How to Stay Competitive and Adapt to Change with Human-Centered Design
November 20, 2018 | Transformation
by Andrew Webster

“Transformation” is the defining buzzword of business in 2018. Whether companies are going through a digital transformation, an organizational restructuring, or just changing the way they serve their customers, the “T word” topped every executives’ list of strategic goals for the year.

But as with so many buzzy priorities, saying you need to transform and knowing how to make it happen it are very different things.

Companies and their leaders are trying to find new sources of value but most of these efforts are not translating into market impact and growth. Fully half of all companies surveyed by Wipro last year, said they failed to execute their digital transformation strategies despite demonstrated efforts and investments.

This low rate of success is due in part to the fact that companies put too much emphasis on the technology and process side of transformation, while neglecting their human capital. In Wipro’s survey, resistance to introducing new ways of working (39 percent), and feeling overwhelmed (40 percent), were cited as the top two leading obstacles in these efforts.

When people reject these transformation efforts, the new ways of doing things can’t take root. But when companies invest in training and support people, and encourage behavior change through new ways of thinking, transformation efforts have a much better chance of succeed.

In my recent webinar on How to Use Human-Centered Design in Your Transformation Strategy, I talked about the need to understand what human aspects of the business need to evolve to make the transformation work, and how they can use design thinking methods to engage employees in this process.

Design thinking helps companies define their vision for the future and draw an adaptable roadmap for achieving the culture change needed to get there. It provides business leaders with the tools to think creatively, and to understand how to engage employees and customers in the right way to design changes people will find desirable to move towards.

Innovation Can be Scary

I recently worked with a financial services firm going through a transformation that was struggling with the human side of the change process. For years the company had been internally focused, delivering products design primarily with the bottom line in mind, and investing little effort into understanding the customer. But as the finance industry changed they found themselves with a lot more competitors courting the same groups of customers. To stay competitive they wanted to empower employees to proactively problem-solve and to be innovative when customers needed them to be.

To help the company achieve this goal, ExperiencePoint put the core project team through a human-centered design workshop focused on how to get employees to embrace the idea of being more innovative. Through interviews by employees with other “extreme user” employees, we found that while they were eager to serve customers better, they were uncomfortable with the word “innovation” because it felt too big and foreign for their roles.

The core team used this feedback to experiment with alternative messages, which they shared iteratively with employee groups. Through this process they found employees loved the idea of “designing great experiences” for customers, so they built the change campaign around that concept. It was a simple shift in language but it transformed a message from scary and unattainable to one that resonated with employees and got them excited about change.

It’s an important lesson for companies wondering how to change their culture to match their transformation goals. Instead of expecting people to embrace a new strategy, human-centered design gives companies the tools to test their theories with the people who matter, and to sharpen those solutions for the greatest impact.

Test Your Theories

In the webinar, I discussed how this human-centered framework can help business leaders define, shape and implement innovative strategies to tackle transformation initiatives and deliver high value to the organization; and how to create a culture that embraces failing fast and integration to accelerate success. This powerful source of competitive advantage can solve complex business problems, help employees connect with customers, drive innovation enterprise-wide, help lead change and transform the way people work.

Culture change is often the focus of and hardest part of any transformation, especially when the change is ambiguous in nature like getting employees to be more innovative. But if companies can embrace a more human-centered design culture, and engage end users in the transformation process, it has a much greater chance of taking hold.


To learn more about human-centered design and its role in organizational transformation, you can listen to the full webinar here.

Andrew Webster

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.