Change Management  | 5 MIN. READ

4 Ways Design Thinking Can Be a Powerful Tool for Change

ExperiencePoint, September 13, 2018

4 Ways Design Thinking Can Be a Powerful Tool for ChangeAs we discussed in our previous post, a common challenge organizations face with their innovation initiatives is getting the idea out in the world. Executives put out the mandate:

We need to be more innovative. We want great ideas. Innovation needs to be part of our core principles and everyday practice.

But even when great solutions are introduced to the organization, many remain best-kept secrets, failing to ever reach scale. More often than not, the problem is that the stakeholders who will make or break the idea’s execution aren’t ready, willing and able to support its success. They haven’t bought in to the change.

Here are four ways you can use design thinking as a powerful tool for change:


  1. Involving Stakeholders

As great change leaders know, involvement creates ownership. Stakeholders who might otherwise block efforts become keener to support ideas that they have had an opportunity to influence. Even for stakeholders that would likely comply with a mandated change, involvement enhances their commitment to the success of the overall initiative.

Design thinking not only bakes involvement into the process by emphasizing the importance of collaboration and multiple perspectives, it also builds human connections that go deeper. You’re not just creating ownership, you’re creating two-way empathy, which helps people make better decisions.

It can also ease the process for those who are negatively affected by the change. A company that recently went through a major restructuring found that design thinking’s ability to create empathy delivered unexpected benefits. As the leader told us, “The collaborative process built empathy for others, so people were more accepting of the message even when it was negative for them.”

Think strategically about who might resist your ultimate solution or who might be negatively affected by it, and find ways to involve those people in the process.


  1. Reconnecting with Purpose

Organizations often struggle with mundane issues that never seem to get fully resolved. For example, a common one is getting people to submit their expenses in a timely manner. Here, too, design thinking, applied with intention, can be a great tool for changing the mindset behind the problem to help you reach a more effective outcome.

Design thinking looks at issues from a human-centered point of view, first empathizing with users and then building solutions that make their lives better. So you might ask, “How can we help people get their expenses in on time? What are they dealing with, and what would make it easier for them?”

By shifting your view to see this as an opportunity to help people, not impose process and rules on them, design thinking changes your perspective to something more meaningful. The attitudes became empathetic instead of oppositional. There is tremendous satisfaction created when the output of your work visibly improves the lives of others. When leading change, helping stakeholders connect to the purpose of their work can accelerate buy-in to a new way of doing things.

Throughout the process, find ways to share user stories, including challenges, opportunities and the impact of work, to help stakeholders reconnect to the organization’s work and how it genuinely helps users.


  1.  Generating Evidence

It happens all the time: people hear an idea, and they immediately say it won’t work. Without evidence, it won’t be easy to convince them otherwise. Design thinking’s process of quickly building and iterating on solutions is valuable for generating the evidence necessary to persuade leaders to fund and support a fledgling idea. Similar evidence should be used with other critical stakeholders as well.

Some evidence (metrics and validation data) will appeal to the head, but it’s more likely that early evidence (in the form of user stories) will appeal to the heart. And when a customer tells you the idea changed their life, that’s a pretty powerful argument for getting on board. Many change gurus, including the Heath Brothers (Switch) and John Kotter (The Heart of Change) have emphasized the importance of persuading with both rational and emotional evidence.

Collect data and identify various vehicles for sharing the material with stakeholder audiences. By including evidence in internal company presentations, newsletters and management meetings, you can continuously and powerfully establish the case for change.


  1. Discovering Stakeholder Interests

If you don’t know what the stakeholders really care about, you could be spending your time and energy worrying about inconsequential factors—or overlooking critical ones. As a design team prototypes ideas and runs experiments, it learns about the opportunities for and barriers to ultimate success. As specific stakeholders and stakeholder groups come into contact with a nascent idea, their reactions speak to their interests.

Maybe that presumed barrier isn’t one after all, but you might discover another unanticipated obstacle that could derail success entirely. From a change management perspective, understanding and respecting these interests can help minimize resistance during implementation.

Leverage learning about stakeholder interests to both enhance the design of the solution and the design of the intervention that introduces the solution to the organization.

If you’re going to implement an innovative solution, you’re going to create change. There’s no getting around it. But in too many cases, leaders limit their focus to an either/or proposition: innovation or change.

Don’t let that revolutionary idea languish in a dusty corner (or get brought to life by someone else). In design thinking, we have tools and methods available to us to help lead change more effectively as well and, as a result, achieve the desired impact from our innovation projects. We just have to apply it with purpose and intention.


 Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.

Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations

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