A company’s culture can have a strong influence on both current employees and potential hires. With the right company culture, an organization can attract and retain engaged employees who add value to the business.

The question is: “how can your organization improve its company culture?” One answer that might surprise you is applying the principles of design thinking to your organization.

Taking Design Thinking from External Customers to Internal Ones

Design thinking, or implementing the methods and sensibilities of designers to create human-centric solutions to problems, is usually thought of as something that businesses would typically use to answer the needs of their customers and clients. While this is true, some forget that the employees in an organization can be considered internal clients, and they also have problems that can be answered using design thinking.

In an article for the Huffington Post, Dorie Blesoff, the Chief People Officer for e-discovery platform Relativity (aka kCura), said that, “When we decided to approach the internal ‘customer journey’ approach [sic] for our employees, it seemed natural for us to apply customer-oriented and iterative design thinking with the same goal our product development team has for improving the user experience.”

By applying design thinking principles to challenges that might be impacting employees, you can improve their “customer experience” with your organization. This makes for more active and engaged workers and higher profits.

In fact, according to Gallup’s research, “companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earning per share.” Additionally, these organizations also had lower rates of absenteeism (37% less), turnover (65% less for low-turnover organizations, 25% less in high-turnover ones), and shrinkage (28% less).

Turning Employees into Eager Learners & Creators

Creating an effective learning culture in your organization using design thinking can turn employees into eager learners who are constantly mastering new skills and staying up to date with the industry at large. This, in turn, increases their effectiveness and productivity.

One of the key aspects of design thinking is that it’s an iterative process that rewards innovation. Design thinking encourages employees to try new things—to go off the “beaten path” and find new solutions to old problems.

A boost to your bottom line: By giving employees the power to experiment off of common business processes, you encourage creativity and possibly even find new solutions that increase productivity or save time and money.

Of course, it’s important to make sure that you don’t punish employees when a creative solution fails. Doing so can stunt knowledge growth and adaptability, as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reminds leaders who want to build learning cultures, “if you fear repercussions from failure, you will become risk-averse.”

Encourage the application of iterative problem solving in a design thinking framework by studying and addressing the causes of the failure and what can be done to improve. Tolerate failures and position them as opportunities to grow.

Céline Schillinger, the Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement at global pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, stated in the Huffpost article on design thinking that: “it’s a huge boost for creativity. We saw employees solve problems our leaders didn’t even think were there. Leaders can’t solve all problem by themselves anymore. This was ok in the past, but in our environment of constant change we need more leadership by more people.”

Applying design thinking to her company’s employees and empowering them to not only fail, but to then learn from that failure, helped Sanofi Pasteur discover and implement solutions to problems that they didn’t even know they had.

Creating an Innovation Core Value

Jack Elkins, the Director of Innovation for the Orlando Magic NBA franchise, points out how making design thinking and innovation a core value benefitted his organization in the HuffPost article: “Our leaders created a core value around innovation. This gave us permission to make innovation a part of our everyday work. Early wins from using design thinking as a tool to activate that core value internally helped with adoption and our overall ability to innovate.”

Additionally, the implementation of an Innovation Lab “provided younger staff personal development opportunities to present in front of leadership and greater visibility leadership to identify potential rock stars.” No longer were these employees laboring in anonymity where leaders weren’t seeing their value—they were being brought front and center to the attention of the franchise’s leadership.

This helped to not only inspire teams to create new solutions, but it also helped ensure that their efforts would be recognized. This demonstrates a new way to motivate employees while giving them the chance to exercise their creative muscles.

When applied correctly, design thinking can improve a company’s culture to make employees more effective and engaged. Is your organization ready to implement design thinking? Help your employees reach their maximum potential by giving them the learning resources they need to succeed!

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