Hollywood movies like Horrible Bosses and the TV series The Office have captured the topic of toxic workplace culture with hilarity. We ‘get it’ because most of us have experienced a workplace culture fail, from the extreme of a boss to be feared (to the point of immobilisation) to the life-sapping office vibe (that kills any will to work). Unhealthy office microcosms are a demonstration of human nature getting out of hand, where team members lose all sense of collaborative working and a hyena mentality creeps in – self-preservation, opportunistic back stabbing and ‘eat or be eaten’ lawlessness. Forget end-user focus and working to company values. When a hyena culture takes over, you’re looking at a business that’s not only undisciplined and depressing, you’re also looking at one that’s ripe for disruption.
That’s where Design Thinking can come to the rescue. Design Thinking is a powerful process which focusses on understanding the unarticulated needs of people and using empathy, as well as creating a discipline for testing and a tolerance for failure. In terms of building a positive culture, it can be used to study and understand the people (or hyenas), problems and needs of a business, and then to create and support a motivated, autonomous and flexible culture.
Not only can Design Thinking help you to create a greater culture, it also helps you to understand your customers better. By embedding a design mindset into the business, you bring your team members’ points of view into every internal decision and you also bring your customer’s point of view into every external decision. This helps to translate business goals into customer friendly initiatives and build a culture in which every team member thinks about how what they do affects customers.
Embedding design practices can also bridge diverse departments and teams together. Design Thinking requires every team member to understand customer empathy and to ensure it permeates all areas of the business. Therefore, every department from finance to IT to marketing must work together to understand the customer’s journey, analyse it and then directly understand the value they can design and deliver together. Not only does this create value for the customer, it places value on each department and supports a more collaborative and productive culture.
Design Thinking practices also prevent the immobilisation that can result from failure. Failure is moderated through small-scale testing, so it’s not viewed as a negative but as new information. Design Thinkers have fast, resourceful and effective methods for testing their assumptions which reduces the risks should those assumptions be proven wrong. When a new business system or structure is brought in, it’s therefore guaranteed to have been thoroughly researched, considered and tested, providing confidence that it will be successful.
There are several parts to making a great Culture. People and Strategy are vital, but without a process, culture becomes an ethereal, intangible entity that can only be grasped at. The Design Thinking process provides structure and confidence, ensuring that your culture is something concrete that people can actively participate in, support and improve. If you don’t want your business degenerating into a Ricky Gervais-like farce, then consider transforming it with Design Thinking.
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