TAFEP Hero 2023 June
human resources online

Why design thinking is so important for HR leaders today

Developed in the 1950s, design thinking is an action-oriented and human-centric framework for problem solving. Implemented effectively, it has been credited to lower risks and costs, gain employee buy-in, drive growth, and gain market share.

In this interview with Rohit Manucha, international OD and C&B expert, we find out why this innovative way of problem solving is coming to the forefront, in a world where the line between external and internal (employees) customers  is blurring.

Q Why is design thinking becoming so important for HR today, when it wasn't as popular previously?

Design thinking has been in a way, a part of the organisation behaviour courseware since the late 1950s century, coming into the fore around 1969-73 as an innovative way of problem solving, hence it’s not a new concept. Its roots reach across individual, team, intergroup and organisation (i.e. organisational behaviour ecosystem) covering elements of:
  • Organisation design, which is the framework on which all the structure, processes and systems are built aligned with the strategy, and;
  • Organisation development, which is the increment rectification in efficacy of the design aspects within an organisation, through the talent.
Design thinking within HR has been brought into predominance of late, with organisations realising that the line between their customers and employees is blurring, resulting in a seamless talent-customer pool. Thereby, employees are now rightly expecting the same ‘experience’ as an employee, as what they received as a customer, and organisations need to cater to this new reality.

Furthermore, design thinking (i.e. empathise-define-ideate-prototype-test) has an increased relevance in the VUCA world organisations operate in, as it complements the project-based structure of organisations and enables them to innovate, take calculated risks, and undertake quick implementation.

Q What does OD essentially entail for the modern organisation?

Organisation design & development for an organisation entails a constant journey of self-discovery. The usually flow ranges from understanding the organisation’s present (as-is); identifying the future state (to-be); listing the gaps to be addressed and opportunities to be leveraged; and freezing/un-freezing/re-freezing structures, systems, policies and processes in order to allow the key talent to attain that future state for the organisation.

Now when an organisation begins to do this from the perspective of an employee (being in their shoes), it then begins to empathetically link people experience to design thinking.

The usual belief surrounding OD interventions is that they are hard to do, costly, involve multiple man-hours, and require continuous communication.

Q Why is it so hard to lead OD interventions, or is that more of a myth?

The usual belief surrounding OD interventions is that they are hard to do, costly, involve multiple man-hours, require continuous communication, and are followed by a long-drawn change management intervention post implementation.

Also the valid fear that plagues everyone’s mind is that should an organisation get its OD intervention wrong, this would send it down a very slippery slope which in most cases can be hard to recover from.

However, the fact remains that an effective OD intervention delivered by a seasoned OD practitioner gives back to an organisation many times over and there are plenty of examples proving that.

Q What skills does an effective OD practitioner require?

Just as a healthcare professionals know how to isolate the symptoms from the problem and then treat the root cause with accurate prescription; an OD practitioner needs to know which tools and techniques to use to diagnose, propose, test and implement the OD interventions.

Without proper management buy-in and stakeholder alignment this journey becomes hard.

As Abraham Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”, an OD practitioner needs to ensure adequate pre-work/research is done prior to implementation and adequate post implementation support is provided.

For any OD intervention to be successful one must consider the interdependencies amongst various sub-elements of culture/structure/system/policy/ process/ people. My favourite analogy to explain this is to consider yourself throwing a pebble in a lake; no matter how small, it will always create ripples.

My upcoming masterclass is designed to not only equip participants with adequate skills pertaining to the use of OD tools and techniques but also to run them through case studies, role plays which simulate working conditions across teams/ functions.

It would also help participants explore their ‘self-awareness’ and ‘blind spots’ to help them in identifying their strengths and weaknesses better so that they can accordingly enhance their behavioural competencies and become a holistic, truly effective OD practitioner.


The author, Rohit Manucha, is an international OD and C&B expert based in Dubai. Over October-November, he will be conducting a series of HR Masterclasses, organised by Human Resources Online, across SingaporeHong Kong and Malaysia, on the topic of 'Leading organisational development, transformation and change'.

To register or find out more, write to Heather Ang at [email protected] 

Lead image / 123RF

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