How I apply design thinking to change management and how you can, too.
Earlier this year, I was interviewed by David Holley, the national correspondent at Xconomy, and he wrote about my transformation through fitness and entrepreneurship. About a month later, Eli Wood, one of Voltage Control’s master facilitators, led a group of local CTOs and me through an exploration on purpose. During this exercise, fueled by the reflections from David’s interview, it became apparent that my life’s work has been about change and transformation.
You could say I’m a change junkie; I love continuous improvement, and I’m always curious to reveal inefficiencies and find a way to improve. When I look back, I see that all my career choices have been about change management strategies at some level. And now, as a facilitator, I’m helping companies through change every day.
The topic of change also drove the creation of my first book, Beyond the Prototype: A roadmap for navigating the fuzzy area between ideas and outcomes. (I’m excited to share that it will be available September 12, 2019.) Beyond the Prototype is a field guide that picks up the Design Sprint story where Jake Knapp left off. I wrote the book because, after running Design Sprints for companies both large and small, I found one common truth: while Sprints create lots of momentum and reveal the path forward, few companies are able to execute on the post-Sprint journey successfully.
That’s because the path after a Sprint isn’t as prescriptive or precise. It’s a gray area. It’s fuzzy. In this gap between ideas and execution, things can grind to a halt or worse, fall apart. I wrote Beyond the Prototype to help bridge the gap from ideation to execution so that you don’t find yourself looking back at the results of your Sprint wondering if you’ll ever take action on them.
Change management strategies & transformation
My approaches are rooted in change management and transformation philosophy. Change takes patience and commitment; you cannot expect to flip a switch and see things metamorphose before your eyes. It’s often the case that you work, toil, and exhaustively-pursue change. Only then does it seems to happen “overnight” as if by magic. Change is akin to a social movement within your company. There has to be a tipping point, and enough momentum has to build for the entire system to give way.
Change is akin to a social movement within your company. There has to be a tipping point and enough momentum has to build in order for the entire system to give way.
This process can take a long time, and many complicating factors can arise along the way. We must be resilient and pliable (aka agile) so that we can embrace the unexpected in our change initiative. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we opposed change while trying to implement it?
“The idea of VUCA has since been embraced by leaders in all sectors of society to describe the nature of the world in which they operate: the accelerating rate of change (volatility), the lack of predictability (uncertainty), the interconnectedness, of cause-and-effect forces (complexity) and the strong potential for misreads (ambiguity).” — From “Understanding the Challenges of a VUCA Environment” by Brigadier General George Forsythe, Karen Kuhla and Daniel Rice
Continuous transformation is the idea of continually scanning and probing to uncover organizational incongruencies and unmet needs. Just as we manage our products, so must we manage our organization and how we build products. While strategy and purpose are paramount, if we don’t focus inward on the “how” we will never reach out desired outcomes. There are countless articles and books on change management principles, innovation, and organizational strategy, but in this article, I’d focus on the primary driver of change: the employee.
Let’s consider three elements of the employee experience that are my top change management principles: Structure, Incentives, and Story.
My Three Change Management Principles
As Safi Bahcall author of Loonshots says, “If culture eats strategy for breakfast, structure eats strategy for lunch.” Structure is not only how your org chart looks but also how people interact and the architectures that emerge. Often, without the correct team structure in place, change can’t happen.
Conway’s Law tells us that: “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” Named after a computer programmer, Conway’s Law is the belief that your organizational structure will determine the type of products you’re able to produce. That’s because existing architecture is hard to shift. This is where some companies struggle with culture change. You can’t simply move desks or change up the office floor plan and expect innovation. More systemic structural changes are likely necessary. You may have to restructure thing like: how your group is formed, how reporting works, or how teams communicate and collaborate to support the new vision you’ve laid out.
It’s crucial that you discover and empower the people in your organization that are hungry to support your change initiatives.
Another thing to consider is identifying the change agents within your team. Who can be your catalysts, your allies, your intrapreneurs? Discover and empower the people in your organization who are hungry to support your change initiatives, both current and emergent. Empower these people to go forth, do things differently, and help spread the word.
Try This: Stakeholder Mapping
Stakeholder Mapping is one activity you can do to start reflecting on the people who should (and shouldn’t) be involved in your change initiative and how. Check out this article for a good intro and explanation of how to do it.
Another critical change management step is determining incentives. When you’re trying to inspire employees to champion your innovation initiative, be aware of what’s in it for them. What can you do to excite your team and make them feel like the process is beneficial for them as well as the larger organization? I encourage companies to find ways to align the projects with what employees are looking for — personal growth, professional growth, building new skills. Let your team know that they’ll be getting something out of this change too. The company will change and grow, and they will grow and change positively as well.
In design work, we often plot out our user’s journey and think of the ways we can delight them at every moment with our product or services. What if we did the same for our internal team? Plot out your project plan and deliberately plan the milestones, moments of reflection, and moments to celebrate and pause on your big journey.
Try This: Empathy Mapping
Empathy Mapping is typically done for our end-users, but employees and internal teams working on a critical initiative are users too. Treat employees with the same respect and uncover their essential needs and wants to better design a path forward that responds to these desires. Do an Empathy Mapping exercise to uncover what your employees or colleagues need, want, and do.
The third and final aspect of change management that I’ve found to be invaluable is the story. How are you telling the story of your project or initiative to your team, key stakeholders, or company at large? Without deliberately, and continuously, crafting that story, things can get away from you. As part of your change management strategy, decide early on how and when you will communicate the status and progress of your project: is there a regular email? A website that gets updated? An informative blog post with pictures and links? An all-company Slack? Think about the best ways to share the ups-and-downs of your work with others and be open to hearing feedback coming from the outside as well.
The reason story and narrative is so important to change is that the biggest cause of internal resistance is ambiguity. Ambiguity is unavoidable in projects, but it is controllable. Knowing this, plan for uncertainty and build ways to combat it where possible. Set clear expectations about project scope, milestones, the process, and desired outcomes.
Try This: Guardian of Change
Guardian of Change allows you to quickly facilitate and get the group to agree on what they are going to tell their superiors and other stakeholders. Through this activity, you create an elevator pitch, your super-short summary of what was accomplished during a meeting or workshop. Learn more at MGRush.
Let’s talk about change management strategies.
Voltage Control offers innovation consulting, design sprint facilitation, and design thinking training. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk.