. For HR, this new normal means they have to adapt fast, rethinking among other things the way they recruit, onboard, and engage people. And since this is something HR professionals are forced to do right now, given the circumstances, why not look at it as the starting point for a lasting HR digital transformation?

Employee Experience

With plenty of people finding themselves working from home right now, all of these environments are challenged. The technology often doesn’t function as well as it should (perhaps due to a weaker internet connection), people’s physical space sometimes is shared with kids and spouses, and with everybody working from home, the company culture risks to be forgotten about.

While providing a fitting employee experience might be challenging right now, if as an HR department you do a good job, this will have a positive effect on your employees and the way they feel about the company – and perhaps even make those who were thinking of leaving before, stay.  

Future of Work

Keeping up to speed with the trends that are impacting the world of work has always been important for HR professionals. Technology is rapidly transforming our jobs and to stay relevant, new capabilities, mindsets, and behaviors are required from our workforce.

A simple example here is that of working with distributed teams and more in particular, the tech tools required for a smooth working distributed workforce. If you’ve followed this ‘working apart together’ trend and the tools companies often use, you probably had less difficulty switching to a remote set-up recently than someone who considered this trend not relevant.

The pandemic has indeed changed the world. It has jolted us into digitalization and made the ‘the future of work’ happen now. It does mean that HR professionals should gear up with a growth mindset and design people-centric solutions and come up to speed with areas such as HR digital transformation, design thinking in HR, future of work trends and employee experience.

This will help us wake up in the new world!


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