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How can we use Design Thinking to conceive and build a culture

How can we use Design Thinking to conceive and build a culture

This post is the concluding argument of an article published on my LinkedIn profile.

Culture: a wicked problem for Design Thinking

When I joined Procter & Gamble 20 years ago, there was no social media, and internet access was limited to the people who worked in recruiting. So “jokes” where shared by email. And the most frequent of those joke emails, had to do with P&Gers, that’s the way we used to refer to ourselves, or Proctoids, which used to be the way “external people”, and former disgraced employees, used to refer to P&Gers. Among the many I remember most clearly: “you are a P&Ger if….
• …. your wife wants to replace the fridge, and you demand a one-page memo before approving the expenditure.
• … you use the word paradigm at least five times a day; and you know how to spell paradigm.
• … your best stories begin with “John D. Pennings, Vice-President of Marketing, was seating in its corner office….”

Interestingly enough all of those jokes, are key pieces of the cultural puzzle of P&G 20 years ago. Why is this even relevant? Most organizational-cultural redesigns begin with a standardized pre-cooked survey, aiming at taking a quantitative snapshot of the shared behavior, values and beliefs, starting from a pre-defined pre-scripted set of questions. A Design Thinking approach, which might be more qualitative in nature, might help drawing a deeper, more emotional and less dry picture, by using ethnographic interviews, as well as, co-creation and customer journey mapping. You could even use semiotic analysis on those jokes and memes, to understand the underlying symbolism and organizational cultural trait related to the symbol. Understanding an organizational culture is a wicked problem per se, and many of the design thinking techniques, can be used in discovering and interpreting the findings.
But Design Thinking can also be used in co-developing the new culture and validating it, in a way that fits with the strategic objective by staying relevant with the employees. By using a co-creative approach to the design of the culture, we also strike another important objective: we ensure buy-in from all levels of organization, reducing the typical friction that these types of change imply. Workshops and emphatic design can be used to validate and to evolve the artifact and translate it into an effective, user-centric, implementation plan. The latter is a critical step, because, an organizational culture change is nothing more than an innovative product launch: it requires educational programs, it requires habit changes and new habits formation. As such it relies on a diffusion and adoption process: there will be employees who are more in tune with the new shared behavior, and those will be innovators and early adopters. And there will be employees that will arrive late to the party, and those are majority and laggards. And in all diffusion models, identifying the early adopters and separating them from the early majority, is key to – what Geoffrey Moore called – “Crossing the Chasm”. In this sense, a Design Thinking approach can also be instrumental to ensure that the cultural change is not slowed by the resistance groups of employees, less keen on adapting their behavior to a new paradigm, just to use a buzzword dear to P&Gers.

Design Thinking process for educators

In conclusion, Design Thinking and organizational culture go hand in hand. Firstly, because certain organizational cultures can create a flourishing environment for the usage of Design Thinking. Secondly, because by using Design Thinking and its experiential approach, we provide a better organizational climate towards more creative, entrepreneurial and outward-looking cultures. And lastly, Design Thinking can be used to analyze, re-design and implement the new organizational culture, by ensuring relevance, deeper organizational buy-in, and less development hurdles.

References: Elsbach, K.D. and Stigliani, I., 2018. Design Thinking and Organizational Culture: A Review and Framework for Future Research. Journal of Management, p.0149206317744252.

Growth Adviser, Innovation Catalyst, Branding Architect, International Expansion Consultant. International change agent and leader, launched growth consulting boutique in 2012. We have four principal areas or intervention 1) Branding (e.g., positioning of new brands, re-positioning of existing brands, brand architecture and design) 2) Innovation (e.g., co-creation with consumers and experts, ideation, business planning, concept validation and fine-tuning) 3) International Expansion (e.g., countries screening and development of expansion plan, route to market strategy, portfolio) 4) Route to Market (e.g. marketing and commercial planning, portfolio analysis).