Design thinking in HR: The arc of an experience


Posted by Ruth Schmidt on August 12, 2016.

User experience (UX) design, user-centered design, design thinking—they’re all ways of reimagining and improving something—a process, a product, a service, an event—by considering it from the perspective of the people experiencing it. We recently polled about 1,400 webinar participants (primarily HR professionals) and asked them what parts of their talent process were in need of this kind of retooling. Performance management got the most votes, cited by nearly a third (30 percent) of respondents. Let’s look at how an element of design thinking, considering the full “arc” of an experience, can be applied to performance management.

When we’re thinking about designing an experience, it can be tempting to design for the exact moment it’s happening. So, if you think about the experience of attending a baseball game, you think primarily about what happens at the game itself. You don’t necessarily think about crafting a great experience while buying tickets, and you probably don’t think about what happens to fans after they’ve left the ballpark.

If we think about performance management from an employee’s perspective (and that employee could be the reviewer or the reviewee), we tend to think about the actual act of interacting with the performance management process—the performance review itself. But that’s really only the middle of the experience.

The following five-step process is one I use often to help encourage design thinkers to think more broadly about each stage along the way.

For example, in terms of performance management, we don’t always set up people for success early on or think about the ways in which they’re learning, how their performance is being measured, the goals they’re setting in advance, or how we follow through. The experience is really an arc rather than a point-in-time performance review. It’s the Attraction that brings people to performance management, the Entry points that draw them in, how they Exit the experience, and the often-neglected aspect of the Extension of that experience—the what next?

Focusing on continuity and how each part of the experience leads into another can be very powerful. In an HR context, it can be especially valuable to consider this end-to-end model from different users’ perspectives—individuals, teams, managers—as so much of our work life relies on interactions with others. In a sense, we’re all users in need of user-centered HR design.

This concept of designing for the total experience is one we discussed in our recent Dbriefs webinar, HR and design thinking: Architecting the employee experience. You can view the session here to get a broader overview of design thinking and some examples of how organizations are applying it to solve problems throughout the employee life cycle.

Based on our most recent research on Global Human Capital Trends, design thinking seems to make a real difference in how well HR performs. Survey respondents who rated their organization’s HR performance as “excellent” or good” were almost five times more likely to be using design thinking in their programs than their peers who rated their HR performance as “adequate,” “getting by,” or “underperforming.”

Remember, you don’t have to be a “fast company” to take advantage of design thinking—it’s not just for tech businesses or the innovative new startups of the world. Regardless of a company’s age or size or industry, design thinking can potentially benefit any company willing to take a step back and consider the total employee experience through fresh eyes.


Ruth Schmidt is a senior manager and Innovation Program Lead at Doblin, Deloitte’s innovation group, where she leads teams in applying design thinking methods to solve complex, user-centered innovation challenges across industries.

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