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Design Thinking – A solution to achieve better employee engagement?


As pressure on business owners and managers to create new business opportunities increases, manager leaders are having to step up to develop more self-directed, co-organised, results driven teams. Yet their efforts to achieve a higher level of autonomy are often hamstrung by an organisational system and culture that hinders rather than supports people to achieve and deliver on their full potential.

Design Thinking offers a framework that enables people to cooperate, and collaborate to build cross-organisational teams across organisational functions and business units. Drawing on different strengths, skills and competencies, Design Thinking , can have a real impact. When people realise the benefit of working together to achieve outcomes that depend on their contribution to others, they tend to be more motivated to change their behaviours.

We know too well that despite the huge focus on improving employee engagement tried and tested employee engagement methods as Gallup’s article on the Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis still do not deliver the significant increase in engaged employees that businesses desire. It is a given that human beings are motivated by emotional self-worth. It is only really when employees have the opportunity to have more autonomy, play a leadership role in determining their own influence and impact, and work with others to achieve results that discretionary effort scores will increase.

Self-worth is also motivated by validation in the desire to serve and support others and in that to be appreciated and recognised. The close collaborative nature of Design Thinking, where diverse styles of analysing, processing, solving and creativity come into play, supports this. Dependency on the collective contribution by individuals in a group to contribute to its success gives employees a level of recognition that typically highly structured hierarchical control and command cultured organisations don’t enable.

However, if organisations hope to capitalise on the power of Design Thinking, then greater attention needs to be given to placing the employee experience at the centre of the organisation. To achieve this, analysis of every aspect of how individual and teams of employees interact with their work and workplace and each other psychologically, emotionally and physically is required.

As Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends Report cites “Rather than focus narrowly on employee engagement and culture, organisations are developing an integrated focus on the entire employee experience, bringing together all the workplace, HR, and management practices that impact people on the job.”

A Design Thinking process in itself can assist HR Business Partners work with line mangers and their teams to first understand people’s experience through empathy, then defining and confirming their needs, and only then, once people have a common understanding of the experience, together generate ideas on how to recreate employee experiences that will satisfy both managers and their support staff. Through prototyping or developing solutions and testing them in low risk situations, teams will start to determine what can work.

To build successful organisations of tomorrow that support businesses to remain competitive, leaders and managers of organisations today need to better understand how their organisation’s policies, structures, processes and systems currently negatively or positive enable employees’ productivity and performance. The iterative modality of Design Thinking offers an exceptional framework for building creative capital to shape a new organisational culture and engage employees through higher levels of involvement.

Nicola Columbine is a thought-leader, speaker, features writer, and management consultant specialising in organisation design, development and change. She is owner and manager of Integrative Consulting, an innovative advisory, consulting, training and solutions design business.

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