How 2017 Became the Year of New Beginnings

December 31, 2017 This year has been a whirlwind of change for talent.imperative inc. We pivoted our services to incorporate design thinking as a way to shape impactful talent experiences for our client organizations. I couldn’t be more excited about its potential to transform our approach to talent.

Why design thinking? We live in an experience economy in which people shift from passive consumption to active participation. The same is true in the world of talent. The term “talent management” implies that the employee plays an inactive part in the process. 21st century talent feels empowered to take charge of their own journey with an organization – from the point of considering a company as an employer, a new employee’s first day, to their career development, and even their exit from the company. Managing the talent experience is becoming as important as managing the customer experience. Design thinking is a proven method that has successfully been applied to experience design.

As 2017 comes to a close I am pausing to celebrate all we have accomplished in bringing this new method into client organizations. Take a look at some of the highlights from our busy year:

I became a student of design thinking – powered by IDEO U and Northwestern University.

I caught the design thinking bug two years ago when I collaborated with a client’s innovation team on a Talent Acquisition Strategy project. Design thinking’s potential to be used in the talent space as a way to bring a more agile and creative way of solving complex workplace problems seemed a no-brainer to me.  I decided to invest in formalizing my own education of the method through IDEO U’s “Foundations in Design Thinking” certification. I was subsequently selected by IDEO U to participate as a coach in their 6-months fellowship program.Nicole Dessain IDEO U Design Thinking Certification

In addition, I am honored to have been asked to serve as a mentor in Northwestern’s Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change (MSLOC) brand-new “Designing for Organizational Effectiveness” certification program. The DOEC helps students translate theory into practice through a 12-month, living design case study. The design case results in students developing an innovative solution to an organizational effectiveness challenge.

And the best part? I finally get to work more with the incomparable Jeff Merrell who has become a mentor and a friend over the past two years.

We launched our very first online course to bring the power of design thinking to talent leaders.

Applying design thinking in the talent space is a brand new concept. Very few organizations have embraced it yet. And there are few resources where HR and talent leaders can learn how to unleash its power for workplace re-invention purposes.Skillshare Design Thinking 101 for Talent Leders Quote

That’s why we partnered with online learning platform Skillshare to offer an introductory course “Design Thinking 101 for Talent Leaders”. Since its launch in October, more than 100 students have taken the course. Want to join the community? If you enroll in the course by January 05, 2018, you can watch the 45 minute, “snackable” video lessons for FREE. [Note: You better hurry – there are only 10 free slots available!]


Scaling DisruptHR Chicago – hack that!

DisruptHR Chicago is my second, non-profit business I co-founded in 2016. It is an information exchange designed to energize, inform and empower HR leaders, business professionals, and community leaders who are interested in disruptive ideas and in moving our collective thinking forward when it comes to talent in the workplace.

HR Hackathon powered by DisruptHR ChicagoThe DisruptHR Chicago chapter was the first and remains the largest of the now more than 100 cities spanning DisruptHR franchise that organized as a 501(c)(3) educational not-for-profit organization.

In 2017 we introduced a new event format: HR Hackathon powered by DisruptHR Chicago. It is a forum for HR innovators to collaborate with a smaller number of peers by tackling a specific HR challenge in a design-thinking inspired, DisruptHR-style way. More than 100 attendees “hacked” two community challenges, employee engagement for Common Threads and diversity recruiting for Farmer’s Fridge, generating more than 50 ideas that everyone was able to take back to their organizations as inspiration.

Nicole Dessain Disrupt Milwaukee Design Thinking and Game of Thrones

I decided to swallow the pill we ask our Chicago speakers to take. My goal was to design and deliver a Disrupt-style talk myself in 2017. The good people of Disrupt Milwaukee were so kind to have me… Of course, it had to do with design thinking. And yes, I might have thrown in some Game of Thrones as well… Intrigued? Check it out here.



 HuffPost Blogger – storytelling at the intersection of strategy, culture, and talent.

In 2017 I became an official blogger for the HuffPost. I started to experiment with storytelling by interviewing talent and business leaders who had implemented innovative practices at the intersection of strategy, talent, and culture. My first stories featured five companies who have embraced design thinking, Sodexo’s employee alumni program, and Arity’s culture-first strategy.

My mission is to continue to shine a light on many of these untold stories that have the potential to inspire many more.

Launching a Chicago HR founders’ network – failing fast!

Every entrepreneur needs a trusted support network that you can fall back on for candid feedback, crying over a glass of wine, and testing your new ideas with in safe environment. Earlier this year, I reached out to four other founders in the Chicago area who all provide complimentary services in the human capital area. My hypothesis was that we could amplify our impact if we combined our brain power. I wasn’t sure what to expect but suffice to say we will continue to build on our collaboration in 2018. You can look forward to some exciting and innovative offering coming out of this.Chicago HR Founders Group Nicole Dessain

Make sure to connect with these powerhouse ladies: Megan McCann (Tech Staffing & Female Tech Mentoring), Elena Valentine (Video Job Descriptions), Heather Corallo (Agile HR), and Nancy Harris (D&I Coaching).

This is us at our year end design thinking inspired strategy session. No, we don’t embrace the concept of “serious play” at all…

Experimenting with new service offering – a launching pad into 2018.

As you might have guessed, we’ll be sticking with design thinking for a while… In 2017, we experimented with how best we can integrate it into our services. We collected feedback from our clients to identify what is really needed and missing in the marketplace.

We will be packaging this up and launching all our new offering (along with a new web site) in 2018. Want to stay on top what we are up to in 2018? Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and subscribe to our talent newsletter.

Or send me an email to discuss how we might help you become a design thinking superhero!


Pivoting your business and starting from a blank sheet of paper can be a scary albeit exciting thing. I have pondered the concept of courage a lot this past year. I have come to believe that courage means embracing and leaning into your own discomfort. These wise words by Brené Brown ring true for me: Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”



Nicole Dessain is a talent management and HR “nerd”. She loves to blow up long-held beliefs that stop us from preparing our organizations for the future of work. Nicole feels lucky to have had an amazing corporate HR and consulting career that she has recently turned into her own start-up, talent.imperative inc, a talent experience design consultancy. Her second, not-for-profit business, DisruptHR Chicago, was launched in 2016 and has inspired more than 1,100 HR and business leaders in the Chicago area. Nicole is a HuffPost contributor and collector of stories featuring innovators at the intersection of strategy, culture and talent. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or connect via Email.


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