Design thinking meets the HR operating model

Crafting the employee experience: An ongoing series

Posted by Arthur Mazor, Jeff Mike, Maribeth Sivak, and Zain Premji on February 22, 2017.

After careful planning, you launch your new HR operating model and the response from HR’s customers— candidates, employees, leaders, and others—is not what you had hoped for. What went wrong? It may be that your HR customers feel the new model doesn’t address what they feel is needed to enhance their experience or ease their work. Design thinking takes this into account up front, so you can craft how your company engages HR customers with compelling experiences at every point of interaction. By doing so you can generate higher customer engagement and satisfaction while also increasing HR’s alignment with the business and contributing to its strategies—a true high-impact approach.

Why is this so important? The potential benefits of applying design thinking extend beyond customer satisfaction and engagement—business growth is also a reported outcome. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 research revealed that companies growing by 10 percent or more per year are more than twice as likely to report they are ready to incorporate design thinking compared to their counterparts that are experiencing stagnant growth.

Applying the design thinking framework to create the High-Impact HR Operating Model

The High-Impact HR Operating Model is a blueprint for an HR function built on adaptability, innovation and sustainability. It “walks the walk” by moving HR from a function built around service delivery to a driver of strategic workforce, talent, and business outcomes. Defining the High-Impact HR Operating Model in a way that is fit for purpose in your organization requires an approach that is iterative and grounded in design-thinking concepts. Design thinking is an agile methodology for solving problems and focusing on the customers’ needs to create offerings that are intuitive and deliver value.


Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP

Design thinking is not a linear process. Instead, design thinking can be described as a set of clear, connected principles that contribute to innovation via the creation of multiple iterations and the generation of a variety of possible solutions. Three principles stand out as fundamental to the way HR can apply design thinking to arrive at a fit for purpose way of operating HR:

  • Understand HR’s customers and the problems they face. The foundation of this principle is the ability to empathize. Empathy is what allows us to share the experiences and feelings of others, creating opportunities for engagement. Design thinkers develop personas (representations of the qualities and characteristics of typical customers) to thoughtfully segment customers into groups with similar experience needs (e.g., employees who work outside an office; manufacturing line team leaders; or new hires in their first 90 days). Journey maps based on these personas document customer experiences at every step of an activity to identify the moments that matter most and to provide clarity on the problems that need solving.
  • Generate a variety of options and shape them into potential solutions. This principle involves imagining the widest possible range of options, rather than attempting to define and evaluate a single “best” idea. Generating a variety of options moves stakeholders beyond the initial, obvious solutions. Doing so also increases the potential for innovation, especially when performed as part of a team. The ideas with the most potential can then be prioritized, shaped, and tested with the targeted customer segments before fully implementing.
  • Test potential solutions with real customers and refine them with data and feedback. Testing in a real context while collecting both qualitative and quantitative data enable additional empathy with customers, more precise definitions of the problems, and continuous refinement of solutions. This step creates an opportunity for experimentation in HR while effectively managing the associated risks.

While design thinking is relatively new to HR, there are many examples of how the approach can meaningfully help organizations reimagine and architect the experience to drive sustainable business performance. Onboarding, performance management, talent acquisition, and succession planning are all areas where HR has applied design thinking to see measurable improvements. The approach has spurred HR to clearly identify and segment its customers, and craft a new way of working for HR to tailor and enhance the experience of an organization’s talent in their daily experiences with the organization.

If your company used (or is using) design thinking to rethink, develop, and apply a new HR operating model, we’d love to hear your story. You can find out more about Deloitte’s High-Impact HR Operating Model here.


Arthur Mazor is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the practice leader for HR Capability & Customer Experience and Global HR Service Delivery. He collaborates with complex, global clients to achieve high business impact with a focus on transforming human capital strategies, programs, and services.
Jeff Mike leads Bersin by Deloitte (Deloitte Consulting LLP’s) HR Operations and Service Delivery research. He integrates rigorous research approaches with his extensive experience leading HR functions to engage diverse practitioners and to generate actionable knowledge.
Maribeth Sivak is a manager with Deloitte Consulting LLP where she focuses on full life cycle global human resource transformation initiatives. Maribeth is also an active blogger, focused on the intersection of design thinking and the HR customer experience.
Zain Premji is a consultant with Deloitte Consulting LLP where he focuses on global business transformations enabled by technology strategy and operational effectiveness.

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