Design Thinking Series Part 1: Talent and Retention

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Design Thinking Series Part 1: Talent and Retention

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If you’ve spent time in a corporate office in the last five years, chances are you’re familiar with the term design thinking. It’s a popular entry in the corporate lexicon, much like “disrupt” and “blockchain.” But unlike many other jargony buzzwords, design thinking isn’t merely a passing trend. It’s already become a core principle for prominent companies like IBM, Netflix, Capital One, and PepsiCo, and it will continue to shape corporate strategy in the future.

So what exactly is design thinking? More importantly, why do we love it?

Let’s start with the first question: design thinking is a simply a strategy for innovative problem-solving, both in the business world and elsewhere in life.

The first step of design thinking is to forget any preconceived notions you have of the problem. Imagine that before today, you’d never even realized this problem existed. That means that, before you even begin to consider solutions, you’ll need to define exactly what the problem actually is. Be specific, and use tactics like user interviews and focus groups in your research. One key point to remember is that you want to define the problem from the end user’s perspective, which isn’t always the same as the company’s perspective.

Next, generate as many solutions as you can, and withhold any judgement of your ideas. At this point in the process, no solution is too crazy or too unrealistic. Every idea should be considered. Only once you’re finished brainstorming should you begin to weed out the impractical ideas. Ultimately, you want to have a handful of potential solutions for solving your problem. This process may seem rediculous as it unfolds, but as it does actual needs are realized and real solutions become more obvious. 

The work doesn’t end here. Next, you’ll want to rapidly prototype your various solutions. Find quick, cost-effective methods for testing the extent of their effectiveness, and finally, collect feedback from your end users. Then repeat the process, ad infinitum.

By leveraging design thinking, businesses can take small, manageable steps towards tackling big problems. It’s easy to see how this applies to product design — you’re taking iterative actions specifically designed to provide a better experience for the end user. Indeed, product design is probably the most common application of design thinking.

But even if you’re not involved with product design, design thinking can still be a tremendous asset. Remember that this approach can be used to address a wide range of problems, from shareholder relations to marketing tactics to choosing a new TV for your living room. Design thinking can even help to solve on the biggest problems faced by any business: attracting and retaining top talent.

When it comes to hiring and retaining talented employees, businesses face countless challenges which could be approached through design thinking.

One major problem companies wrestle with is image. Remember that the interview process is a two way street: you’re looking for someone to fill an open position, while the candidates are looking for a company that’s worthy of their time and efforts. Competition for top talent is fierce, so anything about your company that rubs prized candidates in the wrong way is a serious problem. Using design thinking to smooth out awkward, repetitive, or confusing parts of your recruitment and interviewing strategy can go a long way towards making candidates eager to come work for you.

You might also utilize design thinking to improve the quality of your hiring pool. If you want to attract more talented candidates, a design thinking-based approach could lead you to tinkering with new onboarding strategies, experimenting with innovative technologies for connecting with candidates, or even changing your business’s image so that it more strongly appeals to the type of candidate you wish to hire.

The benefits of design thinking certainly don’t end once a candidate has been hired. If you want to keep top talent on board, you need to make it worth their while to stay, especially in businesses with high turnover rates.

Consider applying design thinking to your onboarding process. You might find that your current process is cumbersome, and it takes a while for new hires to perform at their full potential. Even worse, your onboarding process might leave new employees feeling more like trainees than full team members, with little-to-no stake or loyalty in your business. You could use a design thinking-based strategy to explore ways of helping new employees feel more at home and invested in your company from day one.

Perhaps your problem isn’t with attracting new talent or onboarding, but retaining top employees. If you find that many of your best people are growing frustrated and leaving, you can utilize design thinking to identify the specific problems they’re having and devise a solution. This might be an easier path of upward mobility, a mentorship program, a stock ownership program, or any other number of other solutions. It’s even possible they’re leaving because they’re concern about the viability of your business as a whole, a larger problem but still possible to address with design thinking. No matter the issue, the approach is the same: listen, research, prototype, and test new solutions in small, manageable steps.

Design thinking emphasizes quickly and cheaply evaluating a wide range of ideas, instead of putting all your eggs in one basket. This promises huge benefits when you find a working solution, and minimal losses if an idea doesn’t work.

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