Does your HR management struggle with designing effective human resource training? Read on to know how design-thinking hackathons in Human Resource training and development are taking the world of employee training by storm! 

In today’s thriving corporate world, the significance of human resources cannot be disregarded. Be it a burgeoning start-up or a mighty business group, human resource is an essential tool. Human resource training and development not only increases productivity but also ensures their long-term association with the organisation. However, these training sessions don’t always turn out to be fruitful. That happens primarily because the HR management holds these trainings as per what THEY think is useful for employees. Assuming what employees need or desire is equivalent to shooting darts while wearing blinders. There is a pressing need to improve the quality of these training sessions for more rewards to both parties.

Several organisations are also conducting ‘HR Hackathons’, a successful way to design effective training programmes. Since the core of employee learning and development lies in acquiring a deeper understanding of employees’ needs, these hackathons can be enhanced by applying the concept of Design Thinking – a human-centric approach to improving complex problems.  

Human Resource Training And Development with Design-Driven Hackathons: What’s It All About?

“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to.” 

Sir Richard Branson

Although the term gives an impression of some kind of a marathon of shady hackers who are trying to create a conspiracy to hack your computer systems, Hackathon is rather a powerful tool to create transformations. The term ‘Hackathon’ was first coined in the 1990s by a group of IT developers that referred to their collaboration of two days in which they strived to find and resolve vulnerabilities in the standard framework to secure IT communications on the internet. Today, the concept is being applied in various other fields including human resource training and development. The word “hackathon” is made out of the words “hacking” and “marathon,” where “hack” refers to a strategy to explore solutions while “marathon” signifies a long-lasting or difficult task or activity. 

Example of a Hackathon in Employee Learning And Development

The most recent company to start this quest to enhance the employee experience with a hackathon is DBS. A Singaporean banking and financial service corporation, DBS started holding hackathons in 2013. These hackathons aimed to teach bankers how to think and behave digitally. DBS released more than 50 new banking product prototypes during the hackathon. The company also applied these hackathons eventually to their HR department.

In 2017, DBS was the first bank in Southeast Asia to employ a hackathon in Singapore and India. The best participants in the hackathon sponsored by DBS received full-time job offers from DBS. The hackathons also found their way into the company’s internal HR management during the same year. According to the DBS management, the hackathon’s purpose was to make working for the company “more joyful” while also being open to revamping HR procedures.

With respect to employee learning and development, hackathons can be proven as a useful tool to enhance the candidate and employee experience while serving as a means of fostering deeper cross-functional capabilities. However, if not planned in a strategic way, hackathons could be a total waste of time and effort. 


human resource training and development and design driven hackathons5 Ways How Design-Driven Hackathons Can Be a Game Changer for Human Resource training and development 

To create an effective HR hackathon, HR management must apply design thinking to see the world from the perspective of an employee. Human resource management in various organisations are taking a forward-thinking attitude and are now using hackathons to reinvent their human resource training and development. A design-driven HR Hackathon can bring together HR professionals with internal business leaders and employees to brainstorm and prototype innovative and new training sessions for the employees. 

Design thinking brings a fresh perspective to HR Hackathons.  Employee learning and development with design thinking examines and provides innovative approaches to completely reimagine every area of training. It changes the conventional process-oriented model into employee-oriented model. This makes it possible to provide employees with customised learning solutions. 

The six steps of the design thinking process—empathising, defining, ideation, prototyping, testing, and scaling—are applied to the HR hackathons in the following ways:

  • Empathise With Your Employees 

Empathy is the cornerstone of design thinking because it allows us to focus on people and discover their dire needs. Don’t design human resource training and development programmes on the basis of what you think they need. Try to stand in their shoes and understand their pain points. 

For instance, some employees struggle to manage their bandwidth, making it difficult to survive in the organisation. Such experiences are very common in the workplace. However, they do not get highlighted often due to intimidation. As an effective HR management, your goal is to improve the employees’ experience. 

Before organising HR hackathons for employee learning and development, keep your employees’ experiences at the heart of the event. This design thinking approach to performance management would be a WIN-WIN situation for the employees and the organisation.

  • Ideate With Employees During HR Hackathons

HR Hackathon is an interactive session where different members of the workforce can come and brainstorm. The best way to make this hackathon more design-driven is to invite the employees themselves! Your present employees are the best source of data regarding organisational performance and requirements. They know what happens in the organisation and what, if anything, needs to be altered. They’ll be grateful for your interest and offer insightful advice on what may be improved or removed. 

HR management in several organisations struggle with less attendance at employee learning and development sessions. That’s because many employees find these sessions boring and of no use to them. When you invite them to the hackathons, the key is to let them know the intention behind the hackathon. Once your employees understand that it is to enhance their own experience, they will feel more engaged and entitled. With such entitlement, they must be willing to take out time from their busy schedules. During design-driven HR hackathons, one thing that most employees say is that they want the training from a subject-matter specialist. They often express how they’re curious to what is expected of them and why, and how to go about it. and how their supervisors should be trained so that they can have healthy communication with them. 

Also Read: How To Find the Right Talent using Design Thinking: Tips For Forward-Thinking Companies 

  •  Prototyping – Keeping Innovation at the Heart of the Hackathon

To keep innovating is not just about using the latest technologies during the hackathon. The innovation must come in terms of the quality of human resource training  and development programmes, including but not limited to, their content and methods of delivery during HR hackathons. 

In today’s time, human resource management in most organisations tries to take advantage of the tools that are already available, like slide projectors, whiteboards, and original versions of handouts. With advancements in technology, many use PowerPoint presentations to make it more “visually attractive”. However, when it comes to designing the best employee learning and development experience, most of the experts require help putting their subject-matter knowledge into an effective training and learning style. For instance, to assist in the creation of some kind of instructional manuals for your HR training, teachers from public schools can be hired. They understand how learners are going to perceive the guide and will design your instructional manuals in that way. 

  • Testing – Measure Results and Iterate

To ensure they continue to get the most value for their money, successful businesses track results. The easiest measures are the best; include them in your human resource training and development so that everyone is aware of what is expected. Some of these measures could be – the number of employees attending the hackathons, the impact on productivity of the employees, number of ideas generated in the hackathon, number of prototypes created etc. Each organisation will have its own set of parameters on which to judge their hackathon efforts.

While several experts in their craft come together during a brainstorming session in a design-driven hackathon, several new and fresh ideas might emerge from the discussion. What makes this interactive hackathon more lucrative for human resource training and development is the fact that it involves your end-users themselves, i.e., your employees. Throughout the discussion, you have the added advantage of gauging the reaction of your end users there and then, which will help you further design effective employee learning and development

  • Failing and Scaling – Organising Design-Driven Hackathons On A Regular Basis

Design-driven hackathons are surely a great way to design human resource training and development programmes. However, if you believe that a single set of such an event can help you design effective training programmes for life, that’s an unreal expectation. It may happen sometimes that even a design-driven hackathon may not be very fruitful in achieving your desired goals. In such cases, always remember that the concept of design thinking encourages failure. This means you can always go back and organise hackathons with the same people over and over again. Keep organising design-driven hackathons on a regular basis so that you can always be aware of what your employees actually need from your employee learning and development


employee learning and development and design driven hackathonsThe Bottom Line: Weave Employee Satisfaction Into Your Company’s Culture

Companies should think about adopting a “life-long learning” mindset that prioritises employee happiness. Celebrate successes and accomplishments. Inform everyone in your company when someone has finished their training and what that means for their possibilities for advancement. Promote your initiatives and participants internally by publishing their images and biographies and discussing them at all employee get-togethers and human resource training and development programs.

Design thinking is thought to be the solution to enable HR management to lead this alignment and overcome obstacles while keeping the workforce engaged and planning for the future.

About the author, Ajay Aggarwal

A Haryanvi by origin, an entrepreneur at heart and a consultant by choice, that’s how Ajay likes to introduce himself! Ajay is the Founding Partner at Humane Design and Innovation Consulting (HDI). Before starting HDI, Ajay founded the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG India. His 16+ years of professional career spans across various roles in product and service design, conducting strategy workshops, storytelling and enabling an innovation culture. He has coached 50+ organizations and 2000+ professionals in institutionalizing design and innovation practices. He loves to blog and speak on topics related to Design Thinking, Innovation, Creativity, Storytelling, Customer Experience and Entrepreneurship. Ajay is passionate about learning, writing poems and visualizing future trends!

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