Author Profile Picture

Marijn De Geus


Founder & CEO

Read more from Marijn De Geus

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

3 design thinking examples in soft skills training


When developing a training program in which you want to teach your employees a lot of new information within a short timeframe, there is a danger of ‘overwhelming’ your employees. The ‘overwhelmed employee’ is a concept well-known within HR. Employees that have been faced with too much new learning material to process will not be happy and certainly not productive. But there is a solution: Design thinking. Especially in learning and development, design thinking presents an opportunity to improve happiness and productivity at the same time! Let’s look at some examples:

1. A roadmap that starts with you!

Imagine landing an in-store job at a telecom company where the abundance of employees causes managers to spend as little time on onboarding new employees as possible. You get a ton of information and guidelines for operations, compliance and the vision of the company. “Please read in your free time, and be prepared for the next training session in 3 months!” Whelp! No, thanks!

No wonder that a similar Australian company saw two out of three in-store employees leave within their first two months at the job. They quickly realized that something had to change. The information for new employees is simply too much, too unspecific and impersonal. They started designing a training program that focused more on the needs of their employees. After observing staff members in their first few months on the job, a “roadmap” was created. This way, the required information and relevant skills were mapped and pinpointed to specific periods in time. Then, an app was created that made sure a new employee wasn’t faced with that enormous amount of new information, but offered new information and exercises at the time the employee needed them, more like a natural flow. This innovative implementation of design thinking made the traditional face-to-face forms of training redundant, and more important: new employees actually stayed!

2. Development at your disposal

A trainer can help to guide you, but you can also guide yourself. Someone might tell you: that’s wasn’t the smoothest of conversations. But most of the time, you already know this. By experiencing these type of difficult situations over and over and reflecting on them, you become more aware of what works in a conversation, and what doesn’t. This is heavily based on the concept of experiential learning (or learning in circles) by David Kolb. This theory contains 4 steps that are interesting to dive into.   

Design thinking will help you create an environment in which this type of learning becomes possible. By constructing a loop of doing and reflecting, training and feedback, the skill set of employees is strengthened. Design thinking focuses on the experiences of employees. This means that employees are handed solutions that match with situations they actually deal with on a regular basis.

Managers at Deloitte are actually using these insights to their advantage: Equipped with just their smartphone or tablet, they are able to train soft skills for a short period, just when they need them. After training in a quiet room without any spectators, these skills might be of use later in the same day, when presiding over a staff meeting for instance. That is a lot more effective than doing nothing until that periodical afternoon comes along where a class gets together for one-off practice. Good for the nerves as well!

3. Always adjust (and achieve!)

Back at Deloitte, they published a report about “the new organization” in 2016. In that report they mention that companies growing at a rate of over ten percent annually, are three to four times more ready to implement design thinking than their slower growing competitors.This doesn’t mean it is purely because of the implementation of design thinking, but it does show us something: to be successful, to make people productive, you need innovation at the top of your priority list and above all: the will to improve. Just like companies are striving for better customer experience without ever being completely satisfied, L&D should think the same way about the experience of their own employees. Keep trying new things! Implement new prototypes quickly and improve based on experiments. Kolb would be proud.

Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, took these insights and started developing a new onboarding program. Even though not everything within the program was fully completed, the feedback that came in on the pilot version made it possible to adjust and shape the program to what was desired. The goals that were set, were achieved as the program mainly resulted in an increase in productivity. And an even better indicator of the success of design thinking: new employees who successfully passed the program were able to maintain this higher level of productivity!

Want to read more about Deloitte’s experiences with video role plays? Download the case study!

One Response

Author Profile Picture
Marijn De Geus

Founder & CEO

Read more from Marijn De Geus

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!