Activating Strategy Through Experience Design

Activating Strategy Through
Experience Design

You created the map, but your people have to reach the destination. Will they?

You’ve got a vision for higher performance, and you’ve laid out the steps to success. Your strategy is set; now it’s time for the organization to put it into action. Realistically, this strategy is going to require a lot of people doing something new or different (all strategies do). And that’s where things get sticky—because frankly, the people part is the real challenge.

People are messy, complex, and unpredictable, and getting them to change is hard. How in the world will you control all of this so that everyone is following the plan for success?

Well, honestly, you won’t.

It’s not that strategy activation is impossible; it’s just that it doesn’t happen by exerting control. Rather, it happens when you offer people just the right experiences, at just the right moments, changing their minds in ways that lead to new actions and behaviors. This is the very definition of influence, which of course is the basis of great leadership.

An illustration of the impact of experience design on people

Too often organizations miss the boat here, thinking that strategy activation depends on rolling out new expectations and directing everyone’s compliance. But humans resist being pushed (literally). There’s an instinctive response to dig in our heels and push back.

So what works better?

When we want someone to move through a journey to a specific destination, it’s more effective to shape the path than to shove the person.

In the context of strategy activation, path-shaping or “experience design” means noting how emotions, beliefs, knowledge, and motivations relate to peoples’ choices and actions, and then harnessing that understanding within the context of your unique organization, so you can support your people in adopting new behaviors and habits.

If you think it all sounds pretty deep and requires a high level of emotional intelligence, empathy, and human behavior awareness—well, you’re right. But it’s no more than is required of great leaders every day.

Here are six critical steps of experience design for strategy activation:

1. Define success

Before you do anything else, be clear on the future state you are striving for. Share the metrics for success and the timing, and don’t forget to describe the rewards that await you there.

2. Understand your people

Next, “get into the shoes” of the people who will carry this effort. Define your impacted audiences (often this is by role or function) and then, explore:

  • What are their unique challenges, pains, hopes, desires, and motivators?
  • Who influences them most?
  • How are they already equipped for the envisioned future, and where do they have gaps?

Create a single persona to represent each impacted audience, and name it, so the “character” becomes more real and human to you (Fran the Frontline Manager, for instance).

3. Assess the landscape they’re about to travel

Keep Fran in mind and take an honest look at the various organizational factors that will influence her performance on the path ahead.

Mark the boundaries: Set some stakes in the ground by acknowledging what’s fixed about Fran’s daily reality at your company. Things like the annual events on the company’s calendar and the appreciated aspects of your culture should be noted, because you can leverage them—even amplify them—as you design the journey ahead.

Shift the boulders: At the same time, be open to identifying the big organizational rocks that could block her progress. Now is the time to make these issues a priority, clearing the way for her to move your strategy forward. Ask yourself:

  • From Fran’s perspective, is there an operational structure that will impede her ability to perform tomorrow’s process?
  • Does her compensation plan reward the wrong behaviors?
  • How might we address these issues?

4. Plot milestone results and needed behaviors

If you haven’t already, break down your big vision into a series of smaller milestones aligned to targeted dates or time spans.

  • What are the incremental results needed?
  • Then consider, what are the various actions Fran must take to achieve these results over time?

5. Chart their mindset shift

Look at the world through the eyes of Fran and her peers and imagine what would inspire them to take each step noted on the timeline. Reflect on how they will need to:

  • Connect emotionally
  • Change their beliefs
  • Grow their trust
  • Increase their understanding
  • Amplify their motivation

6. Support their performance

As you work through this process, determine which experiences will be the most impactful and pivotal to Fran. Consider these her “moments that matter” and focus your energy here so you can best support her success.

Ask yourself:

  • At these moments, how might we create experiences that will foster the internal journey we’re targeting?
  • Do you see a point where it will be critical for people to trust your overall vision? Share the why, how, and what of this effort.
  • Is there a time when they should increase their knowledge or skills? Arrange for fun, meaningful learning support.

You’re their guide

Your vision has pointed the organization to a mountain top, and your strategy maps the way. But if you simply yell, “Go,” your people will likely struggle to reach the summit. They’ll climb quicker (with less risk, cost, waste, and drama) if you mark the trail, provide them tools, and air-drop supplies over time.

The trick is knowing just when they’ll need what…which is exactly what you’ll discover when you engage in experience design. That’s why it’s the key to activating your strategy through your people.

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