Design Thinking Can Help Change Management Work!

00 change Management
Image courtesy: Der Bank Blog


The greatest danger in times of turbulence
is not the turbulence,
it is to act with yesterday’s logic
–Peter Drucker


Have you ever asked people who attended a change management (CM) meeting or announcement how much they felt, and how much they understood the purpose other than thinking how “different” their life would be when these new measures will be in place?

People may retain how much they will have to adapt getting out their comfort zone! Some will focus on details about their new manager or supervisor, eventually questioning about their workload, their new team, in other words, every person focusses on personal issues and seldom about the real benefit or the real purpose of such major changes. This seems to be “The question” most specialists in CM ask themselves, and wonder why people perceive CM as a “less fun thing happening”.

There are many reasons that can be the source of such worries, yet I think the main reason is that changes are the fruit of a business need, set by techniques and processes and expertise, while the impact and consequences touch people.

For some, people are seen as unpredictable and they are absolutely right. I am fully aware that any CM process relies on knowledge and expertise in the domain, however specialists need to remember they have to deal with people first and then with processes and procedures. Organizational charts may be the best but also the worst thing to start with a CM implementation. People perceive it as being building blocks within the organization, therefore movable, or worst expendable.

I have “survived” various CM events during my career, as most had a major impact on people’s behaviour. Some were definitely a source for deep concern for people who did not understand the real reason of such changes. Bottom line, the approach and the purpose were taken for granted by the management.

I will not emphasize on details most of us already know, I would rather share a tentative that I decided with the management’s approval, during a CM process. I would call it a more humanized approach.

The first time I read the word “Humanware”, almost 10 years ago, I felt enough curious to search a bit more on the subject, finding Ulf – L – Andersson’s Guide “Humanware – practical usability engineering”. I learned about the importance of people in any process whether it was engineering, design, business and of course education. I think this discovery (for me of course) made me review from scratch my approach to developing and designing educational programs, content, courseware and learning pedagogy. It was not a simple change, as I had to struggle against my own perceptions of collected knowledge and skills I had for over 15 years.

The confirmation of this new vision I tried to share and implement came during the course I attended about Design Thinking for Business Solutions. I was expecting some new ideas, new tricks and new methods. All what I was reading about were the words: compassion, empathy, people at the center of any solution, etc. Such a different kind of vocabulary I was not used to read at a university course.

Tim Brown’s vision on DT always amazes me by its simplicity:

In its simplest form, design thinking is a process, applicable to all walks of life, of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems; it is not limited to a specific industry or area of expertise. It can be as effective in technology or education as it may be in services or manufacturing. It could result in new products and services for customers or improved processes and productivity gains for internal operations. If applied with equal fervor, it could transform HR, finance, marketing, or operations teams, turning them into lean and agile profit centers

It is not surprising that conceptual and logical processes often cause discomfort to people. The problem of today’s needs for CM is not the need for employers to proceed with changes nor to have specialists have the mandate to implement the change, it is rather the manner that is used.

Again the purpose is to make people understand first, participate second and contribute to the success of the process in a much more engaged manner. What would be the employer’s wish, undoubtedly to notice his personnel endorse and feel well engaged to the success and growth of its business. People (employees) are the most critical players for building a success story from this change. Major corporations understood this challenge and turned their approaches to integrating people (staff) to the center of the required solution. Examples are many, success stories are well known since people were involved.

When I was in charge of information and documentation management, my team and me were aware that the need to provide a solid and robust solution (technical and business process) to the various users. There were many challenges, constrains of all kinds. It was easy to come up with a solution (IT oriented of course) and send a communication to users announcing the changes and the new processes that would be in place at a specific date.

I wasn’t sincerely convinced of such approach, knowing myself I would have done anything not to comply to such manner), from the first spot-checks we made, it was obvious we would face a huge wall of resistance, eventually key players (documentation leads and specialists) would let this solution implemented however never use it. As a matter of fact many of the leads informed me they would not use a process that would change their habits.

I had the feeling of being caught between my management who expected the delivery of a solution and the users who would oppose the idea using their own way.

We had the technology, the tools, the developers and the IT support, yet on the other side we needed to gain users trust and contribution. After various prototypes there was a clear lack of interest from the part of people, we all knw how powerful it is when the word spreads about all of the negative aspects of a new tool or a new solution that comes from the management. I often compare it to customer satisfaction, how hard it is to build a good reputation and how easy it is losing customer’s trust.

Spicing a bit the situation was the management’s reaction when I presented the solution. I felt how ill-seriously it was taken, even my manger was considering assigning this mandate to someone else. A matter of trust and confidence that is all what I needed. Having got the agreement (I would make a long story very short about that: I got one chance just one. I knew at that moment I was playing my position and my future at work)

The idea was to simply build the solution with the key actors and follow a basic principle tat can be summarized in 4 steps:

The key persons were invited for a two-day workshop, no cell phones, no side meetings, just being there in a meeting room that was converted into a workshop place. In other words it took two days to discuss and find a solution that all the participants agreed upon.

First, we answered the first question: What is?

That was the occasion to all to explain what was the actual workload of documentation specialists, the pros and cons of the actual procedures, what were the consequences and the constrains. This was also the occasion to come with the list of the actual situation, of course, with the contribution of all the participants

Then we moved to the next phase proposing: What if?

What if we had a system that would incarnate the solution to most of the issues from the initial list? At first people seemed skeptical they soon felt more concerned when proposing some solutions, they started t speak about “how we do this or that..” So we designed an ideal solution on a piece of paper, somehow with little efforts we skipped all was not common to the various opinions keeping elements that got the participants unanimous. We had then a draft for a road-map!

At the end of the second workshop day, we were able to agree on a first version of a solution, establishing a timeline for the next step, the more fun step: Does it work?

We delivered a prototype that contained most of their recommendations and expectations, this brought us to the last stage f this journey asking ourselves: Does it wow?

Of course it took various adjustments, iterations and changes but these changes were made willingly with the approval of the documentation specialists who endorsed all the elements of the final product that was implemented company wide.

In final it was a premiere where technologies and methodologies adapted to people’s needs while respecting the management’s requirements. Letting people be at the center of a business solution!

People felt engaged and motivated due to the fact they were part of the process from the beginning. Speaking of change management, I guess it is not wrong to say it is a matter of people before anything else.

Michel – January 12, 2015

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