Using Design Thinking to Empower the 'Human' in HR

Photos by Natalie Foley

Photos by Natalie Foley

Yes, for most of the day, we, at Peer Insight, use design thinking to empower our client teams to be fearless explorers of new services, new experiences and new business models. But for a few hours each day, we also use design thinking to create new experiences for our own team.

Right now we’re using our own methods to design a system for Promotions, Bonuses & Raises (nicknamed PBR, naturally). We all know that metrics drive behavior, and we've all had experiences in the past with performance measurements systems that only partially met our needs. So, our internal team set out to reimagine a better system. We started by framing the initiative with a Design Brief, made a project calendar and then headed off to ask the Four Questions:

1. What Is? In this step, the PBR team interviewed all of our employees about their emotional highs and lows with past systems as well as our current one. We analyzed the results, found patterns, and used the findings to establish Design Criteria, or the criteria we would use later to evaluate our new concepts and ideas.

The Design Brief and Design Criteria we created for our internal PBR project. 

The Design Brief and Design Criteria we created for our internal PBR project. 

2. What If? Using observations and insights from the interviews with our Peers, secondary research, and interviews with experts as our stimulus, we recently held a 2-hour ideation session with the whole team over lunch. If you’re curious, our online toolkit has the template & instructions for one of the brainstorming techniques we used, Thief & Doctor, where we look at analogies to stretch our thinking.

Our team ideation session around promotions, bonuses and raises.

Our team ideation session around promotions, bonuses and raises.

3. What Wows? Using the results of the brainstorm, which we evaluated using the Design Criteria established in Step 1, we created three storyboards (2D prototypes) showing possible concepts and systems. We then went back out to all the employees and did a round of co-creation research, to gather further input and refine our prototypes.

Rough "storyboards" of our ideas for PBR, which we'll use in co-creation interview with our colleagues. 

Rough "storyboards" of our ideas for PBR, which we'll use in co-creation interview with our colleagues. 

4. What Works? Now, depending on the findings of the What Wows? stage, we might do another round of co-creation research, or we might test one of the prototypes (or combination of the three) out “in the market." For us, "in the market" means giving a prototype a trial run during this June’s existing promotions/raises process (on client projects we call this an Alpha test). 

While we've made some significant progress toward reimagining our system, no design process is without it's challenges. And we encountered many of the same issues that our clients often do: 

  • Competing priorities // As with any organization, there are many other tasks and projects, both internal and external, that need to be done at Peer Insight, NOW. It's a tough decision to choose how much time and effort you should contribute to this versus any other initiative. 
     
  • Communicating with the team // While the core team working on this project is moving at a satisfyingly quick pace, we also need to communicate the goals, progress and timeframes of the project to a very busy audience who will be affected by the changes in a very intimate way. Without open communication to the rest of the team, we could face low buy-in, or flat our rejection, of our new way ahead. 
     
  • Reflecting the collective view // It's hard to put aside your own biases and really hear your user's voice. But to ensure your solution is truly meeting their needs, leadership must let go of specific ideas they might prefer and, instead, defer to listening to their ‘customers.’
     
  • Replacing the existing process // Change is good but it's also hard, because you have to acknowledge that what you were doing wasn't working. Even though it wasn’t meeting all of our needs, we’ll be letting go of our current way of doing things. While, on a whole, we consider ourselves to be pretty nimble individuals, it will take time to get used to any new process or system. 

While encountering these can be discouraging, bumping up against these types of challenges also indicates you're on your way to creating meaningful change.

Do you love your company's promotion, bonus or raise practices? Message me with any of your favorite or ideas - thanks!

@natalie_s_foley