The key is aligning your organization to the future.
Andrea (not her name) is a design executive who is leading a transformation project at a healthcare technology company. She was leaning heavily into training and raising awareness, but something was missing. I asked her about what they were trying to achieve and what would be different when they got there. Then I asked her what she was doing to inspire people to change. She looked at me with a stunned expression.
It’s not enough to just teach people what to do. They have to believe in the vision completely. They have to desire change enough to be willing to break the current behaviors that are keeping them from achieving it. Finally, they need to know how to behave differently.
Paint a compelling future that your employees will crave
In 2008, I was part of a small team of design leaders tasked with using design thinking to transform Intuit. We believed that if we could get the entire organization to use “Design for Delight” (D4D), we could transform the company. Our vision was “D4D in the DNA of Intuit”. We broke down what that would look like, what people would say, how it would feel when it was a reality. Everything we did was in service to achieving that vision. By 2013, Intuit was widely recognized for having an innovative culture and D4D was how we worked. It was due, in large part, to our commitment to our vision.
All too often, visions do not drive our actions. You aren’t leading if you have a vague vision statement written in a deck or displayed on a wall. Your employees need your guidance on where to go, and your vision can be the north star they are aiming for. As a leader, it is your responsibility to set a clear, ambitious, and desirable vision that your employees can get behind. Make it come alive for them, help them envision what the future will be like when the vision is achieved.
Recognize and highlight behaviors aligned with the vision
Jim (not his name) is trying to transform his organization to be more customer-focused. In meetings, his team would jump to sharing design concepts or discussing internal requirements for the design. Once Jim shared his vision of being a customer-centric organization, he encouraged his designers to start conversations by clarifying the customer problem that they were addressing. From that moment forward, every time Jim saw a designer kick-off a meeting with a review of the customer problem, Jim shared that with his team to recognize the employee while encouraging others to do the same. After a couple of months, the designers now habitually started their meetings with customer problem statements, thus focusing all conversations on the customer perspective.
Behavior changes are difficult. If you expect employees to behave differently when the organization is transformed, your employees need to start behaving differently today. As a leader, it is important to notice and point out when you see behaviors that are in line with the vision. This will help you illustrate your new expectations, and will reinforce the desired behaviors in your employees.
Address behaviors that are misaligned with the vision
Kristine (not her name) joined a large financial organization as a design executive. Her designers were taking orders from other parts of the organization and delivered only what was asked. Kristine set a vision that designers would be respected leaders who could effectively influence what they delivered. But, she noticed that designers still didn’t push for better experiences. She made it clear that she expected them to stand up for the best designs with strong design rationales. She provided them with training and coaching to reinforce their skills. Within a year, designers in the organization were well respected and regularly pushing for better experiences.
Even if you publish and state and restate your vision and mission It is highly likely that people are not aligning their work to it. Visions and missions are often dismissed as wishful thinking and “someday.” Instead of just stopping with the vision and telling people what to do, it is so important to bring them along on the journey, making the connection between their actions and the ultimate accomplishment of the vision by delivering on their mission.
Since it is difficult to change behaviors, especially when cultural influences are working against the change, you must also notice and address behaviors that are not in line with what you are trying to accomplish. Punishing isn’t the way to address them, but training and coaching can have a positive impact. Also, make it explicitly clear that you are changing your expectations and that the old behaviors are not appropriate anymore. You will likely have to repeat this and remind them again and again until they get used to the new way.
If your job is to lead transformational change, you can’t hold back.
When you are trying to transform an organization to become design-led, you need to lead with a vision that elevates above priorities, training, and logistics. Start from the future vision and work backward; you will get much further than if you start with the current state and try to work forward.
Although it is unlikely that any of this is new to you, it is easier to say than do. Take a look at the bottlenecks in the transformation you are trying to achieve. If you aren’t seeing the change happening, you likely need to lean into one of these three things:
- Making the future vision more compelling and tangible
- Recognizing and highlighting behaviors aligned with the vision
- Address behaviors that are misaligned with the vision.