Exploring Design Thinking in the Hiring World

Insights from SHRM Mumbai Forum

By SHRM India Content Team May 31, 2017

Design Thinking has become an important discussion point in industry meets and corporate circles. It is emerging as the method of choice while creating corporate strategies, systems, and processes.

Given the popularity that this concept commands, it has become necessary for us to understand what it is and explore how best we can use it.

Defining Design Thinking

From the name we can easily gauge that it is a blend of both design and thinking.

"Design" is often defined as a creative process which uses knowledge of art - aesthetics, science, mathematics, and the human psychology to create products or processes that either provide the end user with some utility value or visual delight or both.

"Thinking", as we all know, is the cognitive function by which we arrive at an intelligent decision about the matter being discussed.

By putting both these words together we get "Design Thinking".

From this definition we can understand that any system, process or product that is created by applying the principles of design thinking will be practical, easy to use, and visually appealing. This is why Design Thinking is becoming an integral part of all functions of an organization, especially where system and process design is concerned. Organizations have realized that creating a product or process based on the principles of design thinking has a better chance of appealing to the audience being catered to and thus holds a higher probability of success.

While design thinking was adopted long back in education and course design, and in functions like engineering, product research and design, and manufacturing, it has, off late, become quite popular with the human resources team as well. 

Today, HR is actively deploying the principles of design thinking while creating process and systems that their employees use in an effort to create positive employee experiences starting from hiring - the first point of contact that the organization has with an employee.

To further understand this concept and how it is being used in the hiring world, we discussed this topic in the SHRM Mumbai Forum on Design Thinking held on 24th January, 2017, at ISDI – Indian School for Design & Innovation, in partnership with Talentpool.

The panel comprised of eminent industry experts - David Wittenberg - Innovation Consultant, Author, Speaker, Professor of Business, Educationalist; Jonas Prasanna - Talent Brand & Social Media Recruitment – Lead, Capgemini; Vaibhav Goel - Vice President HR, Head - HR Governance & Integration and Project Manager - HR 2.0 (Digitization), Reliance Industries Ltd.; and Babita Basak - Head Recruitment – India CSC, Citibank. The forum session was moderated by David Wittenberg.

Here's an excerpt from the session.

The Design Thinking Process

David started the session citing how IDEO, the design and consulting firm, became the one of the topmost in the field by applying an innovative approach to design thinking. He introduced the concept by explaining how the process of design thinking works and the steps involved in the process.

The design thinking practice, David said, was initially based on empathy, which later on evolved into a five step process – Empathize, Define the Issue, Ideate, Create a Prototype, and Test the Prototype. Testing the prototype before rolling it out as a system or policy is essential for its success, David said. Taking an audience vote, which confirmed that a lot of the organizations do not yet follow the five-step process, he added that even if we don't follow all the five steps we cannot overlook "empathy". It is one of the pillars of design thinking. Stressing the importance of empathy, he said that we could be the guru of HR, but if we don't communicate with the people and understand what they are feeling or thinking, we cannot make our solutions work.

Design thinking is based on two pillars, explained David. While empathy is one pillar, creativity is the other pillar of design thinking. It is by becoming creative that we will be able to find solutions for our people that are better than the competition, he added.

Opening the floor for discussion, David asked the panelists about the common challenges in hiring that can be addressed by using Design Thinking.

Design Thinking and Hiring Challenges

Talking about how Citi designed their recruitment process, Babita highlighted that, for them, in the entire hiring process – the candidate is most important. The candidate is the client or the end-user of the process and the other participants (HR and the Business managers) or parts of the process contribute to and enhance the candidate's experience, she said.

Continuing the discussion, she underlined that the main challenge in hiring is how to make it simple for the candidate to know about the positions that are available, to apply, to know the status of their application, rejection, offer – i.e. to be informed about all the key milestones in the hiring process.

Sharing his first experience with design thinking, Jonas said the that we need to understand how we can enable the organization to hire in this digital world.

Adding to the discussion, Vaibhav explained that in his organization, they have stopped differentiating between how they treat their employees and their consumers. It is one of the biggest paradigm shifts in the organization.

This change in mindset led us to think how do we create employee journeys and to the employee life cycle. These two things will help us to provide the candidate with experiences which create a differentiation for the company and leave a lasting impression. We look at this entire process in a holistic manner as all the employee experiences are interconnected and over time the employee has different relationships with the organization, he said talking about the process in his organization.

So though, we did not use the five-step process spoken about earlier, we adhere to our sacred principles, Vaibhav said. First one is that we are pro-user – we look at everything we do from the employee perspective. The second one is that we are trying to co-create with our users and outsource, we are integrating and taking feedback from our employees on these processes. The third principle is holisticity – the integrated-ness. While design thinking will bring in certain processes and systems, but culture is big, we cannot underestimate that. During the session, we should also look at how we can apply design thinking in cultural change management, said Vaibhav leading to the next point of discussion.

Design Thinking and Cultural Change Management  

Agreeing with Vaibhav on the importance of design thinking for cultural change management, Babita shared that as a part of change management, they started driving different elements in the culture.

After defining our leadership standards, we started implementing them with the first layer of the people managers as a part of our manager effectiveness program which is spread across all the levels of our people managers. This was followed by "Leadership matters, and it starts with us", this program started from CEO to top down.  If leaders at the top do not behave or don't understand a situation in a particular manner, then obviously that behavior can't be seen down the stream in the organization. It thus extremely important to start from the top, she said explaining the culture and change management at her organization.

Sharing an insight from Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2016 – candidates who have a negative experience in the job application process view your company's products and services in a negative way, Jonas emphasized that yes – your consumers and employees are one and the same. Social media has brought in change in culture, especially in how hiring is done. Today, social media has become a source of attracting top talent and it is important to learn how to use it. There are many elements of design thinking that can impact the culture of an organization and HR needs to equip themselves with digital communication and systems, he added while sharing his view on culture.

Talking about an HR transformation at his organization, Vaibhav shared the three pillars – transparency, meritocracy and empowerment, on which the transformation was based and that have brought about a huge cultural change in the organization. By offering the employees these three things, having a common process for internal and external candidates, giving more opportunities to employees we stand a better chance of retaining employees. If we don't give them new and better opportunities, they will find opportunities, themselves he added.

Design Thinking and Technology in Hiring

Taking the discussion to technology – design thinking's partner in process and system creation, David asked the panelists, what can we do in design thinking to make technology in hiring more effective?

Explaining with example how recruiters find using technology complex for hiring, Jonas said that we need to identify talent personas of the candidates and find out what motivates them and what devices they use. We should know what social media channels that they use and the time they access those sites. This information can help recruiters decide where to place the adds for the job for better response, he explained.

Citi uses a third party resource to take feedback from candidates on their hiring process, Babita shared. Explaining their process, Babita said that they try to find out at which point of the process did the candidate became disengaged. In addition to speaking to the candidates, they also took feedback from the hiring manager on the hiring process. They also check on how the job has been presented in the advert and whether all relevant links were given on the site. The main feedback that came back from the candidates was that once the hiring is completed, they don't hear back from the company till a day-or-two before the actual joining. To address the feedback received, the managers at Citi started speaking to the candidates and inviting them to the office. These visits were recorded and then shared on social media which went a long way in building the Citi Brand. It also helped reduce the negative candidate feedback, taking it down from 20% to 6%, she shared. 

While there is nothing new in what Citi did, it highlights the importance of human connect, personal attention, and continuous employee engagement for creating a successful workplace.

While technology has made it easy to apply to jobs – just with a click, it's becoming more and more difficult to find the right person, Vaibhav said highlighting a key challenge HR faces due to technology. Technology is increasing information, but that is not necessarily productive, he added.

On the positive side, technology is building communities and networks – which are helping us to gain more insights about the candidates. In future these communities and networks will become more important than the CV of the candidates, he added. Technology is also helping them to keep the candidate engaged during the time period from hiring to joining, Vaibhav shared. Along with processes and technology, while dealing with candidates and employees, we need to start with empathy and try to build experiences, Vaibhav said sharing an example of how they used empathy to retain an expat employee.

Our Key Learnings -

  • Empathy is integral to design thinking and important for building a positive candidate/employee experiences. (can't reiterate this enough)
  • Creativity is essential for creating viable solutions.
  • In design thinking the user is the focus – the solution must be designed keeping his requirements and comfort in mind.
  • Testing the solution before rolling it out is an important step and should not be overlooked.
  • A candidate's/employee's negative experience with the organization at any point, can lead to a customer loss in the long run – as candidates/employees are also your external customers.

We thank all the panelists for such an insightful and interactive session. It was not only informative, but also gave us a lot of food for thought. The examples of candidate feedback shared by Babita and Vaibhav, reiterated the importance of "human contact" and "empathy". So while we work towards creating high-end technology-enabled systems and processes, we also need to ensure that we keep the people element of the HR function alive and active.








Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs
Post a Job


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect