The Function of HR Is Changing and Design Thinking Can Help

In the face of significant changes in workforce expectations and the ways in which work is organized, the role of Human Resources must be reinvented. Design Thinking provides a method of integrating users’ needs in the development of new practices.


By: Alexandra Marcoin-Karacsonyi

The work environment is constantly evolving, and people no longer have the same expectations or behaviors they had 10 years ago. Over the next few years, the HR sector will collide with these changes head-on, and only those who are adequately prepared will succeed in adapting.

Less than a generation ago, being reachable or responding to emails 24/7 wasn’t an issue. However, in today’s world, the boundaries between one’s personal and professional life are increasingly blurred. Many managers enjoy a little family time early in the evening before answering urgent emails or even engaging in videoconferences with colleagues or partners in other time zones.

Today, advances in artificial intelligence are a source of both excitement and concern. While we’re still far from replacing people with machines, it’s only logical to assume that future advances in AI will force us to rethink our work and the way in which we perform it.

These types of disruptive changes are inevitable, and trying to fight them would be futile. Human beings must evolve and adapt to their environment—just as they’ve always done over the course of their history.

The expectations of today’s workforce

There are more women than ever in the workforce—especially women who want to “play with the big boys,” to be recognized for their true value, promoted, paid and evaluated in accordance with impartial, equitable criteria. Furthermore, they want to have the ability to play many simultaneous roles: professional, woman, wife, mother, etc. Given the shortage of qualified workers, recruiting from this pool of women will soon become a necessity. However, the business environment hasn’t adapted sufficiently, as demonstrated by the attrition rates—or churn rates—of female executives as workers climb the ranks.

At the same time, the workplace has been greeted by the arrival of new generations, who aren’t different simply because they’re young, but also because they think and react differently from the way previous generations did at the same age. These new workers demand a better work-life balance and are uncompromising in their values, ready to resign at the drop of a hat in the event of disagreement with their superior or with the practices of their employer.

The challenges and solutions for HR

The HR function will have to evolve considerably in the coming years. It’s at once a threat—the

human animal is, by nature, resistant to change—and an opportunity—to play a more important role in the organization and to make a significant impact on society. HR will have to invent and define new rules of the game in a rapidly evolving economic, technological and societal context. But how?

Benchmarking other sectors may prove useful. For more than 10 years now, all of the startups in Silicon Valley have been using Design Thinking to make significant improvements to their products and services. How? By revisiting the emotional needs of their users and doing what it takes to satisfy them more closely in everything that is subsequently created, through successive iterations based on their feedback. The idea is simple and efficient: the user whose basic needs are met will naturally consume the product or use the service.

This method can also be applied to help resolve an organization’s internal challenges, such as:

  • How to motivate the employees
  • How to satisfy them when they demand more flexibility
  • How to effectively integrate new employees
  • How to retain seniors in the company
  • How to help women stay in the game

By (re)discovering employees’ needs and searching for creative solutions, Design Thinking can provide HR with the keys to substantially increase their satisfaction and wellbeing. And by extension, their motivation, their commitment and their retention.

Is Design Thinking not yet on your company’s agenda? Perhaps the administrative team isn’t sufficiently aware of this method? Or could it be that you have already pinpointed and defined your problem areas? In that case, all that remains to be done is to choose from a host of innovative tools, including predictive recruitment, team alignment, new generation leadership and flexible work management, among others. An international symposium on Smart Working will be held in Basel on November 6, 2017: Be sure to mark your calendar!

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