Change Management is now Service Design

Published on January 8, 2016 by Dave Van de Maele

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Why do we need change to be managed?

Our ability for change is probably the most important aspect of our human nature. Through the ages we have increased our knowledge and grown as a society by constantly adapting to our environment. It’s a natural process. So close to our skin that we often do not realise it’s the reason we are successful.

Why is it then that change feels so difficult if it happens in our professional lives? Why do we become resistant when our work surroundings evolve towards new structures? Why do we feel threatened when new IT systems or work methods cross our path?


I believe the answer is simple. Within most organisations change is portrayed and perceived as a distant goal to be reached. It’s something ‘instilled’ by leadership. It’s a fate to be ‘accepted’. If you compare this to the way change actually works for us, this is an odd starting point. Dealing with change never happens like something we intended.

Reaching a goal is never straight forward. There are many side tracks and new insights to consider along the way. A lot of the time we even discover that the initial goal is not where we wanted to end up after all.

On top of that, instead of approaching change as a group activity organisations too often work with isolated teams and appointed change experts to move change forward, one step at a time. Classic change management models — such as Kotter, ADKAR and Kugler-Ross — picture the process exactly like this. As a progressive growth curve with predefined steps that brings us to a new state of being.

Step by step processes don’t match well with how change actually works for us on an individual level. Change is an ongoing activity in which we figure out how new possibilities relate to us. We do this through interaction with others.

I do understand the value of having plans. I’ve played a part in organisational restructure projects and have seen the stress they cause. Especially when large groups of people are impacted, a high-level strategy is needed to manage the emotional, political and operational issues that the change causes. Change models offer such guidance.

However, if you zoom in on the collaboration that is required to make the new situation work, I‘ve always felt that something was lacking. I believe that dealing with change on an individual level is an emerging, ongoing activity in which we figure out how new possibilities and evolutions relate to ourselves. Just think of how family and friends play a crucial part in helping us through changes in our personal lives. Like moving to a new place or accepting the loss of a dear one. We cope with these events through interaction and collaboration with others.

It’s precisely here that I see service design add such great value to change management. Through it’s methods service design provides the interactions and activities that complement high-level strategies. Resulting in a broader support, increased flexibility and quicker progress towards the desired future state.

Why is service design so effective at managing change?

1. Service design involves a lot of people interaction

More than any other method, service design uses human interaction as a starting point to make progress and create solutions. From the get-go it injects field research, contextual interviews, observations and other means of human interaction in a project. It aims to deeply understand people behaviour.

Everyone involved in these processes learns a great deal about the motivations of others and gets a better understanding of how decisions are perceived by different team members and customers, thus making change a group activity instead of a strategy implementation that happens in isolation between different departments and roles.

Service design workshops involve people from different departments and even customers. They are a great way to stimulate the necessary interaction that makes people see how changes relate to themselves and others.

2. Service design uses visual modelling to define future visions and align people on shared goals

An important part of getting through a change process is embracing the fact that the future is more desirable than the current reality. The reason why people feel threatened by change is often because they have not yet accepted the new reality or they don’t see their role in it.

Service design uses visual modelling to unify people on shared goals and makes them feel a deep emotional connection to them. We always invest a great deal of effort in these models. We call them ‘artefacts’ because they are hallmarks of progress that the team has made. And we always make sure that the model is supported by everyone.

An important thing about these visual models is not that they are metaphors for complex insights — they are too! — but more so that they provide people the energy to move forward in a project. They represent the steps they are taking both as a team and an individual in the change towards a new service.

We often use LEGO® Serious Play® to translate future visions into clear visual artefacts and actionable teaminsights. People feel emotional connections to the stories they have created them together. It moves them forward.

3. Service design runs simulations to learn about succes

Every service design project delivers multiple prototypes to learn if it’s assumptions are correct. By running trials and simulations, an organisation can see how people will react to future events and new service offerings. Roleplaying is an important aspect of this activity and it helps to shape emerging, shared strategies even further.

The simulations need input from everyone in the team to work and offer a ‘fail safe’ zone for experimenting. This way teams learn to understand if the change will work out in the future or whether it needs extra tools or processes to be supported.

Service designers gather valuable insights by running simulations of future situations. It results in updates to the design, but als in supportive tools and processes to cope with possible issues along the road.

4. Service design is not solely focused on business benefits, but it doesn’t neglect them either

Business benefit is a focus of any good service design track. The aim should always be to return some kind of value to the service provider — money, data, opportunities, ... However service design also looks at how the inner organisation and teams are impacted by the changes that new business strategies cause. By doing so they make sure that the value return is successful in the long run as well.

The best service designers understand that they need to come up with designs that address the needs of customers, but also those of the team they are working with.

Customer journeys are a great way to unite business benefit with backstage processes in the organisation.

Real life examples

Belgian Governement — the road towards a better digital customer experience for civilians

At Knight Moves we are working closely with the Belgian Government to design more efficient and effective services. This originates from a political ambition to make governmental services for civilians digital-first and super-simple by 2020. The goal is to provide both a better customer experience for civilians and a more lean way of working for the government staff.

A lot of government organisations are shifting toward a digital-first service. This often is accompanied by difficult changes for the people working in the different departments. Service design helps to guide the change.

These evolutions stem from policy decisions — they are a ‘fate to be accepted’. In a lot of teams this leads to great tension. People don’t know how to start implementing the change. We often notice that future visions are a far stretch from the realities that people work in today. Teams need to collaborate outside their departments to be succesfull, outside their organisations even. Current processes, work culture and systems don’t allow for the speed or effectiveness that is required for this.

Through contextual interviews, creative sessions, visual modelling and co-creation methods we help them discover not only what is needed for the implementation of the new digital services, but also what the the team itself needs, to make the digital transformation work. Service design proves to be a very effective method to unite both high-level policies and the work reality in the trenches. It brings together not only management and administrative staff, but also civilians.

“A top down approach won’t work, but bottom-up neither. We need something in between.” — Ruben Bellens, Digital Program Manager VDAB.

Service design gives people energy and clarity to face the challenges that a radical digital-first approach brings. In all the collaborations we’ve done, I’ve seen a strong willingness of everyone to work out solutions. I have been suprised on many occasions to see how people tackle issues that are related to sensitive management topics such as costs, efficiency and headcounts, more effectively than their leaders at a high corporate level. And even while they are directly impacted by structural changes in the future.

The best solutions for efficiency and other difficult change issues are found in the minds and hearts of the people that are impacted. Service design helps stimulate the creativity that is needed to get to effective solutions.

Change management is now service design

The next time you need a change manager, consider hiring a service designer instead. They understand a great deal about human behaviour and know how to facilitate the people processes that are needed to move change forward. Service design’s aim is to improve satisfaction of customers and it returns more value to your business while doing so.

Service designers work closely with the people in your organisation — combining different skills, responsibilities and backgrounds to scale the effect of collaborative problem-solving. They create visual models to battle complexity and build deep emotional connections in every individual for future ambitions and goals.

This is why I feel that service design is the best companion for change. I especially like the term ‘design’ in the phrase, because it suggests a notion of creation. Of building results together. Of getting feedback and growing naturally. Together.

Just like we have done for ages.

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