025 : How Airbnb and IBM Adopt Culture Design – Step 3. Adoption


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How can you effectively implement cultural change in your company? What steps do you take to ensure that it follows the design you have in mind from application to adoption? 

Join Steve Chaparro, Founder of Culture Design Studio as he gets interviewed in his own podcast by John Corcoran of Rise25 Media about the application and adoption of design thinking in an organization. Tune in as he gives examples of companies who have successfully implemented design thinking in their workspace and he also shares the importance of moving beyond what consultants bring to the table and finding different ways to implement design thinking in both client-facing and internal interactions.

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

  • The blurry line between application and adoption in culture. 
  • The negative effect of top-down mandates. 
  • Defining the difference between cultural narratives and declarative narratives. 
  • Moving beyond “The Thump Strategy.”
  • How IBM and Airbnb are implementing design thinking in the workspace.
  • The value of creating a culture where sustainability and capability flourishes.

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 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.

I have john Corcoran here who has done thousands of interviews with successful entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs and today, we have flipped the script and he will be interviewing me.

John Corcoran 

Alright, thanks so much, Steve. And today we’re gonna be talking about a topic that we have tackled in the last couple of episodes we’ve been talking about. The challenge of transforming culture in creative firms and we talked about awareness we talked about the application phase and in this one we’re going to be talking about the adoption phase.

But first before we get to 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 companies like Red Bull, USAID, Bacardi, the City of Long Beach, Port of Long Beach, Cal State University, Long Beach, and many, many others. Culture design Studio also delivers keynote speeches 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 Steve, we tackled awareness, we tackle the application. And now we’re in the adoption phase. So how do you know when you’ve crossed that threshold over from application to adoption?

Steve Chaparro 

It’s a blurry line. And I think it’s meant to be that way. There’s no clear defined way to say, okay, we’ve tried when we’ve applied this new way of thinking now we are set for widespread adoption. It’s like if you’re trying to take over the world, you know, if you’re a strategic military man, would you take care of everything right away? Would you do everything? No, there were probably little battles here and there that you would want to face to gain confidence to gain recognition to strike fear into your, your enemies.

Okay, maybe that’s a little over the top. But I think the idea is application, when it goes into adoption is a way that you are going to try new things, you’re going to grow more and more by doing things little by little. So I think it’s not so much about whether you are either in the application phase or the adoption. But I think when you get to the point where you’re starting starting to gain traction, you almost think of it as a grassroots movement as people are starting to join the movement. They’re asking questions. Hey, I heard you guys had this week long co creation workshop and you were talking about, you know, the employer brand. What was that all about? Can you explain it to me, let’s have lunch. And you explain a little bit more about what you guys did the successes that you found, in fact, you may even, you know, do an internal talk to share a little bit about what happened and what the process looked like. And people start to say, Hey, you know what, that seems like really interesting. You know, maybe you could do a one hour workshop for us just to give us a taste. 

So you do the one hour workshop that really liked what you did is, you know, let’s try it for this one challenge that we have in our, our function or on our team. And little by little, the traction of this new way of working starts to gain. And I think as we mentioned last time, it’s really important in many cases, now, if you are a big behemoth of 100,000 people, you may not have the time to just have it grow organically. But it’s probably most powerful when you are able to allow things to grow by word of mouth or that people are opting in and say I would love to try this new thing. Because if it becomes a top down mandate, it becomes more about I’m just following orders as opposed to me giving discretionary effort to try something new.

John Corcoran 

It’s really ironic if if companies do attempt to, you know, to adopt it that way, by imposing it through a top down mandate, it may seem tempting at times, but there’s got to be a point where even if people go through the motions, following through on that top down mandate that they haven’t fully integrated it, or it’s not really part of the, the cultural narrative and that those that’s a phrase that you use, you know, different sort of cultural narrative, becoming part of the declared narrative.

Steve Chaparro 


John Corcoran 

What does that mean?

Steve Chaparro 

So I think one of the things that many times what happens especially So when we’re talking about employer brand, the employer brand is the company telling the outside world, this is who we are, this is what it looks like to work for us. But then sometimes when an employee gets hired and actually begins to work in that organization, what is practiced is far different than what is preached. And so let me flip it around a little bit.

So let’s just say, okay, work practice, let’s let’s try this new thing, this new way of working, let’s use design thinking Human Centered Design to solve some of our most complex corporate problems, or in our creative organization. So now we’re practicing some of these things. And so now I’m going to take the success of those new practices and I start to declare, but I’m actually doing that before I’m, in a sense preaching it. I’m practicing before I’m preaching. And so I’ve been able to tell people, hey, these are the successes that we have seen. Here are some case studies of maybe 123 teams that are doing it Also, it’s not just about us, speaking it ourselves and us kind of like patting ourselves on our own back, but the word starts to spread. And so we obviously know that in marketing, the best type of endorsement is those from your customers. And if you see employees in a sense as your internal customers, and if your internal customers start to spread the good news of this new way of working, that is when things start to be declared in response to the practice.

John Corcoran 

Hmm, so how do you know in this process, you know, you’re in the application phase, you’re feeling like you’re entering into the adoption pay phase, but how do you know if you know that you said it’s a it’s a blurry mess sometimes, but how do you know if you’re not going to get to full widespread adoption? How do you know if, if the process at some point is broken down, not in an obvious scenario, but give me a gray scenario where You know, you’re not sure if it’s gonna be..

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah. So I think one of the main challenges that I’ve seen in firms adopting this new way of working is, let’s say they’ve gotten they’ve, they’ve gone through the awareness, maybe they’ve gone to workshops, or maybe they brought in an external facilitator to teach the principles for a one or two day workshop. So they have awareness with some very minor theoretical application. Maybe they take it one step further, and they go into the adopt or application phase where they said, You know what, we just been trained in this. Now we’re going to use all that we’ve learned in this theoretical environment and we’re going to apply it to a real work challenge. And they try it. They try it for one project, one prototype of a project, and they say, you know what, this really works many times when we’re hiring consultants, and that is that external third party subject matter expert.

They are there many times for us in those first two phases of awareness and application. And sometimes I’ll even drop off after having worked many months, they’ll give you a recommendation. Here’s the plan for widespread adoption, or many times happens is after that consultant hands over that thick strategy book, and you know, they call it about the thump, thump, thump, metric, the louder the thump of the strategy, you know, the probably the better it should be. Well, that’s not always the case. But we know that many times when that third party consultant leaves, and the leader is left with this strategy book. They’re like, like, it was really understandable when the consulting was telling me these things. But now I’m left to understand this for myself and actually implement.

So the implementation phase is probably when you’re you realize that you’re going through the adoption side of things because you’re trying to go beyond just 123 or four teams, and say what can we do to do this across the company, and I want to lead this effort, I want to lead this transformation. But I may need someone to help me guide me along the process. And that’s where I probably need a coach, or I need to have some training so that I have some people within my firm that can facilitate, but they can also coach people through the process. So that new way of working is sustainable, long beyond the time that that third party advisor has left the building.

John Corcoran 

Right, right. And you talk about their different roles within a company that has reached this phase. So there are trained champions, there are practitioners, there are facilitators, there are advocates that play different roles within them or within an organization to create a firm that has really reached this adoption phase it break those down for us.

Steve Chaparro 

So that’s actually something that I learned and speaking With Oen Michael Hammons, he is a design principal at IBM, in fact, the IBM HR business unit. And so one of the things that he shared with me is that within IBM, IBM is a, as a company that has wholly adopt adopted design thinking or this co creative, this human centered way of not only dealing with some of their product challenges or some other product design and innovation, but this is also how they handle the employee experience within IBM.

So what they’ve done is they have been able to bring people not just through awareness, and I think a lot of times if they are aware, it’s maybe they’re going to a one or two day workshop where they get trained, or they do some training online, and they are aware of the principles and maybe they so what they do is they have a badge system, that the greater awareness and expertise and experience that you have, you start to rise through the ranks. And get more and more badges if you will, because of what you know about design thinking. 

So I’m not sure exactly what the order is. But the idea of they become, they become aware of this new methodology. They become a practitioner, which in many cases, I would reference to the application phase of what we’re talking about, they become a practitioner. But then they also become a facilitator, meaning they can lead others through this process as well. They’ve been trained to lead others through this organization, as well as what we call what they call an advocate, that is a leader who has been trained, who can also facilitate, but who can also sponsor a new initiative within the company using this way of thinking, I think that sponsorship is tremendously important.

You mentioned earlier that I work with the Office of Civic Innovation here at the city of Long Beach and what they are is an in house innovation consultancy for all the departments within the city government. And so one of the things that we’ve been working on with them is understanding that their role is one of three. They could either one be the subject matter expert as a consultant, or two, they can be a process expert as a facilitator, or three, they can be a coach, which helps guide the departments through the implementation side of things. And so I think even they’re, they’re trying to create a culture where there is sustainability and increased capability within the organization to be able to fulfill some of this work on their own.

John Corcoran 

So you mentioned IBM, great example, you know, 100 plus year old company that is really embracing this new way of thinking and being and operating. The other than the other end of the spectrum, a relatively new company. Airbnb is another one that has really implemented this process. So tell us a little bit about the ways that they’re doing it.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah. So I love the Airbnb story. Some of you know many of you may have heard of the origin story of Airbnb, and what I love the fact is that both of the founders have a design background. And so being a design led firm. They’re the type of firm that I look to as examples of how companies whether they’re creative firms or their creative led firms, how they can adopt some of these ideas.

So they talk a lot about how can they improve the customer experience for those that are going to go and rent out these Airbnb homes, and they look at all the different ways that that person will interface with that journey all the way from the hear about the Airbnb brand. They go on to the Airbnb website or download the app. What does that experience like they’re looking for homes, they select the home that communicate with the host. They check in all of that whole thing is basically a customer experience. So they use design to enhance that experience, but on the flip side, and I believe that the customer experience is really the flip side of the employee experience.

And they are one of the first companies that I had heard of that has that has implemented this practice within the firm to really design what the employee experience looks like. And so that’s one example as well, as well as others. I know that PepsiCo, their chief design officer has has, you know, has been part of the implementation of design thinking as a capability within the organization. So that’s the reason why I love talking about these things. Because I really believe that companies that who recognize the power of design to not only change the world, but to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges are the ones that could also possibly be the best employee experiences around the world.

John Corcoran 

Which is great all around. All right, we’ve been talking about the challenge of transforming culture and creative firms. Going through each of the different phases awareness, application and adoption of course recovered adoption. In this episode, if you haven’t yet check out those previous episodes where we talked about those other phases as well. Talking of course with Steve Chaparro, the founder of culture design studio, Steve, remind everyone where they can learn more about you.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, people can reach out to me on LinkedIn at Steve Chaparro. The last name is with one p two R’s. They can also find me at SteveChaparro.co as well as culturedesignstudio.com.

John Corcoran 

Alright, Steve, thanks so much. And we’ll be back again soon with more culture design strategies, advice and interviews with leaders and thinkers that some of the top creative firms in the world. Alright, thanks, everyone.


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