9 Insights for Developing a Winning Culture with Design Thinking

A few weeks ago, I attended the first ever Retail Summit in the Middle East at Atlantis – The Palm, Dubai. The summit brought together over 900 senior global retail professionals from different parts of the world.

Tarun Vaidya (GMBA May'18) - Retail Summit 2019 - Design Thinking

One of the panel discussions I enjoyed attending during the summit was on ‘Developing a Winning Culture’. The panellists were Asil Attar, CEO – Damas Jewellery, Hans Christian Myer, CEO – Tiger of Sweden, and Kristina Karlsson, Founder and Creative Director – kikki.K, and the discussion was moderated by Anthony Marke, Group MD – Omniserve Ltd & Blackjack Promotions.

The panellists brought forth varied perspectives during the discussion – Myer joined Tiger of Sweden less than 2 years ago and presented his views on culture from the perspective of a newcomer. Karlsson is the founder of kikki.K and has had a pivotal role in building the culture from scratch. Attar has emerged successfully from tough situations where she had to rebuild a broken culture for ensuring a turnaround.

Design Thinking has been used extensively for designing products and services for customers. Apart from the economic benefit of Design Thinking that DMI and McKinsey have quantified in their respective reports, according to a 2015 study by the Hasso-Plattner-Institut, Germany titled ‘Parts Without a Whole’, more than 70% respondents reported that Design Thinking improved the working culture at their organisation.

Having recently conducted a research project on ‘Design Thinking for Employee Experience’, I found some of the ideas discussed by the panel particularly interesting. Here are my reflections linking select ideas/initiatives from the panel discussion and my research.

  • Lesson 1: Welcome – It is about how you do the small things.

Examples of initiatives shared by the panel: On their first day at work, new employees are welcomed to a desk adorned by the company’s own stationery products and a vase of flowers. The employee’s name is highlighted so that everyone knows them. Everyone in the team is encouraged to share photos on social media to make for a memorable welcome.

  • Lesson 2: Inspire – Initiatives should be driven by purpose. They should inspire people.

Examples of initiatives shared by the panel: For their first meeting after joining, the company has a practice wherein a new employee lights candles held by everyone attending. This reinforces a sense of belongingness and appreciation for their contributions in brightening the lives of everyone.

  • Lesson 3: Include the Family (the real one) – Compartmentalisation is a thing of the past. It is important to look at a person as a whole and help them with their lives.

Examples of initiatives shared by the panel: Employees can bring in their kids to work on school holidays, employees are encouraged to attend all school events (such as plays, concerts, etc.) in which their children participate, Tuesday is ‘bring your dog to work day’, employees who have just had a baby receive a free supply of diapers from the company, etc.

  • Lesson 4: Share the “Above & Beyond” Stories – Catch people doing good things and report it.

Examples of initiatives shared by the panel: Apart from sharing the daily sales and inventory figures, every store has to report one ‘above and beyond story’. This helps to reinforce a culture of positivity and appreciation.

Some other ideas shared by the panellists that resonate with the Design Thinking philosophy are:

  • Lesson 5: Collaborate (or Rotate) Across Silos – Collaboration: Cross-functional optimisation – Employees should be encouraged to work in other departments or aspects of the business. Everyone should understand and appreciate what the other is doing. This builds empathy.
  • Lesson 6: Build Diverse teams – For managing a global business, it is important to have diverse teams. This ensures that multiple perspectives are considered while making decisions. Diverse teams are better at ideation.
  • Lesson 7: Feedback – It is important to get feedback from the next generation of leaders to understand what they think of the decisions. Iterative prototyping & testing based on feedback helps develop the best outcome.
  • Lesson 8: Tell Stories – Use stories to share experiences and align people. Sharing stories also help communicate with people what is expected of them. Empathy & Define
  • Lesson 9: Include Leaders in the Crowd – Leadership should represent themselves as a part of the community and not act aloof. This helps them develop an appreciation for the problems on the ground and, thereby, make more informed decisions.

These initiatives help foster a culture of open-mindedness, adaptability, and trust. They are indicative of practices encouraged by the Design Thinking approach. However, ‘parts without a whole’ (as the title of the aforementioned report suggests) will result in limited and, in some cases, temporary benefits.  It might also result in losing faith in the process altogether.

Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation. Understanding and practising the true spirit of ‘human-centred’ design is critical for it to yield tangible results. Let us not get so enamoured with “innovation” that we forget the words that come before it – “human-centred.” It’s the foundation of innovation AND a winning culture.

About the Author: Taruun Vaiddya (GMBA May’18)

Taruun Vaiddya is a Global MBA student specialising in Consulting Management (May 2018 Intake) at SP Jain School of Global Management. He has 6 years of work experience in various roles in the Education, Non-Profit and Manufacturing industries. He is passionate about Human-Centred Design and the myriad possibilities that lie in the convergence of Design principles and business.

He enjoys hiking, photography and film appreciation. He regularly writes film reviews for an international youth magazine ‘Chinmaya Udghosh’ under the section ‘Reel Vedanta’. He loves to travel and has driven through 26 states of India, covering 28,000 km over an eight-month period as part of a national project for a global non-profit.