A design driven manager attracts customers & talent to your organization

A Design Driven Manager is a change leader. He combines efficiently managing the running business with creatively designing the future with his team. In this blog, we look at 9 key drivers for creating change in times of increased complexity and ambiguity.


Continue reading

A design driven manager attracts customers & talent to your organization

We need more Design Driven Managers. Or should we say Change Leaders? A Design Driven Manager is a Change Leader. He carefully balances daily management with a clear drive for change. He knows that managing what exists today is not sufficient for survival tomorrow.

The design driven manager wants to serve customers ánd employees, to stay relevant in a world with higher expectations and transparency. The empathic, design driven leader is no longer just a metaphor for doing better business , it’s the kind of leadership you need to drive change and to attract customers and talent to your organization.

A Design Driven Manager (DDM) is someone who understands that you need to do the right thing for your different stakeholders. Customers and employees in the first place. He or she is convinced that sustainable value is created at the intersection of different needs and stakes.

A Design Driven Manager is not a dreamer

He realizes that current business is paying his salary and that of his team. But at the same time he knows that the current business or the way it’s run, has a high chance of becoming obsolete, as a result of disruptive technology, new business models and digitalization. So he’s thinking about the future as well. Not alone. Together with stakeholders, with his team and other teams, and even with competitors. He creates a new future together.

Being a Design Driven Manager is easier said than done

It asks for new skills. Unlearning some old. Learning some new. Strengthening existing skills. And knowing what to use when.

These are for me, at this point in time, the 9 key drivers for generating creative change:

1. Creating a compelling vision & defining great challenges 

In times of continuous change, a CEO or Direction Team cannot manage & control every change anymore, if that would ever have been a good idea to do. But leaving change totally to the organization is probably neither the best way to go. People need a direction, a framework and preferably an inspiring vision that guides them in every activity and in every decision they make. Research suggests that having a good vision is the most important prerequisite for innovation, and is innovation after all not change…?

I think every team manager in an organization should articulate a vision for his or her team, preferably made with maximum input of the team. It’s not the CEO’s job alone, strategy execution starts with the translation of the company vision into team’s visions. Effective innovative leaders create a shared vision and enable their teams to build the vision into reality.

Next to having and sharing a great vision (which can be co-created with your employees), you need to launch clear challenges into the organization, but then leave it up to teams of people who have the expertise to solve them. Martin Luther King didn’t change civil rights of black people in America by himself. He involved a whole nation in the change by addressing the main challenges to realize his ‘I have a dream’ vision, like how to desegregate schools, how to make public transportation open to all races and how to eliminate discrimination in employment.

By making challenges concrete enough, yet aspiring, you address the intelligence and energy of whole groups of people and involve them into the change needed. It’s the way to address each talent available.

Visoning is key for the design driven manager


2. Building autonomy & trust in your teams

There is a direct relation between a psychological safe climate and performance of the team.

People want to be coached and mentored instead of being managed and controlled. Maybe we should get rid of the term management all together, but I doubt that will do the trick. Things and processes can be managed, people can’t. Employees need autonomy in their work and thus trust. Both are interrelated. As long as the manager mistrusts that the job will get done, he or she will micro-manage and limit the value a person can bring.  Mistrusting and leaving no autonomy to people to decide how to get the job done leads to underperformance and a manager who is reinforced in his conviction that he cannot let things loose. It’s a selffulfilling prophecy and a vicious circle.

You have to start from the mindset that people will do the right thing. And most of them will, if you give them the space. They will even do better work because they’ll take more initiatives and get more confidence out of it. We must stop building principles and rules around the few people that can’t be trusted. This led us to the jungle of procedures and rules we now know in business, schools, politics and so on.

A formula for trust

To avoid blind trust or naïve thinking, David Ducheyne (author of Sustainable Leadership) created a formula for trust: T = C x I x L

  • C stands for Competency or is a person competent to do what he has to do;
  • I stands for Integrity or can I trust that this person will do what he or she says;
  • L stands for Loyalty or does this person make his or her own interest subservient to the groups interest.

The degree to which you can answer yes to these three criteria will determine the level of freedom and trust you can give to a person at a certain time.

Psychological research leaves little to no doubt. Giving people autonomy and trusting them to make good choices leads to higher job satisfaction, better cooperation and increased productivity.

If you want to know what else you can do to create a safe climate in your team, read about the 5 options to consider in ‘Innovate as a team? Work on trust!’

3. Being open to newness, developing a high level of curiosity

There’s evidence that being curious about what is happening around you and looking for different experiences are powerful predictors of creativity, as I explained in a previous article ‘Curiosity is what you need to look for in people’.

As much as curiosity is related to creativity, creativity is related to innovation. So if you want to generate creative change as a leader then focus on attracting curious people and stimulating curiosity first. Also enlarge your own curiosity quotient, because the best way to stimulate curiosity is to ask good questions, an important trait of a curious person.

15 ways to develop curiosity in your team and yourself are:

  • Recognize that your task is to stimulate the curiosity of your people
  • Start meetings with a question
  • Read broadly and follow your interests
  • Ask many questions, even if they seem stupid
  • Allow people to learn something really in-depth
  • Define the gaps in your work or results
  • Remove the stigma that ‘having the wrong sow by the ear’ is bad
  • Promote good questions
  • Learn to be more aware. Apply mindfulness
  • Get in the head of your customers, stakeholders or colleagues
  • Stay curious about other industries
  • Start your meeting with the story of a customer
  • Change perspectives regularly
  • Consume  brain-strengthening’ media
  • Make a habit of curiosity


 “If we were encouraged to be curious, we would stand a better chance of survival” Mark Haw

4. Forming diverse teams 

Diversity is, next to curiosity, a key driver for creativity. Where curiosity is an important trait of creative people that allows people to look at a challenge from different angles themselves, diversity brings the different angles by putting different people together.

Design Driven Managers strive for diversification in their team in terms of differences in background, education, experience and knowledge. Diverse teams generate more creative results than teams in which all members have a similar background. It affects a team’s ability to innovate and realize market growth, as research shows in this HBR article.

There are two forms of diversity, the inherent diversity (what you’re born with, like gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity,…) and the acquired diversity (what you gained from experience, like working in different cultures/countries, working cross functions, …). We quote the researchers: “Employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”

The researchers found six behaviors that leaders who stimulate diversity and unlock innovation have in common:

  1. ensuring that everyone is heard;
  2. making it safe to propose novel ideas;
  3. giving team members decision-making authority;
  4. sharing credit for success;
  5. giving actionable feedback;
  6. and implementing feedback from the team.


5. Having creative dialogues & seeing co-creation as an attitude

Creative dialogues are the ones that are constructive. People build on the ideas of others and explore together, instead of defending one viewpoint or killing ideas too early in the process. This doesn’t happen by chance. A typical business meeting has little room for new ideas. I used to count the number of times an idea or suggestion was killed in meetings (in words or in body language or silence) and the record was set on 187 times in 2 hours, really.

Avoid idea killers

There are several idea killers, like the ones in the famous poster of Ramon Vullings (which you can download on his site).

Idea Killers

Idea killers are avoided by the design driven manager

The easiest way to get a creative dialogue is to replace “yes, but..” by “yes, and…”. Try it. It doesn’t mean that you will and should agree with everything others say, it is just a process intervention that stimulates you to wait a bit before judging, allowing some time to think and talk constructively, to wait before responding, to look for deeper possibilities and to open op new opportunities that otherwise would never have existed.

Creative dialogue is like a muscle, you need to train it to get stronger. At first it will feel artificial, not natural, because it’s not our ‘normal’ way of discussing. But if you hold on to it, it will grow into a natural dialogue and understanding, in which divergent and convergent thinking balance all the time, leaving the field open for new ideas, but also deciding quickly on what to do next. A design driven manager searches this balance, makes sure his team becomes mature in this, because it’s the oil for the innovation engine.

Build a co-creation attitude

A second important trait in this, is having a ‘co-creation’ attitude. Whenever a problem occurs, a design driven manager thinks about solving it the best way possible. He’s not thinking who to blame, but looks for who’s involved in the context of the issue and brings them together. By bringing all people involved around the table, he ensures that the problem is looked at holistically, from every angle. On top of that, the design driven manager knows that when people  are involved in the solution generation, the chances of the solution getting implemented afterwards is much much higher then when the solution is pushed through the organization.

This brings us to the next driver for creative change.


6. Creating engagement and letting people come up with ideas

The design driven manager is a facilitator and coach. He or she doesn’t tell people what to do, but generates questions. Sometimes he knows the answer, most of the times he doesn’t know the answers himself. He’s humble enough to know he doesn’t have all the answers and trusts people to use their expertise and talent to come with solutions.

He knows that idea generation is a creative process with clear rules and dynamics and knows it should be facilitated properly. He does that in separate workshops  (or with the help of a facilitator) for larger sessions, but he applies the thinking process fluently in everyday meetings and discussions. The design driven manager trusts the process, otherwise it can be pretty daunting, not knowing where it will exactly lead you. It requires not only humbleness, but also vulnerability, showing you don’t have all the answers and accepting that someone else might have a better solution. In a business world characterized by first time rights and control and certainty, this is a pretty difficult road to travel, but the best way forward if you want to become agile and innovative.


7. Always looking for inspiration & making sure people can easily learn

The design driven manager is always searching for inspiration in the form of an article, a book, a movie, a podcast, a city trip, an inspiration tour or a mix of the above. He’s a great networker, internally and externally, offline and online. He absorbs books and digital articles, subscribes to webinars and seminars… in short: is eager to learn. This attitude inspires his people to do the same.

He makes it easy for people to learn. He knows formal trainings are most of the time not the best way to learn a new skill, so he looks (in close collaboration with the HR-team) at different forms of learning, preferably on-the-spot, at the exact moment people need it. The DDM sits together with his team and with individual team members to talk about the future, about aspirations, about sources and skills needed to get there and helps to find a good solution when help is wanted.

The design driven manager makes learning part of daily business, by integrating short learning cycles into meetings but als into daily discussions. A failure is interesting to a design driven manager, he truly wants to understand what happened and what can be learned from the experience, so next time the team becomes better. One percent better everyday, moving the needle a bit, is his motto and he challenged his team to continually search for that improvement.

He wants his team to unlearn, relearn and master new skills.


8. Developing innovation & change skills 

To thrive in a new world of work will require different skills, attitudes and tools. The design driven manager will make sure that his team is ‘change-ready’ by constantly developing the necessary innovation skills like:

  • Facilitation & Group Dynamics
  • Visual Thinking
  • Empathic reasoning (user-centricity)
  • Creative problem solving
  • Visioning & Storytelling
  • Pitching
  • Conflict & Resistance handling
  • Influencing across the network

All these elements are part of our Change Design program. It’s a combination of design thinking, change facilitation and agile methodologies to make teams change-ready.


“Innovation is the difference between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs


9. Using agile work methods

Agile methods are based on the idea that teams are self-organizing. Scrum and Kanban are ‘flavors’ of agile. The main goal of agile is in my perspective responding to change over following a plan. Instead of creating long change management plans in silo-meetings that, by the time they’re finished, are obsolete, use short planning cycles and short sprints to get things done. A design driven manager applies this thinking to his team collaboration and change facilitation: he (co)creates a vision of where he wants to go, let’s the team solve the challenges and facilitates the implementation of solutions through agile workflows. He mainly watches the process and progress, rather than interfering with the content.


Come and join on September the 24-25th our 2-Day Design Thinking Essentials training for business professionals (Dutch version)! Tickets are available following the link.

Design thinking 2daagse training

Interested in finding out more about our Change Design or Design Thinking programs, contact us at hello@changedesigners.eu