HR skills

By Shyne Devasia & Protima Sharma

The advent of e-commerce, social media, mobility has fundamentally changed the way business is being done. Companies are succeeding at business models that might have not made any sense a couple of decades back. Sales is getting closer to the customer- moving from the pocket to the minds and hearts, logistics just got a new lease on life and production now dares to co-create with the customer.

Designers are replacing programmers at a phenomenal speed. As Daniel Pink describes it succinctly, we have moved from the information age into conceptual age. Whether it’s iPhone by Apple or Quickbooks from Intuit, basic principles of design thinking are being used to create more human-centered, intuitive and aesthetic products and processes.

The employee mindset is also shifting in unimaginable ways. More millennials are walking through the doors. These are people used to being heard, they express their likes and dislikes for the world to see. They are pampered by the consumer focused products and services that invade everyday life. Though salary and promotions are still important, the expectations from employers are more opportunities, to learn, to create and to express.

The Human Resource function never had it tougher. On one side, they are expected to constantly align the organizational design to changing business models. On the other, they are hard-pressed to retain and motivate a workforce that has never been more demanding. It is time HR looked at Design thinking closely for some answers.

Design thinking is an approach to problem solving that draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the organization).

4 keys skills based on the tenets of Design Thinking can be the differentiating competency for HR. These are

1. Empathy, Long considered a core competence for emotional intelligence, Empathy is also the cornerstone for a user centric design. For HR, to empathize is to be able to see and feel the organizational processes as an employee. Our empathy quotient is directly proportional to our ability to suspend judgment, being attentive and mindful. To be able to create processes that are intuitive, the ability to empathize can make all the difference. Take the iPhone instruction manual, well there is none. They have user guides that are structured to answer frequently asked questions. Can the HR manual go the same way?

2. Observation is an important skill that is taught to Business Analysts, for gathering user needs. Getting feedback from employees in the annual satisfaction survey can give us limited information on what they think is affecting their satisfaction at the company. Questions do not always yield useful answers. It happens often that employees are used to an inconvenience and might not find that worth mentioning. The patience and skill to observe, gain insight and elicit an unexpressed need can make all the difference between a good and bad solution.

3. Integrative thinking. As opposed to Analytical Thinking that relies on breaking down a problem to small manageable parts and then making either or choices, integrative thinking is the ability to see all of the salient—and sometimes contradictory and dissenting views – to look for creative options. Integrative thinkers embrace complexity, tolerate uncertainty, and manage tension in searching for creative solutions to problems. Ever faced with the diktat from management to cut salary cost while increasing employee retention? Try integrative thinking.

4. Collaborative working. Collaborative working is not just good team work. As complexity around business and people multiply HR needs all the help it can get from multiple disciplines beyond the immediate or allied functions. An answer to your problem of creating the right Sales incentive scheme might be with the product dispatch guy who faces customer complaints resulting from overenthusiastic sales commitments. A collaborative HR professional builds relationships at all levels and uses them to generate ideas for the most complex problems.

Today, more than ever, HR needs to develop the ability to reshape organizational design centered on the new crop of smart creatives. Design Thinking skills just might be the right tool that we need.

About the Authors
Shyne Devasia is a Partner at PeopleWiz Consulting with 17 years of experience as an HR professional in leading corporations, starting with Thermax, Siemens and University of Oxford, UK.

Protima Sharma is Managing Partner at PeopleWiz Consulting. She has 12 years of industry experience in Thermax, Citigroup, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) as OD & Change Management consultant. She writes on various aspects of People Management and Organization Development for Entrepreneurs as well as the HR community.