Today’s post, the first in a two-part-series on design thinking, comes to us from Cecily Tyler, Program Manager, Human Insights at Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG). Since earning her M.P.A. at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2016, Cecily has served as a Fellow at the Harvard Innovation Labs at the Harvard Business School, and at the Innovation Field Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

The first time I participated in a design thinking lab, I left a skeptic. Money and awards were given, press releases and articles puffed up pride, but, in the end, none of the work became actionable. And if I had to hear the term, “try early, fail fast” one more time… 

I was not drinking the design thinking Kool-Aid.

What is Design Thinking?

If you are not familiar with the term design thinking, its principles are age-old and have been used by inventors, artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and engineers forever.  

The framework of design thinking, being taught and implemented in businesses and organizations globally, starts with specifically focusing on developing an understanding of the lived experience of individuals—the exact individuals for whom we are designing a product or service. It asks us to value the discipline of setting aside biased thinking, judgmental observation, and perceptions, to effectively collaborate in our thinking and to become curious in a new light. It is in this collective mindset that organizations have found pathways to innovation.

Skepticism of Design Thinking

So, back to me being a skeptic of design thinking. I wasn’t alone. According to a report from Capgemini way back in 2015, “the vast majority of innovation labs — approximately 90% — fail to deliver on their promise.” Indeed, skeptics have a legitimate argument against design labs.

Despite this, the labs continue to pop up and, adding to the confusion, the term “design thinking” is often used interchangeably with other terms like hackathons, research hubs, incubators, social innovation, innovation (field) labs, innovation challenges and anything else that supposedly means new, novel, bigger or better.

Along with organizations in the public and non-profit sectors, private sector heavy hitters like Nike, Home Depot, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Walmart, and Facebook are all a part of the growing number of enterprises that have launched their own internal design labs in the past few years, with varying results.

Natasha Iskander wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “…skepticism about design thinking has now begun to seep out onto the pages of business magazines and educational publications…[as] little more than basic commonsense, repackaged and then marketed for a hefty consulting fee.”

Seeing the Value in Design Thinking

So how did I move from skeptic to believer? Well, in 2016, I was invited to participate in a public sector design thinking lab called the Innovation Field Lab. Here I saw the effective use of the design thinking framework that also factored in the accelerator lab principles needed to create real, actionable outcomes from economic and social uncertainty. It was here that I discovered design thinking as a powerful tool: the teams in the lab created actionable, implementable processes and products that changed the lives of residents in five gateway Greater Boston cities. The success stories came to light at quantifiable and inspiring levels. Years later, the work continues to affect the lives of these residents. 

After working as an innovator for the past 6+ years, I have seen and studied how design thinking accelerator labs foster innovation and yield actionable outcomes, no matter the sector, no matter the name of the lab. Design thinking has clearly been effective when it comes to addressing complex challenges.

In the private sector, engineering new practices for process, product, supply chain and marketing is vital for any business to sustain, profit and thrive. In the Harvard Business Review article, “Why Design Thinking Works,” Jeanne Liedtka shares the results of her seven-year study that looks at 50 business projects in multiple sectors. “I have seen that…design thinking…has the potential to do for innovation exactly what TQM [total quality management] did for manufacturing: unleash people’s full creative energies, win their commitment, and radically improve processes… But what people may not understand is the subtler way that design thinking gets around the human biases (for example, rootedness in the status quo) or attachments to specific behavioral norms (“That’s how we do things here”) that time and again block the exercise of imagination.”

So, yeah. I admit it: these days, I’m definitely drinking the design thinking Kool-Aid.

Next time I’ll write about how to develop a design thinking framework to use in your own life.

Today's post comes to us courtesy of board member Mark Wales.  What's your take on the pros and cons of technology that knows where you are and what you're doing?

Workforce technology is meant to simplify the workplace and improve productivity – but when does it go from being cool to being creepy? I recently hosted a panel of industry thought leaders at an international Location Based Marketing Association (LBMA) conference. Amongst the topics we discussed was the emergence of location-based data and technology, and what the implications might be for employees. The rapid innovation and changing relationship between product companies and customers is having an immediate impact on customer expectations and as well as on what retail employees are expected to know.

For instance, an employee in a retail location today may be asked to understand:

Complexity for the employee is escalating rapidly.

And beyond just the customer, location-based technology is giving employers much more detail about their employees and overall operations.

For example, companies can now know not just if their employee has clocked in, but where they are and what they’re doing. Technology can now show where customers are in the store, whether staff are in the right place to service the customer, and whether employees have restocked the right products or sizes.

A pilot in the UK placed a large screen in the back of a retail store to show employees the customer demand and whether there was sufficient staffing in the right departments - a not-so-subtle way of trying to tackle the eternal retail problem of too few employees interacting with customers and too many in the back doing task work.

Technology can also improve the quality of work life, such as by reminding the employee that they’ve forgotten to punch out when they leave the store which simplifies life for the manager and employee.

But, as with all change, there is often risk and resistance.

The current backlash over the use of personal data doesn’t stop with Facebook. Many people are nervous about the vast amounts of data that enable just about anyone to figure out who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing.

Our panel was asked by the audience if anyone thought there might be a movement to buy back privacy. While this might be an option in a private setting, how it would work in a corporate environment is less clear. The interactive discussion with the audience exposed a generational issue, with older attendees leaning much more to desiring their privacy, and perhaps being willing to sacrifice functionality or pay for it. Meanwhile, the younger generations seemed much more accepting of the value derived by the sharing of information.

Personally, I think connection through social media, the service of automated bots and the curation from personalization are integral parts of our lives that I certainly don’t want to lose. However, it remains to be seen how corporate organizations will manage the human side of emerging technology.

Image courtesy of By jannoon028 / Freepik

The following post comes to us courtesy of board member Neil Reichenberg. Neil is the Executive Director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) , a nonprofit membership organization representing public sector human resource managers and professionals.


The International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) undertook a research study in 2017 that examined the role that human resources departments play in fostering innovation within their organizations. For the purposes of this research study, innovation was defined as the action of introducing and applying a new method, idea, product, or process to benefit the organization by increasing productivity, addressing challenges, or enhancing service quality.


State of Innovation in Organizations

Over 40% of the IPMA-HR members who responded to the survey reported that innovation is a part of the mission, vision or value statements of their organizations. Those respondents from organizations with innovation in their guiding statements also reported higher average ratings for communication, collaboration, and support for change than did members from organizations that do not emphasize innovation. However, over half reported that innovation is not included as a goal in managerial performance evaluations.

Almost three-quarters of the respondents identified management as the primary driver of innovation in their organizations. Ten percent stated that elected officials or frontline staff were the innovation drivers. Budgetary restrictions, departmental culture, and bureaucratic processes were cited as the most common barriers to organizational innovation. For HR departments, outdated HR systems are the primary barrier keeping HR from being more involved in organization-wide innovation. Bureaucratic restrictions and budgetary constraints also were mentioned.


HR’s Role in Organization-Wide Innovation

Having support from leadership along with structured time for creating and executing innovative ideas were the top factors cited for enabling HR professionals to contribute to creating a culture of innovation.

A little over half of the respondents reported that their departments implemented an innovative recruitment and hiring practice. These projects focused on developing new marketing materials and building an online brand to assist with recruitment. The implementation of new software for applicant tracking, interviewing and onboarding was cited frequently.

In the area of compensation, the most common innovations that were mentioned included: broad banding, offering market value compensation for hard-to-fill roles, performance related pay, and implementing performance pay studies.

More than half of respondents advised that they have new innovations in performance management that emphasize new or improved methods for evaluating performance. There has been a shift from numerical ratings of past behavior to narrative evaluations and forward-looking performance plans. A switch from annual conversations to frequent coaching has been implemented by about 1/3 of respondents. Almost half reported that new performance management software is being used to facilitate changes in evaluation and feedback.

Programming is the focus of innovative changes in learning and development with over 60% of responses describing new or redesigned learning and development programs. About half of the new programs emphasize leadership development, with technology training and customer service training also being popular. A sizable percentage of organizations have updated or implemented learning management systems leading to an increased availability of online programs and materials.

In HR technology, respondents most frequently cited an overall replacement or update of their human resources information system. Other HR areas in which technology innovations are being implemented are recruitment and hiring, compensation, and learning and development.

With HR playing an increasingly strategic role in organizations, it will be important that it continues to contribute to increasing innovation throughout organizations.

The following guest post is courtesy of our board member, David Creelman.

Ray Kroc, who built McDonald’s into a global chain, is famous for saying “If you’ve time to lean, you’ve time to clean.” A better slogan for today’s front-line workers might be “If you’ve time to lean, you’ve time to learn.”

Training front-line workers has always been difficult because they are dispersed in many locations and are too busy to take a day-off (or even an hour off) to go to a training course. However, they do have little blips of free time: 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there. That free time could be used to clean, but it could also be used to learn.

Smartphones are what makes the difference. It would have been impractical to put a learning kiosk in, for example, every McDonald’s location, but now we can deliver excellent training via the person’s own mobile device. The technological leap of affordable smartphones, makes a new approach to training possible.

To take advantage of smartphones, training needs to be delivered in very short chunks—and that’s an entirely achievable objective. Manage the whole thing with the right learning management technology and you’ll have all you need to deliver and track the training a front-line worker needs.

New technology (smartphones) and new training modules (short chunks) are two of the pillars of change. The last pillar is mindset. Managers of front-line workers will normally be happier seeing staff doing something (even if it is just gazing outwards, hoping a customer will walk in) rather than looking at their phone. Companies will have to convince managers that ongoing training matters, and also find some way to visibly show that the person is accessing a learning module, not social media. Mindset is the toughest challenge, but that’s what change management is for.

Does ongoing training pay off? That should be an empirical question. A company could run all kinds of experiments to see what kind of training has the biggest impact on results. However, I must admit that one of the payoffs I would seek has little to do with better unit performance. The jobs of front line workers are threatened by automation. Their best hope for a bright future is learning new skills. If a company creates an atmosphere of continuous learning then that should have spin-off benefits in their employees’ confidence in their ability to master new things. A company can’t teach the specific skills these workers will need for future work; it can teach employees to be good learners.

It’s hard to break out of the idea that learning takes place in classrooms. That old model still can deliver results, but it was never suitable for front-line workers. At last technology has created the opportunity to provide great learning that fits neatly into a front-line workers day. Let’s embrace it.

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of board member Jeanne C. Meister. Jeanne is a Partner at Future Workplace, and co-author of the award winning HR book, The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption In Recruiting and Engaging Employees.

The rate and pace of digital transformation is impacting all business functions. HR is at the center of this as digital disruption is fundamentally changing the ways employers recruit and engage talent.

The hackathon, once used only in the IT world, is now being reinvented by HR to improve both the candidate and the employee experience while helping to develop deeper cross-functional skills within the HR department.

Simply defined, a traditional hackathon is an event where computer programmers, software designers, graphic artists, and others come together to create a new product. In fact, the Facebook “Like” button and Facebook Chat were both first demoed at internal Facebook hackathons.

Hackathons are now being used inside Human Resources, led by the Chief Human Resources Officer, to re-invent the candidate and employee experience. In the past, I have researched hackathons at LinkedIn to better understand the experience of a college intern and Cisco to "break" big and small HR practices to deliver a more memorable experience. What both of these hackathons have in common is the desire to let go of process thinking and silos and become more employee-focused.

Increasingly HR Hackathons are bringing together HR practitioners with internal business leaders, design thinking Facilitators, software designers, product researchers, UX designers and start-Up CEO's to ideate and prototype new breakthrough solutions for the organization.

Regardless of whether the end-product is improving the candidate experience, creating new banking solutions or enhancing the employee experience, the goal of a hackathon is the same: to bring a diverse group of individuals together to meet digital disruption head on.

Often this involves defining the business problem, setting up the process and criteria for success and watching individuals collaborate and produce amazing solutions for the business.

Have you tried a hackathon – HR or otherwise-focused - at your organization? What did you think? Tell me about it in the Comments section!

You can read more about HR Hackathons and learn how and DBS have used them to innovate in my expanded article on this topic on

mitch kaporlotus notes non profit

I'm not at HR Tech this year, but am following the proceedings on Twitter (#hrtechconf).  As always, there's lots of chatter about what's the next big thing in human capital management technology.  Cloud, Big Data, Mobile, and Social capabilities abound among the industry darlings.  Everybody loves a winner and it's fun to work for those winners.  Your friends will think you're both smart and lucky.  Until your employer's once bright star begins to fade, that is.

Pictured above left is Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development.  Mitch was a wunderkind in the Massachusetts tech industry, and the picture here is of him receiving his Entrepreneur Walk of Fame award in 2011.   I worked at Lotus from 1992-1999.  In 1995, IBM snapped us up, eager to get their sticky blue fingers on Lotus Notes.  Fast forward almost 20 years, and the image on the right above is making fun of those poor non-profits that can't afford to move to a more contemporary platform.

In the early 80's through the late 90's, there was no better tech company to work for.  Lotus was the Google of its day.  How come?  Because taking spreadsheets off of paper and into computers solved a huge productivity challenge around the world.  And then came Lotus Notes, the first collaboration platform of its kind.  It was a huge step forward in business computing, and also an idea before its time.  Notes was revolutionary, but people didn't understand how online collaboration could fuel further advances in productivity.  Notes still exists as an IBM product, but lost it's preeminent position in collaborative computing right around the time we were all getting over the Y2K scare.  How come?  There was a bit too much innovation for the sake of innovation.  The software became increasingly bloated and difficult to configure.  Customers turned to lighter weight solutions that weren't so costly to implement and maintain.

So what's the lesson for the darlings of the tech world in 2013?  Keep that innovation coming, but make sure you can explain what the innovation does for your customer.  If they don't buy the explanation, they're not going to be buying the solution either.

Watch the short 1983 Lotus promotional video below.  It will remind you that innovation is timeless, even if shoulder pads aren't.


Related Posts:

Bye Bye Lotus 1-2-3 - Thanks for the Memories

June is Innovation Month

Happy 35th Anniversary to Kronos


sharlynlaubyToday’s guest post is courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby, better known as the HR Bartender.

Earlier this summer, Kronos recognized several companies in its annual Innovator Awards. The Kronos Innovator Awards were created to acknowledge partners that have created innovative solutions to effectively manage their workforce. You can read more about this year’s winners here.

It got me thinking. What does it take to create an innovative culture? A culture that would be recognized for its unique solutions. Then I read a book that helped me discover the answer. In the book “Innovation Training” by Ruth Ann Hattori and Joyce Wycoff (ASTD Press), the authors discuss what it takes to create an innovative culture. They identify four key components.

Organizational Values – We all know what values are, right? They’re the competencies the organization identifies as being essential to fulfilling the mission of the business. Innovative companies have values that are really values. Not just words on a card for show purposes. These companies create values so they can hire employees who can embrace those ideals. They train to those values and evaluate performance based on those values.

Employee Accountability – Hattori and Wycoff call this “people – the source of innovation” but I think it’s more than just the existence of employees. It’s about holding people accountable for living the organization’s values. Being held accountable for organizational values is key to creating an innovative culture.

Leadership Support – Nothing of significance will materialize if company leadership doesn’t support it. You can’t pressure or micro-manage people to innovate. Leaders must be supportive both of the individual and the values they’ve established. Then let people do their best work.

Learning Mindset – The book defines this as “innovation values”. Okay, I get their point; but I do sometimes find it challenging to use the word innovation in a definition about innovative culture. Basically, this component is about letting people learn. Because innovation happens when learning happens. Inside formal training. Outside during informal conversations. Innovation occurs when someone asks if they can continue to work on something because “they can’t let it go yet”. It takes place over drinks after work. Learning and innovation happen anywhere and everywhere when we let it.

When I thought about this year’s Kronos award winners, I thought about the innovative cultures they must have created to achieve great results. Make no mistake, these are companies focused on the bottom-line. But delivering excellent products and services, being profitable and maintaining an innovative culture are not mutually exclusive.

What do you think are the components of an innovative culture? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

I recently interviewed former SHRM CEO and Workforce Institute board member Sue Meisinger about the chapter she wrote for our book, Elements of Successful Organizations. In her chapter, Sue discusses the role that HR leaders can and should play in creating a culture that encourages and facilitates innovation in their organizations.

She cites a 2010 IBM CEO survey in which CEO's identified creativity as the most critical factor required for the future success of their organizations. Leveraging her decades of experience leading and counseling large organizations, Sue shares a number of practical strategies for creating opportunities for creativity and innovation to flourish.

One very important point Sue makes is that meaningful innovation isn't limited to the Apples and Googles of the world. She encourages managers and employees to look for transformation in process improvements and the elimination of interdepartmental barriers. I encourage you to read the book to learn more, but you can hear the highlights of her advice by listening to the podcast of our conversation:

Podcast with Sue Meisinger 7/2/12

What is your organization doing to encourage creative breakthroughs?

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Last Wednesday, I attended an all day seminar hosted by IDC, a technology oriented analyst firm. The seminar was focused on topics that those of us who work for high technology firms care about; i.e. what's the next big thing that our firms should capitalize on in order to continue to thrive. I attended sessions on Software as a Service (not so new), Software Appliances (still pretty new), Social Networking (kind of new), Innovation (not new at all), and a session on "The New Customer".

It's this last topic that I find fascinating - mostly because the attributes of "the new customer" seem pretty darned similar to the attributes of the majority of the customers I've served in 26 years of working for high technology companies. Specifically, customers purchasing high dollar technology solutions want to know that once the implementation is done, the solution they bought actually achieves the outcome they were shopping for. Sometimes that's true business transformation, often it's cost savings, but in all cases there is a project sponsor on the hook to find the right solution and make sure it works for the business. During and after the sales process, that project sponsor wants to talk to people who understand their business and the technology. They don't want their relationship "managed", they want the straight scoop they need to ensure they choose the right tools and partner to get the job done. People who've taken the risk to introduce a vendor's solution into their organization want that vendor to be standing by their side as a partner who shares in solving the hard problems that inevitably accompany change.

The closing speaker at this conference was Tom Kelley, General Manager of IDEO, and author of "The Ten Faces of Innovation". While there are ten faces in his framework, he focused on "The Anthropologist" as the most important. His point was that organizations can't truly service a customer's needs, and definitely won't discover new markets around unmet needs, unless they do the field work to observe the problems firsthand. He was a great speaker, and definitely a hit with an audience of high techies who love to be associated with the next big thing, but are often frustrated that their firms aren't willing to take more chances when it comes to innovation.

In a related blog post last week, Bob Sutton talks about risk taking as key to innovation. Ironically, in many organizations risk taking isn't as encouraged as it should be to drive innovation, yet the implicit risk associated with a failure to focus on ongoing customer success is rampant. What's been your experience with the technology vendors who are important to your success at work?

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