Change is necessary
Organizations don’t stay the same, crises require responses, and when challenges or opportunities arise, systems need to shift.
And, change is hard on humans. Productivity takes a hit. People leave jobs. Projects start to look like “get my part done” instead of “let’s do better together.”
Seeing those challenges, we asked ourselves, ‘What makes change work?’
Well, we’d seen what did not work. An organization gets a new idea – a new business strategy, a new way of working, or a new product – and their team has agreed that yes, the idea is good! The idea is usually good. Unfortunately, organizations underestimate the change that a good idea requires of people, and with limited resources to manage the change, the new idea stalls. It loses momentum and support. Or, it’s killed all together.
So, a good idea is not good enough on its own because the idea doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it enters into a complex human system, for which we need human strategy.
If we built a data-driven strategy that accounted for the human aspect of change, would organizations—companies, governments, systems—jump with us?
We started with reimagining what change could look like. In our eyes, change should be at scale, while organizations maintain their efficacy, and with specific intentionality towards the humans.
In pursuit of that vision, we’ve learned a few important things: First, it takes courage and creativity to achieve that type of change. Second, this approach is effective, not just altruistic —a data-driven approach with buy-in from the parties involved means more lasting change.
A shift always has a stimulus
While working for a bigger firm, we had a client approach us with a problem: they were losing a lot of business (and employees) to their main competitor. They articulated the problem and wanted a recommendation on how to turn the ship around.
But, if the problem was what it seemed on the surface, why hadn’t it been resolved? They seemed to have the vision and the data. Intent on making real change, our team presented a different approach: We don’t know enough about your problem yet. So, let’s take one store and run a series of short tests. We’ll learn what customers are looking for. Let’s gather new kinds of data and redesign proactively, rather than reacting to your competitor. And, we could use the same method to learn about the challenge of keeping employees at the same time.
They didn’t go for it.
Fast forward, we left our consulting gigs and leaned hard into the belief that we need to evolve how we approach change. It didn’t make sense for our employers to take this on, but we felt we should give it a go. At first, we heard ‘no’ a lot. Then, a client came along and said yes.
Experimenting with a new approach
This client wanted to change how they approached innovation. They’d invested a lot into their current approach, but it wasn’t delivering the results they needed. Understandably, there was major resistance to additional change—a lot of time and energy had already been invested, and they couldn’t afford to press pause and wait for recommendations. If there was going to be a shift, it would have to happen while producing real work.
So, we studied the plane at 30,000 feet. We launched a series of rapid experiments to help us identify recommendations in real time. We brought on former colleagues—talented designers, strategists, and mediators. We joined a real project team and found what was working and the sticking points: The hard stuff. The doubts and legitimate concerns.
Then, out of the grind, came the real change. By joining a live project team, we learned the challenges we had to solve. Each of those challenges turned into an opportunity to experiment. The experiments produced results on active projects and qualitative data-driven recommendations that were developed with stakeholders. Buy-in grew organically. Our experiment ‘participants’ became advocates for the changes they helped define. Process and people. We learned, improved our approach and tried again. And again.
The Human Factor started with one single problem, approached differently. Today, we know this approach works for a lot of problems and clients. It’s challenging, courageous work, and that means it likely doesn’t suit everyone.
For those that it does—the partners who want to take on big challenges, who want to challenge “the way it’s always been” for the chance at something better—we’ve seen the kind of change we’ve always craved: sustainable, profitable change that accounts for the human factor.