Using a Design Thinking Approach in Human Resource Practices in North America
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership, Research and Technology
Louann Bierlein Palmer, Ed.D.
David Szabla, Ed.D.
Gary Miron, Ph.D.
Global forces have changed the landscape of the today’s global economy, with such disruptive forces reshaping the workplace, the workforce, and the work itself. Human Resource (HR) functions are no exception to these changes. HR departments must simplify their processes, build a culture of collaboration, help employees manage the flood of information at work, manage complexity, and encourage innovation and creativity. The concept of design thinking has been adopted widely across multiple disciplines and industries as a tool for innovation, however it has yet to be a major influence in the Human Resources field.
This research explored the use of design thinking in the context of Human Resource practices, with the purpose of examining the extent to which organizational resources and HR competencies as supporting agents and organizational and HR challenges as barriers in adopting the implementation of design thinking and design tools. Further, these variables coupled with the level of design thinking process were examined to measure HR outcomes. The method used in my study was a quantitative, non-experimental survey method gathering responses from 150 HR participants across North America, of which 109 noted the use of design thinking in their organizations. Of these respondents, 81% were from for-profit companies, and 56% had at least 250 or more employees. A Likert scale of 1 = strongly disagree, and 6 = strongly agree was used for most questions.
The findings revealed that the design thinking approach was being used across multiple HR functions within their organization with Talent Acquisition (M=4.65), Employee Relations (M=4.62), and Organizational Development (M=4.62) being the most utilized. The study also found that various design tools were being used, in particular, a face-to-face interaction (M=4.53) in the empathy stage, employee persona (M=4.24) in the problem framing stage, whiteboard (M=4.33) in the brainstorming stage, storyboarding (M=4.22) in the prototyping stage, and testing the prototype in real life and time (M=4.23).
These HR participants reported that organizational resources such autonomy and freedom to make decisions (M=4.86), tolerance to diversity in perspectives (M=4.82) and a culture of open communication (M=4.80) were in existence to support their design thinking process. HR competencies such as the capability to collaborate and build relationships with other (M=4.92), a high level of emotional intelligence (M=4.87), and good communication skills (M=4.81) also play a vital role in the process. Challenges at the organizational and HR level were also in existence that hinder their success; in particular, a resistance to change mindset (M=4.53) and the need to find the right skill-mix of individual to form a design team (M=4.01) were the greatest challenges.
When the variables of organizational resources, HR competencies, organizational challenges and HR challenges were taken together as a group to predict the level of design thinking process and the use of design tools, one overall regression model was found to be statistically significant (F(4,101) = 5.504, p <.001, Adjusted R2 = .146); however, only HR challenges was found to be statistically significant.
When all variables of organizational resources, HR competencies, organizational challenges, HR challenges, and DT process and the use of DT tools were taken together as a group to predict HR outcomes, a second overall regression model was found to be statistically significant (F(5,100) = 15.547, p <.001, Adjusted R2 = .409). Of these predictor variables, organizational resources, HR competencies, and DT process and the use of DT tools were found to be statistically significant in predicting HR outcomes. An improved recruiting and onboarding system (M=4.84), and training and development (M=4.84) were reported to score high in the HR outcomes. The study also found that the top factor prohibiting HR professionals from using design thinking in their HR practice was that it is a new term not yet explored within their organization (M=4.58).
The concept of design thinking may not be new to HR given the number of years it has been in discussion especially in most social media platforms or HR professional networks; however, it is also understandable that not every organizations in this country – big or small, have the time, money, and space to explore this concept. Therefore, several recommendations were offered based on findings from this research study. Limitations and delimitation were also discussed in my study that might be used to suggest an agenda for future research.
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Eswar, Corinne Diane, "Using a Design Thinking Approach in Human Resource Practices in North America" (2022). Dissertations. 3864.