2 Thinking Strategies to Adopt in the Workplace

2 Thinking Strategies to Adopt in the Workplace

Published 31st January 2017
Sara R Moulton

Editor of HQ Asia

Published 31st January 2017

While design thinking and human-centered thinking stem from the same ideology, HQ Asia Editor, Sara Moulton, takes the view that being human-centered is employee-focused while design thinking is user or client-focused. Read on for how companies can apply both to their businesses.

In this year’s cover story for HQ Asia, we explained that the future of work can only improve through the rapid adoption of technology. I shared thoughts around how automation has already helped us -- from AI assistants like Siri on the iPhone to self-checkout at the grocery store. There’s another step to this though – innovations and revised processes need to be people-first, not company-first. We would benefit from asking ourselves, What do we want our future to look like?

Below are two types of thinking that companies can incorporate when planning for their employees and for their client strategy.


An aspect of employee engagement that is sometimes overlooked is the emotions of the employees. Much has been written about productivity and how data analytics can be used to up engagement. However we must keep in mind the humans who show up to work each day, who sit at the desks and contribute to a company’s success.

This idea can be further supported by Peter Cheese, CIPD’s Chief Executive, in a recent article. He wrote: “But productivity of itself as a goal can’t be the only thing. We have so long driven almost solely by economic output, profit and short-term goals that the human at work has too often been rather lost.”

What’s one way to recover this? Companies can start to look at themselves as trainers. Ask what skills would best benefit my team? If I had to retrench X and Y employee, what skill(s) from their toolbox would be most attractive to their next employer?

“Organsations need to see they have a duty of care to their people….” explains Cheese.

HR practitioners can adopt a human-centered approach when planning for professional development. Along with looking at how to develop skill sets that will help employees perform their jobs better for the company, also look at how HR can best benefit the employee. While there’s a risk that the employee may leave eventually, organisations can raise employee engagement by intentionally providing for employee welfare.

A focus on productivity and bottom line matters, but so does making human-centered decisions based on continually improving well-being.

Design Thinking

Design thinking, made popular by Stanford’s d.school, is “a process—applicable to all walks of life—of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems,” explains Kaan Turnali, Global Senior Director at SAP and Forbes contributor. Examples of the opposite of this definition exist in day-to-day life in the office: pitches that don’t quite grab the audience, startups that create apps that solve an unimportant problem, and MNCs creating products that no longer appeal to their audience.

Design thinking focuses on three aspects of a product or solution: people, technology, and business. And always client first. Here at the Human Capital Leadership Institute, I’ve learned the importance of design thinking. While creating an e-learning module, I missed the first step of design thinking, which is to empathise with the user. Rather than look at how our readers and users interact with our platforms, we developed a module based on specs we thought we should have.

Another tool we would’ve benefited from using is to design in iterative loops, which means to build, test, incorporate feedback and then keep repeating the cycle of build, test, adjust.

Here’s an example of a well-known company who did it right by adapting design thinking principles: Pizza Hut.

In her book Pacing for Growth, Allison Eyring-- an organisational psychologist – highlights how Pizza Hut turned around their business. In 1996, David Novak joined the leadership team. Pizza Hut was losing market share to Papa John’s, and they would see spikes in business when new products were debuted but then there would be a dip.

Here’s how Novak used the design thinking method: he met with field operators and asked them what Pizza Hut should do to move in the right direction. Along with using customer data, he and the COO built a plan to improve operations at Pizza Hut restaurants within three years.

“The key to sustainable growth in fast food, he told colleagues, was to win on quality and customer experience,” Eyring explains. Nowadays, Pizza Hut has the highest average volumes and profit per store in the industry.

Wondering how you can incorporate these two strategies into your organisation? Here are two ways to implement:

1. Incorporate design thinking into your work.

Stanford’s d.school defines the method as:

  • Empathise

  • Define

  • Ideate

  • Prototype

  • Test

2. Be mindful of unconscious bias.

This means to not assume that employees develop the same way that the HR manager in charge does. To not assume that your peers think and feel the same way you do. It can even extend to hiring and the network you surround yourself within your organisation.

While human-centered thinking and design thinking may derive from the same ideology, companies can increase their engagement with both clients and employees by applying these two methods, by putting themselves in the shoes of their customers and their employees.


1. Eyring, A. (2017). Pacing for Growth, 27.

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