3 keys for unlocking strategic advantage by adopting design tools

When I began my career in Human Centered Design (HCD), nearly all conversations were about designing better products and services that consumers really wanted. I have always been more curious, however, about the power of HCD to transform the organizational experience. How might we create workplaces and organizations that people actually want to work for?

When I looked to the organizational design field, however, I was sorely disappointed in the lack of curiosity, creativity, humanity — DESIGN, really — in the practice. Most organizational strategists I know affiliate more closely to the disciplines of “management science” and “leadership” than design.

Indeed, the historical roots of organizational design are much closer to an engineering practice than a design practice. My mentor Tim Brown once shared that engineering is the appropriate tool when your goals are functional; design is appropriate when your goals are a mix of functional and emotional. …

A major action-item since digesting Jennifer Harvey’s Raising White Kids (my takeaways here) and Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy has been to do a proper audit of what my kids are reading. I have a 4 year old daughter, a 2 year old son, and an avalanche of books.

The Approach

  • Marie Kondo-style: get every kids book in the house in one room so I can see it all together
  • Divide the books into 5 categories: only non-human characters, centers BIPOC characters, centers characters of many races or cultures, centers white characters, books I just don’t like reading

Audit Results

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We have 117 books with only non-human characters. Mostly animals and tractors. I removed just a few, only for the cause of dreading reading them aloud.

My takeaways from Jennifer Harvey’s Raising White Kids

I just finished reading Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey and wanted to capture my key insights and action items. Most of these are directly from the book and some are slight reframes as I have been sitting with this material. I am sharing here so I can provide this to friends in an anti-racism reading group, but I suppose if others find it helpful that’s fine too. …

The antidote to pandemic planning struggles

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You’ve been immersed in short term decisions: employee safety, redesigning services, rebudgeting, layoffs, responding to customers. On top of that, you’re trying to get a handle on how your long-term strategy needs to change and whether to pursue fundamental changes to your business model.

You used to be able to get in a room and figure things out, but now these momentous decisions are being made over tenuous internet connections from makeshift home offices.

How are organizations recreating the alignment they used to feel in a way that is efficient and virtual?

Strategy Sprints. We are seeing many organizations host dedicated time (usually a series of half-day facilitated experiences) to think through the big picture strategic implications of their situation. Virtual sprints are gaining traction, both as a practical decision-making format and as a way of boosting morale and human connection amidst instability and fear. …

When COVID19 hit, our kids’ daycare closed. We decided to hire our son’s long-time teacher as a nanny. Since then, many friends have gone the same route and have asked me about the logistics of setting this up. I’m not an expert, but happy to provide this list in case it is helpful for others.

Hiring an in-home nanny is like setting up a new business.

  • You become a household employer, obtain a payroll account, file payroll, issue a W2, etc.
  • As the employer for the nanny, there are costs to you. Federal Social security & Medicare, along with Oregon payroll taxes. This typically adds about 8–9% to the cost.
  • When you set the nanny up as your employee, it is very much like an employee relationship- your payroll processing system will withhold taxes and then you will match with the employer tax portion. …

the story of a 24-hr d.school design sprint

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This is the story of the process and outcomes of a Stanford d.school Winter 2018 PopOut. PopOuts are short, immersive learning experiences that take place out in the world. If you are interested in using or contributing to the evolution of these prototypes, let us know!

You may have read every leadership book on the planet, but did you know that some of the best tools out there are hidden inside card decks? Here are five of the best.

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For gut checking how you’re showing up as a leader

Originally developed for the next generation of school leaders, the Leadership + Design deck hits home with leaders in any organization. Each card has a leadership behavior like Tell your group the best way to give you feedback, Make sure the group knows when decisions have been finalized, or Are you hanging on to an idea or outcome? Let go of it and get excited about someone else’s idea. These cards can be used for personal reflection. (I like to focus on one at a time, taping it up near my work desk.) Even more powerful–ask your staff to sort the cards according to what they think are your strengths and weaknesses. …

How can we scale our company without losing the culture that made us successful?”

I get this question regularly from high-growth companies. As the conversation continues, they share remarkably similar stories:

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The good news is that these companies are not alone. All high-growth ventures seem to hit a culture crisis and they all hit it at around the same place in their growth curve; about 2/3 of the way up.

Strategy activation is the missing link between strategy development and execution. Over 20+ years helping companies activate strategy, we’ve learned a thing or two about what helps people really live a strategy day to day. We’ve also seen companies stumble at the same pitfalls over and over again. In our survey, nine challenges came through as the most common reasons strategy activation can fail. If you are contemplating a shift in strategy in the next 12–18 months, prepare to encounter these pitfalls, and hopefully guide your organization to avoid them.

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Strategy activation is basic physics. A simple lever is a good metaphor for how organizations experience a change in strategy. On the left side of the lever sits the organization in its current state. When we have a new strategy, we’re committing to moving the organization, lifting it up to a future state in which the strategy is adopted and integrated into daily work. How heavy is that lift? How far are we trying to lift? These are both questions of magnitude that can be underestimated. On the right hand side of the lever is the effort we must put in to achieve that lift. That’s strategy activation: the effort of lifting. When you think about your activation plan, do the physics work? If not, you have three options: reduce the load, reduce the distance, or increase the effort. Reducing the load can mean piloting the strategy in just one part of the organization. Reducing the distance might mean reframing the expectation of how much can change at once. If you can’t compromise on either of those, seriously consider increasing the amount of effort you’re putting into strategy activation. …

You’re a leader at a company, so you have a vision and a strategy. Maybe your company has a mission, or maybe you call that a purpose or a north star. And did you read the latest management book? You’re not really a leader until you’ve figured out your business model, core competency, competitive advantage, etc.

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Does this look familiar?

Seriously, how many of the items in this hairball is your organization juggling today? Do you feel like what’s supposed to be guiding your organization toward the future is actually causing confusion and mixed messages? As a leader, your job is to create clarity and focus for your teams. But what’s the best way to do that?

Let’s give this domain a name: navigation. I’ve peered inside the navigational hairballs of organizations big and small, public and private, start-up and mature, for-profit and non-profit, global and local. …


Stephanie Gioia

working at the intersection of organizational challenges and design thinking | www.futurework.design

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