Real change doesn’t happen by simply hiring a consultant to make it happen. It comes from ownership.
“Jim” (not his real name) was a design executive seeking transformation. He wanted to turn his company into a design-driven organization. So, he hired a well-known consulting company to come in and teach a course on design thinking. They had a standard curriculum for the employees at Jim’s company. Everyone found it useful and insightful and Jim was pleased with the initial results. But, a few months later, it became clear that the employees weren’t applying what they’d learned. After some digging, Jim discovered that employees were unable to translate what they had learned into the culture and processes of his organization. Altogether, the effort cost a great deal of time and money and resulted in raised awareness, but no real outcomes. Jim felt defeated.
“I invested in a program, but it didn’t drive a lasting change,” he admits.
Like many design executives, Jim knew what needed to be done. He could teach the organization design-thinking that they could apply to their everyday work. But he lacked the time to do it himself. He took the initiative to outsource the project, but in doing so, he got a subpar result.
I frequently talk with executives who have had experiences like Jim’s. The reality is that everything that works for one organization may not work well in another, so outsourcing can backfire. In my own research and experiences working with executives, there is a missing element in Jim’s approach: Ownership. In order to drive high impact changes, you need to retain ownership over the actions that will address the unique culture you are trying to change. Instead of bringing in standard training, I partner with executives to supplement and accelerate their efforts, while they continue to drive the overarching effort.
Outsource to supplement your transformation, while maintaining ownership
“Lisa” (not her real name) worked for a large fintech company as a VP of design. She wanted to focus her UX researchers on higher priority projects, so she decided that her team should teach discovery methods and tools broadly across the organization. Her team had the talent to create training and roll it out, but she needed those resources to be working with the groups that needed help. She couldn’t spare anyone to create the materials.
Knowing my background, she recommended me to the project director. I created the core method slides for their training. They filled in the gaps having to do with processes unique to their company, and then they rolled out the training to the employees in the organization. Ultimately, they built it into an onboarding portal, teaching about 1400 employees over the next year. The portal has freed up the researchers to spend their time on strategically important work, while ensuring that employees can learn and apply discovery best practices – broadening the skills and mindsets of discovery throughout the organization.
“Having a repository of great materials has been critical in the team being able to scale,” one director reflected.“This has made space for our leads to prioritize direct engagements with critical teams while still providing these great resources as a support across the organization.”
Altogether, the effort cost relatively little time and money and resulted in raised awareness, increased discovery work, more adoption of UX research findings and a bigger impact on the high priority projects. Lisa considered this a big success.
Why a hybrid approach works
Both Jim and Lisa are real people who are incredibly knowledgeable and talented. They could have created that training themselves, but they both had other priorities that they needed to focus on. They had limited resources but an urgency to take action: so they chose to get help from outside of the organization. Jim chose to hand off the training, while Lisa chose a hybrid approach. The hybrid approach worked because the ownership of the program and outcomes stayed within her group, and they addressed the nuances of applying the new methods and mindsets inside their unique organization.
Jim’s story is really common. There are a lot of great consultancies out there that offer some amazing training, but employees often find it difficult to actually apply it in the reality of their everyday work. When learning takes place outside of everyday work, the processes and cultures of the company are not integrated into the experience. Employees also lack expertise to lean on to get help when running into roadblocks applying what they’d learned.
Lisa’s story is less common, but not unfamiliar. We hire contractors to fill in work that needs to get done. We don’t usually hire experts to collaborate with our teams to get work done. On Lisa’s project, I was the expert. I provided them with the core of what they needed to implement their plan themselves. They owned it. They were able to adapt it. They were able to pivot from live classes to a portal, moving the role of researchers from doers to teachers to coaches.
As a user experience design executive, you can drive meaningful and lasting change that can radically transform your entire company. There isn’t a magical shortcut: you need to address the unique culture you are trying to transform. Outsource expertise, but don’t handoff ownership.