When a company finds success doing the same thing for several planning cycles, it can feel impossible to shift direction. But in an age of constant disruption, companies that aren’t agile enough to adapt to new market demands risk becoming obsolete.
Consider how the taxi industry was caught off guard by Uber and Lyft, or how the rise of Amazon has put many brick-and-mortar retailers out of business. In both examples, innovative technology companies were able to steal market share from long standing businesses that were unable to adapt to the shifting demands of customers.
Whether you are a Fortune 500 business, with decades of experience, or a fast-rising start-up heady with early triumphs, a willingness to constantly question assumptions and to relentlessly focus on customers is the key to long-term business survival and success.
Design thinking helps companies embrace that agility and customer-centricity and cascade it throughout its culture. Here is how design-thinking can be introduced into your organization.
Create Innovation Catalysts
Catalysts are the early champions of customer-centricity. They recognize the value of design thinking from the start and they are eager to promote its benefits to their own teams. Companies can leverage their enthusiasm to generate support for this customer-first approach by inviting them to serve as advocates and facilitators, and by engaging them in early design thinking projects to showcase how it can be used to solve problems and meet customer needs.
Get Everyone on Board
Embracing a design-led approach for projects can be a challenging change management effort, particularly in larger enterprises with long-engrained processes that can stymie creativity. Organizations that are committed to this transformation need to add experts between the designers and the business who can help translate design-led creativity into the language of business and boardroom. By demonstrating how design leads to better services and increased sales, boards will quickly realise the value of this approach.
With these experts in place, the first step to idea generation is to ensure all stakeholders, including the project team and the business leaders are aligned behind the purpose of the project. To do that, the team must ask, “Who is the customer?” “Why are you pursuing this project?” “What benefits do you hope to deliver?” It’s easy to assume everyone in the group knows the right answers to these questions, but unless you are explicit and in agreement, the design process can easily go astray.
Relentlessly Focus on Customer Needs
Whether you are trying to address a gap in the marketplace or shift your business model, your team needs to be unified behind what the customer wants or needs.
Design thinking is all about customer focus, and thinking in terms of their needs – rather than what the business needs. You can’t do that in an isolated product development lab or boardroom. The only way to practice customer-centric design is to get in the trenches with customers — observing, working alongside them so you can understand their perspective and tease out the needs they don’t don’t even know they have.
For example, ExperiencePoint recently hosted a workshop for a famous teaching hospital where we observed mothers and families in the perinatal experience. They observed one woman of limited financial means go to great lengths and expense to come to this hospital, when other reputable hospitals were closer. The reason was that her mother gave birth to her there, and her grandmother gave birth to her mother there. We extrapolated that the family connection and story was more important than the promise of care, proximity, or even cost to this patient. As a result of this and other observations, the hospital redeveloped its entire patient experience to connect more to families and their experience, rather than “the science” they historically historically led with.
Recognizing the need to focus on customer needs — rather than business needs — as a means for inspiration is an area where many businesses lose their way. It’s easy to cling to business goals like improving bottom-line results, but these goals won’t inspire customer-focused solutions. Taking the time to work with customers and understanding how you can solve their problems and improve their experiences, is how businesses disrupt the marketplace.
Once you decide to make a shift to a design thinking focused organization, and get people on board with big ideas, like customer-centricity, you’ve got to deliver results and share those successes with the broader organization. Communicate, communicate and communicate some more is critical to creating a groundswell that supports the vision and corresponding initiatives. Otherwise enthusiasm can quickly decay into cynicism if employees fail to see meaningful change and success.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.
VP of Transformation at ExperiencePoint. Andrew leverages over 15 years of experience designing and delivering working models, design sprints, change interventions and training programs to develop and apply user-centric problem solving approaches and solutions. Andrew has worked with global organizations including Walmart, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, MetLife and Microsoft. He has also taught executives at leading universities, including Harvard Business School and IMD.