The Value of Continuous Care in Service Design

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The Everyday Value of the Right Design in Services

Just because it happens all the time, all over, strategy implementation isn’t easy. It may appear so judging from corporate communication, but it is a special type of team effort that needs energy and effort. The trick is to both carry forth with planned changes and pay attention and adapt.

Change as Part of Life

Change is part of every organization’s life. It is frequent to experience or bear witness of it in any department or work group. It tends to happen through projects and initiatives, and only rarely is the perspective that of the individual working group. Teams and people cope with change, sometimes managing to reflect on their work and craft it into the way they like it, but other times addressing it with less purpose. How people react to change depends a lot on how they are doing. Someone who feels safe, manages their calm, and cares about their work will naturally be more proactive and effective. For many others, change is “dealt with”. The result is a patchwork of intentional and adapted changes, often with great discrepancy between formal and informal roles and structures. This is not necessarily bad. After all, we are creative beings that like to solve problems. But it leaves groups sort of hanging, and I’ve seen it many times that groups either thrive or implode when change is either too fast or not well enough supported. Sadly, the practice to dedicate or engage professional change managers has gone a little bit out of fashion. Fortunately, people with other roles often emerge and act in such roles. I did it many times.

Periodic Bursts of Seemingly Incoherent Change

Projects and initiatives are triggered by strategy implementation, in turn triggered by changes in corporate environment or the need for efficiencies. Change is never triggered with bad intentions. Contrary to the occasional opinion-making at the coffee machine where people gather to connect, it isn’t true that groups of top manager-friends and their consultants cook up ways to make life hard in the organization, figuring it out as they go along through trial-and-error. It may sometimes seem that way, though, for a few reasons:
  1. First, picking up on the reasons to change requires both a very broad view and specifics (that is data) about the external environment and one’s own capabilities. Most people don’t have this view and this data, nor do they need to. People drawn to such change definition roles are those whose curiosity and experience led and allowed them to get to create organizational direction. Most are good, or very good, at it. Wishful thinking is not part of the job description, but imagination and ambition are.
  2. Then, even people whose job it is to pick up what is going on and set direction, although well selected, are imperfect. Even with the most systematic collection of relevant information and the most optimized decisional processes, it happens that change effort is over-simplified, not well enough thought-through, or not on point. This cannot be a surprise.
  3. Finally, some people live in denial about the fact of life that organizations need to prosper and generate income and positive returns. I won’t become political about that statement but just say that it is not wrong for organizations to thrive – it’s necessary.
Just because it happens all the time, all over, strategy implementation isn’t easy.  McKinsey surveyed over 3000 leaders regarding their change program success and found that only a third did find them successful [1]. It may appear easy judging from corporate communication, but it is a special type of team effort that needs energy and effort. I think the trick is to both carry forth with planned changes and pay attention and adapt. Another trick is to attract and engage persons who facilitate both implementation and adaptation. These people are often engaged in semi-formal or informal ways, which makes them less visible. The informal part tends to go unrewarded, even though it can be the hardest and most valuable.

Design Is Not Only about Products or User Experiences

Clearly, companies and organizations serve clients whose products and user experiences must be crafted carefully. But with the complexity of modern organization, services and products, design is in everything we do, not just end products. If nothing else, the additional product cost brought about by ineffective process design is a burden. Extending design to process design – including not only strategic alignment but also the employee experience into the design of processes – unlocks potential for greater engagement and performance.  

Norms Steer What We Do, Not What We Think

You’re at work. Charged with rather too much to do, than too little. Given rather too few clear tools and direction, than too much. Sounds familiar. Our personalities, motivations and other factors influence to which degree we just get on with it versus when we decide to trigger discussion and perhaps more change. Norms also play a role, making it differently probable that a problem gets voiced depending on what happened last time. Each time such a discussion is not fruitful, frustration grows. It is often presumed that “leadership” should just sense what’s right and not, act accordingly and never allow problems to build. Similar to the ideal strategy implementation above, I suggest you give up on that idea. Leadership is everybody. Who nowadays is specifically told what to do? Managers hint, and annual objectives exist, but in between direction and measurement we have almost eight hours a day in which to exert autonomy over our workday (exceptions exist, I know, but the working world today really is modern).

Where Are You at

If you accept that you have the power, how do you use yours? Our preferences and view of the situation determine what we decide to do first, and what we end up doing most well. Think about it. Which parts of your job get done, and which work products are you most proud of. The answers lead you to how you’ve acted in the past, and helps you put your beliefs in focus. Now, is there anything you want to change? Take a moment to reflect on where you are at, where your team is, and how the organization works. What parts of that service design are regretful, and which are your improvement ideas? 

Care for It

You don’t need a consultant to care for your service design. You know it far better. But perhaps you would benefit from an outsider’s professional and independent point of view. Someone not bound by the need to sell services. Someone who takes your perspective. Someone with their own opinions who listens to you and cares for your situation. Someone trained and networked who can help you scale up together with others, if needed, or be your sounding board if you need to source change services from a larger consultancy. 
Personally, I am drawn to this area of work because of a great respect for both organizations and people’s wellbeing at work. I’ve seen how people hurt when service design is neglected and people are reported to “fail” in their jobs largely because of lack of proper attention. Caring for service design takes continuous effort but it is really smart to do it.
I’d be interested in your comments or feedback if you would like to contact me. I’m interested in your opinions and would like to get to help you professionally. If you want to test first, to get a feeling for what it would be like to work with me. I wrote you this article: Do you need more you?

About the Author

I am a manager and business partner independently working for clients in the greater Zurich area and sometimes abroad. I have vast experience in service design, strategic sourcing, vendor governance and financial performance management.  I am fascinated about well-functioning systems, with clear rules of engagement and respectful and interest-based collaboration and negotiation. My work includes business plans and business cases, outsourcing transactions, risk and financial frameworks and policies, and service transformation. I act as trusted advisor and leverage experiences gained in consulting (McKinsey, Accenture) and in industry (Zurich Insurance, UBS) in service delivery and capability building. A socially apt relationship-builder and confident communicator and negotiator, I interact with care and have a track record of achieving change. I energize from people, and care about both organizational performance and people’s health. Read more about each area, and check out my work.
[1] Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller, “The irrational side of change management”, McKinsey Quarterly, April 2009.