Sustaining Culture Change

My thesis work has been wrapping up quite nicely. Over the past year and a half I have helped an academic health center employ design which has required significant culture change. The projects evolved from re-designing services offered by the organization to designing opportunities for employees to redesign their own work. These latter efforts have taught employees innovation and design thinking, to empower them to design for themselves. These new teachings deviate from cultural norms and have had a hard time sticking after they are learned. I am happy to say that my most recent model for building an innovative culture has shown an improved understanding and application of the learning. At the same time, this has seen a ripple effect as it has spread throughout the organization.

I designed a strategy to support the learning of innovation beyond the bootcamps where the methods are taught. This strategy, employed a designer to support the work of a team who recently attended an innovation workshop. This role would help guide the team as it worked through a problem but not lead or take charge of the team. This strategy was created from my research on understanding culture change.

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I am currently working on the documentation for the whole project, but I want to share some data I gathered from the work. A the beginning of the team collaboration, I administered a survey to get an understanding of the team’s competence in innovation. I then administered the same survey afterward to see if there was a difference in how comfortable the team felt about employing innovative thinking. The data is divided by how the organization describes innovation in four components (gaining insights, defining the problem, exploring solutions, and rapid validation). The results are below.

Data Synth

Comparing the data side-by-side reveals several discoveries that highlight the impact of this role. Because nurses talk to patients everyday, the cardiovascular care team always felt very comfortable with talking to people about there experiences. The greatest change was seen in the teams comfort with gaining insights. This can be attributed to their new understanding of the use of qualitative data. The area that saw the least change was in problem definition. Future supporting roles should aim to strengthen support here. There was significant growth in the team’s comfort in rapid validation. The team not only learned the importance of testing concepts but also the value of failed ideas.

While the team clearly improved their abilities in the work from this project, they also effected the culture around them. One of the team members said that another unit within the health center saw the project they were working on and said they wanted to do the same thing. They then shared their work with the other unit and it is acting as a foundation for a similar project they are working on. Here we see the spread of innovation without employees having to attend a workshop. At the same time, another one of the team members was working with a separate team on an unrelated project. She said that she has been able to apply these same skills to that project which has greatly improved her work. Again, innovation is spreading throughout the culture, causing change.

It has been very clear that the organization has valued this strategy as it has seen the benefits both in quality of the work, and the spread of the learning, but sustaining the role is an entirely different issue. It has been proven that a supporting role can help sustain the change that is being taught in innovation bootcamps, but how can the role itself be sustained? I am currently working with the organization to identify how this role can continue to support their work. If we can workout a scenario where more designers can support more teams, whether that involves graduate level designers or professionals, then I would consider that to be sustainable change.


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