003 : Changing the Way We Collaborate and Create with Design Thinking with Oen Michael Hammonds


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The culture in design agencies relies heavily on the employees and their overall experience while working in the company. At least this is what Oen Michael Hammonds, IBM Design Principal for Employee Experience, has noticed in his many years working with notable design firms. And this is also why he is an advocate of using the design thinking framework in creating a great company culture.

Oen says that design thinking is an incredible method that helps everyone in the company to understand how things work. It also allows everyone to work towards a goal in the most efficient, collaborative, and engaging way possible. It allows everyone to participate in the process which reinforces feelings of inclusiveness and encourages creativity within the team.

Oen Michael Hammonds and Steve Chaparro geek-out in this episode of the Culture Design Show where they talk about the fundamentals of problem-solving, the importance of leadership and inclusiveness in creating culture in agencies, how a great feedback culture can spur creativity, and why Oen is a firm believer on the effectivity of the design thinking method. Stay tuned.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Oen Michael Hammonds talks about why he chose to study and pursue a career in Graphic Design
  • Oen shares why the culture in design agencies is dependent on its employees and how inclusiveness impacts individuals
  • What is design thinking and how can it be used as a guide for transformation and in creating products and services?
  • Oen discusses why vulnerability and humility can encourage growth, collaboration, and creativity within a company
  • The role of different leadership roles in design thinking.
  • How properly framing a problem can make the process easier and more effective
  • What is radical collaboration and how does it help the company work towards a common goal
  • Oen describes his various responsibilities as the Design Principal for Employee Experience
  • Why IBM’s Employee Experience encompasses everything from entering the company to exiting the company
  • Oen shares how he measures the holistic experience of employees and the role leaders play in the process
  • How design thinking can encourage a culture of feedback that spur enhanced collaboration and engagement
  • Common challenges in the process of embracing the design thinking framework and the need to answer the question, “Why do I need to do this?”

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

About the Guest:

Oen Michael Hammonds is the Design Principal for IBM where he leads the creative and brand direction of IBM Global Employee Experiences. He guides teams across the global HR organization and beyond to ensure that key employee experiences consistently and cohesively execute design to the highest standard.

He studied Graphic Design at Northern Kentucky University. Oen has worked with notable companies such as Benchmark (now Anthem Worldwide), GSD&M, and Madison Design Group. For almost four years, Oen also served as the President of the Austin Chapter of AIGA.

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by the Culture Design Studio, a consulting firm that helps people and cultural leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people through a series of facilitated workshops. They provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization.

Culture Design Studio has worked with organizations like Duarte Design, Design Thinkers Group, Red Bull, USAID, Bacardi, and the Office of Civic Innovation

If you’re looking for more than just a consultant and want someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, Culture Design Studio is the one for you.

Contact them today to learn more about what they can do for you and your company.

Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai

Announcer:  Welcome to The Culture Design Show where we feature conversations with leaders and thinkers who are passionate about culture and design. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Steve Chaparro:  Steve Chaparro here. I am the host of The Culture Design Show a podcast where I feature leaders and thinkers at some of the top creative firms in the world including architecture, design, technology and marketing. What’s the one thing they all have in common? They all believe in the power of culture and design.

This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio, we help people and culture leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions of their people. Through a series of facilitated workshops, we provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organizations. We’ve worked with organizations like Duarte Design, DesignThinkers Group, Red Bull, US AID, Bacardi, and the Office of Civic Innovation. If you’re looking for more than just a consultant but have someone to have come in facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, reach out to us to learn more, go to culturedesignstudio.com.

Oen Michael Hammonds is the IBM design principal for IBM HR. He leads the creative and brand direction of IBM Global employee experiences. Oen represents the leading technical design point of authority for HR brand and employee experience. He collaboratively guides teams across the global HR organization and beyond ensuring that key employee experiences consistently and cohesively execute design to the highest standard. Additionally, as an enterprise design thinking leader owns responsibilities, also Include expanding, maturing and elevating the understanding and application of enterprise design thinking throughout the global HR organization, also for almost four years on served as a president of the Austin chapter of AIGA. Oen, welcome to The Culture Design Show.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Thank you, Steve. Thank you for having me.

Steve Chaparro:  Well, it’s an honor. We are here actually at IBM Studios here in Austin. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here. I mean, after I read a little bit about you, and we have some mutual friends, I, especially with the area of topic or the area of focus that you have here at IBM, I really wanted to have this conversation. So, I’m honored that we can have a chat 

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Great.

Steve Chaparro:  I’m going to start from the beginning.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Okay.

Steve Chaparro:  That’s kind of like the beginning of Oen. So, I look I love would just love to hear. I mean, where do you come from? And what did what was it like growing up?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Oh, wow, that far back. Okay. So, I’m originally from Kentucky, from Louisville. You can tell that by the way I say it.

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  And it was I started designing actually, way back in high school and I left it went to the military. And after the military, went back to school, got my degree at Northern Kentucky University, which is right by Cincinnati, Ohio, just to give people geographic reference.

Steve Chaparro:  Right across the river.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Across the river, yep. So that’s where I actually started my career in design. And did seven years in the marketing, advertising general design studios working on a lot of consumer brand materials there. And for the past 13 years, I’ve been living in Austin, Texas, so I moved from Cincinnati to Austin, and been at IBM for the past six years, and it’s been probably one of the largest growing experiences I’ve had in my long design career.

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’d love to hear exactly how you came to IBM. But even further than that, like we all are love say for those that are in design that that love for design started somewhere. We’d love to hear how that love was birthed in you, whether it was as a child, a teenager or high school student, where did that love for design come from?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Um, probably from a couple places. One was from my family; I actually have a pretty artistic family. So, the just a love of craft. And, you know, my brother’s a great drawer and my mom did several different types of crafts and my law as well as my sister so being brought up around that was probably like the starting point. And then about high school, I would say is probably like my first formal introduction into appreciating understanding what at that time was really called commercial art, somewhat design but more commercial art where I was doing illustrations and different things like that for people’s, you know, materials and appreciate that how the reaction not just doing the work, but just seeing the reaction of people enjoying the work that I was doing, whether it was an illustration or a T shirt design for people in high school and, you know, different types of things like that, that help people’s you know, programs, whether it’s like, the glee club or whatever different things like that people started just connected the dots of like, Oh, we could do that. Oh, and could probably, you know, make us a brochure. And you know, I never really said No, and I never really charged people either. So that’s probably why too, but just being noticed out to like, help fulfills people’s needs that they saw and they saw value, you know, in, you know, what design could probably do for their organization or the program was probably my first insight into Oh, this is actually something I should investigate further in into.

Steve Chaparro:  And so, before coming to IBM, what were some of the things that you were you’re exploring as part of your design career?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  So, a big part of the exploration was one not just being in school, but actually also exploring what was happening outside the school. And that was AIGA. AIGA introduced me to a huge network of people and all the different opportunities and things that can be done in design. School was great. And I had great teachers because most of my faculty were adjuncts weren’t, so they came from the profession. They were bringing real world work into to the classroom and a real world experience of, you know, if you don’t meet your timeline, this the consequences and those things are sometimes skipped over are not taught in the classroom experience. So, it was great to have that type of experience. And being exposed to those, those real world adjunct faculty, the AIGA exposure of like going to no meetups, or attending lectures of you know, quote unquote big name speakers that will come into Cincinnati to know show their work and talk about their experience and design just really opened my eyes to how big design is, it’s beyond just the tools that we use in the day to day practice. It’s really can really, you know, there’s that whole quote, like design won’t save the world. Well, it probably won’t save the world, but it will actually change it, which is which is a huge thing. Design can have the possibility of change. And those things and being outside of, you know, I mean, technically really my comfort zone, and like reaching out and finding those larger things that what design could do really help me understand. I mean, give me a insight to like where I could go.

Steve Chaparro:  Right. Yeah. And what were some of the types of firms that you worked at prior to IBM.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  So I actually started at a firm called Benchmark, which eventually turns into Anthem Worldwide, which I don’t know if they exist anymore now, but that’s where I got my start at and they actually hired me while still a senior in college, john carpenter, who was a creative director there, came into my class, saw my work, and was really interested in me, you know, working at benchmark and so that’s where that’s where I got my start in at benchmark for nine years. And then I actually moved to a from a that was a medium size company about 50 to 60 people. And then I went to a small studio, Madison Design Group, Julie and Jackie, were the owners, Principal owners of the company. And they were actually some of my former teachers. And so that connection to my adjunct and being like a part of like, reaching out and being a part of that network, they helped me get into that role there as well too. And that role really helped me, you know, benchmark was great and expose me to the day to day practice of being a designer and being at a small studio, like mass and design group expose me to what else is the part of being a part of small business, having to do all the things from production to trying to write copy to hiring illustrators and art directors and so I got a larger, much larger exposure to the roles and responsibilities Being a designer. And then from there actually went to, that’s when I moved to Cincinnati from Cincinnati to Austin, Texas.

And I actually started at as freelancing around town just to get my feet wet and see what the market was like in Austin. And I eventually ended up at y&r as a y&r for six years. So, I did a lot of from being in Cincinnati doing a lot of consumer good work for Procter and Gamble – Bounce, Olay, Noxzema, Safeguard – like a lot of like, you know, beauty care and home, good work type of work. Moving to Texas, I had to literally pivot my brain and to work in in this more technology space because that’s the market here in Austin. And so, working at y&r worked on St. David’s Hospital. and worked on AMD and several technology Samsung type of clients, and which was from b2b, the b2c. So, there was another, another pivot within that space as well, too. But one of the things I had discovered in that pivot was like the needs were pretty the same. But it was just how you message, your message to your audience was to look slightly different than and so I was at y&r for six years. And then I went from y&r to IBM.

Steve Chaparro:  Well, I mean, that’s what I love about your background is that you have, you know, especially if this podcast is at that intersection of culture and design, you had this whole life and just purely design, in terms of the agencies that you work that what were some of the things at those agencies that you noticed about the cultures of one either those particular agencies or just agencies in general, are there some nuances about culture at agencies that that we can learn from?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  I think one of the biggest things and this is an insight of that I came across recently was at each one of those places at benchmark at Madison Design Group at y&r at IBM culture was in the hands of us as employees. And so, we had and that may be a foresight of just having great leaders and, and they didn’t really want to dictate to us what the culture would be at those agencies and studios. If you walk around here at IBM, each one of these teams has their own different culture. And you can see it on the walls how they set up their space, and that’s created by them. That’s not created by it. As a corporation, that is empowerment that our great leadership like Phil Gilbert in the Doug pile have like, go forth, this is your space, you should make it yours, you should own your space. And I think that’s the thing that I’ve seen that’s a connector with all of those different companies that I’ve worked for is that the culture was created by us.

Steve Chaparro:  And that’s great because it’s not always that way at agencies or at companies, especially mature companies, you know, blue chip companies like IBM, where that autonomy to create sort of this micro culture within this meta or you know, macro culture that is IBM. The fact that that’s been your experience has been a wonderful thing I would imagine for you because that’s not everyone’s experience.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Yes, definitely. And I think it tributes to why I stayed at certain companies first like all those companies for so long.

Steve Chaparro: I was gonna ask you about that. It’s been very long stints for agency work.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Mm hmm. It’s great culture, intentionally hiring, not the best talent, but just hiring good people. And I’ve worked with so many great people, all those companies and all those companies I left on my own were cognizance to help me grow further. It’s not because, you know, you know, people leave a company because of a bad manager. All those companies I didn’t leave because of a bad manager, like I left because I saw inside to help continue to grow.

Steve Chaparro:  What’s interesting to me is that companies or agencies that when people leave for that reason, it’s not because they’re dissatisfied, but they’re leaving for a growth opportunity. In many cases, I’ve seen at those healthy cultures that there’s almost like a celebration on behalf of the people that are still there of this outgoing person to say, Hey, we’re happy for you. We know that you were here with us. You’re a valuable part of our team. But you will forever be alumnus of our of our firm or of our agency, did you feel that at those those firms in some way?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Definitely. You know, some of them, some of those were, you know, literal celebrations and others are just kind of after the fact of how we interact with each other. Now that we are no longer together and just having great connections to those leaders of those companies still, you know, some of them are still my mentors. Some of them still my you know, my sponsors or advocates as well too. And just having that great connection to them. Outside of you know, after I have left is just re reinvigorates and the reinvigorates me to know that like, you know, we both left on the on the best note for each other then.

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah, that’s great. All right. So now talk all about your career prior to coming to IBM. What led you to come to the IBM side of things?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Definitely an opportunity for more growth. Texas Austin in particular is a technology city, and that was doing technology work at y&r and it was great work. But it was also I kind of had reached a point where I didn’t feel like I was growing anymore. And, you know, the, the, I was actually looking at because I teach, you know, my nine to five is, is working and doing, you know, design work, but I also teach at night and I’ve been teaching for 15 years now at different schools and and so I was finding myself feeling more fulfilled when I was leaving work and going to teach then being at work and doing the work then.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  And so, you know, just to in teaching is a healthy growth mindset for me because to stay ahead of the students, I had to make sure that I’m on top of the latest trend, the technology, what’s good design with bad design. So I can like help them understand those things as well, too. And the transition for me was going to be going back to school and then getting a master’s degree in teach full time. And then but I also still want to stay in design. So I was on that fence. I think a lot of people go through this where they’re like, should I go back to school and, you know, further my, you know, education in a particular area, or transition to another, no place to work at then.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  And it just so happened that IBM was in their transformation, where they had no hiring some of the great talent from across the country. To start the design formal design practice at IBM, and one of my contractors that I work with had joined that effort. And she actually reached out to me, and it’s like, hey, there’s something going on over here, you should come and check it out. And initially, I was like, very, very skeptical. And that’s mainly because in the in the industry and design industry, there was a stigma or there’s a stigma against you know, working in house, you know, either work for the agency and do really, really cool stuff or like all these cool brands. And if you work in house, it can be like you’re trapped, you can feel stuffy you can feel that you’re not really no room to grow or do different types of things as well too. So I had definitely that at top of mind. And what I found was that doing that investigation, asking questions, finding Who are those people that they are hiring, and then Lo and behold, I actually knew some of them as well too. And so I was able to get real insight to like, what does this formal design practice? Do? Y’all are setting up here? And once I, you know, you know took a sip of the Kool Aid like kind of like gobbled it up was I you know, really heard the story and her the met some of the a lot of the people that were doing that, you know, leading that practice here like Adam Cutler, Doug Powell, Charlie Hill, and Phil Gilbert. Of course, he was the lead our design, design leader of this, you know, transformation here. I was like, Yes. Okay, this is let me let me fill out the application and sign up and see if I get into this there 

Steve Chaparro:  So So how far back did that that transformation begin? How many years ago?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  About seven or eight years now? So I’ve been in for six years. So, yes.

Steve Chaparro:  And what what led to the desire to embark on that huge journey bigger and I’d love to ask you as well like what What? What did that mean in terms of a transformation Was it shifting from in to but what what, what kind of led to that transformation to take place?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Um, so one of the things that that happened was, you know, we had a new CEO, which was Ginni Rometty. And she saw, you know, the acquisitions that were coming in and the success that they were having as why they were acquired by IBM. And one of those acquisitions was Lombardi, which was owned by Phil Gilbert. And as a part of that acquisition, she’s also you know, their company is also looking at, you know, what are we doing as a company? How can we grow, how can we change, how can we stay innovative for the next hundred years here as well too, and at that time, as well, too, a lot of conversations are happening around how design can influence and help change companies as well too, but there was no real formal formality around them. It was just like, this thing is happening. We know what’s happening, no one really knows how to kind of really do it. And the case for IBM doing it at scale, because we’re big.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  And so with the Lombardi acquisition, you know, there are some conversations happening with Phil and how he was able to be such a successful company. And it revolved around, you know, doing using agile as a framework, and also using design thinking to ensure that we are that they were delivering the right product that people really wanted to use then. And so Jenny and Robert LeBlanc, who was the one of the VPS at the time, it’s like, all right, Phil, what do you need to make this transformation happen? And so he’s like in the place And the people, and then the framework to help bring these people together. And practice essentially to help bring these people together to work collaboratively then as well, too. And so that’s where it all started. You know, we started with a framework first. Design Thinking was the framework that we want to use and but most importantly, we didn’t want it to be designed, centered, designer centered. We want to bring in developers, we want to bring in selves, we want to bring in product managers, as a part of you, we all need to use this framework so we can all move at the same direction at the same time.

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah, and I think that’s one of the misnomers or at least misunderstandings about design thinking is that you know, they’re asking people to become designers and on one on one hand, it’s it is a you can adopt a mindset and methodology but it’s not necessarily saying you need to have the craft of a designer but it’s thinking like a designer Was there a was there like this master plan as to how that was going to be adopted at scale? Or was? or What did it start at a small level and then grew organically in or strategically from there?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  There was a plan. I don’t know if you’ll call it a master plan. But definitely there was a a note to all those founders and creators of the our enterprise design thinking framework around we, the existing framework won’t work for us. We’re just way too big. And so one of the things that you know, that they came up with was, you know, hills as a way to like help the entire team understand what we’re driving toward. Another part of that framework is, is sponsored users. How do we bring in the actual users of those products and services that we are creating to make sure we are hearing them. And that we that everyone is hearing the same thing as well to as we are developing those those, those products. And then also playbacks? How do we all tell a user centered story that has centered around how we are solving the pain points, so that everyone on the team has a clear understanding of like, this is the pain point. This is these are and these are how we’re going to solve these pain points then. So we’re not just having the meaning of that have a meaning. We’re actually having a very empathetic understanding of who our users are, and how we are solving the problem for them as well too. And having those three key parts actually help us scale. That design thinking practice, then,

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah, I mean, I love to nerd out and I won’t exactly what that looked like, but I think for the sake of our audience, I think the One of the questions that might people that people might have or have had about design thinking and how to use, how do you bring awareness about it? How do you apply it, you know, at a very, maybe a sort of experimental way? And then how do you adopt it enterprise wide? What are some lessons that you’ve learned that you can share with other companies? I mean, obviously, IBM is, is is a huge company. And that was, I’m sure a monumental task and still probably is, but what are some things that you would recommend to leaders at companies that are trying to adopt design thinking as a, as a as a method of transformation or framework?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Well, one big one is really understand if you’re wanting to make this transformation, understand what problem is that you’re trying to solve? A lot of people see you know, this is a new thing and you know, they’re doing it so we got to do it was like, we’re doing it for a reason. We’re doing it because we’ve identified these problems within our company. And we did the research to try to understand what’s the best way to, you know, improve those experiences or create better opportunities for as a company. And so, I think people are too quick to jump on, you know, using design thinking as a silver bullet, to resolve a lot of things. And it’s like, you haven’t really identified what the real issue is with how your teams operate. or, or, you know, you know, identifying those different problems, that’s then as well too. Because, I mean, we we use design thinking and we reinforce that it’s a framework. So adopting design thinking the way we do maybe it may be different for you, you may not need the whole shebang of how we are playing enterprise design thinking you may need another part of it. Or a different type of framework practice then as well to, to help adopt that. So that problem identification is a huge, huge thing that team that, you know, companies should know, investigate first. And sometimes it’s hard. You know, even on the team level, when we’re doing design thinking on our team level, it’s here. I find some teams don’t want to do that investigation because they just don’t want to open up the truth that their their product or service may not be the best.

Steve Chaparro:  Both team members as well as leadership as well, though, I mean, in order to adopt this framework of investigation, you’re, you’re saying I’m open to whatever the outcome is of this process, even if it’s something that I don’t think is the answer right now, like if I might disagree with it, at least with what I know now. And so there’s definitely a vulnerability that has to be embraced as part of embarking on this process, right?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Definitely. It is that vulnerability and being humble to say that, okay, I can, I can see that I’m actually hearing from my employees that, you know, the way that we’re doing work now is it can be improved or it can be better than how can we do that than what what will be the suggestions that we can take on that can like start to improve that. The second part of that is adoption. And the other thing with with design thinking is that and I’ve seen this with design thinking and agile practices where teams are, or whole companies are firehose, with everyone’s stop. We’re gonna do it this way, and everyone’s got adopted by this time period, and you’re gonna do it all and it’s like, Whoa, is like and that that tends to know stagnate teams, because it’s too fast, the expectation of turnaround is too much. And instead, again, identifying that problem and choosing the part of framework that can help a team, you know, slowly, you know, it may be, you know, let’s just, instead of trying to adopt everything, let’s just understand who our users are, like, let’s get a better understanding of like, who uses our product? Who are the real users of our product? And then from their understanding, you know, like, what are the key areas of opportunities to improve that experience then as well, too, so it’s slowly integrating and getting teams to adopt that framework versus you got to do it all and it has to be done within a next sprint? Well, I mean, that you’re setting your team up to fail.

Steve Chaparro:  Right. I think I think there’s a difference between design thinking, being an order versus an invitation. invitation to experiment with one small problem, whatever the problem might be, might even be an internal or a team challenge. And so, let’s try this and to see the framework as a series of modules, that even those modules can be pulled out an exercise on its own for a specific challenge. Like say, for instance, it might be, let’s frame the problem. Let’s use this act these exercises just for the sole purpose of making sure that we understand the right problem to solve actually, many times. The lights go on just if you lead a team through that exercise and realize let the process determine the outcome. So important is that some of the things that you’ve learned, I mean, I’m imagining that’s what you’re saying, right?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Yes, definitely. And, you know, and no, this is one of the things that we’re we’re continually working on, you know, because of the size of our company, you know, there’s still new teams that we’re always onboarding and we’re also Learning as well, too is like, Oh, yeah, we on boarded that team that way this worked. This didn’t work. And so No, we’re onboarding our next team, we’re, you know, we’re iterating Amber, you know, okay, instead of jumping right into the work, to your point, it’s like, let’s make sure that everyone has a clear understanding of what problem are trying to solve here. Like, how can we help them craft? How might we statements, so that we all agree upon, you know, this problem statement, and, you know, take it up the ladder to our stakeholders, and help them understand this is what we’re trying to solve here. So that we’re all in agreement there.

Steve Chaparro:  So when you use that word, use even that that gesture of, you know, like, kind of raising your hand up as you’re kind of going up the ladder of leadership, how important is the sponsorship of leadership in the adoption of something like design thinking?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  It’s so important that we actually created a you know, a particular badge that’s called the advocate badge. And for our enterprise design thinking practice, we have a set of badges from practitioner which is a general understanding of design thinking, co-creator, how are you starting to practice? design thinking within your day to day work? Not in the workshop, but in your day to day work? Coach, how are you helping others adopt design thinking as a practice? And then leader? How are you scaling that adoption across your team, your your business unit, maybe even your portfolio then as well too? And then the advocate, how can I advocate and continue to uplift my team to continue that practice? What is the language that I as a stakeholder, a client, a leader need to know So that when my team is talking in the language of design thinking, I understand when they come to me and say, Hey, we want to do a playback to you, on this new iteration of this experience, recreate it. I know that a playback is empathetic, user centered story that goes from the pain point to how are we resolving that specific pain point for that user then. And so in that creation of the advocate course, that is our way of when scaling, you know, through that the, you know, helping no stakeholders and clients understand whether it’s their role as advocates of design thinking then as well too. And also, we can all hold each other accountable. Then as well, too. I know that you’re a advocate, I know that you’re a coach, I know that you are a co-creator. I know your capabilities are know your responsibilities as well too. With that level of you know, with that level of experience based off of you they have achieving those, those badges then as well.

Steve Chaparro:  I love that. I mean, that’s so so awesome, so clear. Such so well thought out in terms of what each each one level of understanding application and then being able to advocate for adoption. I think I might have to, to learn from that and incorporate some of that into my own language because I think that’s so powerful. I mean, I’ve done some work with the Office of civic innovation at one of the local cities in Southern California. And what they’re trying to do is to how do they foster a culture of innovation? And one of the things that I’ve counseled them on is a one hand looking at three different roles that they might play. One is an innovation consultant, but a consultant is one who has the subject matter expertise and will do the work for you. But in many of the problems that particular city faces, they aren’t SMEs, so they really can’t act as a consultant, but then what does it look like to be a co-creator, where you’re facilitating those conversations and equipping them, but then the third one is the coach. And so I love what you’re saying. I think there’s a lot that people can learn how to implement even in their organizations about what is the role that someone can play even within this framework of design thinking, but also the language.

And one of the other things that I’ve learned at that city is many times people that are practitioners, we will nerd out on this stuff. And we can talk use buzzwords, and we can use language that only we understand. I mean, I come from the world of architecture. I mean, we use words like that people looked at us and thought we were on a different planet, because, you know, we were just using words that are not normal. But we were nerd out and I think the same thing goes for design practitioners. And I think too many times we can use those buzzwords to describe a process and people get turned off by that?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Right. Why do you think it’s more work? They have to do or is like, I just want to build something.

Steve Chaparro:  Right.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  But how do we know that we’re building the right thing?

Steve Chaparro:  But, I think if we can look at one, framing the problem at the beginning so that it’s it’s it’s understood together, but also describing the outcome and who, in a sense for our internal clients, who cares what the process is, as long as I get that outcome. So some of the things that I’ve done before is, I’ve, I’ve let it’s kind of like a short turnaround. I’ve led them through design thinking sessions without telling them so we’ve arrived at this outcome that everybody’s like, very happy about, and it’s, oh, by the way, I happen to use design thinking, and there’s a light that turns on, because it’s not so much about what they hear, but it’s about what they do, because it’s a very learning by doing type of experience.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Yes, definitely. And that’s one of the things that a lot of people, you know, there’s you know, there’s debates about, you know, know educating people on design thinking and a digital platform by themselves versus, you know that one on one or that team experience of us going through that together. And I think there’s a hybrid in there, there’s, there’s a level of let me educate you on, you know, the best practices of design thinking, and you know, how to, you know, what are the, the positive patterns of great design thinking? And what are the anti-patterns of that then, but then, alright, so I understand this now. So let’s try something here. And going into that with a mindset of, of is a is iterative. We should be doing things in a low fidelity, so that we’re not trying to spend a lot of time building this really nice experience. And then all of a sudden, we put it in front of the user. It’s like, this is not what I need. You know, it’s like we build like a low fidelity prototype. Then I can get feedback. And pivot on that feedback quickly, because I didn’t spend a ton of time on building a high fidelity version of it as well, too. And continue to iterate on that until I get to that higher fidelity then.

And that takes practice in a, you know, in a team setting with all of us together, you know, you know, we like to call it radical collaboration where no teamwork is about, you know, a set of designers or a set of developers all moving toward that same note in product experience, or go. Radical collaboration is the designer, the developer, the offering manager, a product manager, the HR professional, all moving together collaboratively, to achieve that goal then, and that’s that that huge difference that design thinking helps us bring it creates that common language, with what we’ve been referring to But it also introduces that our team needs to come together we can no longer be doing waterfall waterfall thing, work down the stream until it become whatever it needs to be all of us are, you know, what’s that. What’s that old teamwork poster of like all of us need to get together and really get direction.

Steve Chaparro:  So, I feel like so far we’ve created a foundation for what I’m really I mean, I like I said, I’m nerding out on everything we’ve talked about so far. But this podcast is about culture. And and it’s about design. So how in your current role, if you can explain to us what is your current responsibilities as design principle over employee experience?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Yes. So I have several responsibilities. One of the main ones that I do on a day to day daily basis is ensuring that I work working within IBM HR is ensuring that we are helping translate design thinking into an HR space. And so our team works on helping with that translation with that, you know, translating how design thinking framework can work within the HR space, and work within how these teams work as well too, because they’re no all teams are different. And so we try to like help and advise and consult those teams on that type of work. So there’s a level of education of around design thinking but also how do we advise on practice, Dennis well to another part of the work that I’m doing is craft. How do we create simplified user experience, services products offerings, that, that get that don’t get into the way of don’t, that do not get in the way of the employees, you know, day to day work flow then as well too. And that is, you know, one word design thinking help us identify what is the real problem that an employee is going through with using one of our experiences. The craft part helps us understand what is the best way that we can design that experience then. So, it’s not about necessarily teaching design craft to non designers, HR practitioners and HR professionals, but it’s helping them understand what is a good simplified experience, how can we make this a user friendly experience so that the IBM er can do they know what they, they, they know what you’re asking? They can do what you’re asking them to do, and they can, you know, continue and get out of that experience. They can go back to do their day to day work then as well too, then.

Steve Chaparro:  So how would you how would you describe or define the employee experience?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  So we can define the employee experience as everything from before joining IBM, all the way to exit in IBM and everything that’s in between those two. Because if the employee experience or the potential employee experience starts before a potential candidate joins IBM, what is how are we introducing ourselves to them? How do they understand what IBM is, what IBM does and what IBM values are, as well too. And if we convince them even in that potential, introductory story of who IBM is, what is that on? What is that recruiting experience like? You know, is it is it usable, is it simple? Can they complete the things that we’re asking them to do as far as like filling out the resume, fill out the application turn in a resume, and a simple experience. Those things look, I mean, they even joined IBM yet. And that is a horrible experience before they even joined IBM, then we’re already setting the tone of how they’re they may think and feel about IBM before even the before they’re hired at IBM then.

And, you know, after that, you know, once they’ve joined lives or day to day, what is their work life like at IBM? What are those things that they have to do at IBM to that are HR related as far as making sure that they understand what their roles and responsibilities are? Making sure that they understand what is your career trajectory? What is your performance? Like? What is that experience of making sure that we are creating an experience or around a culture of feedback that you understand what are your goals are and what how you’re being measured then as well to those are enablement that HR should be providing in IBM or his career, however long they’re here to ensure that they understand that, you know, this is how I can grow. These are things I need to improve on. And these are the possibilities of where I can go within a company as well to then, and then exiting, you know, like, what does that exit? Like, do I understand, am I you know, if I’m leaving because I’m retiring? What is that experience? Like? am I leaving because there’s maybe, you know, our production and in employees in a certain area, what does that experience like? Or am I leaving because of, you know, you know, hopefully it’s not for low performance or, you know, no, maybe you’re not the best fit for IBM, but that’s an experience as well too. And in all those experiences he wants IBM has to feel that they have been heard that you are that they are welcomed. And that you know that we hope that they understand that there’s opportunities, always other opportunities to contribute back to IBM as well, too.

Steve Chaparro:  So if we think of the employee experience as this holistic end to end journey, you know, before they get hired to after they exit the company, there’s multiple touch points along the way. You know, you’ve you’ve cited almost all of them, you know, onboarding, recruiting, lnd, performance, all those different touch points. I’ve talked to a lot of people in smaller companies who have said, Oh, we really do well, on one, two, maybe three of them, but there are a whole bunch that we don’t do. How, how are you able to measure sort of the holistic experience of an employee at IBM or do you?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Where we do and there’s a lot of what we call engagement pulse surveys, that, you know, we do on a on a continuous, either continuous we do micro surveys, we also do the big annual, you know, engagement pulse surveys as well, too. And there’s a lot of data and insights within that data that we actually read. We look at those scores. We provide those scores also to key people, I eat managers, as well to help them understand whether within their business unit, you know, there’s, you know, where are you doing well, and where their opportunities to improve then as well too, then, and, you know, IBM is very good at, you know, a level of transparency to help ensure that we are continuously improving engagement because engagement is a huge factor and if an employee stays or leaves a company then and the only way that you can like know, if your engagement is good is by measuring it and empowering people to help change it as well to then.

Steve Chaparro:  I would imagine that there’s probably a team or a team of leaders that are, quote, sort of responsible for the overall employee experience. And then there’s probably owners of each of those touch points in terms of oversight and engaging, how are you able to divide up you know, the totality of the employee experience to different sponsors, if you will.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  So we have key leaders and key areas of those business areas as well too. We’ve identified them and we as a as a employee experience design team, we have direct connection to them. And so you know, we we talked to them frequently and they actually help us, you know, based off of, we have a team, data analytics team, internal data analytics team that helps bring that data together. And it helps us they actually have training modules to help us understand how to ask the right questions for data as well, too. So instead of asking for, I need a big pool of data on this, we can actually ask more strategic questions of Do you have insight on this particular type of engagement at IBM, and they can help us pull that data then so now we’re asking more constructive questions around engagement versus big below that data questions that are really hard to digest, and hard to actually make moves on then as well, too.

Steve Chaparro:  So speaking of engagement, I mean, we’ve all read the Gallup statistics, right that what is it 67% of us employees are disengaged at their work. How is Design Thinking as a methodology, how can it be used to bring a higher level of engagement with employees?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  I see design thinking as a way of bringing in the employee into helping solve the problems. Sometimes what I see, you know, what typically happens and this is not an IBM thing by any means I see this happen that a lot of companies in the even in within having conversations at conferences of people, you know, describing their experiences, and it’s a very, very, you know, top down, we’re just like, I want you to build me this, and the team just goes build it, they deliver it, they put it out in the market. It does good or does bad, you know, and you know, and but in that experience, the team is not really involved in assuring Is this the right problem we should be solving Why are we working on this? What’s the end goal? How are we being measured? You know, all those know those meaningful questions to like help a team understand and bring meaning to their work.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  And so using design thinking that helps us one, ask the more strategic questions, you know, what does success look like if we deliver this experience here? How can I bring my subject matter expertise into the experience here as well too. And that’s a part of working collaboratively and working together as a team versus I’m going to work on this part of the experience. And I’m going to just push it out there and hopefully it works for you all then as well too. And so I think engagement and design think design thinking helps tremendously in engagement, and helping everyone one feel that they’re, you know, that their discipline in that profession matters to the solution. as well to by helping us all collaborate together then and for me even to understand, alright, you’re a developer, I want to understand you know more about how we can work better together, then then as well, too. And so that, that design thinking helps us, you know, work better together in that experience, then.

Steve Chaparro:  What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen for either leaders or employees that they may have in actually even being willing to embrace design thinking or have a voice in the employee experience? What are some of those push backs that you’ve seen?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Um, but then the the initial one is I don’t want to change the way down working the way down working fine, I delivered I get you know, I, you know, no one has ever said that the way I’m working is wrong. And, and that comes from, there’s no culture of feedback. One of the things I liked the most about design thinking is that a retro, having a retrospective, after delivering something is a key part of ensuring that we what worked? Where areas to improve? Where do we have questions? And what are some new ideas then that we can like help, you know, change those areas as well, too.

And so a lot of a lot of one of the biggest things that we’ve run into is, you know, the lack of wanting to change. And it’s because they probably never got feedback that, you know, the way that you’re working is maybe no, not the best way, or it’s causing, you know, no tension on the team. Or it’s, you know, you’re not, you know, empathetic to the other disciplines that you’re working on the team then. And that type of feedback doesn’t come out unless you create an environment that allows that feedback to happen then and that is okay. I mean, it needs to be constructive. And it doesn’t need to be finger pointing either but No as no managers are responsible for assuring that there is a culture of feedback on a team to help it perform at its best.

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah, I think that just the first step of one leadership being aware, yeah, there is a problem. Maybe the ways that we’ve worked for the last 30 years is no longer work. And I feel like as the generations get older, you talk about the boomers, the Gen Xers, you know, the millennials, and and, you know, the the generation of my kids, you know, they’re 11 to 14, that I almost feel like the younger millennial generation is no longer going to tolerate just command and control, hierarchical, just go and do this type of leadership. That worked for a long time, but it’s not going to work moving forward. So it really behooves us. Weather regardless of gender, what generation we’re part of to embrace This collaborative way participatory way of designing, you know, a desired outcome. What are some things that you’ve seen in terms of that generational adoption of this new way of thinking?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  I think you just tapped it right there where, you know, there’s a generation and not just the millennial generation, but I think I’m a Gen X or myself as well. And so it’s like, I think, even for our generation, as well, to where we have come to a point where we start to ask why.

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah, generation Gen Xers we just, you know, like, I feel like the approach for us many times in the past, we just suck it up, Buttercup, that’s just the way it is just Just do it. Whereas now we’re like, No, we got to speak up, right?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  It’s like, I need to like, understand why you want me to do this. And it’s either because of, I just want to understand what you’re asking me to do. So I can do it at my best and understand why I’m doing it or it can be Because of you know, there’s of moral value as well, too, you know, we see a lot of a lot of at different companies where employees are asking, you know, like, Are we really going to take them as a client? You know, do we really understand how that puts a May you know, how that may affect the image of us as a company, then as well, too. So, you know, employees are asking that, you know, and we don’t know if management or leadership are asking those same questions, you know, but like, if an employee is asking that question, then how do we, as the leaders of these companies best respond to those types of situations, then how do we best evaluate Is this the best thing for our company, you know, moving past dollars and cents, you know, is this the best thing for our company to invest in, to have as a client to do this type of work? Then as well to that.

Steve Chaparro:  Yeah, I’ve just in talking to a lot of design related firms, you know, a lot of these firms that have been around for a long time, say 20-30 years. They’re led by, you know, say, a someone from the boomer generation and they achieve success because they were very hard driving. Very, I’ll say narcissistic in some ways, because they just by their sheer will have made this firm successful, but there have been a lot of casualties along the way. And they’re starting to realize that they have to change the way they lead. But they’re, it’s coming to them to be some sort of an identity crisis because either one, I don’t want to change. Can I change it? And if I can’t change, does that mean my time is up? You know, it’s a very real thing that I’m hearing from some people that are, you know, 30 years into their career. 40 years. They’re having to really determined Do I want to invest all that time and energy to make this change? Or do I just retire? It’s a very interesting dynamic or situation that people are finding themselves in.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  It is it’s a, it’s a really different. You know, I think we’re seeing like a huge shift in how companies operate. And also, you know, how we get work done, as well to working within whether it’s like large, you know, blue chip company like IBM, or even like the smaller places as well, too. We have to, you know, really think about, you know, it was a lot of times it was this, let’s just get that bid. Let’s win that bid. You know, let’s just get the work. But now, even you know, a lot of companies are questioning should we even bid on that type of work 

Steve Chaparro:  Becuase even if, even if they win it, there may be such a tremendous cost to the team internally, to delay deliver that what I call sometimes a frothy client experience that we have to over deliver, but it’s at the cost of our team. We burn them out, and they end up leaving, you know, so if someone is at a firm six, nine years, like you’ve been like, that’s a rarity because people, there’s such a high turnover. I mean, there’s so many more questions that I’d love to get into, especially on this relationship between employer brand. And sometimes what is the actual employee experiences? Sometimes there’s misalignment there, but I want to thank you for your time we’ve been talking to Oh, and Michael Hammonds, who is the IBM design principal for IBM HR. Oh, and if people want to learn more about you, where can they go?

Oen Michael Hammonds:  So I am pretty active on LinkedIn. So you can look me up is where we found each other. So yeah, it’s Oh, Ian, no w pretty easy to find on LinkedIn, I’m also on Instagram and also dribble where you see I am still practicing visual designer,

Steve Chaparro:  I’ve seen your work. Amazing. Some of the things you shared on Instagram recently of finding your work being published is amazing.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Thanks. Thank you. So I’m out there on the social as much on Twitter but on those other platforms.

Steve Chaparro:  All right. Oh, and thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Oen Michael Hammonds:  Thank you, Steve, for having me. It’s been great talking to you.

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