Gaining Buy-In to Drive a Human-Centric Culture

By: Marisa White

As the pressure for customer centric experiences, communication, products and services continues to increase, we see Design Thinking permeation prioritized within more organizations than ever. After gaining the baseline understanding for design thinking and growing proficiency, many organizations face barriers moving beyond a singular touch point to organization wide buy-in.

Cultural transformation remains a difficult pillar to instill as natural human tendency to fear change and a mistrust of new initiatives (in a lot of cases, well deserved) pose barriers to meaningful implementation. 

There are a few starting points we have identified to begin the journey to organizational buy-in. These come from research of our past Design Thinking 2018, Service Design Week, and Experience Design Week speakers, attendees, and vendors. 

1. Executive Level Buy In

2. Activating Your Frozen Middle

3. Building Design Capabilities

1. Executive Level Buy In

To implement any sustainable changes requires a commitment of resources—from time, enforcement, and investment. This requires a level of buy-in from upper management. Many organizations who begin their human-centered journeys from the top down often find an ability to accelerate their organization wide acceptance. However, this buy-in needs to be more than just lip service. 

Many times executives face a knowledge gap—this can range from a lack of knowledge of what exactly design thinking is, a lack of knowledge around the ROI of design, and a lack of knowledge around the necessity of human-centered design. 

The good news around this knowledge gap comes with the understanding and case work at your fingertips to prove the value. Whether you are attending a design thinking event or workshop, to showcasing some of the many ROI case studies, to tying the fear/opportunity of disruption back to the necessity of design, driving the value of design becomes your best tool to get leadership onboard. 

2. Activating Your Frozen Middle

To make sustainable change, you must focus on your mighty middle. This is a management tactic for any leader, however is especially true with human-centric transformation. However, a typical challenge arises, which we label as the “Frozen Middle.” The moment you achieve executive level buy-in, permeating organization wide hits a “resistance to change” wall causing lack of movement that will halt progress.

To combat this challenge requires an incredible amount of empathy to your employees—luckily a pillar of design thinking. Resistance to change stems from a variety of places, and it takes a level of accountability and resilience to gain the trust and buy-in of your middle management group. 

Oftentimes, changes like this affects KPI’s and performance—how does this affect my ability to do my job? Sometimes it is at the whim of an excitable manager—how do we know this time will stick?  And most importantly, comes a level of skeptics—does design thinking really work? 

These questions and fears need to be realized, acknowledged, and the following questions answered to ease the mind of your middle management. 

3. Building Design Capabilities

Finally, we need to look at the talent, capabilities, and resources necessary to build design thinking capabilities in an organization. To see real changes, you must commit to the discipline as seriously as you would any other functional area. You must employ and create experts, build practice areas and enable necessary resources, and find the balance of analytical and creative which work hand in hand for excellent implementation. 

This can be approached three-fold and simultaneously. First, understanding the criteria and requirements for hiring into such a team. This often includes conversations with your hiring team to align the persona and background correctly. Secondly, look to hire the experts. Understand that the best implementation stories come with some great wins in regards to talent. Finally, build the understanding and capabilities internally. Drive education to all teams so the design thinking mindset can permeate organically and foster interest to allow others to invest time and energy outside of what is required. 

In Summary

There are a few active areas we see change beginning to take form. Many of the design champions in organizations have taken on a responsibility to utilize the methodologies within their teams –with or without executive buy-in. These leaders have a level of accountability to excellence and fearless approach to implementation that creates case examples that inspires other groups and organizations to pull for more information and knowledge.

To see a deeper dive of the above, check out our Design Thinking 201 piece!