Why HR is embracing DESIGN THINKING

A number of progressive companies like P&G, Adobe, Citrix, Accenture and IBM are using Design Thinking as a methodology for developing better and more people oriented solutions for their business for some years now.


It often starts in departments where product development takes place or as an independent and multidisciplinary initiative to come up with new products and services. More and more these companies realise that the ideas and methods of Design Thinking can be used far broader in organisations. That is why Design Thinking is expanding throughout organisations, across departments.

While many companies use Design Thinking primarily to renew business strategies, it can be just as powerfull in HR. Companies like Linkedin, Citrix, Nestlé and Cisco have already succesfully implemented Design Thinking in HR.


But what is Design Thinking exactly?

There is a lot of literature about this topic so we keep it short. According to one of the founding fathers of Design Thinking, Tim Brown of Ideo, Design Thinking is a more collaborative, people oriented approach for problem solving that can be used to adress a broad spectrum of modern challenges.

It is all about the development of a deep empathy for the ‘user’, so the human being, and the creation of solutions that fullfill their needs instead of a focus on internal processes or technology for the sake of technology.

Why is Design Thinking starting to be so successful in HR?

1. Design Thinking helps HR to reinvent itself

It brings a philosophy and toolkit into HR that can help to change with the same speed as the world around, while offering methodologes to reinvent each and every aspect of work.

And above all, it ensures that HR can transform from a traditional process oriented model, where systems are constructed around standard processes, to a people oriented model in which tailormade solutions for employees become possible.

It is about thinking of new ways to develop learning, create content, to manage change, enhance involvement, to integrate or develop technology or even to reinvent the entire role of HR.

Nestlé for example uses Design Thinking  to develop very intuitive, experimental learning programs. These programs in the end are very stimulating and touting. 

Cisco organised a HR Breakathon with the slogan:: "In 24 hours HR will never be the same". The purpose was the creation of a sharper HR department in which silo’s, timezones and cultural obstacles sease to exist. That way innovative HR solutions can get space.  

2. Design Thinking focuses on  Employee Experience

It is a high priority for HR-professionals to heighten the employee engagement. Design Thinking offers all kind of tools to create workplaces, roles, IT systems, ways of cooperation etc in which the employee is the center with the aim to improve engagement, creativity and productivity. Empathy is a basic requirement for this.

Questions adressed are for example: how can older and younger colleagues learn from each other, how can we exalerate recruitment, how can we reduce staff turnover in the first six months, how can we retain talent, how to design a fair salary system etc.


LinkedIn, for example, organised a 6 week program with   1000 participants from Linkedin but also Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley companies. Main focus was to find solutions for specific issues around low employee engagement.

3. Design Thinking helps HR to feed company wide innovation

Many organisations struggle with innovation. These are exactly the companies that can benefit the most from stimulating a Design Thinking culture across departments.

Successful companies like Citrix, SAP and Proctor&Gamble have been developing innovation competencies of their employees for years, using Design Thinking as the foundation. It can help HR to fullfill an important mission: help to build the innovative organisation of the future by integrating a new mindset, new attitudes, toolkits and capabilities in all projects and initiatives that take place within the organisation.


Citrix started with initiatives within their product organisation, but soon figured out that the scaling up of Design Thinking throughout the organisation was the way forward. Because it is very much applicable to everything they do.

So they went further then utilising Design Thinking as an ‘event’, a one time exercise that generates energy, but quickly disappears and instead created a cultural change throughout all running projects and initatives.

Time for you to embrace Design Thinking?

There are several ways to start with Design Thinking as the examples above illustrate. One thing is certain: it will help you to introduce a new and future oriented way of thinking in your organisation which will enable it to change in line with the surrounding world.   

By Sara Coene


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