Human Centered Design
Strategy

Webinar Series: #1 Design Thinking in the Real World—Conversations with Changemakers

By Lisa Helminiak

January 26, 2018

How Human-Centered Design is Transforming Our Organization—Laurie Englert, Vice President of Customer Experience at Legrand

Azul Seven Webinar: February 15, 2018: 10:30 am (CST)

Presenter: Lisa Helminiak



In this first installment of our series, Design Thinking in the Real World: Conversations with Changemakers, we’ll be talking with Laurie Englert of Legrand. Laurie has 25 years of experience working in advertising and marketing and has always looked for ways to better serve her customers. Fifteen of those years were spent focused on building powerful, passionate teams. For the last four, she has worked diligently to build cross-functional teams that are dedicated to elevating customer experience. These teams include Customer Marketing and Engagement, Customer Insights and Operations, Customer Care, Customer Intelligence.

Laurie works in the fast-changing world of audio video infrastructure and power. Under her guidance over the last 14 years, the Milestone AV brand and customer experience has thrived through rapid growth and a dizzying array of acquisitions and consolidation of infrastructure, processes and teams. She most recently led her team with humor and grace through the Milestone AV acquisition by Legrand, a global specialist in electrical and digital building infrastructure.

Through all of this rapid change and growth, Laurie has been committed to finding ways to continue to improve the engagement of her teams to better serve customers. One of her favorite tools is Design Thinking. Laurie passionately believes “Empathy is Everything!” During this conversation, we’ll learn why and also talk with Laurie about:

  • How she discovered Design Thinking and why she thought it might be a useful framework
  • How she rolled out Design Thinking in her organization
  • How she uses Design Thinking now versus when she started
  • How her organization measures the impact of Design Thinking and other human-centered design practices
  • When Design Thinking isn’t the right tool and other stories about failure
  • Advice for others trying to implement Design Thinking

To listen to the webinar, fill out the form below:

Webinar transcription

Lisa: Hi, everybody. Welcome to Azul Seven’s webinar series. This is the first one that we’re doing, Design Thinking in the Real World Conversations with Change Makers. I have a change maker in our office today, Laurie Englert, one of my favorite people on the planet. Laurie is the Customer Experience VP. Your title is Customer Experience VP now?

Laurie: Yep.

Lisa: Formerly with Milestone AV, they just were acquired by Legrand. This has been a big organizational shift. Laurie will talk a little bit about that. Laurie has 25 years of experience working in advertising and marketing, and has always looked for ways to better serve her customers. And that is so true with our experience in working with her.

You have a lot of teams under your belt right now; customer marketing, engagement, insights and operations, customer care and customer intelligence. My God, that’s a lot on your plate.

Laurie: No. I’ve got really, really good managers. Great.

Lisa: Well, I think the main thing we want to talk to you about today is, your experience in the realm of design thinking and how you’ve come upon that practice. We started the series, actually, to talk about design thinking and practice because, a lot of people are getting interested in design thinking especially, in the last few years. And, it is a process that can be used and changed to best fit people’s cultures. And, we do know that there are different ways to practice it.

I think what’s been interesting knowing you over the last few years, is how you’ve been able to take the process and really implement it in an interesting way within your company, to great effect. I want to talk a little bit more about that today. But, I wanted to start out with just how you came upon the idea of using design thinking, how you heard about it. And, what can you tell us about you stumbled upon it, if you will?

Laurie: Sure. So, I work for a pretty cool company with some leadership that are very innovative. So, we’ve always been looking for ways to innovate faster.

Lisa: Tell us a little bit about what the company does.

Laurie: Oh, okay. So, Milestone AV, now Legrand AV, we make things. We’re basically, the ultimate AV accessory company. So, if you’ve got a flat panel you need to hang it, we make mounts. If you got a screen in a classroom, we make that. You know, racks. All kinds of stuff really to support AV solutions.

We’re always looking for ways to bring products to market faster. And, as much as there’s lots of innovation frameworks out there, I don’t know that anybody’s really nailed it to help you make things go faster. It’s like you have lots of different formats, and you know, lots of different companies have formats that work for them. But, we couldn’t seem to find that secret sauce. So, we would hire consultants, and we would ask them, “Help us innovate faster. Help us take this particular product to market faster.” And, consultants don’t want to give up the secret sauce, right? That’s why they’re there.

So, they’ll get you so far and then, they don’t really give you the tools to step back into your organization and implement. So, gosh, four or five years ago now, my CEO, Scott Gill, said, “Hey, I just got this email from Stoked,” who is an awesome, awesome organization that trains people in Design Thinking. Design Thinking comes out of Stanford, so it’s got a lot of credibility. And my CEO is an engineer by trade. So the fact that this had a lot of credibility coming out of Stanford was a big deal to him.

He said, “Hey, go check it out. They’ve got some free introduction sessions.” So I went, along with 12 other managers that I pulled out of the company, and we did this gift giving experience. And it was awesome. It was all about empathy. How do I get empathy from customers in a very fast, concise way?

So we did that, and I went back to my leadership team and said, “This is pretty awesome. We really, really need to think about diving in a little deeper.” So then Stoked offered a three day class. So three of us from the organization went to that three day class. And that for me was life changing. For three days you were immersed in design thinking. It was uncomfortable at first. I’ll never forget, because we went to the zoo. They wanted to figure out how do they get more people to the zoo at odd times of the day, or how do they get more different kinds of customers to the zoo at odd times of the day.

Lisa: So you were working on a project for the zoo?

Laurie: Yes. A project for the zoo, which was super cool. And they literally dumped us off and basically said, “Hey, here’s some basic instruction. Now you’re going to walk around the zoo and ask these people why they come to the zoo.” I was like, “No way. I’m not doing that. That’s like those mall people that chase you down with a survey.”

But, we ended up doing that. And by asking these really big kind of generic questions, and in just letting people talk, my gosh, you got so much great information. They say in design thinking, six like minded people and you can move the next step. Because, what you’re looking for are trends. You’re looking for people to kind of have consistency in their message, and that’s how you can start to define some of your problems or your challenges that you want to fix.

That was an amazing experience. And that helped me get even more excited about it. So the three of us that went, and Nathan Bohl is still within our company, we got to dive a little deeper into the design thinking process. We’ve made design thinking such a part of our team effort that, Nathan now helps Stoked train people. So, super cool. He goes on all these different sessions now, and he brings back new ideas to our company, as well, which really helps to continue to integrate it.

So after that, we did a three day thing. I went back, and I convinced my leadership team, let’s bring Stoked in, and let’s have a two day thing with 60 people from around our company. And let’s try and work on things that are more related to our company. So, it is awesome to do something like the zoo, because it makes your brain think about other projects, rather than get sucked into something you know so well. But if you really, really want to integrate design thinking, you do have to start working on projects that are within your company and your context. Not only that, when you’re working with people like engineers, it’s very important for them to understand the concepts that they’re working on.

Lisa: Have you found any challenges, specifically with engineers, in design thinking? How do you manage that?

Laurie: Oh, yes. We do because they want everything to be perfect. Honestly, they take a product, I’ll give you a great example. We make mounts. So, flat panel TV mount. Our product management team, who have definitely embraced design thinking said, “Okay, we are going to bring a not great prototype to InfoCon,” which is our major trade show. “We’re going to bring it. We’re going to put a cover over it, and we’re going to have customers sign an NDA, walk into a room, and give us input on that product.”

The engineers were devastated. They’re like, “There is no way. We need something that looks better.” Because engineers are very much about it’s very prideful, it’s like, “I put my heart and soul in this. I don’t want people to judge this. That is something not complete.”

So what we did is, we brought the engineers with us. We said, “We are going to do this, and you’re going to watch as we get input.” And what happened was, customers came in, and signed the NDA, and they saw that the thing was kind of tilted, and kind of lacking. And they started playing with it. They started going, “Oh, no. I wouldn’t do that. I would have a lever here. No, this is how we pull it out when we’re working with it.”

And the engineers were ferociously writing down all the insights they were getting just by observing customers interact with this prototype that maybe took a half a day to make, versus then when an engineer would spend three months on it before revealing it to anyone.

Lisa: So the big takeaway for them was, it doesn’t have to be a finished product before you show it to people.

Laurie: Yes.

Lisa: Okay.

Laurie: That was a huge takeaway from it. It’s still a challenge, and there’s still a mindset there sometimes, but we have transitioned a lot of those folks over to a lot quicker prototypes. Every trade show, every large trade show we have now, has an innovation room with this kind of stuff. Not only that, it has boards where people can come in and start writing their ideas. Our engineers love that. They take back so much more hands on experience than if they’re just sitting at their desk trying to build in SolidWorks or something.

Lisa: You know what’s interesting to me in talking to you over the years and working with your team, that you’ve applied design thinking in a number of different areas in the company. Could you talk a little bit about that? That’s a product development application. What else are you doing?

Laurie: At first, I kind of got in trouble for this.

Lisa: Don’t we all.

Laurie: Really, our leadership team was all about product and bringing products to market faster. But I and my partner in crime, Derrick Dirks], we have found, this is really great just from a service context. And that’s how we found you guys. Actually, I found you guys because Denny was one of the coaches for Stoked. That’s why we ended up working with you guys and doing our entire digital experience with you guys, because we knew you knew design thinking and we had already embraced it.

Derrick and I went out and we interviewed all our customers. All we were looking to find out was, what’s our next level of service. So we make really cool tools for customers. We have a mount builder and mount finder, and lots of online applications. We just went around the country, and we met with several different customers. We’re like, “Hey, who is the best manufacturer you do business with? Not who, but what do they do?”

Lisa: Right. What are the processes that are making people’s lives easier?

Laurie: Yeah. They start saying, “Oh, I love Biamp because they have amazing training. And I love Extron because they have an awesome online presence.” So they start telling you all the cool things they love. And we walked away from that journey with do what you do, just do it better.

We were doing things very manual. Yep. They kept saying, “This is awesome.” They kept saying, “Gosh. You guys do a great job. I get my pricing from you ever month. It’s always updated. I get an Excel spreadsheet.” Then we would say, “Does anybody else do it better?” Like, “Yeah. Have you seen Extron’s website?” “No. Can you show me?”

So they started showing us how they do business with other customers in a much more automated way. We took that back and ended up selling that to our leadership team, that we literally needed a better digital experience. And that was awesome, and that’s been a huge journey. But because of that, we probably have one of the best digital experiences in our market, for sure.
But to your point, it does work great for digital experience. But one of the coolest things I did, and this is where I got in a little bit of trouble is-

Lisa: I wanted to got into how you got in trouble.

Laurie: I go to these trade shows all the time with our sales people. They’re small trade shows. You might have a 10X30 booth or whatever. So I go to these, and they’re so boring. And sales people always start the same way. “Hi, how are you doing? Have you seen our new product.” Yeah, okay. Take me through, and ask what you do. You go booth by booth and you do this really boring thing.

So I thought, what could we do different. So I built this super big board, and I put it in the middle of our booth. And on it I had different products. I took customers as they came into the booth. I gave them stickers and I said, “Okay. Used red for the scariest product. You don’t want to touch that because you think it’s too complicated. Use green for something you’d use every day. And use yellow for something maybe that you could use training on or you don’t understand.”

So customers come in, and they have these stickers, and they start putting stickers on your board, and they’re talking to you while they do it. So one of the biggest aha moments that came out of that whole thing was, we had all these yellow stickers around charging carts. Nobody knew we had charging carts.

Lisa: Interesting.

Laurie: So what did my salespeople walk away with? Opportunity to sell and train on charging carts. So I walked away, and I’m super pumped up. And I’m like, “This is awesome. This is another great way to do it.” And I’m on my way back to the airport and my boss calls. He’s like, “Where are you?” I’m like, “I’m in Phoenix, and we just did this great thing.” I’m explaining to him.
He goes, “You know, we really have to start having a conversation about where you’re applying your time, because we’re really supposed to be using that for innovation.” And my boss is a super cool guy, and he gets this. This was a little bit out of the norm.

Lisa: He started it, which is cool.

Laurie: Yeah. Scott started it. Steve is my boss.

Lisa: Okay.

Laurie: Then I went back to the office, and we never really talked about it. Like a week later, he goes, “Hey, I’m in Arizona and I’m with the client. All they’re doing is raving about what you did at the trade show, and how interesting it was, and how competitors couldn’t figure out what was going on over there. So, okay, I got it.”

So since then, we use this every day. We now use post-it notes to think about how we prepare PowerPoint templates. I used to sit at my desk and painstakingly try to come up with this methodical way to build a PowerPoint deck. And I’m one of these people that the slide has to be perfect before I go to the next slide. And that can be really aggravating, because there’s no story.

So now I sit down, and I’ve got my post-it notes, and I’m writing concepts and where they go and moving them around. And I’ve got this framework, and the next thing I know, and I don’t use PowerPoint anymore, I use Prezi because I hate PowerPoint. But I can build something very quickly. I have increased efficiency personally.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s interesting.

Laurie: Yeah. It’s cool.

Lisa: It’s funny to me, because we do hear from a lot of people that we’ve worked with or trained over the years, and learned that not only do people use the framework for their businesses … And some people have to do it in a less broad way than you are applying it, and they just work on new products with this tool set. But they do say it changes their life in terms of their own personal focus.

Laurie: Yeah.

Lisa: You talked about a couple things. You talked about empathy gathering, which was transformative for you, especially at the beginning. Now you’re talking about prototyping an idea meeting. What pieces of the process do you feel have impacted your business the most?

Laurie: For us, 100%, empathy. I mean, because just understanding what your customers need, and knowing that it doesn’t take a survey of 50,000 customers to get to the end result. You literally can go out and talk to 6 to 10 customers, and create some trends and really start to focus on what you need to do.

But what I love about design thinking is, I rarely go through a whole cycle. I take pieces and parts. Sometimes there are knowns out there. Sometimes we get a very specific project from product development and this is the outcome they’re looking for, and here’s all the details. So we start an ideation. We have the facts, we have the details.

Lisa: You have the prototype. You have a theory.

Laurie: Yeah. So, how do we get the right people in the room and start to really concept and generate some ideas? We start, we pull different pieces, but I would say, bar none, is the upfront part for me is getting that empathy, putting it into themes, then kind of testing those themes or ideating on those themes. Then sometimes we go to prototype.

I’ll give you another example. We have a sales meeting every year. Salespeople, they can be a little bit critical sometimes. What we started doing is, right before the sales meeting we call them. We go, “Hey, what’s the best meeting you’ve ever been to?” And they start telling you stories. “Well, what do you really need to walk away from this meeting?”

So again, it’s all about those really big open-ended questions. And it’s also all about being quiet and allowing them to talk, and just starting to listen to them. I take copious notes. I write down every single word. That helps me get in in my brain, so when I’m done interviewing all them, I already see the themes that came out in the conversation.

So from those themes, we build an agenda. And the coolest part about that is, you walk into a meeting and the person that grabs the marker is usually the person that starts to lead and direct where the meeting’s going. Somebody will stand up, and they start taking notes. “Here’s what we want to accomplish at the sales meeting.” And I’ll say, “That’s great. I know there are things we have to get done there, like new product and whatnot. But here’s what the sales team really wants.”

I’ll tell you, they always used to want speakers. “We want speakers. We want to practice, some education, we want to learn some new things.” And this past year they basically said, “This has been great. We loved all the speakers. We don’t want speakers this year. We really want to spend time with our counterparts so we can learn from across the country what they’re doing.”

That saved me money. It did. But it’s all about asking them where can you get the most bang for the buck, so when you walk out of this sales meeting you are prepared and ready to sell for the year. What can we do for you? So the people in the meeting that I’m dealing with, when they start to say, “But I really want to do a competitive build up of these products.”

I’m like, “That’s great. Nobody cares. Do that on a webinar. Do that your own time. Maybe do it as an elective if they want to come in and do that. But here are the core things they need to walk out to be successful.” And you know what? We grow year over year, because we’re getting them what they need to be successful.

Lisa: They’re telling you, and you’re listening, which is the important thing.

Laurie: Exactly. And when you show up, they know they had input into what’s there. They are now part of the process. We have sales meetings, these guys are prepared for design thinking. They’re now irritated when we sit in a room and they see a PowerPoint, and it’s just going to be PowerPoint.

Lisa: Interesting.

Laurie: They want to know when are we going to interact. When are we going to start talking to each other about what we’re doing? And we do a lot of that, too. But it is easy to fall back in your old ways sometimes, and do just an entire session in PowerPoint. We just got our feedback from the sales meeting. There was definitely sessions they said this could have been more interactive.

Lisa: Interesting. They’re now creating the process. That’s really cool.

Laurie: Yes. Yes.

Lisa: That actually tees up my next question, which is, I know you and your team on the customer side have been really into this methodology and using it day to day. What about other colleagues, other divisions, other groups? Has it spread at all?

Laurie: Yeah. It is a challenge, I’ll tell you. Because, you get set in your own things you’ve got to get done every day. But we have committed to making this an organizational thing. Let me just back up one bit and say, the biggest part of what we did is, we embedded this visually, physically in the company.

We have brainstorm rooms. We have rooms with big whiteboards or big wall boards that you can go in and brainstorm at any time. Most of the rooms have note pads, and post-it notes, and markers, and stuff like that. So making it physical sends a message to everybody in the company, this is okay. We expect you to do this in a meeting. We want you to do this in meetings.

But then, we have to really, really reach out a couple times a year, I think we do random sessions. We’ll do empathy building sessions. And we’ll just throw it up to the organization. “We’ve got room for 40. Who wants to come?” And we always have a full house.
It was so interesting at one point, when we kind of did a recap of it, there was some people almost a little upset that they weren’t invited to part of the design thinking things, and how do they get involved. So, it has definitely become part of our framework and part of our DNA, which is really cool. But then, we do things like with you guys at least once a year. We just have a refresher. And I typically invite new people.

But I will tell you, you have to keep practicing. It took me a long time. I would say a good year to really, really get this in my bones on what it meant, and how to do it, and how to be flexible with it. So we try to continually practice and educate people around the company and just open it up.

We wanted to figure out how can we get our employees to be healthier. We ended up doing a full design thinking thing, and we did it super weird. Everybody was like, “oh, my gosh. It’s never going to work.” Because we had to break it up for employees’ time. We interviewed people one week, and then the next week we ideated with a team, and then the next week after that we built prototypes. But when we built prototypes, we invited everybody in the company to come down and build prototypes with us.

Lisa: Cool.

Laurie: So they could understand what we were trying to do.

Lisa: Did they?

Laurie: Oh, yeah. Totally. They got into it. And we ended up having five stations. One was … The themes that popped up. One was it’d be great to have somebody come in and teach us yoga. Another one was we would like some healthy food, because we didn’t really have a cafeteria or anything at that time. We had one that was like an online tool. We had five different cool stations. Then we invited everybody to come down and go through the prototypes. We had people there taking notes and doing all that stuff.

The end result was we ended up with a walking program. We ended up with a vendor, and new food program, from a local organic vendor that comes in and makes meals twice a week. And we ended up with a biking program. So all these really cool things came out of it, but the best thing that came out of it was employees felt like they had permission to do these healthy things.

We even had groups then, like the marketing team started doing yoga. They just grabbed a conference room and there was a bunch of them that did yoga every lunch hour. You kind of put these things out there, and people embrace it, and any chance we can to even teach them nuggets, is cool, and it does work culturally just to make them feel included and also, to let them know it’s okay to do these things.

We have this beautiful cafeteria and outside space. People are so busy at their jobs every day, not everybody uses it. That blows me away. What an awesome place to work. I go down there and work all the time. So it’s like we’re trying to not only change the way we do things, and do things faster, but we’re trying to create a culture of innovation and acceptance of really cool frameworks.

Lisa: So culturally, how has it changed you beyond your organization? Your team, and you’ve given us some examples, but do you see overarching cultural changes?

Laurie: Yeah. It’s hard. Culture’s a hard thing. You can’t force that. It’s leadership. There can be different cultures on different floors. But I think for the most part, and I think our leadership team does a really great job of this, is that all these things are important to our company. Employee engagement is important. Design thinking is important. Having so much customer empathy is huge.

So we talk about those things consistently, whether it’s at town hall, whether it’s a message to all the employees about changes coming up. Whatever it is, we always embed these. The coolest thing, I think, so Legrand purchased us, and I can’t tell you how many times now I’ve given what is design thinking. What is customer experience? What is that, and how can we now embed it in our organization?

There’s actually a team now going on trying to figure out how do we benchmark customer experience and design thinking in other areas, other brands, divisions, and how can we do something consistently and start to filter it out to the entire organization.

Lisa: Great. It sounds like it’s making an impact. Are you measuring it in any way? Do you have data at this point?

Laurie: You know, we do it. What’s big for us, we’re very big on journey mapping. We’re very big on persona building. You guys know that, because we actually have you do it.

Lisa: Right.

Laurie: But we don’t just build a journey map and walk away. We use that journey map to make the experience better. The journey map for us has what we call ripples and cliffs. Those ripples are maybe disturbances throughout the organization. If you change something, you have to make sure that everybody understand how it impacts them. You get a lot of people involved cross-functionally. And then, cliffs are where a customer falls off the cliff. It’s those places where they fall off the cliff and it’s below the satisfaction level, that’s the place we focus on to fix. That’s everybody in the customer experience team.

And organizationally, everybody is impacted. Somebody from customer care is calling you asking questions about why we’re not expediting things fast enough, and they’re trying to get insight. It’s because we’re trying to fix this. So we update that journey map every 18 months to see where we’ve been better, and possibly maybe fell short. And so again, those become our initiatives for the next year.

Lisa: That makes sense. You are measuring it, but it’s more ongoing, it’s continual improvement.

Laurie: Yes. Now and with product for example, they obviously measure with sales, with revenue. They measure our speed to market. Nathan, for example, would have quite a bit different measurements in place for how he launches a product. But I can tell you, we’ve had several products that we’ve expedited innovation. There was a project we worked on. We knew that there was a lot of details that were given upfront, but we took that product to market eight months faster than we typically do.

Lisa: That’s great.

Laurie: So there are definitely pockets, and people are measuring in their own way, in how it impacts their organization.

Lisa: Cool. How is this impacting, if it is, the executive level, the executive team? What’s changed? You said there was interest from the top, and then maybe some, “Well, where are you really spending your time?” How has that evolved?

Laurie: They’ve always been believers. So that’s the cool thing, right? Having leadership buy in-

Lisa: Why do you think that is? Why were they believers? Just out of curiosity.

Laurie: To be honest with you, they went through a lot of the training with us upfront. When we did that initial brought everybody in, they were part of it, and they saw the end results. They saw the collaboration, and they believed. Then I think they just constantly see little results, little wins.

I think one of the biggest things with design thinking is, don’t bite off too much. Don’t try and do the whole cycle. Literally have some little wins. Do a sales meeting agenda. Do something where … I mean, we’ve brainstormed ways on how do we reach out to customers that maybe have issues with some of our customer … There’s great little wins that you can constantly get to.
But our leadership team believed so much that it’s always a topic. They’ll say it’s a tool. It’s a framework. It’s a way to innovate. It doesn’t make up for super cool passionate people that bring all their energy with them, and then they use this to make it happen. It hasn’t become the thing that’s going to solve the problem. It’s become a way to solve the problem faster.

Lisa: Right. You started a conversation saying speed was a key thing. It sounds like that you’ve seen the results, on the product development side, at least.

Laurie: Yeah, for sure. We saw it everywhere. Even just time management. The fact that it used to take me six hours to build a PowerPoint presentation, and now I can pretty much whip one up in two hours. That’s pretty helpful to a person.

Lisa: We talk a lot about re-framing failure as learning. Do you feel like that has been the key thing? Or is there something else about it that it’s not like you have to have everything perfect from the get go?

Laurie: Oh, gosh. No, we don’t ever. The thing about design thinking, I think every time you do this, your heart’s pounding because you’re wondering if it’s going to work. And sometimes it doesn’t work, but we’re just on the fly. That’s the great thing is, there’s no big presentation or investment that you put all this time and effort in. You’ve got paper and post-it notes, and if something isn’t working, or if you’ll come up with all of a sudden a new idea and you’re like, “Hey, let’s test this a little bit,” and you throw it in the mix.

Derrick and I have helped several customers now actually just kind of plan their business. They’ll call us and go, “Hey, we saw your design thinking things.” Because, we’ll use these at customer events. We did one where we literally spent a day and half with an executive team of one of our integrators. And we helped them find new ways to get more out of their branches, to understand millennials, and how they integrate them into their business.

We’ve been able to take this tool, and to be honest with you, use it as a benefit to our customers. So now we’ve got greater loyalty, because we’re giving back in very big ways that help them benefit their own business. There is some kind of revenue model there. It’s still spinning in my head. I can’t pull that one up.

Lisa: That’s great. Tell me your favorite story about using the method and coming up with something that was great. Or maybe it’s the story is, you learned some empathy. You gained some empathy for somebody that you didn’t expect to. Tell me your favorite story.

Laurie: My favorite story, well, what I just told you about those executives that we helped. One of their biggest pain points was, they had several branches that just weren’t performing. So they ended up brainstorming ways, and then created an action plan as their prototype to how do we make that branch better. And basically, they came up with the ideas that they’re going to have to put somebody in there that’s from their leadership team, that can build a good culture. Because in both locations that were failing, it was a culture issue.

Like six months ago, Derrick was at an event, and one of the guys came running up to him and said, “You need to know that what you guys did has impacted our business. That branch is now profitable.” And this was only after 8, 10 months. That they were finally, just by focusing on there. But they had to come up with how to do it.

You know, if you get a consultant comes in and says, “You’ve got to do all these things. You’ve got to master this,” it doesn’t work. When they come together as a leadership team, and they figure out, “Okay, this is our plan, we own this together, we’re going to make this happen,” they go make it happen. That’s a great success story for me personally.

And this is probably weird, but when we did the whole zoo thing, we came up with the man cave, because we interviewed all these dads that basically said this is a time that they get to spend time with their kids. This is basically where they’re better than mom, at this point. The kid just wants to be with them.

So we created this man cave, and we had all these cool little stations where customers were coming through. I was thinking, “Oh, man. The guy’s going to come in with his son, and he’s going to look at all these animals.” So I was the zookeeper, and I was showing all these spiders and rats, because I thought that would be cool for boys. I made a spider out of yarn and twine, big eyes and all that stuff. They literally had people come through, a dad and his son. They came through and I go, “Hey, do you want to pet my spider?” And they both jumped back. “No!” Then the next people come through and I turned that spider into a bunny. All of a sudden, people were grabbing the bunny and petting it.

People will interact. They can visualize what you’re trying to do. For me, that was kind of life changing. The thing I’m thinking is, nobody believes that, but they do. You can prototype. People get into the mode, and they see what you’re trying to do, and then they apply it to themselves, does it have value, or does it not have value, I like it, I don’t like it. And you walk away and you go, “Man, this rocks.” I think that’s the one cool thing about it is, the confidence. You walk away going, “Oh, I’m not just guessing building that or creating that. I know. They told me.”

Lisa: Yes. And then you have proof, right?

Laurie: Yes. You have proof, and it’s super cool. And sometimes you don’t even agree. You’re like, “Why would anybody want that?” They do. That’s your target, and you’re not the target. Right?

Lisa: Yeah. It is humbling. I think that’s the piece for me, as I’ve learned the methodology and used it and applied it. Obviously, we apply it to ourselves. So, I have empathy with all the stories that you’re talking about. I think that’s the thing that’s the most interesting is that, it is more of a mindset of continual change. You may not get the answer right the first time. You may think you know the answer. And you don’t. Sometimes you do. You just continue to change the way you think, change the way you act, make new things. It’s a different way of being, isn’t it?

Laurie: Yep, for sure.

Lisa: I think that’s what has been the big impact for us. What about this has been hardest for you?

Laurie: The hardest is just, again, A, it’s a new concept. It can be overwhelming to people, because they already have enough on their plate. How do they have time to learn this and do this? So just trying to continually embed this in the company, it’s hard. Everybody’s got to be all in.

But when you do have a leadership support, when you do have people that have gotten really good at it, and we have quite a few of those people, it helps. Because at any given time, you can bring those people together and say, “Hey, let’s do something to embed this in the organization. Let’s come up with something new.” And they all jump in and help. It’s just keeping it alive and making it part of your initiatives to continue to embed it in the organization.

Lisa: How long have you been using it, really, as a core tool?

Laurie: I want to say it’s been five, six years now.

Lisa: Okay.

Laurie: So when Stoked first came to Minneapolis, I think we were one of their first customers. I think that’s about six years ago.

Lisa: Okay. And how long has it taken you to get it kind of systemically through the company?

Laurie: I think it took a good year.

Lisa: That’s fast.

Laurie: Well, yeah, but we were at that point, we were just first embracing it. It kind of became a buzz. Actually, I had some people angry at me because they weren’t asked to participate in the big session. Since then, we’ve had multiple sessions. We’ve had 20 people sessions. We’ve had 10 or whatever. Sometimes we go onsite, sometimes we go off site, whatever.
Everybody knows it’s a thing, knows we commit to it. And the coolest part, I think, is when you are interviewing employees. Bar none, what we get back every time is, “Thanks so much for asking.” Because, so many employees really feel like their opinion is not heard. No matter how much you spend on customer engagement or employee engagement or whatever it is, they don’t always feel heard. So when you just reach out randomly and start interviewing people on things, they just appreciate it. They just want to be heard.

Lisa: How big is the organization, at least the Milestone part of Legrand, at this point?

Laurie: We’ve got multiple places.

Lisa: I know. You guys are kind of-

Laurie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Lisa: I’m just trying to figure out, what percentage of the people that you’re working with have been trained would you say?

Laurie: Oh, gosh. Well, trained is an interesting word, because I would consider all our salespeople trained. We interact with it all the time. Even though they might not have gone through the physical thing, they use the tools. So I would say probably maybe 20%, 25% use the tools. Now keep in mind, we’re made up of a of warehouse, as well. In the Midwest we have, I think there’s 400 people located there. So a lot of those people, maybe of our office workers, maybe there’s 50% that have interacted with it in some way.

Lisa: That’s a lot. Do you have a goal, or is it more ad hoc?

Laurie: No, we just kind of let embed into the different areas that want to do it, and then open it up organizationally. Because you know, like customer care is under me, and yeah, we’ve had some people train in there because it helps us innovate. But those people on the phone every day don’t interact with it as much.

Lisa: Cool. One of the things I’d like to ask … First of all, I do want to let people know that we can take some questions. If you have questions for Laurie, if you want to type them in the questions section within your webinar panel, we can look at those questions and I can ask them of Laurie. I have a couple more for her before we get started on that. But I just wanted to let you know we’d love to have your questions. This is a great opportunity to ask her, since she’s been doing this work for a long time. What advice would you give others, or other organizations trying to use design thinking? What would you say right off the bat?

Laurie: First and foremost, get leadership buy in. I mean, you do need that support if you’re going to continue this. Or if you’re a leader in your own area, and you’re trying to embed this, that’s awesome. Make it physical. Put post-it notes everywhere. Make people around you know that this is important, and that you’ll be using it as a tool. Practice, practice, practice. Whether it’s getting some training from you guys, or from Stoked, or from whoever, get some training. Get that embedded in your organization.

Then use it. You just have to find new ways to use it all the time. Go online. Stanford has awesome tools. They’ve got ideas on different things you can build to gather empathy and to prototype. We have prototype carts right in the building. So anybody can use those prototype carts if they want to have their own design thinking session. So making it physical is huge.

Lisa: So you’ve got accessibility. Can people use that anytime?

Laurie: Yeah.

Lisa: Tell me how people functionally can access that material. Do you have it in a space? Can they sign it out and just go in there anytime? How does that work?

Laurie: I think we have two prototype carts. One is in the basement and one is on the 4th floor. People can go use those. They typically, like Sally for example, is in charge of our prototype cart in the basement. They’ll typically say, “Hey, Sally. I need it for this,” and she’ll help them out. I don’t know that it’s formal in any way. People know it’s there, and people know that they can use it whenever they want.

Lisa: There’s prototyping ideas. Do you guys prototype services?

Laurie: Oh, yeah.

Lisa: Talk about that a little bit.

Laurie: Yeah, I’ll give you an example. We had an issue with expediting product. Our customer care team was basically throwing over requests for them to build product at like 2:00 in the afternoon, and we couldn’t figure out why couldn’t we get them to do it faster. Or why they weren’t sending product out. Well, it turns out that they weren’t because they were all going home. It was 2:00 in the afternoon, and anything that came in after 2:00 … We didn’t realize that. We started digging into how we were as a service.

What happened is, we started basically calling our customers trying to understand what ASAP means when they put it on the PO. A lot of them started saying, “I’m talking about end of the week is fine.” Well, ASAP to a lot of people means next day. We found out very few people meant next day. So we just adjusted the hours. We really looked at what we were doing internally, and now our expedites, we used to have 90 expedites a day, now we have 10.

Lisa: Wow. That’s amazing. I just love the stories. And again, to your point, and you said this earlier, it doesn’t have to be the big stuff.

Laurie: No.

Lisa: The little stuff actually matters. I think that’s when you started working with this method, I think that’s one of the big revelations, is that those little things add up. And a little thing can end up being a big thing. But you can’t find that little thing unless you start asking the right questions.

Laurie: Yeah. And you know, they are I think the hardest part. That’s why we literally built a customer experience team, because people think you’re playing in their sandbox. We all build silos. We all build processes to make our departments, our employees more efficient. What we don’t realize is we create unintended consequences for another department. Right?

Lisa: Right.

Laurie: So the cool thing about what this has done is now, I can go to any department, like we had an issue with customer care team. I was listening on the phone, and I’m watching the guy panic because he just told the customer he would ship it out today, and then as soon as he hung up, up popped this screen that said, “Customer’s credit is on hold.”

Lisa: Ooh. Yeah.

Laurie: I’m like, “Mark, what is that?” He goes, “Oh, that happens all the time.” So he writes himself a note and he calls accounting. They only have a two hour timeframe they work with this stuff. So he spends his time panicking because he’s accountable, and he told this guy it was going to ship.

And so, I ended up going over to accounting and said, “Hey, what’s going on with this?” And they go, “Oh, we have this IT thing where every time we change something, you run an address, all of a sudden it pops up.” I’m like, “Well, why don’t we fix that?” They’re like, “IT told us we can’t fix it.” I walk over to IT. “Hey, what’s going on. Here’s the deal.” They’re like, “Yeah, we can’t get to that.” So then I went to my boss. I’m like, “Hey, this is a big deal. This is causing a lot of churn.”

Lisa: Right.

Laurie: The next day it was fixed.

Lisa: Wow.

Laurie: Amazingly, you’ve got to get people out of their sandbox. You’ve got get them to embrace this concept. I’m not trying to tell you what to do. We’re actually all doing this for the customer. And you can either look like a good guy, or you can look like a jerk. There is this we are in it together, but we are in it for the customer. It’s not about you being efficient as a department. It’s about what are you doing to benefit the customer.

Lisa: Who’s on your team? Who’s on that experience team?

Laurie: We have digital marketing, that’s our whole Milestone.com team. Then we’ve got customer care. We’ve got data, which we also call customer intelligence. We’ve got sales operations. And then marketing, regular marketing. The cool thing about that is, all their goals are the same.

If we have a big initiative that we’re going to improve the digital experience, and I’ve got budgets in all five of those departments, one might have to do something less if we need to get more resource over there. Or if we do something with salesforce.com, it’s like that impacts people in sales ops, because of programs, and it impacts people in marketing. It’s a really cool way to get these people to be thinking about the same goals. And then, it helps us focus. We get really big things done a lot more quickly than we used to.

Lisa: That’s fantastic. That sounds like a great mix on a team.

Laurie: Yeah. It’s a cool mix.

Lisa: Is there anyone you’d like on the team as well, at this point?

Laurie: I’d take everybody on the team. If everybody in the company could think about the customer and not their individual department, that would be awesome.

Lisa: We love that answer. We do have a question here from Kathleen. It says, “Hi, there. Seems to be lot of overlap between design thinking, innovation, and co-creation. How would you distinguish those?” So, design thinking, co-creation, and innovation.

Laurie: I don’t know that I could. I think they’re all interrelated. Design thinking is co-creation, right? We create it together. We’re trying to innovate things. So, I really think they’re one and the same. So, Middle Atlantic has these awesome racks, and they have been a competitor of ours for years. But they were owned by Legrand. So now they became part of us.
When I went out there, they were using a lot of the same tools. They were kind of brainstorming the same way, but they didn’t call it design thinking. People are using these tools in different ways. I think what design thinking does is, it gives you a framework to utilize different aspects of the modes, if you will. Do you, do you think there’s a difference, or do you define them differently?

Lisa: Yeah. I think co-creation to me is a core tenet of design thinking. So to me, it’s embedded. The idea that you have to bring different skills to the table to actually solve some of these problems, it’s like your cross-functional customer experience team. I think a lot of our companies have been built off of an industrial model, where we each manage our own silo of business. Then at the end of the day, we just put it all together and it worked. Now, our ecosystem of service, and digital, and partnerships, it’s changed the way we have to work. So co-creation to me is business now.

Laurie: Yep, for sure.

Lisa: Yeah. It’s part of innovation. I don’t think we all have gotten there yet, but to me, it’s part of the sauce that has to work to go forward with stuff. I think the other thing, in terms of innovation, I think there’s other methods. Actually, I was going to ask you that. Are there other tool sets at all that you’re using? I know in the digital space there’s Agile, there’s Lean Startup. In the manufacturing world, there’s different quality stuff. Are there other frameworks you’re trying to mesh with this?

Laurie: Yeah. We use Lean. Our goal manufacturing facility is a Lean organization. Our digital team, I think about six, eight months ago started using Agile. That’s been amazing. To be honest with you, it’s helped us see results. Because when you’re in the digital world, it’s super hard to, all these requests come in to change things, and then you don’t have a common platform or consistency to show your results. So they’ve been using Agile and they absolutely love it.

Yeah, I think a lot of different places, what I think as I’m thinking this, is complements those. It gives you an opportunity. We had an initiative where we needed to reduce trade show expenses. To me, that was a Lean initiative. I might not have used Lean exactly how they did, but I ended up using design thinking to dive in deeper to some of the components.

Lisa: Yeah. So you’re using parts of the tools and combining them. I think that’s what we’re seeing across the board with lots of different companies right now. Most people are trying to do Agile, or moving Agile, or have be experimenting with other tool sets. Everyone’s asking, how do you fit these pieces together? And it’s interesting that you’re using parts of it. Is there a certain area that you find most impactful?, is it still empathy building?

Laurie: It’s all empathy for me. I mean, that’s 80% of what I think. But again, we look at it as a tool box. I think so many people are looking for an answer. There isn’t an answer.

Lisa: I love that distinction.

Laurie: It is literally, here’s different ways you can do it. If you asked for me, design thinking has given me confidence to go in and do things and get them done, and not wonder am I doing it right. I have empathy. I have themes. I have things people voted on for prioritization.

Now when a salesperson calls me and says, “I really need you to work on this.” It’s like, “Listen. We just all got together and we went through this. The top items were these. I’m happy to look at that if we accomplish these goals.” Again, it is more of what you put into it. It’s just a tool box.

Lisa: Right. That’s a great way to think of it. That framework tool box, and you use what you need when you need it.

Laurie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lisa: We’re kind of getting towards the end of the time here. Any last words of wisdom for anybody? I don’t have any other questions here. Any thoughts going forward?

Laurie: You have to dive in. Just dive in. Get some training. Take a few people, go get them immersed so you can bring some people back to your company that are super charged up about it. That can help sell it. Get your leadership on board. Let them test this out. My leadership is a pretty risk averse group. So I pushed, I pushed a lot to make sure. Even though this was their idea, once I embraced it, and I’m a bit divergent and all over the place, they were like, “Wait, wait. Slow down.” No, you can’t slow down. You just go. You just have to keep pushing it and using it, and find cool ways to use it.

There’s lots of great resources out there. And there’s lots of … I think everyone around here, events that go on where people can practice it. Go look for those, because they’re super cool.

Lisa: Well, the Open IDEO challenge is a nice one, where people can form teams and work on real life stuff, which is really helpful.

Laurie: Yeah.

Lisa: I know my daughter’s done that. We have people who’ve come to work with us that have used that method before.

Laurie: Yeah.

Lisa: All right. Laurie, this has been a fantastic conversation. This is Azul Seven. We are a design and innovation consultancy that works on digital products and services for clients. If you have other questions, or have an input on future webinar series, we’d love to have it. I think we’re going to try to do four of these this year, and talk to different people in different industries applying design thinking in their organizations. We want to hear how it’s done…All right.

Also, if you are interested in training, we do have a boot camp coming up May 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. If you want to get a three day really immersive experience, come join us. You can sign up if you look on our website on the homepage, there should be a link under our event section. Sign up for our boot camp, and you can get started on your adventure with design thinking. Thanks so much Laurie! I really appreciate you coming in today. I know how busy you are.

Laurie: No problem.

Lisa: Thanks everybody for joining us. We’ll let you know when our next one’s going to happen. Thanks so much.

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