Talk Recap: Change Management and Why it Matters to Your Design Process

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Picture this: It’s 1982, and Suzanne Nicholson gets a call from a Philadelphia radio station looking to redesign their building. By minimizing office space, the station’s managers hope to encourage their sales team to get out and pound the pavement. A few weeks later, project underway, the head of sales threatens to slash the tires of Nicholson’s 1972 silver Thunderbird if she takes away his office.

For Nicholson, the moment threw the importance of change management into sharp relief.

At our Philadelphia Work Design Talk last Monday evening, John Campbell, a Principal at Francis Cauffman, Amy Manley, the Director of Workplace Strategy at KlingStubbins, Ray Milora, the Head of Design and Change Management and Worldwide Real Estate & Facilities at GlaxoSmithKline, and Nicholson, Principal and COO at Meyer Design, spoke to a sold out crowd of 125 industry professionals. After networking, the panel tackled the topic of change management and answered questions about why it’s so important to the design process, and how the rest of us can avoid our own “Thunderbird” moments.

Catch more highlights in our recap, after the photos.

On managing the expectations, fears, and opposition of employees throughout the design process:

The key word here is throughout. Said Manley, “Communication with employees should start from day one. Starting three months in to a project is too late.”

Engaging employees throughout the design process creates an iterative process, where constant feedback steers the progress. Manley encouraged the audience to ask, “What’s going to make people enjoy what they’re doing? What’s going to make them get out of bed in the morning and want to come to this office instead of that office?”

The key, said Campbell, “Is to understand that you’re thinking about people and their behaviors, and that you’re creating spaces that encourage certain behaviors that are tied to business goals, business processes, and business culture. How you massage things to get to those goals. Design is just the medium.”

Educating the end-user is a crucial part of change management, not only to make sure employees are comfortable in their new space, but to also make sure they will engage with it effectively.

Says Campbell, “At the end of the day, even though I’m an architect and an interior designer, we’re actually all in the business of people.”

On the change management process can promote proper utilization and productivity:

“Employees should feel supported, engaged, and happy,” said Manley. “Design can’t do that on its own.”

Campbell: “You’re implementing design changes, but you’re running in tandem a behavioral change.”

Starting early helps to identify the diverse groups of people you’re designing for in the space. Said Milora, “I don’t think you can create culture. It’s latent, it’s there, and you can enhance it, but you can’t create it.”

A good change management process will engage employees by incorporating that existing culture into the design and function of the new space. Bringing together the right team with the right guiding principles is crucial to successful design implementation.

“To get user-centric spaces you have to have a user-centric based change approach,” said Milora.

Communicating the etiquette of a new space, even creating a welcome kit to say, Here’s your new desk, is crucial to success. Implementing the design is great, but employees won’t intuitively know how to engage with the changes. Explaining the new space, even if that means create a “user-guide” for employees, is crucial.

Campbell encouraged the crowd to put themselves in the employees’ shoes.

“You might go from having an office, to not having an office, to not even having an assigned seat,” he said. “It’s a better solution, but it takes coaching.”

On determining the best tools for communication to leverage throughout the process:

Manley: “A top priority is keeping people focused on business goals. Identify a working group to decide what their office place will look like. Develop a mission statement to identify components that embody the vision and mission of that company. Also, develop design-guiding principles to enforce the key function of the workplace and place that above aesthetics.”

The panel agreed that the change management starts with having clear partners, external and internal.

Manley talked about communication for a recent project, saying they utilized everything from paper drops, to email, to an online project portal that was updated daily for easy employee access.

Milora said that if you’re  transparent, you’ll get employees on your side from the beginning. “Free food helps, too,” he said.

Check out a listing of future Work Design Talks here.

A special thanks to our panel, our moderator Bob Fox, and our sponsors for making this event possible.


IMS Technology Services
Meyer Design
A. Pomerantz & Co.
Francis Cauffman

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