Putting people back at the centre of your change – Design Thinking

Written by Sia Partners



April 8, 2020

Most humans don’t like change. We are creatures of habit and changes to our routines can create feelings of uncertainty and a loss of control. Changes at work can create concerns around an increased workload and the level of competence needed after the change. That is why developing and delivering the right change management initiatives is imperative to deliver successful change programmes.

So, why are change initiatives not always a success? A key reason is that the human element is being left out. It is the people themselves who are, and will be, physically affected by the change, so it is them whom must champion it. Applying a human-centric methodology to change management can ensure the human element remains at the centre of the change. The design thinking methodology does just that.

Design thinking encompasses five stages that ensures the end-user is kept at the forefront throughout the process. This can be applied when developing change management initiatives:

  1. Empathise – To fully understand the problem that users are having, start by getting deeply immersed in the mind of the end-user to remove internal biases. To do this, the right questions must be asked. For example, if a learning programme is being developed as part of the change, asking questions such as ‘How best do you learn these things?’ causes bias in answers because users jump to a learning solution. Instead, questions such as ‘Tell me about a time when you had a challenge that seemed out of your skill set and you had to overcome it’, result in answers that create specific examples explaining how the user learns from context.
  2. Define – The observations and insight gathered from the empathise stage is then analysed and summarised as a clear problem statement. This is a description that will outline the gap between the current problem and the goal, written from the perspective of the users and their needs. In change management, this statement would outline the potential barriers and enablers to change for the specific users affected by it.
  3. Ideate – From the defined problem, ideas for solutions are then generated. Teams will generate the best solutions when they share their ideas with one another as they go and then build upon them creatively to develop a solution; as opposed to generating solutions in isolation and then negotiating compromises when differences arise. If a communication strategy is being developed as part of a change programme, the solution would not just state the right channel to send messages in. It would state which words should be used, together with solutions for the non-verbal elements, such as the use of images/videos, the length of the message, the sender, and the timing of the message.
  4. Prototype – A mock-up of the solution is then created. This will be either in the form of a low-fidelity prototype: a basic design of the solution far from the finished product, such as sketches or storyboards of what the solution will look like. Or, a high-fidelity prototype: a solution that more resembles the final product, such as a working pilot of the solution. If a training course is being developed as part of a change programme, the low-fidelity prototype might be a storyboard of a training video, whereas a high-fidelity prototype might be a draft of the actual training material to be presented.
  5. Test – The prototype is demonstrated to end-users and detailed feedback gathered so the solution can continue to be iterated until it fully satisfies the end-user’s needs.

Let’s have a practical look at how this approach has been put into practice:

A federal agency used this design thinking approach when developing the change management initiative during the implementation of new technology for air traffic controllers. They began the empathise process by interviewing and observing stakeholders to truly understand not just the change challenges, but also what works and wows them. This enabled them to create an understanding of the users’ needs and requirements at different stages of the change. A solution was then able to be prototyped that used visual tools to help communicate the change. Finally, by testing it with users first, lessons learned were captured that enabled the visual tools to be adapted to other air traffic controllers.

Nestlé and Qualcomm have also used design thinking when developing learning programmes as part of their change programmes. They did this by empathising with their employees to develop programmes that are based on an individual in the context of their work, rather than one that is based around a presenter. By using the design thinking methodology, they could deliver a learning experience that was more engaging and stimulating resulting in a higher level of skill retention.

To deliver a change management solution that lasts, the human element must be incorporated, and design thinking ensures this. By empathising with the end-user upfront and then following the structured methodology to keep them engaged throughout the process, it alleviates resistance and delivers the most effective organisational change possible.

Author: Mark Tureck – Senior Consultant

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