Design Thinking

Using Design Thinking To Improve The Employee Experience - it’s not just for gadgets and gizmos

What a time of responsibility and complexity to be leading people today. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. We have an increasingly competitive talent landscape, a workforce that is burnt out and  the pressure to do more with less while keeping employees engaged and productive. No easy feat.

Post-pandemic we are seeing all kinds of trends:

Quiet Quitting8% fewer employees willing to give it their allBloomberg, global 2022
Great Resignation52% of respondents who have been in their role for three months or less are actively trying to leaveZavvy, 2022
Burnout50% of employees and 53% of managers reporting burnout in 2023Microsoft – global, 2022
Broken WorkplacesLack of trust in Hybrid Workplace and issues with true belonging and overall DEI and Mental Health initiativesGallup’s State of the Global
Proximity BiasFavouring those who are physically closer to the LeaderSHRM, 2022
Employee Value Proposition (EVP)Designing for what the employees value is critical to HR strategies including attraction and retention, employee experience, engagement and productivityThe Experience Lounge Podcast
EmpathyThe critical skill needed for building the future of workForbes, 2022
Employee FeedbackCompanies that seek and ask for feedback from their employees see engagement rates of 80% — compared to 40% when they fail to do this.HBR, 2022

What we need now is a deeper understanding of our employees' needs and pain points. We must foster creative thinking so that we might transform the workplace culture to one that is inclusive, trusting and and desirable.  Savvy organizations are using more human-centred approaches to meet these needs, to get creative in their training initiatives, to be more intentional about their DEI efforts, and to more actively listen to their people.  The results are engagement —> productivity —> profitability sustainably into the future.

To improve the Employee Experience, we at Kirke Leadership teach HR Professionals and Leaders of all levels how to use Design Thinking. It is a creative, problem-solving approach that involves empathizing with the user, defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing the solution. You may be wondering, where and how is Design Thinking going to be used outside of the traditional places, like designing the next bar of soap to smell like chocolate chip cookies or the self-cleaning diaper? (Wouldn’t that be nice?) Well Design Thinking  is being applied by our client organizations globally, every day, on creating a greater employee experience across the entire Talent Management Continuum.  So we’ve provided some tips below to help you do this too - because the world would be a better place if we all took this approach.

Improving the Onboarding Experience

A good onboarding experience is critical to the success of new hires. It sets the tone for their entire employment and can determine their engagement and productivity. Design thinking can help HR design an onboarding experience that is personalized, engaging, and informative. HR can start by defining the goals and objectives of onboarding, then empathize with new hires to understand their needs, wants, and expectations. Based on this research, HR can ideate solutions such as personalized welcome kits, buddy systems, gamified training programs or metaverse communities. The solutions can then be prototyped and tested with a small group of new hires before being rolled out to the entire organization.


42% of employees believe their organization’s DEI efforts are divisive (Gartner research). How might we bring a more human and heart-centred approach to our initiatives that foster connection, belonging, and trust?  Organizations must be willing to understand employee’s perspectives, continue the momentum and focus on Anti-racism, inclusive practices for all layers of culture and along the entire Talent Management Continuum with a keen focus on Mental Health.  IDEO is a design firm who uses their design practices on their DEI initiatives and now posting their goals publicly for all to see.  What we know for sure is that leadership, when diversified, drives systemic change. Hiring for and training leaders to bring that change is what’s needed now and into the future. How might you apply design thinking to improve your DEI initiatives and ensure they meet the needs of your people?

Leadership Development

Your employees want to work with organizations that have great leaders who coach and support the next level of skills and behaviours for the modern workplace. They want to see and learn empathy, creativity, design thinking, equity & inclusion, strategic thinking and more innovative and inclusive ways to lead the future of work.  Do your leadership programs take the necessary human and heart-centred approaches to lead into the future of work?  Do the programs achieve accessibility and equity as they are distributed to your talent across your sites?  Do you offer morning and afternoon program options so that you can accommodate the desire for flexible work times?  Applying Design Thinking to your L&D function will be priceless in the end - for this is what your talent is craving and they will go elsewhere if you don’t.  Our programs at Kirke Leadership are delivered virtually to ensure equity and access of the highest quality content to all who value it in your organization. We learn about your people and your context so that participants know they are going to be able to readily apply the leading-edge material and their time was well spent in the program and beyond. And we partner with your organization to ensure the behaviours are applied and the Leadership teams support them.

Reducing Employee Turnover

60% of hybrid employees say their manager is their most direct connection to company culture (Gartner research). But people managers are struggling to provide the flexibility and career opportunities needed while meeting the demands of the organization. Using design thinking, HR can identify the root causes of employee turnover and design solutions to address them. By empathizing with the employees, HR can gain a deeper understanding of why employees leave and what they need to stay. For example, HR can conduct surveys, interviews, or focus groups to understand employee needs, wants, and pain points. Based on this research, HR can ideate solutions such as more desirable benefits, more flexible working situations, or career development programs that target what the end-users actually want and need. The solutions can then be prototyped and tested with a small group of employees before being implemented across the organization.

Enhancing Performance Management

Performance management is a critical function of HR that helps employees grow and develop their skills. However, traditional performance management systems are often bureaucratic and demotivating. Design thinking can help HR design a performance management system that is transparent, collaborative, and engaging. HR can start by defining the goals and objectives of performance management, then empathize with employees to understand their needs, wants, and pain points. Based on this research, HR can ideate solutions around real-time feedback, peer-to-peer recognition, or personalized development plans. The trends are pointing to such things as proactive paid-time-off before intense working periods, discussion opportunities to work through challenges, and trauma counselors to train managers on workplace conflict as well as to have the difficult conversations.  How might your organization empower employees to do their best work?


Design thinking is a powerful tool for HR and all leaders to create a better employee experience. By empathizing with employees, defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing, HR can design solutions that are human-centric, personalized, and effective. And by putting the employee at the centre of HR processes, organizations can create a culture of engagement, productivity, and innovation.  

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