How to Promote Your Design Thinking Program
any leaders talk about wanting innovative teams, but few are able to actually create a culture where innovation flourishes. The essential first step is to implement a human centred design (a.k.a design thinking) training program. This will give your teams the mindset and skills necessary to innovate. If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’ve already done just that (hopefully with the LUMA Institute!).
But unless your leadership team is able to promote the new program effectively, no long term change can take place. Putting a few new posters on the walls just doesn't cut it. If you want your innovation training efforts to actually change the way your teams work, it’s essential to understand and leverage how your teams think.
Johnathan Haidt of the University of Virginia has a lovely metaphor to explain how people's minds work. He suggests that inside of everyone’s head lives an elephant with a human rider atop it. The elephant represents the emotional side of one's brain, while the rider is the rational side.
In theory, the rider should be able to direct the elephant wherever he wants - after all, the reins are in his hands. In practice, however, the elephant has the final say due to its overwhelming size. If the elephant can't, or won't, take the steps along the path, the rider will never get anywhere.
Chip and Dan Heath use this analogy in their excellent change management framework. In order to create lasting change, they claim you must:
- Direct the Rider (the rational side of your workforce) by providing crystal-clear direction.
- Motivate the Elephant (the emotional side of your workforce) by engaging people's emotions.
- Shape the Path by creating an environment where change becomes the easiest way forward.
Using this framework, we can create a straightforward but effective promotion plan that instills design and innovation into your company culture. Below, you'll find a strategic framework, along with a dozen tactical tips, you can use to move your organisation towards a culture of innovation.
Direct the Rider
To change the way your team acts, you must first convince the rational side of their minds that innovation is not only possible, but required. There are three vital elements to this:
#1: Find the Bright Spots
Organisations that have successfully completed an innovation transformation all start at the same place: by finding success stories. These might come in the form of new products, particular projects, or even internal facing programs that have created a positive impact.
Your first task is to identify, collect, and share these stories out with the organisation as a whole. They might be large or small, the scale isn’t important right now. The key is simply to demonstrate that innovation is already happening in pockets of your organisation. This in turn can persuade the rational part of people's minds that change is possible. You have to first show people that innovation is already taking place internally before you can expect them to start innovating themselves.
In the unlikely case you're unable to find success stories within your organization, you might consider guest speakers to lend credence to your argument. This can work in the short term to help people see how innovation can be done, but is not a sustainable long-term strategy for creating change.
Tactical Next Step: Talk to your management teams and identify examples to champion throughout the rest of the change process. Begin collecting text, photos, and videos of these success stories to share at later stages. Ideally, you’ll be able to find both quantitative and qualitative metrics to demonstrate the impact of the project.
#2: Script the Critical Moves
As the Heath brothers point out, "people may look like they're resisting change when they actually have no clue how to change". The best way to get people to work in a more innovative fashion is to give them a step by step manner of doing so.
In order to script the critical moves, the key is to integrate the methods of human-centred design into your existing processes. If you ask your teams to change everything about how they work, their rational minds will become overloaded and analysis paralysis will set in. Instead, show them how they can integrate innovative practices into their existing workflows to give them concrete actions to advance innovation.
Tactical Next Steps: First, identify an innovation system that can be integrated into your workforce's diverse set of processes. I am perhaps biased since I work there, but The LUMA Institute's System of Innovation is the easiest way to integrate design into your existing workflows.
Second, map the integration for your team. For example, if you have a team using Six Sigma techniques, you can map the LUMA methods against the Six Sigma process like so. Alternatively, if you're running AGILE teams, you can map the LUMA methods like so. In all cases, the goal is to create a common language of innovation that anyone in your organisation can easily pick up and begin using, regardless of how they typically work.
#3: Point to the Destination
The last element required to persuade the rational side of your teams' minds is to point to the end destination. You need to paint a compelling vision of where you are heading, and why you’re heading there, if you aim to persuade people to work in new ways.
Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is through large-scale in-person events, like town-halls. During these town halls, your leadership team should put forward a compelling story explaining why design and innovation are essential to the continued success of the firm. Then, you’ll need to explain in clear language what you hope to achieve. If you’ve already created a communications strategy plan, this should be relatively straightforward. These visions will be company specific, but one example might include rallying around becoming the most customer-centric company in your industry. Aim to regularly showcase how you are progressing towards this vision every quarter at future town-halls.
A quick note here: outside of in-person events, use digital messaging to tailor your message to the specific audiences (e.g. departments, roles, etc). Mass emails are rarely read, let alone persuasive.
Tactical Next Step: Identify the next large scale event where you can pitch a compelling narrative of how design can help your company become more innovative. Use resources like the "Business Value of Design" report from McKinsey or any relevant Harvard Business Review articles as assets.
Motivate the Elephant
As the Heath brothers point out, you cannot analyse your way to change. Alongside your efforts to convince people's rational minds, it's essential to also cater to their emotions. Here are three methods of doing just that:
#1: Find the Feeling
The first step is to identify the feeling that will motivate your teams to change. Perhaps it’s the excitement of trying something new, perhaps it's the competitive feeling to best the competition, or perhaps it’s the satisfaction that will arise in your staff once they are better able to achieve your company’s mission. Once you've identified the key emotions you aim to trigger, creatively identify ways to connect your new design program to them. Additionally, create consistency in your messaging by incorporating language around those emotions in all of your communications going forward.
Tactical Next Step: There are many ways to do this. For example, let's say you want to elicit "pride" as a key emotion. One way to do that would be through leadership recognition. You might create awards or prizes for those who successfully adopt innovative mindsets and behaviours. The rewards could be a public platform (e.g. getting a chance to present to the executive committee) or public praise (e.g. leadership personally presenting the award at your next town-hall). Either way, your goal is to engage people on an emotional level.
#2: Shrink the Change
Large scale change can be scary. To reduce this fear, try to shrink the scale of the change so that it doesn't feel like a complete upheaval of everything your team is already used to.
One way to do this is through lunch and learn sessions. These short 1-2 hour sessions are an opportunity for your team to learn and practice new techniques in a safe environment. They might be role or task focused (e.g. "Engaging with Your Customers" helping your sales team innovate in their approach or "Leading a Human-Centred Feedback Sessions" for managers). It’s often useful to target these efforts towards those who you think will be predisposed to find value in them to begin with. In other words: search for early adopters and innovators and begin shrinking the change for them first before you aim to do the same for the rest of the organization.
If your team is primarily distributed, you might instead consider short webinars that are recorded and shared with a wider audience. The goal is to make innovation feel accessible and achievable by your team, rather than something that is left to people with "Innovation" in their job titles.
Tactical Next Step: Identify design champions within your organisation who can lead these sessions. In collaboration with them, determine a set of topics and a schedule of events. Ensure there's a casual atmosphere to these sessions by making attendance strictly voluntary and providing snacks.
#3: Grow Your People
The last piece of the emotional puzzle is to help integrate innovation in your teams' conception of themselves. Ideally, they should consider "innovation" a key aspect in their professional identity. To accomplish this, they should see innovation as a vital avenue to continued growth at your company.
One way to achieve this is by making "human centred design" a formal piece of performance evaluations. This ensures that everyone in your company links "innovation" with their career and personal growth. By attaching promotions and compensation to applied innovation skills, you'll ensure innovation becomes part and parcel of what makes your company unique.
Alternatively, you can consider giving swag to those who either complete design thinking training or otherwise apply design thinking skills internally. One client of mine even created hoodies and laptop stickers with "I am a Design Thinker" on them to help participants of design workshops feel like they had joined an exclusive in-group.
Tactical Next Step: Gather your leadership team together to discuss how you might incorporate particular metrics into your annual performance reviews. This can get tricky - if you'd like a helping hand, shoot me an email at kash [at] luma-institute.com
Shape the Path
As you persuade people's rational minds and engage their emotional sides, the final step is to shape the environment around them so that working innovatively becomes second nature. Here are three strategies to accomplish that:
#1: Tweak the Environment
The most literal way to shape the path is to tweak the physical and digital environments in which your teams work. You want working in an innovative manner to become the easy default, rather than the conscious choice.
Tweaking the digital environment is often easier than the physical, so I suggest you start there. You might start by adding innovation and design content to your intranet. You can include resources, tips and tricks, and success stories to normalise the "new normal" of innovation. You can and should also create digital community gathering points that enable interested parties to connect across your organisation (more on this shortly).
Unfortunately, digital tweaks will only provide incremental benefits. For transformative results, you must tweak the physical environment as well. If you're short on time and money, you can begin to achieve this by leaving the tools of design in all of your meeting rooms. Having post-it notes, whiteboards, pens, etc, readily available reduces the threshold of intent your team needs to have before they begin using the techniques of design. With a larger budget, you'll want to begin converting your existing workspaces to be more like artistic studio spaces. These workspaces actively encourage the collaboration, ideation, and prototyping that you'll need for long term culture change.
Tactical Next Step: Begin by identifying content - either from your human-centred design partner or internal strategy team- that can be put onto your intranet. Then work with your procurement department on a budget for design materials and identify high-traffic rooms to place them in.
#2: Build Habits
If you can make innovation a habit, you avoid needing to continually renew your arguments to the rational Rider and the emotional Elephant of your workforce. As James Clear writes in his wonderful book Habit Stacking, the best method to get new habits to stick is to attach them to existing ones.
Tactically, you might create checklists for teams to use at various points in a project. One example would be a checklist that, at the beginning of each project, asks the team to explore the problem space and ensure that they're solving the right problem, rather than the problem they've been handed. Later in a project, you might have a checklist that requires the team to develop firsthand empathy by creating a stakeholder map and conducting stakeholder interviews.
The more formalised you can make these checklists, the better. One of our clients found great success in linking project funding to human centred design best practices. If a project required more than a $20,000 budget, the project owner had to show evidence that their project employed human centred design before the funding would be approved. Over time, team members began habitually applying the practices of HCD even in projects that didn't require funding.
Tactical Next Step: Deputise someone on your team to conduct interviews with key program, project, or division managers to understand which of their processes can have innovation-focused checklists assigned to them. Alternatively, review your funding model and identify how you can link project funding with the key design activities relevant to your organisation.
#3: Rally the Herd
Humans are fundamentally social animals. The more you can create a social environment where innovation and design are seen as the standard operating procedure, the more likely you are to shift your culture in that direction.
The most effective way to do this is to create communities of practice. These are groups of team members who are linked by their shared application of innovation techniques. If your company is above ~500 employees, it's unlikely you'll be able to directly manage these groups. Instead, you'll need to let them grow in a decentralized manner.
Typically, it's worthwhile to formalize these groups and give them spaces to come together. This might be through digital platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Facebook's Workplace. Alternatively, they might be physical forums or happy hours. In the best of cases, the groups will be given a petty cash budget for snacks and drinks.
Think of these like clubs in college - the socialising is just as important as the actual content discussed. The goal is not to create a series of PhD seminars, but rather to build shared excitement and community. Once off the ground, these communities of practice will serve as the vanguard to change the social dynamic in your office. As a bonus, individuals will organically rise to run these groups, giving the newly initiated a set of coaches and supporters as they embark on their own innovation journey.
Tactical Next Step: Like a pearl requires sand to form around, so do communities of practice. Deputise someone on your team to form the initial seed of these groups. They'll need to prepare topics for discussion as well as logistical support. Early on, some kind of social-inhibition-reducing measures (beer works well in some cultures, warm-up activities and energisers in others) to get these communities engaged and enthused.
A Menu of Options to Promote Your Human Centered Design Program
Every leader I work with is interested in creating sustainable change. They want to ensure that once my team and I are no longer there to teach and mentor their teams in human centered design, they’ll still apply their learning to innovate. If design is treated as "just another training", it greatly reduces the likelihood of that happening.
By developing a promotion strategy for design and innovation in your company, you'll be able to reap the fruits of your design training program for years to come. Use the strategies and tactics above to persuade and motivate your teams to work in new ways. Ultimately, this will drive concrete and sustainable business value for you and your shareholders. To recap, here's a quick list of all the tactics I mentioned above:
- Success Stories
- Guest Speakers
- Process Integrations
- Leadership Recognition
- Lunch and Learns
- Performance Evaluations
- Intranet Content
- Physical Workspaces
- Process Checklists
- Project Funding
- Communities of Practice
If you want help or further explanation of any of these points, shoot me an email at kash [at] luma-institute.com. I'll read and respond to each and every one.
A huge thank you to all my lovely LUMA colleagues who helped inspire this article, including Gavin Pryke, Jon West, Amelie de Spot, and Rajdeep Ghai. A special thank you to my editor Sanah Dhanda.
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