Creating a Communication Plan for Your New Design Thinking Program

Kash Dhanda
Aug 4, 2019 · 5 min read

After weeks, months, or maybe even years of strategizing, you and your senior leadership team have decided to prioritize innovation. You’ve come to realize that creating a culture of innovation will require a design thinking program, and perhaps you’ve already identified a partner who can upskill your employees with the relevant design skills.

But now you’re at a precipitous point. Without a clear communication plan to energize your teams, all the good strategic work you’ve done may be in vain. In order to truly change the direction of your organization through a design thinking training program, you’ll need engagement at all levels of your organization. An insufficiently detailed communications strategy may result in an insufficiently motivated staff, and thus a failure to change.

So, how do you effectively communicate your new innovation strategy? The answer is simple, even if the execution is not: a communications strategy report. Note that your strategy report is not the document you’ll be sending to your employees, but rather a document that will enable you to create alignment among key stakeholders. Let’s dive into how you can assemble your strategy.

Step 1: Crystalize the “Why”

The first task is to ensure you’re made your current situation explicit. You’ve likely discussed this with your team already, but now is the time to create a communications strategy report that can be distributed to a few key stakeholders for feedback. In the 1st page of your report, recount your own thought process:

  1. Why are you prioritizing innovation as a strategic necessity? Declining revenue/market share? Increasing complexity in the business?
  2. Why are you pursuing design thinking as the best avenue towards innovation? Employee engagement? Proven results?

The more clearly you articulate the reasoning behind your push towards innovation through design, ****the more likely you are to create persuasive messages later on. The ideal format for this “Why” would come in the form of a letter from your CEO (or other key executive) in order to lend maximum credibility to your efforts. This CEO letter will also serve as a valuable asset that can be re-used in step 4.

Step 2: Create a Compelling Vision of the Future

Once you’ve captured the past reasoning on page 1, you’ll need to begin articulating the future state on page 2**.** This page of your report should include a compelling description what you aim to achieve with your design thinking training program. The more specific you can be, the better. Rather than “We aspire to create a more innovative company”, try “We aspire to make innovation the responsibility of every team member”. Instead of “We want to become more customer focused”, try “We want to ensure no product or service reaches production without customer input throughout development.”

In addition to the 1–2 paragraph description of your desired future state, you ought to include a bullet point list of key metrics. While it’s likely too early to be setting actual benchmarks values, delineating what metrics you’re going to be watching will be a valuable way to help people understand your key focuses. Once your pilot program is complete, you may consider adding in actual benchmarks and targets for your key performance indicators.

Step 3: Develop Key Messages

With the background context set, you can begin providing the details on the 3rd page of your report. Specifically, you’ll want to identify three key thematic messages. These messages will be used by marketing, management, and HR as they develop their own communications down the line. The goal here is to assemble a set of resonant messages based on the “Why” and the “Future State” you’ve developed on the previous two pages. These messages may be as short as a sentence or as long as a paragraph.

For example, your messages may revolve around the cultural benefits of design thinking training programs (e.g. a more collaborative, fun, empowering culture). Or they may revolve around the customer benefits of the program (e.g. higher satisfaction rates, faster times to market, etc). In all cases, try to keep human beings at the center of your messaging. Business value may drive some, but emotional narratives relating to either your workers or your customers will be a more powerful motivating force for all.

Step 4: Choose Your Channels

An effective communications strategy ought to include a prioritization of where your key messages will be pushed out and in what form on page 4. It is essential to include opportunities for two-way communication in your plan, as the change you seek to create will inevitably be shaped in a reciprocal manner with your workforce. A partial list of communication channels may include:

  • Email marketing campaigns (typically sequence campaigns ranging over 3–6 weeks)
  • Town halls, physical or remote
  • Physical collateral, such as stickers that promote your innovation initiative
  • Recorded videos to be used on internal social networks
  • Slides and/or talking points to be used in physical meetings
  • Lunch-and-learn sessions
  • Flyers to be added on bulletin boards
  • Q&As, physical or remote

Note that you’ll need to identify your communication channels for each of your audience segments. The way to reach a sales team may be quite different than reaching your digital team, so creating a stakeholder map may be required before embarking on this step.

Step 5: Create Your Timeline

Remember that this document is meant to be a jumping off point for further discussion, so your timeline can and will change. At the same time, it’s useful to provide a rough sketch of your plan on page 5 of your report in order to have more productive conversations with stakeholders down the line.

The exact nature of your timeline will vary depending on your channels, but in my experience at least 4 weeks should be allocated to your messaging campaigns. You’ll likely want to begin with a large kick-off, such as a town halls or a series of lunch-and-learns. Then, you’ll likely incorporate digital means of communications as a second step. Teams which begin their communications strategy digitally tend to have reduced awareness, as often emails will go unread. However, if you first grab people’s attention in person, they will be significantly more likely to engage with your digital outreach later on.

Haphazard communications have killed more than a few design thinking programs before they have a chance to succeed. Without energized and informed participants, no training program can be successful. The simple five page structure laid out above will ensure you and your team can align around a strong plan of action and give your training program the highest likelihood of being effective.

If you have any questions or issues, shoot me an email at kash [at] to discuss your plans — I’d be happy to help.

Originally published at

Kash Dhanda

Written by

I teach companies around Asia how to create innovative experiences for their customers using design thinking. Senior Program Director at the LUMA Institute

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