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Ensure a Positive Candidate Experience When Hiring Contingent Talent Remotely

As digitization, coupled with the global pandemic, propels contingent hiring online and with more individuals relying on employer reviewer sites to evaluate businesses, delivering a positive[...]

March 10, 2021

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How Design Thinking Can Modernize Your Contingent Workforce Program

As we’ve been discussing throughout this year, digital technologies have undeniably shaped the future of business and society. Exponential technologies represent the prosperity and wellbeing the world will soon attain. And exponential organizations will be the catalysts and champions of these incredible boons. What makes this present shift unique, when compared to past breakthroughs, is that the emerging paradigm signals a convergence of digital and physical experiences. Rigid structures can no longer accommodate the elaborate interactions that will occur between technologies, stakeholders and talent categories in a given workplace. Those enterprises prepared to adopt a design thinking approach may find themselves better positioned to respond quickly to changing business dynamics while building a culture that thrives.

The Design Behind Design Thinking

Around 1969, Herbert A. Simon published his book The Sciences of the Artificial, which laid the groundwork for the concept of design thinking. This aesthetic and creative way of shaping a designer’s cognitive abilities to the application of the design process was retooled in the early 1990s as a new business philosophy, mostly related to the design engineering aspects of the booming tech industry. Instead of relying on the analytical approach of the scientific method -- a deconstructive means for breaking down and resolving problems -- design thinking encourages synthesis. It’s solutions-based and solution-focused.

Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking seeks to identify a goal, such as a sustainable future outcome, rather than an issue that needs fixing. It builds on ideas, diverse perspectives and brainstorming. It’s chaos-tolerant and supportive, intended to solicit input and participation while reducing the fear of failure. And that’s extremely important to the success of today’s business cultures.

Applying Design-Based Mindsets to the Modern Workplace

To innovate and progress, companies have realized that they need elasticity, diversity, openness and a sense of entrepreneurialism that infuses all the talent in the organization -- not just the executives responsible for developing the corporate vision. In short, creative mavericks and risk takers are essential throughout the rank-and-file. However, as author Kathryn Schulz wrote in her book Being Wrong, society may be creating a generation of people who are terrified to fail.

“In our collective imagination, error is associated not just with shame and stupidity but also with ignorance, indolence, psychopathology, and moral degeneracy.” The horror of not being perfect, combined with “modern modes of parenting and schooling obsessed with narrow versions of academic and career success” are making youth utterly risk-averse.

This is where design thinking shines. Not only does it work to simplify the increasingly complex interactions people must have with technology, intricate processes and non-traditional employment structures -- it does so through principles that emphasize empathy, prototyping and tolerance for failure. Harvard Business Review believes it’s “the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

The Design-Centric Business Model

“There’s a shift under way in large organizations, one that puts design much closer to the center of the enterprise,” explained Jon Kolko in his 2015 examination of design thinking for Harvard Business Review. “But the shift isn’t about aesthetics. It’s about applying the principles of design to the way people work.” At its core, design thinking promotes four tenets:

  • The human rule -- all design activity is ultimately social in nature.
  • The ambiguity rule -- design thinkers must preserve ambiguity.
  • The redesign rule -- all design is redesign.
  • The tangibility rule -- making ideas tangible facilitates communication.

These ideals, despite their origin, transcend aesthetics and craft. We can apply the fundamental aspects of the philosophy to managing a blended workforce.

  • The human rule. Building a talent culture based on empathy, emotional needs, professional aspirations, business objectives and socialized communication. Equally paramount, they create nurturing and risk-tolerant environments where suppliers and talent can share ideas and innovative concepts openly, without facing censure or blame.
  • The ambiguity rule. Because they’re not delivering a physical product, and because people are diverse, staffing leaders understand that individuals don’t conform to absolutes or statistical estimates; they focus on potential, alignment with the mission and hiring for fit, then developing skills.
  • The redesign rule. The best talent acquisition leaders commit themselves to ongoing continuous improvement initiatives, realizing that workforce programs are dynamic, changing and evolving.
  • The tangibility rule. Through communications planning, data analysis and advanced reporting tools, staffing providers and hiring managers can transform conceptual program qualities like worker performance into realistic and measurable value.

Two years ago, Jon Kolko heralded the coming arrival of design thinking as the evolution of today’s business planning. However, as things now move at exponential rates, design-centric paradigms have changed, too. Consider a recent article by Mark Newcomer in The Next Web, in which he observes how even the design mindset must adjust to keep pace with accelerating technology.

There are still many digital properties to build: websites, mobile apps, VR experiences. But building next-generation digital experiences will be more about physical and digital convergence than standalone pieces or Digitally Enabled Physical Experiences (DEPE), surrounding, full room interactions that will require agencies to have different skills sets and the ability to think way beyond the screen.

We’re talking about new roles and new talent. “Experience architects” to engineer the user experience. Behavioral signatures, such as speech and motion patterns, replacing cookies for online interactions. The move from writing programs to planting the seeds for cognitive computing -- programs that think on their own, not merely progress through linear orders. So if we’re going to need this kind of talent to ensure the future success of our businesses, we also need to adopt a similar design-based approach to talent acquisition and management.

Designing the Modern Workforce with Design Thinking

Emphasizing User Experiences

In a design-centric program model, the value proposition doesn’t just focus on utility, it incorporates the emotional value that stakeholders stand to gain. Outsourced contingent workforce engagements deliver cost savings, visibility into performance and spend, risk reduction, enhanced cycle times, forecasting and more. However, there’s also an emotional component. Use of an outsourced staffing curator alleviates the burden of overseeing large teams of contractors for the organization’s staff. Process optimization allows time-strapped hiring managers to concentrate on their core tasks of growing the business, running their departments and strategizing on competitive innovations to continue driving profits and progress.

The initial phases of discovery are perfect opportunities to engage and observe all client stakeholders to gauge their behaviors and draw conclusions about what they want and need. These observations translate to robust quality service delivery programs, which demonstrate how the staffing entity meets or surpasses expectations and contractual commitments. SLAs are created, tracked and managed. Customized scorecards are developed, monitored and reported on. Compliance audits recur at defined intervals to promote visibility and collaboration. And stakeholder satisfaction is frequently polled and reviewed through continuous communication and formal reviews.

During onboarding, staffing curators can capitalize on understanding and satisfying the needs of the talent, using the same empathetic approach. Today’s professionals expect socialization. It’s no longer a luxury for recruitment professionals, it’s a must. Talk to prospective candidates -- both active and passive -- to identify talent who will be suitable for current and future positions with the client. Engage candidates and compel them to discuss their backgrounds, skills, qualifications, accomplishments, work experiences and career goals first. Recognize the efforts, contributions and achievements of your talent. Schedule time to meet with them and talk.


“Design thinking, first used to make physical objects, is increasingly being applied to complex, intangible issues, such as how a customer experiences a service,” Kolko noted. Staffing providers don’t need to construct physical models to represent forward-thinking solutions. Partner with hiring managers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the desired positions and skills for the program: how they relate to the work, how they fit the client’s culture, how they can shape sourcing initiatives and how they will encourage the right candidates to apply.

The datasets collected in VMS or other talent acquisition software will provide a treasure trove of information and analytics that can be used to forecast demands, usage and financial considerations for near-term and long-term planning.

  • Establish a governance structure for program implementation.
  • Carefully define roles, schedule business reviews, create issue identification and resolution processes, and involve key stakeholders in planning sessions.
  • Use automated tools and online platforms to encourage collaboration.
  • Define critical milestones and the metrics for measuring progress.
  • Rely on past lessons learned to anticipate roadblocks and easily overcome them.
  • Customize the transition for the client’s specific needs, objectives, program requirements and culture.

From the design perspective, we can also begin to conceptualize future structures and solutions.

  • Carefully follow employment, market and industry trends -- both for the staffing market and the client’s sector.
  • Don’t just discuss immediate program needs with clients, really delve into their pain points. Gain an understanding of where they are and where they want to be long term.

Tolerating Chaos

As Kolko pointed out, “A design culture is nurturing. It doesn’t encourage failure, but the iterative nature of the design process recognizes that it’s rare to get things right the first time.” Every organization wants to find Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, however savvy staffing curators focus on finding Mr. or Mrs. Right -- successful and winning performers who, while they might not satisfy all criteria on a wish list, can be trained to excel in new areas.

When we talk about tolerating failure, we’re really discussing the construction of a talent culture that’s open, supportive, receptive to feedback and welcomes new ideas without rebuke. A design-centric program encourages fresh perspectives, thoughts for innovation, the pursuit of new discoveries and feedback. It’s a place where stakeholders can take social risks without losing face or experiencing punitive repercussions.

  • Solicit input from hiring managers, offering transparent communications about objectives, opportunities and challenges.
  • Remain close to client advocates, creating opportunities to keep them engaged and informed, and provide guidance when necessary.
  • Hold regular performance meetings to recognize achievements, course correct identified weaknesses, gain new insights for optimizing the program, and more.

Design thinking is an essential tool for simplifying and humanizing the heightened levels of complexity affecting all modern workforces. Industry juggernauts such as IBM and GE have already realized the benefits of this approach; however, organizations of any size can seize the advantages.

“Adopting this perspective isn’t easy,” Kolko concluded, “but doing so helps create a workplace where people want to be, one that responds quickly to changing business dynamics and empowers individual contributors. And because design is empathetic, it implicitly drives a more thoughtful, human approach to business.”

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley thought leader, speaker, motivator, and the visionary behind the groundbreaking Crowdstaffing ecosystem. Blending vision, technology, and business skills, he is transforming the talent acquisition landscape and the very nature of work. Prior to launching Crowdstaffing, Sunil honed his skills and experience as a business leader for companies such as IBM, EMC, and Symantec. "We need to think exponentially to mindfully architect the future of humanity, civilization, and work. When we collaborate and work together, everyone prospers."
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