How to Build a Better Workplace for Millennials, Considering Design Thinking


A few months ago, a colleague of mine, who is also a Professor of Design Thinking, shared a very interesting aspiration: To get the HR function to use design thinking to design better employee experiences.

His logic was as follows:

Design thinking is all about starting with the user in mind. As a younger generation enters the workforce, and HR leaders are concerned with how the ‘millennials are different’, they could just use design thinking to uncover, understand and then design HR processes that are just right for them.”

Wow. That seems pretty obvious when stated like that.

After all that would be so much more powerful than using pretty much any other method of building HR that works for millennials. Definitely far more intimate than attending conferences on the topic or simply reading research about how millennials are different.

Additionally, HR would

  • Get to demonstrate it is at the cutting-edge of thought.
  • Prove it has deeply heard the “voice of the employee”.
  • Design processes that are truly innovative (and perhaps even win awards for doing so)
  • Build processes that are intuitive and match the needs of your people.

And you could do all this while being super cool and having lots of fun. After all—how often does HR get the chance to be truly creative.

So what is Design Thinking?

Stated simply, it is a set of methodologies that allow you to come up with creative and intuitive solutions to complex and ambiguous problems around people.

All these methods insist on starting with the end user in mind—to understand what really matters to her. This is important because this deep empathy allows you to understand both the stated and the unstated needs. This is then followed by a process of ideation, discovery and solutioning.

Once the best solutions are generated, these are tested by building prototype and understanding how users interact and experience it.

“What makes design thinking stand-out as a tool for designing HR processes—is its emphasis on respect and empathy for the employee.”

Design thinking works best when the problem you are working with is complex and ambiguous; and when you really care about building a solution that works for its users.

There are some problems that are better solved through logical analysis, and these are primarily problems where data analysis is key. Design thinking works best on what are called “Wicked Problems” or problems where there is no right or wrong answer, only better or worse solutions.

Consider the ongoing conversations on what kind of workplace will be best suited to match the needs of the millennials. What better way to place them right at the centre of the process.

For starters, you could consider using design thinking to re-design your reward and recognition systems, or your talent systems, or learning systems, with a particular emphasis on the millennials.

Each of these interfaces has a large outreach. Each of these interfaces has a large impact.

And as a very important bonus—you get to build your HR functions credibility, skills of empathy and ability to innovate. Perhaps that alone makes this process worthwhile.

About Author-  Dr. Shalini Lal is an organizational consultant and founder of Infinity OD—a boutique consulting firm that helps senior level decision making and organizational transformation. She works with senior teams build great solutions by facilitating decision-making process. She also works with organizations to build great change initiatives that succeed. Prior to being an entrepreneur, she was Director HR, Deutsche Bank, and CHRO, Escorts Agri-Machinery. She has a PhD from UCLA and is an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, and is an alumnus of St. Stephens College.


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