In Conversation with Chaitali Mukherjee on Design Thinking


Design thinking is an almost new method being used by HR to meet the employees’ expectations. And it encourages professionals to create new processes based on the needs of the employees. We are privileged to have with us Chaitali Mukherjee, Partner – People and Organisation Leader at PwC India for detailed discussion on Design Thinking in Human Resources.

Chaitali brings 18+ years of management and human capital consulting experience. She specializes in Business Strategy, Talent Management and Organizational Effectiveness with extensive International Business and Management experience. She has led businesses in India and across Asia Pacific and Middle East. Chaitali is a regular speaker at various CXO forums and events across India and APAC.

Chaitali has been awarded ‘The Young HR Professional of the Year Award’ and the ‘Women at Work Leadership Award’ at the Asia’s Best Employer Brands Awards 2012, Singapore. 

Prior to PwC, Chaitali has served as a Partner with Korn Ferry Hay Group’s Management Consulting business, partnering with Promoters and CXOs in their leadership journeys. She has also been the APAC & ME Managing Director for Manpower Group’s Experis business and served as the India Managing Director for Manpower Group’s consulting business: Right Management. Earlier to this, Chaitali has spent almost a decade in management consulting with IBM Global Services and with Tata Consultancy Services Limited.

Chaitali holds an Executive Masters from Berkeley Haas School of Business, University of California and an MBA from IBS, Hyderabad and her Bachelor of Engineering from Marathwada University.

Q- What is Design thinking to you and why is it relevant to HR?

Design thinking is basically a renewed way of thinking, with a strong focus to create a ‘new and different’ design, keeping in mind the innate expectations and experience of the user. Thus from a human resource(HR) perspective, Design Thinking is extremely relevant today and in the future. With the changing workforce milieu in organizations, it’s become extremely critical for organizations to understand the unstated expectations and needs of the multigenerational workforce.

As the rules of the business change, the shape and contribution of HR also needs to change. In that context, Design Thinking is the process of challenging native perspectives and redefining the rules of the game, to enhance employee experience and thereby contribute to business.

Q- How to start with Design Thinking in HR?

Design Thinking in HR could be used and included at multiple levels. At the basic level, Design thinking could be the starting point for redefining the people experience in organizations. At the next level, design thinking could be used to redefine the contribution of HR to the organisation’s  success. The role of HR needs to evolve so that they can add value to the overall business. Design Thinking as a process of rethinking and redefining can be extremely valuable in challenging the current norms, solve the ‘wicked problem’ of what’s the true value of HR to business.

Finally the other important value addition that Design Thinking could drive for HR and its role in the business is redesigning‘ how to drive the sustainable technology and / or culture driven transformation’ within organizations. This is an important one, where Design Thinking can really help in redefining the problem that we are trying to solve as well as focus on impactful and sustainable solutions.

Q- How to use Design Thinking in talent acquisition, talent retention and talent engagement?

Design thinking at the primary level is about ‘redefining’ the problem to be solved and thinking of newer and different ways to solve the problem. Thus, Design Thinking as an approach for any of the primary HR value contributors to the business viz. Talent Acquisition, Talent Retention and Talent engagement would mean, redefining the problem in hand that we are trying to solve. Also Design Thinking as a practice could be the first thing to be applied, before jumping into implementing ‘canned’ solutions / products or platforms, that may have worked for any other firm. Design Thinking should be the first step of application to go deeper into defining what the problem is, who are we solving the problem for and thereafter redesign the ways to solve the problem.

Q- How do you see Design Thinking and cultural change management?

Design Thinking is not a process or a template. Even more, it’s not just a skill that can be acquired by trainings. Design Thinking is a change in the mindset. At the basic level, Design Thinking focuses on solving the ‘Wicked Problem’ by redefining the variables to be considered by expanding the problem statement (diverge) and thereafter being focused on making the ‘solution’ and problem statement highly focused (converge). Thus, Design Thinking is at the highest level, all about connecting discrete dots to make the right choices.

Therefore, implementing design thinking as a capability as well as a way of life in the organization has to be viewed as driving organization wide change management. Design Thinking, in itself could be the most important vehicle for driving culture related change management. This is because, while defining or redefining culture, the most important need is to look at the variables that impact culture on a wider canvas, and once the problem has been defined, solving it, by adopting a razor sharp focus. Hence, design thinking and change management are both quite strongly interdependent as means to drive each other.

Q- How can HR encourage a creative & innovative culture in an organization?

Like any other culture transformation, there are three important steps to drive it in an organisation- building awareness, building a desire / need to consider an alternate approach to business problems, build capability and appreciation across various levels and demonstrating tangible, acceptable business outcomes that can be associated as value of an innovative mindset.

Q- Any concluding remarks?

At the primary level, Design Thinking is one of newer techniques of driving and incorporating innovative mindset in an organisation. It ensures that an innovative mindset is not restricted to a few people to implement and think about, thereby making innovation a way of life. Thus it’s the most practical way of making organizations future ready. However, it is important to know that just training people on design thinking won’t make the organization innovative. It will only give the tool to the people. But the motivation to use the tool is about driving awareness and commitment, like any other large scale transformation. Thus, to drive an innovative mindset, an organization’s leadership needs to apply the concept of Design Thinking to build the culture of innovation and adopt design thinking across the organization.

Thus building a consistent culture of Design Thinking across the organisation in itself is one of the biggest test for the future leader.

Thank you Chaitali!


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