Co-creating change: Future state design sessions

I wrote earlier about my experience co-creating change, with advice to start by listening. Today I want to talk about another technique we've used repeatedly: sessions where "customers" (employees and leaders in our HR world) are invited to come together to discuss what the redesigned future program/tool/service could look like. We have run these sessions using design-thinking approaches, in particular "empathy mapping." 

Our approach to empathy maps is a bit different. Rather than using them to imagine the thoughts and feelings of different "user personas" ourselves, we've designed them as tools gather employees' thoughts and feelings directly, in sessions where we elicit their views of what future needs to look like.

Here's how it works. There are typically four or five empathy map posters set up around the room for an hour-long session, on large, dry-erasable surfaces.  The first question on each poster sets the focus for that part of the discussion. "How might we ... have more meaningful performance discussions?" (in redesigning our approach to performance management, for instance). "How might we ... ensure leaders are equipped to coach their team members?" We then move poster-to-poster with the group and discuss each in turn. 

Under these more general "How might we ..."  questions, sub questions on each poster really drive the discussion: "What would that look like?  Feel like?  What would you be doing?  What would your leader be doing?" By orienting the questions toward the future, the discussions are less about what's not working today. (That input is collected at the listening stage.) And by asking them to imagine how they contribute to the solution, we start to map what the change looks like, for them and for us. 

I can't claim credit for the design of the empathy maps we use. That was my leader and a colleague at the time who did a lot of research into different options and practices (shout-out to Natalie!). But I have used them many times and seen that they work. We invariably end up with insights and common themes that emerge, telling us what the hotspots are and what we need to emphasize in our design and communication of the new approaches.

Once you decide you want to incorporate something like this in your efforts to co-create change, here are a couple tips:

  • This type of session should come after you know something about the direction you're going, the main elements of the new approach or tool you're designing. Otherwise you will have trouble focusing the discussion.
  • Expect to put lots of effort into those higher-level "how might we" questions, the overall themes you'll discuss. Talk them through and try running through all the sub-questions for each theme with others. Even after doing so, we have had to adjust and get rid of redundant or unproductive questions after our sessions got underway.
  • If this is for HR programs, consider running separate sessions for employees and leaders. You will hear more candid ideas from employees about what leaders should be doing if leaders are not in the room. In our case, we typically give leaders an added question too: What would HR be doing (to support them in these new approaches)?
I hope this kind of approach is as fruitful for you as it has been for us!  If you have different design approaches, please feel free to share.  

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