Ep 202 – Design Thinking to Drive Organizational Transformation

At the SHRM 2019 annual conference, I attended a session on HR Transformation Led by Employee Experience. Using a case study on an HR Transformation project for a Brazilian company that challenged its HR function to evolve from service providers to experience designers, the presenters covered the journey that begins with organizational purpose and the employee value proposition, through company leadership’s role in identifying areas for improvement using data, to how to engage your workforce by promoting a human-centered culture and transformation through agile and design thinking.

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Episode 202: Using Design Thinking to Drive Organizational Transformation & Culture 

Today I’m joined by the session presenters Oliver Kamakura, Partner, Ernst & Young. I’ve talked in length on the podcast about design thinking and I heard Oliver present and talk about application for workplaces and employees to drive innovation and creative thinking and problem solving. HR says Oliver has a unique opportunity to drive organizational change and transformation. He sees that companies are facing complex workforce scenarios in workforce management and talent management. Oliver shares that internal factor factors, as well as external factors such as like generation differences of the digital transformation are impacting on business models. HR has a unique point of view that they understand these from all angles. It’s up to us to really drive the changes and change the perceptions of how HR helps organizations with these changes.

Design Thinking’s Role in Transformational Change

Design thinking and their framework plays an important part in making sure that everyone is involved in this fundamental business shift because without the people behind the change, it simply won’t happen. Oliver shares that this includes leaders and employees too which is why Ernest and Young focused so much on focus group meetings and conversations designed to gather employee feedback and help drive ideas and discussion to make meaningful organizational change with HR at the helm.

Oliver says that it’s the small data that really matters which is collected in these focus groups, surveys and other employee conversations they gathered. This small data seems to go against what many pundits are saying about how big data will save us. Oliver shares that he classifies small data as a person to person approach and uses the larger data sets and information to help guide and play a role in the transformation. It’s the smaller data with the design thinking framework that allows them to dive deeper. He says of using design thinking to drive change, “We use design elements to welcome people, to make them feel and based on empathy concepts, let then contribute for the good.”

The Role of Empathy in Culture and Workplace Change

The design thinking methodology talks a lot about empathy which really aligns with the role of HR as agents of culture as well as ensuring that employees are happy, productive, and engaged. Why is empathy so important? Oliver tells me without empathy, it’s hard for people  to feel welcome and collaborate. He says that without it your employees are on edge and insecure with the feelings that things about their job and the workplace are constantly changing.


We often talk about putting the human back into human resources, and Design Thinking is a natural progression for doing just that. Marcelo and Oliver presented a case study on transformational change that worked with a global company and I think HR leaders can learn from the application of these ideas to help push innovation and culture programs within their own organizations.

Connect with Oliver Kamakura.


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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