Design, the Forgotten Lever of Change Mangagement

Why wait until the end to manage change?

Managing change from the beginning of a transformation project has the potential to open up a whole series of design opportunities.

During an interview to assess stakeholder expectations for a new sales tool for a global medical equipment manufacturer, we asked the following question, “Have you thought about designing the quote format with your client?”

The question proved to be eye-opening for the participant, “What a great idea! I’d never thought of that!”

A design opportunity emerged that would have otherwise not been possible if the objective of change management was just to get people on-board at the end of the project. The idea that Change Management is an end-game task is sadly also reflected in some definitions where the emphasis is put on accepting or embracing change, as opposed to designing it.

The latter opens-up possibilities for greater stakeholder participation, including clients, and gives way to the emergence of new insights and design opportunities. Furthermore, ‘design’ implies being involved from the beginning.

Are you optimising your Change Management?

Here are three exercises to challenge you in assessing whether your organisation is leveraging the design potential of a transformation through its approach to change management.

Exclude a stakeholder. Ask yourself what would happen if a particular stakeholder (representing a function/role in the organization as opposed to an individual) was no longer a part of a process. This question might bring new understanding on the importance of their role and help to prioritise their involvement in co-designing the needed change.

Go beyond stakeholder mapping – map stakeholder interactions. Identify the tasks of the people impacted by the change and the associated dependencies to map stakeholder interactions. For example, what do they need? What inputs are required for their work? How is it used downstream? And by whom? Apart from better defining roles and responsibilities, the responses to these questions could provide insight into process design opportunities centred on the stakeholder.

Create a constraint to redefine your client relationship. Try this exercise: Put to the side the financial aspect of a business relationship and ask the question, how might we make life better for our customers? Or, what might consolidate our relationship with them? If you assign a financial value to the response, start the process again.

Another angle could be to avoid making reference to the product or service on which the business relationship is based. You may discover ways to build relationship with the customer that is unrelated to improving your product. Having uncovered these opportunities, ask the customer if he/she would be prepared to design something new with you, as in the aforementioned example. This could potentially foster a partnership-oriented approach that anchors the strategic importance of the customer relationship.

An act of service

What these exercises highlight is that design is not just an aesthetic endeavour related to communications or beautiful objects, but an act of service. Change management and design are partners as they transform situations. How well they are leveraged in the service of people affected by change will depend however on whether priority is given at the beginning rather than at the end of the project.


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