Change Management

    How to Use Design to Address Top CEO Concerns

    By ROHEI
    8 October 2019

    In a Nutshell

    • Design is understanding user needs and creating solutions to meet those needs.

    • Top internal CEO concerns today are around attracting and retaining top talent, creating new business models and developing the next generation leaders.

    • Taking a design-approach to business can address these top concerns because of its strong emphasis on empathy and collaboration. 

    The Conference Board conducts an annual survey, the C-Suite Challenge 2019. The study covers over 800 CEOs and over 600 other C-Suite executives, primarily from the United States, Asia, and Europe. The top internal concerns for CEOs globally for 2019 are:

    • Creating new business models due to disruptive technology
    • Developing the next generation of leaders
    • Attracting and retaining top talent

    Taking a design approach to business is uniquely able to address these top CEO concerns.

    How taking a design approach to business addresses these CEO concerns

    Design is, at its essence, understanding user needs and creating solutions to meet those needs. It involves obtaining insights and ideas from people across multiple disciplines and uses low resource prototyping and testing with users to develop solutions. 

    Taking a design approach to business can address these top concerns because of its strong emphasis on empathy and collaboration.

    Learn more about how senior leaders tend to lead. Download The Way We Lead E-book

    Creating new business models due to disruption technology

    Airbnb credits taking a design approach for transforming Airbnb from close to going bust in 2009 with a revenue of $200 per week to the billion-dollar business it is today.

    The design process provides a space for businesses to methodically challenge assumptions and to explore alternatives, unlocking the creativity and sense of possibility for people.

    Airbnb credits this design approach for transforming Airbnb from close to going bust in 2009 with a revenue of $200 per week to the billion-dollar business it is today. 

    Taking a design approach considers how customers and staff really use the products and services we develop. Because it uses both emotion and intuition, analytics and science, this provides comprehensive and multifaceted data points, allowing for greater insight and better solutions.

    Another sterling example of how this design approach has transformed the experience of using GE's MR Scanner from "terrifying to terrific". Their creation of the MR Adventure Discovery Series through the design approach relieved the anxiety for children and parents by making the scanning process fun through the visual transformation of the equipment into various adventure themes such as pirates and underwater experiences.

    Studies by McKinsey and DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) have also found that organisations that take this approach enjoy improved financial performance. Companies taking a design approach have been proven to beat the industry benchmarks by almost 2X in McKinsey's The Business Value of Design study.

    Developing the next generation of leaders

    In a Businesssolver 2019 State of the Workplace Empathy Study, 93% of employees say they are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. While 92% of CEOs say their organisation is empathetic, only 72% of employees surveyed agree. 

    Taking a design approach to business means that having a mindset of empathy becomes the crucial starting point and the cornerstone of the solutions that are created.  

    The need for a mindset of empathy in taking a design approach helps identify next generation leaders and hones critical relational skills. 


    It is this emphasis on empathy that will allow the next generation leaders to be able to understand their customers and teammates better. The design approach encourages a mindset of curiosity to seek our perspectives and insights from others. This hones critical relational skills that are essential for the next generation leader. 

    Skills such as emphatic listening, the asking of questions and facilitating groups are developed and used throughout the design process and will be invaluable for future leaders to build connections across the organisation and with customers and partners. 

    Read more about The Kind of Leaders Needed to Face Disruption.

    Attracting and retaining top talent

    33% of respondents in a survey conducted by Korn Ferry indicated that boredom and the need for a new challenge was the top reason for employees leaving. Keeping top talent engaged with challenging work may help you retain your top talent. 

    Cross-functional teams working across departments build greater cohesion which can create a very positive and empowering work environment which will, in turn, be attractive to top talent.

    33% of employee leave their jobs because they are bored and are looking for a new challenge

    The design approach allows for those involved to share their experiences and contribute to the solution. It values diversity of insight, and this gives a voice to everyone involved to contribute meaningfully.

    When we recognise people for their contributions, they become energised. Individuals are able to draw on their whole person that can bring out the most of us and the best of us.

    Read more about How to Attract and Keep The Talent You Want.

    What is a good starting point for adopting a design approach?

    Run the business, build the business

    "If you are a bigger organisation, you can have a strategy of having two teams: one that says 'run the bank' and the other that says 'build the bank'. You need to give a person out from their day job to give them time to do what they need to do", shared Ms Janet Young, MD and Head of Group Channels and Digitalisation of United Overseas Bank Limited during ROHEI's Art & Science of Transformation Learning Series

    Socialise the idea through projects with team members who are given the space to try new approaches. If you can afford it, have a team dedicated to building the business with a design approach while others can continue to keep the lights on.

    Start with one thing

    "If you are a smaller organisation with tighter resources, start with one thing. The moment you start with one, it gathers momentum," Ms Janet Young shares on how to take on a transformation with limited resources.

    When asked what factor was most significant in allowing organisations to start on the journey of taking a design approach to their business, a design advocate in DesignSingapore Council shared: "Taking the step of participating in a design project is often the catalyst that makes the biggest difference. It unlocks the creativity and sense of possibility for the people involved."

    Organisations can get a consultant that can work with you but focus on capability development. Get key staff involved so that they can be guided and exposed to the process and develop the skills and mindset.

    Senior leaders to support the change

    Give people time and space apart from their existing work. Let them know they have the support to act differently and try something new.

    "Tell them that they have permission to change. If you don't, then the people don't change their behaviour because you haven't asked them to. If you still measure them to deliver something at the end of the month, they will keep doing that unless you adjust it." - Mr Pete Overy, Co-Founder, Co-MD of AGENCY on how leaders can support their teams in trying new ways of doing things during ROHEI's Art & Science of Transformation Learning Series.

    Another way for leaders to support changes will be to talk about it, to recognise the effort. Thirty-seven percent of employees consider recognition most important support method according to a survey conducted by O.C. Tanner, which develops strategic employee recognition and reward solutions. 

    Get early wins

    Create parameters around the initial design efforts to encourage implementation. Keep project rollout time frames to no more than three months or a similarly short timeframe. Work on practical issues that are within a budget you can approve and let your team know that upfront. 

    The disappointment that comes from having your projects not implemented can severely impact a team's willingness to try a new approach. Success encourages success, which encourages more forward motion. 

    For more examples of how companies have used the design approach to innovate, visit DesignSingapore Council's website or read about their case studies here

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