Terri Block
Author - Terri Block

In this article, we discuss that service designers are particularly well equipped with skills and tools to create change in organisations and can do so more explicitly by applying a flywheel capability model to their work.

This article is part of Touchpoint Vol. 11 No. 3 - Service Design and Change Management. Discover the full list of articles of this Touchpoint issue to get a sneak peek at more fascinating articles! Touchpoint is available to purchase in print and PDF format.

“We need a new organisation-wide training strategy. We have been training the most critical teams in the organisation in the same way since the 1980s and we need to move out of the dark ages. Problem is, the teams are so used to the way things are done. How can we build the strategy in a way that brings people along as we go?” This was a question one of our clients posed to us when considering how she would redesign training for an entire department of a Fortune 500 company. Inherent in her question are two principles that drive our perspective on change management. Firstly, it is the people – not the initiative at hand – that play a leading role in enacting change. Secondly, change management needs to be baked into the initiative itself and not treated as a separate activity.

We’ve seen executive teams spend months designing a strategy or new initiative in isolation from the organisation, conduct a grand unveiling of the transformation agenda, and then focus on typical change management activities such as socialisation and training. The trouble with this approach is that it separates change management from the initiative itself, assuming that people will come along after the ‘grand reveal’. Even if they do, the energy can be hard to sustain. Perhaps more importantly, this approach misses the opportunity to design user-centered change management activities based on real insights about how employees and stakeholders react to the new initiative. Finally, this approach to change management can disillusion employees who are experiencing change fatigue1 — which is the opposite of inciting stakeholder desire to participate in and lead the change.

At Bridgeable, our model of organisational transformation finds its roots in Jim Collins’s seminal book, Good to Great, and we argue that in this model, service design is itself a powerful tool for delivering change management, and an antecedent for transforming organisational design and culture, and pursuing new strategies.

The core idea within Good to Great is a ‘flywheel’ model of innovation. An actual flywheel is a mechanical device for storing rotational kinetic energy. Turning a mechanical flywheel is very difficult initially, but with each revolution, it becomes easier and easier, until eventually the flywheel has a self-maintaining momentum that takes an even greater force to stop. Collins argues that this is a metaphor for the transformation model employed by the most successful companies that have made the transition from ‘good’ to ‘great.’ It is also an explicit rejection of ‘big bang’ models of organisational change: “There was no launch event, no tag line, no programmatic feel whatsoever.” Rather, these highly successful organisations achieved dramatic transformations with a consistent set of small steps all building in the same direction2.

Designers instinctively apply similar principles within the scope of their projects: they build prototypes or minimum viable products, put them in front of endusers, learn and iterate at increasing levels of fidelity, and repeat. The flywheel model is a conceptual framing that extends our natural mode of prototyping from a service or experience towards a broader organisational transformation, where the change management isn’t a distinct workstream or programme, but is integral to the approach itself. As Collins observes, “Under the right conditions, the problems of commitment, alignment, motivation, and change just melt away. They largely take care of themselves.”3

Let’s look at how we have seen this work in practice. By far the most common kind of transformation we work on is an organisational transformation towards customer experience or customer-centricity. For firms with a desire to make their organisation and offerings more customer-centric, service design and humancentred design are a natural fit. There is often a desire to start top-down, with a grand strategy that maps out how to achieve that goal, and a certain amount of up-front work to align on a ‘north-star’ vision is important. But we always recommend that process is relatively brief, and importantly shouldn’t end with an extravagant presentation of the strategy across the organisation. Instead, once the direction is clear, we believe an organisation should quickly move on to solving a practical service design problem within the business.

For one Fortune 500 client, we worked with their newly-formed customer centre of excellence to complete a brief engagement developing a customer experience strategy, and then turned our attention to redesigning a single (but thorny) customer touchpoint. That project was classic service design: understand the customer journey and organisational context, co-create prototypes of new touchpoints with both internal stakeholders and customers, iterate and refine those prototypes to validate design decisions with new customers and internal players, integrate with the broader ecosystem and bring it to market, and finally measure the results. Change management was never a line item on the project plan, but it was actively at play nonetheless.

Key internal stakeholders were active participants in co-creation and ongoing prototype validation. Through their participation in the design process, those stakeholders became dedicated advocates and champions for change. They couldn’t wait to tell their managers and co-workers about the great project they had done and the great results it had produced. People in other areas of the business heard about that success and beat a path to the door of the centre of excellence. Could we take a customer experience approach to their problem too?

Fig. 1: An example template to capture employee or stakeholder feedback on an initiative that can be fed into user-centred change management activities
Fig. 1: An example template to capture employee or stakeholder feedback on an initiative that can be fed into user-centred change management activities

We didn’t need a top-down change management programme to drive adoption of the new customer experience strategy. By co-designing and iteratively prototyping with key stakeholders, we fostered awareness of – and desire to engage with – the practical project at hand, and the larger customer experience strategy as well.

In true flywheel fashion, that first project was really difficult. In that organisation, there was no precedent for co-designing with customers and validating early prototypes, so we had to figure everything out as we went. But the second project was a little easier, and the third easier still. With each turn of the flywheel, we incrementally built out broader and deeper organisational capabilities, and reached more and more parts of the organisation. After three years, we had redesigned services or touchpoints in every part of the organisation, and customer experience had stopped being a transformation initiative – it became the way work got done in the organisation.

That’s not to say that we didn’t do any classic change management work as part of this transformation. Over the years, we did plenty of stakeholder analysis, built communication plans and delivered formal training. But change management was the connective tissue between projects that tackled meaningful business problems. And those change management initiatives were easier and more efficient because they stemmed from the service design work happening in the practical projects. We understood the stakeholders deeply because we had worked closely with them on design projects. We knew what messages would resonate because we’d first spoken them (prototyped them) in informal conversations in the course of doing the work. And we knew the most important training gaps, because we saw them pop up again and again in projects.

Of course, change management isn’t only about large-scale organisational transformations. Just as often, you are doing the work of transforming a single service experience. But here too, the service design approach lays the foundation for seamless change management. For a recent client in financial services, we were working to build a digital experience from one that was previously carried out in-person with pen and paper. Here again, the project was classic service design.

Through our participatory design process, we came to understand the motivations and pain points of employees. That left us uniquely equipped to identify different stakeholder groups, assess what would make it difficult to adopt the new system and what they would find rewarding, and formulate specific, employeecentred change management activities to help smooth the adoption of the new system. Moreover, we uncovered all of this during early design work, which meant that ‘change management’ didn’t have to be a last-minute scramble of training built just before go-live, but something that could happen in parallel, alongside the implementation work.

But perhaps most importantly, by co-designing with front-line staff, we created change champions — a group of people who couldn’t wait for the change to come. Building that kind of desire for change is perhaps the most important and most difficult element of creating an enduring change in an organisation. And in our experience it doesn’t come about because of a separate change management workstream, but through service design itself, and the act of bringing together stakeholders collectively build and care about an initiative at hand.

Service designers can (and should) leverage traditional change management tools such as stakeholder analysis, socialisation and training to help deliver change. But we must do so as an extension of the service design work we are already doing.

Service designers are especially well-positioned to enact employee-centred change management because of our sensitivity to human needs and behaviours. We can apply a change management lens to the kinds of observations we make through collaborative design work and capture learnings into change management tools: “Jerry seemed really nervous about the regulatory approval for Feature X,” can be captured as a concern on a stakeholder analysis template. “Jing got really excited when we were building out Feature Y,” is the seed of a key message in a communication plan. “Users got confused unless the reps went through Sequence Z,” highlights both a training need and the concepts to be taught.

Fig. 2: Example template to capture employee or stakeholder feedback on the initiative that can be fed into user-centred change management activities
Fig. 2: Example template to capture employee or stakeholder feedback on the initiative that can be fed into user-centred change management activities

Whether our mandate is broad organisational transformation or more narrow tactical design, service designers can improve project outcomes by deliberately regarding their service design work as a vehicle for change management. When service designers are synthesising their findings from co-creation sessions, validation meetings, or even just internal team checkins, they can go beyond capturing the implications for the service they are designing and also document what they’ve learned about stakeholders’ motivations and concerns. We often use a simple template just to keep track of our stakeholder thoughts as we capture them (see Fig. 1 and 2 for examples). When service designers’ interactions with project stakeholders spark an idea for a way to help smooth adoption, they can do a quick concept sketch, just as they would for a feature in the service itself.

Leveraging tools like the templates provided here can be a helpful change management accelerator, but the flywheel model tells us that the most important way service designers can build momentum around organisational change is by doing the core work of service design: involve stakeholders in designing great touchpoints and services that get people excited about what new things might be possible. Each time you do that within an organisation, you are building the momentum you need to sustain meaningful change. Expanding your service design work to inspire employee-centred change management activities will make you that much better.

1 Collins, Jim (2001). Good to Great. New York: HarperCollins “Good to great comes about by a cumulative process — step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel — that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.” (Good to Great, pg. 165)
2 “There was no launch event, no tag line, no programmatic feel whatsoever. Some executives said that they weren’t even aware that a major transformation was under way until they were well into it. It was often more obvious to them after the fact than at the time.” (Good to Great, pg. 169)
3 “Under the right conditions, the problems of commitment, alignment, motivation, and change just melt away. They largely take care of themselves.” (Good to Great, pg. 176)
4 “In a sense, everything in this book is an exploration and description of the pieces of the buildup-to-breakthrough flywheel pattern.” (Good to Great, pg. 182)
5 Martin, Roger (July–August 2010). “The Execution Trap” in Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2010/07/the-execution-trap, accessed on 04 January 2020.
6 Haitt, Jeff and Prosci “Desire—The Prosci ADKAR model” https://www.prosci.com/resources/articles/adkar-model-desire, access on 05 January 2020.

Co-author: Susan Bartlett

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