How 5 Companies Use Design Thinking to Shape Culture

05/08/2017 01:59 pm ET
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Once upon a time… is a fairy tale phrase that applies to many of our business and people practices. Once people came to work at 8am, clocked in and executed all day on what their manager told them. Then they clocked out at 5pm and went home. Today’s work environment is populated by digital natives who value experience when interacting with a company - for both, purchasing and employment decisions.

21st century talent feels empowered to take charge of their own journey within an organization. Managing the talent.experience (TX) will become as important as managing the customer experience (CX).

Since we identified talent.experience (TX) as a key talent trend three years ago we have seen a movement toward applying customer experience design methods to the world of work, culture and talent.

I interviewed five companies of various sizes and industries to explore how they are experimenting with design thinking principles to shape culture. Why did they choose to do so? What lessons did they learn along the way?

It All Starts With the Business

“Culture was a big barrier that was preventing us from reaching sustainable performance,” says Céline Schillinger, Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement at Sanofi Pasteur, a global pharmaceutical company. “Despite all the procedures and equipment, we were inconsistent in meeting quality standards.” It wasn’t till a new Chief Quality Officer joined the organization in 2014 that the company discovered the root cause for quality inconsistencies was much more systemic than just fixing technology or process.

The impetus to reframe culture may present itself in the form of a business problem.

Or as an opportunity.

“I believe that sports are a great place for innovation. Each innovation has the ability to impact millions of fans,” explains Jack Elkins, Director of Innovation at the Orlando Magic, an NBA franchise. “To be prepared when opportunities present themselves, sports teams and companies alike should proactively create cultures resilient in their pursuit of these opportunities.”

Taking a Page from…

“As a software company, kCura already applies design thinking to the evolution of our product to improve the experience of our end users,” comments Dorie Blesoff, Chief People Officer at kCura, an e-discovery platform. “When we decided to approach the internal ‘customer journey’ approach for our employees, it seemed natural for us to apply customer-oriented and iterative design thinking with the same goal our product development team has for improving the user experience.”

“Much like marketing looks at customer experience, we are looking at a ‘consumerized’ HR approach. Human-centered design thinking is the best method for this. We started viewing stakeholders as personas and designing HR programs from a user-centric perspective,” outlines Kelley Steven-Waiss, Chief Human Resources Officer at HERE Technologies.

When Employees Become Activists

“We transformed our organization to where people come together because they believe in something they have in common, a common purpose. This way they become activists of a change they believe in. The way we go about it is by empowering employees to do things that are beyond their job description. And leaders are there to encourage and remove barriers,” explains Céline Schillinger.

“There is a bigger appetite from employees to co-create rather than be given solutions to implement. They want to architect their own learning journeys in partnership with the organization. There are also fewer resources in HR, so we need to build a network of creators,” remarks Eric Doctors, SVP of Leadership & Organizational Development at Leo Burnett, an advertising agency.

Programs That Got a Makeover

At Leo Burnett, Eric Doctors and team created the professional development program “Leo Leaps” which leverages design thinking both as the learning experience and to build design thinking skills that employees then apply to developing their careers and solving business problems.

At HERE Technologies, Kelley Steven-Waiss’ team facilitated employee workshops to identify beliefs and ways of interaction to inform their core value design campaign.

“One example of where we apply design thinking at kCura is the career map for individual team members. An internal survey revealed that team members were leaving us because they were unsure of the next specific step in their careers, so we sought to clarify their career milestones and development goals by creating career maps for each individual role. Managers now share the career maps with their team members to help them set specific goals that will help them develop skills needed to take the next step. This process allows us to encourage shared responsibility for career development,” outlines Dorie Blesoff.

“The implementation of our Innovation Lab benefited our culture in ways we did not anticipate – the lab provided younger staff personal development opportunities to present in front of leadership and greater visibility to leadership to identify potential rock stars,” explains Jack Elkins.

Fail Along the Way

It’s not all smooth sailing when implementing design thinking to shape culture….

“If you tell leaders to allow their people to free up, when you mention the term ‘activism’ they are afraid of chaos. But the opposite of control is not chaos, is trust. It’s a huge boost for creativity. We saw employees solve problems our leaders didn’t even think were there. Leaders can’t solve all problems by themselves anymore. This was ok in the past, but in our environment of constant change we need more leadership by more people,” explains Céline Schillinger.

“One challenge with a design thinking approach is that things can feel unfinished, since you’re constantly iterating and improving upon your product. It’s hard for some people who want to produce the perfect process. To adopt design thinking, HR leaders must be agile and open to change. They need to realize that there will always be new information, most impactful if shared from the users themselves. If HR can act on that information to improve a process and enhance the individual experiences of team members, they’re successfully applying design thinking,” highlights Dorie Blesoff.

“It’s tougher when a process comes from HR to have people enrolled – there is skepticism whether it can work for the business side,” acknowledges Eric Doctors. “Until employees and leaders have experienced the design thinking process and integrated it into their work they can’t really imagine what it’s like.”

Why It Works

As a result of its culture transformation, Céline Schillinger at Sanofi Pasteur has seen tangible business results such as a very significant reduction in human errors and overall risks cut in half.

“Our leaders created a core value around innovation. This gave us permission to make innovation a part of our everyday work. Early wins from using design thinking as a tool to activate that core value internally helped with adoption and our overall ability to innovate,” outlines Jack Elkins.

“Employees share their stories of how they give back to the community integrating our core values. And this is not orchestrated by HR. Adoption is greater and more valuable and meaningful. The customer will actually use the end project,” highlights Kelley Steven-Waiss.

“What converted me is how much effort I put into previous initiatives. If you look at adoption of HR initiatives look at how hard it’s been. How much work it has taken and how much re-work. This is cheaper and quicker and you get better adoption. You are much closer to your end users, you bring them in earlier. The risk level is so much lower. You already fine tune along the way,” highlights Eric Doctors.

A Word of Advice for Human Resources

“By applying design thinking in HR, our department has been serving as a strategic partner within kCura,” states Dorie Blesoff. “Just as product development and marketing teams map out the customer journey from beginning to end when designing a product or campaign, HR teams should map out the employee journey. HR leaders should take a closer look at each point of interaction and discuss how it can be improved or enhanced for the team member.”

“Organizations have been using design thinking for product design for a long time. Why haven’t we discovered this sooner in HR? We are being disrupted by new business models and massive consolidations as well as new and multiple generations in the workforce. It’s more important than ever to leverage design thinking as a way to connect with all of our stakeholders. We need to build design thinking as an organizational capability so it becomes a way of working,” concludes Kelley Steven-Waiss.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nicole Dessain is a talent management and HR “nerd”. She loves to blow up long-held believes that stop us from preparing our organizations for the future of work. Nicole feels lucky to have had an amazing corporate HR and consulting career that she has recently turned into her own start-up, talent.imperative inc, a talent experience design consultancy. Her second, not-for-profit business, DisruptHR Chicago, was launched in 2016 and has inspired more than 800 HR and business leaders in the Chicago area. Please connect with Nicole on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Email.

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