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Design Thinking 102: How to ‘Design’ Employee Experience

Design thinking is an idea that’s been gaining traction in HR circles. At heart, it means designing an employee experience that promotes engagement, satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity. Further, a well-designed employee experience can improve your employer brand, strengthening your ability to attract star talent. As consultancy firm Willis Towers Watson puts it, “Design thinking approaches products and experiences from the viewpoint of the user. In an HR context, this would shift emphasis to the employee rather than focusing on the HR program or process itself.”

Start by breaking it down into more manageable chunks.

Design thinking applies to a variety of stages in the employee life-cycle, starting with the initial recruitment and hiring process, continuing through onboarding and training, and covering performance and professional development. The idea is to identify the procedures you use at each of those stages to consider if they can be improved for the employee.

The Harvard Business Review identifies ten employee stages that are ripe for design-thinking review:

1.     Sourcing and recruiting

2.     Pre-boarding

3.     Onboarding (orientation and initial training)

4.     Compensation and benefits

5.     Ongoing learning and development

6.     Ongoing engagement, communication, and community involvement

7.     Rewards and recognition

8.     Performance planning, feedback, and review

9.     Advancement

10.   Retirement, termination, or resignation

For example, a telecommunications company found that new hire turnover was a problem. Reviewing their onboarding processes, they realized that they were forcing new hires to learn about an enormous array of products all at once, and it was overwhelming them. They revised their onboarding procedures to create a staged, 3-month program to help employees acclimate more comfortably.

So, once you’re focused on a specific aspect of the employee journey, the first step is to try to understand what the current employee experience is, and then what they’d like it to be. Once you’ve defined the problem and looked at it from the perspective of the employee, it becomes time to start brainstorming solutions. You might do some research, in the vein of evidence-based HR, and possibly test your solution before implementing the change permanently.


CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.