Insights from service design leaders
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Insights from service design leaders

Joel Bailey
  • Joel Bailey
  • Director

Before joining Livework, I led service design in a big FTSE100 and although it was rewarding in many ways, I’ll admit to feeling pretty isolated at times.

There wasn’t a community I could turn to, to chew things over, discuss half-formed ideas and vent about the challenges I was facing. When I joined Livework I thought “Wouldn’t it be nice to create that community…” so last week I gathered a small group of design leaders for a bite to eat and a chat. Here’s what we found out.

Realising the strategic potential of design in service organisations is tough. It’s still pretty new and often challenging to the status quo. The job of leading in that space can be lonely. Success relies as much on guile as it does on good honest service design. This has always been the case for those in change agent’ roles, though for many service designers these challenges are fresh.

Here are some of the things people are facing:

  • Surviving the re-org: The tendency c-suite’s have to reorganise their verticals, which destroys momentum and intellectual property. It’s a symptom of being City-centred, rather than customer-centred.
  • Following the money: Working out the best way for others to pay for your time and managing that to get the best value for you both. 
  • Prioritising the opportunities: Once you get demand, it can be overwhelming if you don’t prioritise. To do this, you need to know what’s important to you and the business you work in.
  • Finding a sponsor: Often someone who knows the business and can play the corporate chess you need to survive and thrive. Protecting your work by thinking three steps ahead and working shadow management’, the network of people who hold real power. Not always easy to find, but critical.
  • Getting projects to pay for your new capability: Using every engagement to deliver what that internal client needs, whilst also working towards your own strategic goals.
  • Being pragmatic:  Avoiding certain language if it doesn’t go down well, wearing certain clothes, sucking up certain stuff. Knowing when to flex and compromise is key.
  • Be ready: Always have an up-to-date slide pack that sells you, your team and the impact you’re having. Be ready to pitch it at any point.

It’s clear that everyone has access to lots of tools and methods, but tailoring them to each organisation by navigating the above is the hard bit. When there are so few well-trodden paths, and so few obvious service design role models to follow, it’s natural for people to feel like they’re making it up as they go along. So it’s great to now have a forum where we can discuss these experiences in confidence and share ideas with one another to progress. I’m hugely grateful to the clients who continue to fight the good fight’ in our big service providers. It’s a community that Livework plans to continue actively supporting. To hear more on this subject, come and hear many of these leaders speak at the Service Design in Business conference in November.

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