024 : How to Create Collaborative Design for a Creative Firm – Step 2, Application


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What is the essential part of creating a change in a company? Is it the ability to be vulnerable and have humility? Maybe it is understanding the importance of creating a methodology that draws others into a place of ownership rather than a place of contempt? Join Steve Chaparro, Founder of Culture Design Studio sits down with John Corcoran of Rise25 Media to talk about the application of design thinking when creating a cultural shift. 

Steve Chaparro asks the tough questions on reorganization and frame working while highlighting the steps of design thinking. He discusses the importance of a human-centered approach, trusting the process for as long as it takes. If we aren’t able to change the way we think, starting with leadership, how then can we change the way our employees think?

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

  • The application of cultural shifts begins in the C-suite–Always.
  • Design thinking is a circular process, once is never enough.
  • Steve stresses a human-centered approach. 
  • Trust and empathy are essential when changing the methodology of cultural attitudes. 
  • The process determines the results, not the other way around.
  • Sometimes CEOs and founders have to step down to allow growth in their companies.

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

About the Guest:

Steve Chaparro, the founder of Culture Design Studios, is a workshop facilitator, keynote speaker, and culture design strategist. He uses his years of expertise to guide leaders effectively through the design thinking process. His application of working with companies of a small scale then branching out for a more substantial cultural shift has helped companies grow and reorganize their leadership from the top down.

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 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


Welcome to the Culture Design Show where we feature conversations with leaders and thinkers. We’re 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, as 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.

I have John Corcoran here. He has done a 1000 or thousands of interviews with successful entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs. And today we have flipped the script, and he will be interviewing me.

John Corcoran 

Excellent. Steve, thanks so much for having me. honored to be here and today, we’re going to be talking about a major challenge that’s happening today that’s affecting creating of firms and really the future of design leadership but first before we get into that.. 

This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio. Culture Design Studio helps creative companies to transform their workplace culture through co creative design and has worked with some amazing array of companies including Redbull, USAID, Bacardi, the City of Long Beach, Port of Long Beach, Cal State University, Long Beach, Long Beach City College in the Long Beach Unified School District. Culture Design Studio also delivers keynote speeches and and does culture, design strategy and consulting. If you’re looking for a dynamic speaker talking about culture design, or an innovative workshop facilitator, look no further to learn more go to culturedesignstudio.com.

All right, so in this episode, we’re going to be talking about continuing the conversation from last time about the challenge of transforming culture in creative firms like marketing firms, architecture firms, advertising firms, and in the last episode, Steve, we talked about three There are three different phases. The first is awareness. Second is application, which we’ll be talking about here. And the third is adoption. So take us through give us a little bit of summary of what we talked about last time about the awareness phase.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, I think when we talk about awareness, this is when a, an organization or a leader within a creative firm, understands and comes to the reality that there are some cultural challenges within their firm and something needs to change. And so, one, it’s an awareness at a corporate level that change needs to happen. It’s also awareness at a team level, but also at a very individual level. I shared a little bit about when I first started having kids and my father in law shared with me. He said, Steve, if I want my kids to change, I need to change first. And so many times it’s a hard reality when a leader understands that in order for cultural change to happen Change needs to happen within them first. But then what happens then within that awareness phase is trying to understand if there is a way, a methodology, a strategy or a blueprint that they can follow. And I think that’s where many people find despair in a sense is okay, I understand we need to change, I understand I need to change. I just don’t know how I don’t have that framework. So it’s part of understanding this methodology that we can learn from design thinking, and that is one, how do you frame the problem?

Number two, how do you empathize and do some of that research to really understand what are the challenges that are being faced by the organization? And then three, it’s to reframe when you start to understand, okay, we did our research, I had my initial understanding of what the problem was, but once I did research, I found that that there’s actually a deeper issue or a different issue that I really need to solve. So I need to reframe the problem that I thought we were facing, moving in Then you go into the fourth phase where you come up with ideas, or this is the ideation phase of things. And then the very next phase is okay, you take those ideas, you prioritize them. And then you come up with a prototype in a prototype in the world of culture, it might be a new policy, it might be a new software, it might be a new way of setting up your office, all these different things are considered prototypes, that you can then take that prototype and go into the final phase. And that is the testing phase. And that is, let’s see, what are the what’s the feedback that we can get from people to really understand if this is solving the problem 

The one thing about the awareness of this methodology is that this is a circular process. It is not a linear process. And so that leads us to this phase of awareness. Okay, we understand now, we have a problem. Here’s a methodology. Now let’s try to go into what we call the second phase of application to see where we can apply some of this new learning.

John Corcoran 

Right and so When you get to that application phase, I imagine in some firms, there might be a tendency to think, okay, we’re going to do it all at once. But really, there’s a much better approach is to start with a smaller project or a small level, right? Especially, you know, rather than implementing something, you know, all the way across the organization. So talk a little bit about the, that approach.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, I think the very last thing you want to do, and I think we’ve, we’ve seen this happen so many times when our chief executive or the principal of our firm, they go to this new conference, and they, they are inspired by this talk about this new way that one other company did it, and they are so so sold on this new way of doing things that they treat it as a flavor of the month and they come back to their firm and want everyone to change on the flip of a dime. They want their people to change in ways that they have yet to change them. Or even experience. And so what I strongly suggest is that we don’t try to massively change the whole corporation or the whole firm at one time. But rather you find a specific challenge within the firm to be able to address as somewhat of a prototype.

So one way to think about this is if you think of the employee experience at any given organization as this long journey that an employee will experience while they’re at that organization, generally that experience begins way before they even join the company. And that’s one of the things that we could call employer brand. And that is how the firm is telling the world about what it looks like to work for their firm. So that’s at the very beginning at the very end is when that employee leaves the firm and that could be when they retire, it could be because they leave to go to another firm. So if you think of those two ends as bookends in that journey, it’s Anything of all the touch points in between all the stages, you might say from employer brand. It’s recruiting, then it might be hiring, onboarding, learning and development, leadership development and everything that you can think of in between. So if you were to map that out into what we call an employee journey map, you can start to identify which of those touch points has the area that represents most opportunity in terms of we really need to fix this one area.

I’ve had multiple conversations with a lot of people a d culture executives, that I’ve said yes, if I consider the whole journey as, say, 10 steps, we probably do really good with about three of them. But when you think of the collective journey, we have a lot of work to do. And so you identify one of those areas to work on, and then you start to understand, okay, let’s apply it to this one specific part of the employee journey and we test it out.

John Corcoran 

It could be hiring or something like that. I could see that where it could be like one piece of it like learning and development, maybe they’re really good co creation. But when it comes to hiring, it’s top down.

Steve Chaparro 


John Corcoran 


Steve Chaparro 

Yeah. So you try to find either one, one touch point and there may be different functions within a company that actually are that are affected by that particular touch point. It may be a multifunctional approach, and maybe one particular function within a company say with marketing or with with the design team, that it’s a specific challenge. And we suggest to people that they get as specific as possible with that challenge for we call a challenge statement.

One example might be, how might we improve the candidate experience as people are getting interviewed and hired into our firm? How can we improve that and so it’s really taken an opportunity in reframing it as rather a challenge that you’re reframed as an opportunity. And so that’s a lot of what we talked about on the application side. And I think when you’re able to do that, at a small level, you’re able to one have that group of people understand what this new methodology is, you’re including people in the process of identifying what are those challenges, as well as what are some of the possible solutions? You’re actually putting that prototype together and you’re testing it?

I think I am actually I’m fully convinced that while you’re adopting this methodology, to attain a specific outcome, that’s your primary goal of this whole experience of this whole exercise. However, I truly believe that even though it’s a byproduct, meaning it’s it’s something that you happen to get as part of this process, and that is that the culture begins to change with people People that are involved in that small engagement, the culture starts to really coalesce. There’s higher engagement that begins to happen, and higher sense of ownership and what’s happening in that particular engagement. And so it’s you have to see this as we are starting a movement within an organization, any movement will start with just one person that invites a second person. And then you have, say, a group of 5, 8, 10 people that are opting into this new way of thinking.

And that’s really important, really important that we see this as an opt in methodology as opposed to a mandate. And that is coming from the top down saying, this is the way we’re going to do things. Now. You have to do this. And so people are going to put extra energy into it, because they are just being told to as opposed to opt in in seeing the success of this and saying, you know what I need to spread this news throughout the company that This was a really good way of approaching our challenges.

John Corcoran 

It’s interesting, it, I wonder if, you know, when you’re in this phase and you’re in the application phase, and you’re seeking to really evolve and change each of these steps in the employee process you mentioned, you know, the employer brand recruiting, hiring, learning and development. I’m wondering if, you know, the difficulty arises again and again, where, you know, maybe the leadership of this firm has decided, Okay, we’re going to take on the challenge of transforming our culture, we decided we’re going to do that, but then it you know, then when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, it like it’s like, whoa, wait a second. We’re gonna change hiring Wait, we’ve been doing this way for a long time. So is it is it challenging each step of the phase to really kind of go back to the drawing board and explain why we’re doing this again. So to make sure that make sure that really every piece ever Everyone’s willing to change and evolve 

Steve Chaparro 

Absolutely. And this is a very messy process. And I will say that from the get go, this is not a smooth, clean, it would be very clean. It’s probably the most clean when you have a top down mandate from the C suite that says, this is the way we’re going to do it from here on forward. No questions asked. Yeah, yes, the way it is gonna be right. So just adopted, if you don’t adopt it, then we will unadopt you. And so that’s the cleanest, most efficient way of doing things.

But that’s not how things are done anymore. That worked in the times of old. And that’s what best practices evolved to, but best practices will no longer work moving forward. So we have to take a very empathetic, very human centered approach moving forward. But I also say this, so someone was asking me today, if you What does it look like? Like do you when you talk to and we talked a little bit about this last time. What happens When you don’t have a good sense that either one, the sponsoring leader or say the C suite at the top, are willing to make some serious changes, or are willing to adopt this new way of thinking, I think trust, as well as empathy are at the very core of any of these types of endeavors.

And I think so one you need to have the leaders at the C suite trust each other. They need to trust their employees to be able to say, Hey, we are going to release control of what the outcome looks like, we’re releasing that to you, you’re going to help us shape that. It’s also about trusting the process. Because I tell you what this type of methodology is one that we call emergent a meaning that you don’t predetermine what the outcome is going to look like. You let the process determine what that looks like. So in a sense, the strategies the solutions will emerge. The process and it takes a lot of humility and vulnerability to embrace that process. And so the other thing too is like if I were to come in and help an organization, not only do they have to trust each other trust their employees trust the process, but they have to trust me.

And and so if there is not at least a very beginning sense that there is some trust for with all four things, then it’s probably something that a person like a third party facilitator should probably not get into unless they are more of an order taker, which is kind of a rough way of saying it, but it’s really important to me is that there is a sense of trust, not to say that there is not going to be discomfort. In fact, there will be some some relational pain, it will be messy, and they will probably take longer than they hope to, but this is what’s going to be sustainable. And this will help the growth moving forward.

John Corcoran 

Right In many ways, is maybe a crass metaphor, but it kind of like you come in and say their baby’s ugly, right? Especially, we’re dealing with a founder or CEO for a long time. Like, I built this baby, I built this hiring process, I built this recruiting process, I built the brand that we have it built the, even the learning development mechanisms that we have in place, and then it’s got to be really, you know, you have to be incredibly humble, to be able to say, okay, you know, this isn’t what we want going forward or it’s not as good as it could be or there. You know, we it’s breaking down the process of breaking down.

Steve Chaparro 

There’s so many gut checks involved in this type of journey. I’m a big fan. I’m a big podcast junkie and one of my my favorite podcasts is the reboot podcast and it it’s the host is an executive coach, but he’s also been a venture capitalists that has worked with a lot of CEOs, a lot of startup CEOs and he has talked about in many cases In some of the firms that he’s invested in, they’ve had to come in and actually replace the founder with a different CEO. And that is a really hard thing, really hard conversation to have number one, but then to how do you actually as a, as that outgoing CEO and the founder, basically say, you know, Okay, I get it, I’m no longer the right person for this job.

So, when these challenges come up, in creative firms, some of those really tough questions need to be asked such as, are my client expectations changing? Are my employee expectations changing? Is the market changing in such a way that we need to now do things differently in our firm, which may then require me to lead differently? So number 1- am I capable of making that change? Or do I need to do what’s best for the firm and that is, pass the reins over to some One who is, right. And that’s a really hard conversation and I don’t know, how many, how many, how many facilitators or advisors would would come up to a CEO and say, You know what, maybe it’s time to pass the baton if we’re doing what’s best for the company.

And generally, you know, those of us that are in the creative world, a lot of times we are able to achieve results because of our sheer will as well as our craft, and as well as our thinking. But sometimes that sheer will will only last for a while, in fact, I’ve had to learn some really hard things in my own career. And I had one person Tell me, so Steve, your passion is a great fuel for people. But on the other end, it’s also something that will burn people out. So what is my greatest strength also can become my greatest weakness as well. And so the sheer will charisma, the you know, the abilities of a founder or principal at a creative firm, they probably achieve success because of those characteristics. But they probably won’t be the things that will lead them into the next era of success for that firm.

John Corcoran 

Hmm, what else do we need to know about this application phase?

Steve Chaparro 

Well, I just think that the very thing that I would say it just a repeat of one of the things that I said before, and that is trusting the process, there are going to be times where the people when they’re in this phase of applying this new way of thinking to a challenge, they are going to feel if we were to draw a line, if you were to think of like a heart rate, and the beginning of the heart rate is very the the amplitude, the highs and lows of that frequency are going to be very high and low, you know, very chaotic, but the gap is going to be very large. And but as you go further on, the waves gets shorter and shorter and shorter until they’d be Come a straight line.

A lot of times I feel like the highs and lows and the positive and negative emotions of that journey will be very it’ll be a lot of there’ll be a lot of ambiguity, there will be a lot of discomfort. But I’m just really, I really want to encourage leaders to embrace the ambiguity to embrace that vulnerability to embrace the idea of let’s let’s go deep so that we can go far. Let’s go deep within ourselves so that we can help our teammates but also our firms and you know, the new generation but the younger generation rather have the millennials really like talking things out really like being able to have a voice and sometimes it’s a matter of giving people space to air certain questions.

And it’s not when they ask questions when people ask questions in general, regardless of generation. Asking questions is not necessarily an expression of rebellion. Many times it’s just a question they just don’t understand. And sometimes that is one an opportunity for the leader to communicate more clearly, or to give voice to those questions as a way of informing the leader of new ways to be able to communicate, but also bring up new things that they hadn’t thought about before. And I know I’ve talked with a lot of leaders that didn’t understand that principle of letting people voice out their questions as a way of almost verbal processing. Giving people space to verbally process those things out loud in conversation, whether it’s in the groups or one on one. That’s what that will it that is what will make this application stage so powerful.

And and I truly believe that organizations will see far greater innovations if they open themselves up to this open process, this emergent process, but along the way, the greatest benefit that they will get is a more engaged more more productive, higher morale in their firm, and that people will stay longer. You know, we’ve we’ve seen statistics of how people move from firm to firm after two or three years because they get burnt out, frankly. And they move on to another firm thinking it might be better but it’s sometimes it’s an indication of our in Creative Industries. And I think there’s a new way for creative leaders to learn now, not only how to be creatives, but how to be co-creators as well as coaches.

John Corcoran 

Yeah, so important. We’ve been talking about the challenge of transforming culture and creative firms, three different phases, the awareness phase, which we covered in the previous episode, the application phase, which we covered here, in this episode. Next episode, we’ll be talking about adoption. Of course, we’ve been talking with Steve Chaparro is the founder of Culture Design Studio, Steve, remind everyone where they can learn more about you and some of these ideas that we’re talking about.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, people can reach me on LinkedIn. I accept every request. My name is Steve Chaparro. One “p”, two “R”s. And they could also find us at culturedesignstudio.com.

John Corcoran 

All right, Steve, thanks so much. We’ll be back again soon with more culture design strategies, advice and interviews with leaders and thinkers at some of the top creative firms in the world. All right. Thanks, everyone 

Steve Chaparro 

Thank you.


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