Kate O’Halloran is an accomplished human resource practitioner with a passion for people and culture. She is shaking up the HR sector by helping clients challenge the status quo and design new employee and customer experiences.

Why are organisations embracing design thinking to create a positive employee experience?

Just as many switched-on companies have realised that improving their customer experience (CX) gives them a competitive advantage, they recognise that a positive employee experience can also have a huge impact on their success. Put simply, if you look after your employees they are happier at work. This has a positive impact on their level of engagement, they are more likely to exert greater discretionary effort and are more inclined to speak highly of the company.

Employees are an extension of company branding with the potential to positively impact customers and the company’s reputation in the market place. This is vital for companies keen to attract high calibre candidates, and I don’t know a company that wouldn’t be.  


How can managers take the lead in incorporating design thinking?

At the heart of design thinking is a human-centred approach. When managers and leaders adopt this approach, they think about people’s needs first, technological enablers next and business needs last. By taking this empathic view, they gain a fresh perspective and open their minds to solutions not previously considered.

Why is diversity of thought and collaboration important to shaping the employee experience?

Traditionally there was an expectation that managers or leaders should be able to answer questions or solve problems immediately. This limits the solution to their experience and their assumptions. If we use a Design-Thinking approach and seek further insights, or collaborate with a wider group, we use experiences and insights from a more diverse group and can identify trends in the data.

It’s important to consider that the employee experience is more than one aspect of starting a job. It’s a series of touchpoints within an organisation that contribute to a cumulative experience.

For example, from the employee’s point of view, a job ad or interview leads to recruitment which extends to security checks, reference checks, employment offer, wage negotiations etc. Next is the first day – where do they go? Who do they first speak to? Is it security? Reception? What about a security pass? Do they need to interact with IT? Is their computer or laptop ready? What about a car? Procurement and fleet management? Do they need to speak with corporate services? And that is just the first hour!

There are multiple components that create an employee experience, to design or manage it in isolation with little collaboration limits its potential. Every single one of us has started a new job and most of us recall a first-day horror story or a first-day success story. This is valuable information. Harness it!

Every single one of us has started a new job and most of us recall a first-day horror story or a first-day success story. This is valuable information. Harness it!
— Kate O'Halloran, G2 Innovation

What are the biggest obstacles in adopting design thinking?

Applying the tools and techniques immediately. One of the best ways to adopt the methodologies is to start small rather than waiting for a major project. Just like exercising a muscle, the more you use Design Thinking the easier it becomes. I’ve heard people who’ve been in a training session with us say, “This will be really useful next month when ‘Project A’ starts.” My recommendation is to start applying it from day one. Even without an immediate work project, applying it to day-to-day life provides opportunities to practise the tools and build your Design Thinking strength.

Another obstacle can be people. Team, project members or other managers can be resistant as things change from ‘the way they’ve always been done around here’ to a new way of operating. By using a Design Thinking approach with a human focus we bring people on the journey. We test things early with people and change tack quickly to ensure our direction or solution is the right one. If it isn’t, we swiftly adjust again.

How can managers use Design Thinking to have effective one-on-one meetings with employees? 


If a manager approaches a one-on-one meeting with employees with empathy they consider their needs, frustrations, insecurities and wants. It allows them to see their individual strengths and challenges and provide feedback, recognition, set goals and allocate work based on the employee’s unique attributes. An employee who feels understood by their manager has their needs met, feels able to discuss frustrations and feels more engaged and valued at work. 

What is the key to developing thriving employees?

Thriving employees feel supported in the workplace. They feel appreciated, valued and appropriately challenged. A manager who operates with a human-centred focus understands the unique  struggles and strengths of individual employees and allows them to build on those strengths while supporting them to work on individual areas of growth. Helping employees see growth as positive empowers them to adopt a growth mindset, creating a foundation with the potential to thrive.  

A human-centred manager will also recognise generational and cultural subtleties in behaviour, seeing them as opportunities for diverse perspectives that should be celebrated and drawn out for the greater good.   

Lastly, how do you measure the success of your design thinking journey?

As you become more adept at using the tools you find yourself thinking about all sorts of challenges from a Design-Thinking perspective. I’ve caught myself thinking about the way my kids make (or why they don’t make!) their beds from a Design Thinking perspective and taken steps to address it.  

In teams there is a palpable cultural shift and change of mindset. You see dialog shift from blame to human centred with a view to ‘why is this happening?’ and ‘how can we change this?’. the old catch cry of ‘we’ve always done it like that’ disappears and using the tools demonstrates that the Design Thinking methodology has infiltrated the team environment. 

Want to know how to create engaging employee experiences for your organisation? Take a look a Innovating People and Culture.

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