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Why Design Thinking isn't just for creatives - HR Teams, here's looking at you!

I'm an HR/L&D Professional, with a design degree, who's job ended 72 hours after it began (the company I joined decided to close its Aussie doors). The redundancy break quickly turned into Covid isolation and I spent time reflecting on past jobs and how I could combine my four loves (design, people, training and cheese) into a rewarding career where I actually could help make workplaces better.

I decided to sign up for some mentoring to help me reconnect with design and learn more about the UX Design process, and as I sit here with my platter of brie and goats cheese, I will share with you how Design Thinking (UX Design) is an incredible tool for HR teams to use to gather thoughts, data, stakeholder opinions and then create relevant and impactful People plans that solve the important problems and build engaged employees and teams.

The UX (User Experience) Design process is about making things easy. Engaging and easy for the user.


The design thinking process is broken up into 5 stages; Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. It can be linear, but in most cases, there’ll be a little ‘ping-pong’ action from ideate-prototype-test sections.

Without even realising, you’re probably using the design thinking process in some form already, so let’s take a look at how using a Design Thinking model properly, can enhance the employee experience you’re providing as an HR/P&C or L&D team.


The People strategy/plan is generally a supporting plan for the Business strategy to ensure employees have the resources they need to be capable of achieving organisational success. The People plan generally involves; recruitment, learning & development, remuneration & benefits, performance management and employee engagement.

For each area, ask employees (managers and team members) for their opinion.

  • How could the recruitment-onboarding process be a better experience?

  • What benefits really make a difference to their lives?

  • What performance process would make them more dedicated and driven?

  • What are the best ways for them to learn and develop?

  • What skills do they think they really need or see their industry peers improving?

  • What makes them want to get in early and leave late?

You are not beholden to the answers, but truly understanding what makes your users tick is the best starting point, and the CEO’s business strategy is only one lens in which to see things.


Take the previous data and define its relevance for the organisation

This is where you can come back to the business goals and see what fits, really determine what problems need solving in each quarter to start forming the People Strategy for the year.


Brainstorm ideas. Maybe first as a People team, and then bring back some of those you initially surveyed to get their feedback, ideas and enthusiasm.

This stage is not about reality necessarily - the more the better here, so that you can filter later on.

  • What employee benefit options could there be?

  • How could you reward and recognise?

  • What changes could be made to recruitment and onboarding?

  • How could the performance review process be different and would it work?


Put your strategy together with some mock ups of HOW the People Team plans on achieving the goals set out in each area of the strategy.

  • What are the steps to recruitment in a one pager that can be shared with managers?

  • Do job descriptions and adverts now look and feel different?

  • What’s the internal communication strategy look like? - mock up some options for senior stakeholder consideration


Take it for a spin!

  • Use the new templates with the team

  • Post to your LinkedIn company page with the new ideas and theme

  • Put together the People pitch deck so that there's transparency with the business

  • Run some lunch 'n' learns on new training topics and gauge the response

  • Get a few managers to adopt the new recruitment process and get their feedback on how it feels

Repeat the steps

There will be tweaking, and input from others, and in most cases the People plan is shaped by the needs of each department (training considerations, recruitment requests etc). You might find that some of the Empathise and Define stage is already completed by other department plans that HR will then overlay, and that's great too!

  • Set some timelines in your plan for reviewing the new People initiatives

  • Perhaps in 6 weeks from initial launch, the People team comes back to the Empathise step and gets feedback on how the changes are going. Does it need tweaking, or are the results there?

  • As HR is a support function, other business problems will arise throughout the year and you will need to empathise, define and find solutions to keep the business and teams running smoothly

By following a tool like this, you can not only keep things more organised in what is an incredibly fast moving, unpredictable department, but can help encourage others to be more employee-centric in how they make their decisions - all managers can benefit from this!

The Design Thinking tool can absolutely be used to cut out some of that noise and help you focus on what matters most in your role. The people.

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