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6 Steps to Transform Aspirations into Action

Transformation is having a moment.

It’s estimated that over 70% of organizations are in the midst of some type of strategic transformation right now.

The challenges are real: organizations are scrambling to keep up with the rapid shifts in technological advancements, customer expectations, employee needs, and socio-political volatility. What’s at stake is real too. Consider that only 12% of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are still in existence. As the former CEO of Cisco said at a conference in 2015, “40% of businesses…unfortunately, will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years. If I’m not making you sweat, I should be.”

The part of this challenge that our team at The Design Gym has been obsessed with lately is not whether change is needed, but rather…

With so much change happening, why is so little of it successful or lasting?

A 2021 McKinsey study found that less than one third of organizations deem their transformations a success when it comes to improving performance and sustaining it. Another study published in HBR found that 78% of transformation programs fail. These statistics are alarming considering the projected $2.1 Trillion (with a T) that will be spent on digital transformation alone this year (ref: Statista).

Here’s the truth: A bold vision and values don’t create change. Actions do.

And translating a vision into action means creating behavior changes at every corner and level of your organization. It’s hard work and it requires new approaches to how we think about change management—practices that are less focused on top-down directions, bloated training programs, or soulless internal communications, and more focused on leadership listening, employee and customer co-creation, and an experiment-based learning mindset.

In our 12 years of helping leaders translate their strategic ambitions into everyday actions, we’ve found a rigorous combination of business strategy, human-centered design, and change management is required. We’ve executed it in sales orgs, HR teams, and factory floors with similar success.

Below are some of the steps we take with our clients and tools we use to help them translate strategic goals into new beliefs, behaviors, and actions across their organization. If you are interested in how we might adapt this process and toolkit to your org, reach out to set up a discovery call with one of our client partners.

Translating Business Goals into Behavior Changes


Step 1: Name the Need

Get hyper clear about both the change you are trying to create and the need that exists for the business. If you can’t succinctly describe how the behavior changes support business strategy, don’t progress until you can. Find an executive sponsor to champion this conversation internally.

The tools we use:

  • Problem framing workshops
  • Design Briefs
  • Future Casting Exercises
  • Personas
  • Data analysis

Step 2: Map the Current State

Visualize how work actually happens today – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Invite your employees to make it as accurate as possible.

The tools we use:


Step 3: Identify 3-5 “Moments That Matter”

Zoom out and identify where the biggest gaps are between where the business is going and how you currently work today. Prioritize them.

The tools we use:

  • Needs analysis
  • Impact assessments
  • Root cause analysis

Step 4: Co-Create Interventions

Use co-creation to engage your employees in imagining solutions against the 3-5 opportunities identified. It is critical that the ideas you develop should create both meaningful behavior changes and meaningful business outcomes. Encourage your team to think about the outcomes of the intervention, not just the output. For example, ‘host a training’ is a good example of something your team could host, but is it actually going to lead to new outcomes in the work? If not, then it’s likely not the most effective intervention.

The tools we use:


Step 5: Build Pilots, Not PowerPoints

Stop socializing the change you want to create and actually build it. Build solutions that can be tested immediately and will last for 12-weeks. Name specific hypotheses you want to test and assumptions you want to challenge. Embrace an experimental mindset and remind yourself the purpose of this program is not to be perfect – it’s to learn.

The tools we use:

  • Pilot Definition Templates
  • Impact Assessments
  • Learning Roadmaps
  • Systems Mapping
  • Role Definition Exercises

Step 6: Engage Your Team In The Refinement

Schedule retrospectives at 4/8/12 week intervals and invite your team to join the conversation. Expect that things aren’t working perfectly, and if they are, then perhaps you aren’t being bold enough. Lead a conversation around what you’ve learned, and ask your team how to iterate.

Tools we use:

  • Retrospectives
  • Pilot evaluation rubrics
  • Cost/Impact analyses
  • Learning roadmaps

Have a strategy that you need to activate in your team?

This is hard work, and sometimes teams can use a little outside help, but beware not all partners are the same:

  • Traditional management consultancies will focus their attention on building strategy around it, but fall short on the action.
  • Traditional change management firms will lean on a rigid series of steps that might win minds, but it certainly won’t win hearts.
  • Traditional design and innovation agencies or facilitators will host a lot of workshops, but fail to connect the work back to business outcomes.

Our approach is based on 12+ years of experience leading this work and combines expertise strategy creation, design, and change management to create outcomes that create excitement in the short term but create business outcomes over time. We’ve helped clients like HP, Kellogg’s, Cisco, Marriott, and others navigate moments of change and transformation by using the steps outlined above.

If you are interested in how we might adapt this process and toolkit to your org, send us a note to set up a discovery call with one of our team leads.

Andy Hagerman
[email protected]

Andy Hagerman is one of the co-founders and partners at The Design Gym, a strategy and innovation consultancy helping leaders to grow their business by fully unlocking the power of their most important advantage: their people. We work at the intersection of business strategy, experience design, and change management to engage the people that matter most to your work: your customers, your leaders, and your employees. See something that resonates with a project or challenge you're working on? Shoot him a note at [email protected].

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