Get to the starting line

Four essential steps before you can fire up transformation.


It’s the final days of the 20th century when the CXO of an online directory yells, ‘We’ll have no business left if we let people rate plumbers!’ Cue tears of frustration from the user experience team as an emerging need hits the floor.

Today, the origins of business change (or missed opportunities) remain manifold and ceaseless. Burning platforms or technology brokering new products – is it all about fast market disruption? Else wisdom reveals an earthier truth: success often comes from incremental shifts. If you’re a change agent who senses opportunity, this is a good reality check. But where to begin? Our work in experience design offers a body of knowledge you can lean on.

Set up success

To reach your goal, first, you need to map a unique set of conditions – awareness, consensus, appetite, and capability. By distilling these four internal factors, a route into the future emerges.

Step 1 – Create awareness

Photo by: Kelly Sikkema


Is the business aware there’s a need for change? You recognise it, your team sees it, but the board isn’t connected to the value yet. We’ve helped clients in all sectors over this hurdle from the privileged position of consultant and design partner. Turning awareness into action comes from telling a compelling story – building a case for change. Set out a rationale that people can relate to.

Case point – I don’t smell burning

A Post-it note with a triangle drawn on it demonstrates dwindling relationships between music fans, artists and record label: corners of opportunity are coloured in. We’re in a strategy meeting with a digital transformation director – this small square nails a survival issue neatly. The CEO sees the triangle but can’t engage with the issue or remedy because they don’t like diagrams.

On days like these, the task is to find the right way to communicate and create an irrefutable case for change. Try finding (more) sceptics as well as allies when you hit a blocker – diverging views strengthen any solution. Most importantly, align around the value that can be created and present that to the board with universal clarity.

Step 2 – Foster consensus

You’ve built awareness that change must come, but does everyone agree on how that walks and talks? Getting a consensus is hard, and the journey gets sticky once you’re into questions of direction and scale of change. Making the intangible feel tangible with a near-future artefact is the fastest way to agree on a strategy. Produce a diagram, model, storyboard, screen interaction or prototype. This critical act of throwing ‘clay onto the wheel’ oxygenates a conversation. We call this method ‘future-backwards’.

Case point – Parachuting with strangers

Three vibrant businesses become one, with bold plans in the telecoms market. But can you jump into radical innovation with people you don’t know? We recommend a deeper dive into consensus and handling with care. Because sometimes, the client’s ask isn’t the problem to solve, and foundational areas like brand need scrutiny first. If that’s your hunch, start by coming together as one group in a comfortable meeting space. Every team has a unique vocabulary and culture – invest time to understand those voices and views, and you’ll find common ground to build upward from.

Step 3 – Understand appetite

Image by: Kirill Bogomolov


The appetite for, and fear of, change are closely related – both leave clients and their change agents in heightened uncertainty. And whether you’re chomping at the bit or hiding under the company sofa, interrogation of goals is the cure-all. Leave assumptions behind and ask stakeholders simple questions like:

  • Who wants to go on this change journey with me?
  • How far do they want the business to travel?
  • What are their motivations and needs?
  • What’s their vision?
  • How does it differ from mine?

Case point – Channel crossing

A leisure operator needs help discovering what digital can do for business. It represents minor sales and engagement in a brand sold mostly through agencies. But a low appetite for change can signal a knowledge gap, not a lack of ambition. In this case, once the possibilities were understood internally, effort was refocused. Incremental changes upped digital revenue fourfold, and a new online audience found the product.

Is reticence in the room when you’re galvanising change? The requirement is to educate and inspire. Use design to make the vision palpable – zero in to draw attention to a specific opportunity, then bring wider context to make real the halo of benefits.

Step 4 – Assess capability

Photo by: Anastasia Zhenina


Hungry for innovation but stranded by capability? It doesn’t prevent a change agent from taking a big vision and making it real, though it may mean higher investment and effort to spring tools to life. We vouch for this: the design process can move past any pre-existing condition to support, propel and embed change. To reveal a capability blueprint, map systems, processes and people against the experience you want to provide. So no situation becomes a dispiriting cul-de-sac: alignment becomes possible, and a path forward is within reach.

Case point – Leopards wear stripes

Can a 150-year-old bank cut it against digital challengers? There’s unrivalled sector knowledge, a black hole where a digital pipeline could be, and face-to-face interaction as the preferred business currency. Seventeen months later – a digital wealth management platform captures a new market, and the client’s transformation journey has ‘changed lives’ by unleashing entrepreneurial esprit de corps. If this sounds tempting, think about experimenting with a culture swap, like embedding stakeholders into the design process for a start-up period.

Do you have a journey to share?

We’re inspired daily by the work of change agents the world over. Get in touch with the Else team to deepen the conversation around experience design and effective innovation.

Article image by pikisuperstar

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