Written by David Esch
DesignThinkers Group offers workshops and training programs periodically and under contract with organizations. One of our most popular courses is the Design Thinking Intensive, an introduction to design thinking theory and practice. The program has been designed and delivered for various organizations in a three- to five-day format; this article focuses on a three-day program that was delivered virtually in May 2020.
David Esch, DTG Senior Facilitator, asks attendee Carl May about his experience. It is very interesting to hear how Carl is applying design thinking to his work in the operations of his organization. This isn’t something you typically hear about—applying design thinking to the internal organizational functions—but it makes a lot of sense if you look at it from the perspective of how an organization delivers its services.
As the new Operations Manager at Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Carl works with the Innovations and Learning Center and the Organizational Leadership training unit. SEIU, with over two million diverse members spread across the US and Canada, is a union of workers in healthcare, the public sector and property services.
The organization’s mission: We “believe in and fight for our Vision for a Just Society: where all workers are valued and all people respected—no matter where we come from or what color we are; where all families and communities can thrive; and where we leave a better and more equitable world for generations to come.”
DTG: HOW HAS YOUR PARTICIPATION IN THE VIRTUAL DESIGN THINKING INTENSIVE HELPED YOU IN YOUR ROLE AS OPERATIONS MANAGER FOR ONE OF THE LARGEST AND MOST DIVERSE UNION ORGANIZATIONS IN THE US?
Carl: Prior to the Intensive, I’d read and watched videos about design thinking. This in-depth virtual program gave me the opportunity to learn from experts and then, in small teams, apply the theory to challenges faced by a real organization—Mary’s Center in Washington, DC. We went through many exercises such as empathy interviews with staff, journey mapping, prototype development with feedback, and finally making a solutions pitch. Each step was helpful and practical. DTG small group facilitators helped our team stay focused and move along quickly.
DTG: HOW DID THE TRAINING HELP YOU AS A NEW OPERATIONS MANAGER WITH SEIU?
Carl: I felt I had my start in design thinking with DTG. A subsequent deeper dive with the University of Virginia allowed more time to experiment and explore. The combination provided me with new tools, knowledge and skills to contribute and begin to work with new colleagues at SEIU.
For example, SEIU is developing new ways to engage with their members, across the US and in Canada, working in health care, the public sector and property services. SEIU, as other labor unions have been refocusing how they provide services to members since Janus v. AFSCME.*
The SEIU Innovations/Learning Center is in the process of helping members in California conduct in-depth empathy interviews with new members and prospective new members to gain insights into how services and benefits can be improved. At one point in our preparations, the teams became blocked in developing interview guides. I was able to suggest the interviews being conducted in pairs, one person focus on the questions, the second person focus on the emotions and empathy for the interviewee. When field tested, teams reported success and ease with the process. This was something I heard during the DT Intensive work with Mary’s Center.
DTG: WHAT EXCITES YOU IN YOUR WORK WITH SEIU?
Carl: My background is in operations management—processing contracts, making sure payments are made, bills collected and working to improve those systems. At SEIU, I see the opportunity to work with members and their local organizations to improve their ways of doing business through SEIU improving and adapting at the national level. It is exciting to work with an organization that is changing from a model of collecting membership fees, to a model of providing relevant services in a manner that is helpful and beneficial to the end users, our members.
*the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, No. 16-1466, 585 U.S. ___ (2018)—abbreviated Janus v. AFSCME—was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court on US labor law, concerning the power of labor unions to collect fees from non-union members. Wikipedia entry.
Interviewer David Esch, DTG Senior Design Facilitator, has over 30 years experience in the public and private sectors in the US and other countries. He has managed non-profit organizations, for-profit company branches, and was a Foreign Service Officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development.