Episode #4 Gaining Executive Support
Organizational change must be top down and bottom up. How do UX and design leaders influence the way executives make product and technology decisions? What defines true support as opposed to just lip service to a great experience?
In order to gain executive support for UX as a core tenet of the business you've got to rethink the whole business. Every touch-point, every internal system, everything has to be rethought. That shift is as simple as turning a cruise ship.
What does it take to make that shift? How does putting user experience first change the way organizations work?
Those are just some of the questions being addressed at the UX Advantage conference. Jared Spool and Karen McGrane will be your hosts as they have meaningful conversations on a series of topics with top design executives.
In this podcast, Jared tackles the UX Advantage topic, Gaining Executive Support.
Sean Quinn: Hey now. I'm Sean Quinn, and today I'm fortunate to have even more time with the co-executive producer of the UX Advantage Conference, Jared Spool, who along with Karen McGrane has been working super hard on putting together a conference focusing on UX strategy issues no one else is talking about. In this podcast, we're going to take a really close look at one of the UX Advantage topics. That's the topic of gaining executive support. Organizational change must be top down and bottom up. A question arises, "How do UX and design leaders influence the way executives make product and technology decisions?" That's the first question that we've got for Jared.
Jared Spool: Let's start with a little history. A lot of user experience stuff that's come into organizations has always been grassroots. It's always been a bunch of folks who were down at the bottom of the food chain saying, "You know, we could make this better. We could make this operation more efficient, we could make customers more satisfied, we could grow this." Occasionally organizations say, "We want to have great design." There are these natural tensions in organizations. Design and user experience, particularly when you're doing it for the very first time, is not cheap and it's not fast. It's an investment. You have to get people who know how to do this work, you have to slow down the work in order to make sure you're doing the right thing. You have to change your processes, which over time have evolved to produce faster and faster, but with no real notion of a great experience behind them, so they've been ignoring that. You may have created a lot of what would be known in the trade as legacy debt. You have these systems that don't make it easy to do things. If you were a large travel agency, someone in the travel business, you'd probably have this massive reservation system that was built in the '70s or the '80s that was always intended to be used by employees. Never was it conceived that you would actually let consumers do things with travelers -- passengers book their own travel. Now, you have to do that and you've got these problems like the descriptions for the hotel rooms are in this internal jargon that makes perfect sense to a travel agent, to someone on the customer support line, but when you show that jargon to the customer, they don't know what that means. Now, you have to translate all that content into something that is not just a description of the hotel room, but actually sells the hotel room. You've got all of this investment that you have to make. All the internal codes, all the internal software, all the internal processes were geared to a system that was intentionally trying not to be a great customer experience, but instead just to be serviceable by a trained employee. To undo that, to actually shift that around, the organization has to make a huge investment. Until recently, most organizations weren't ready to make that investment, instead they did the opposite. They kept piling more stuff into these systems that eventually created so much debt that now they have to stop what they're doing and reinvent themselves. To do that requires massive executive support. This isn't just the executive saying, "Yes. This is the year that design's important, we're all going to focus on design," and then you ever hear about it again. These are executives that are making decisions like, "No, that thing that we would have shipped last year is no longer acceptable and we're not going to ship it this year. We're going to undo what we did and take the hit and rejigger everything, in order to get something that is a better customer experience out." This is really the big crux of things, because companies that start today don't have this problem. The textbook example is to compare Airbnb to, say, Hyatt hotels. The interesting thing about Airbnb and Hyatt hotels is that Hyatt's been around for 40 years and Airbnb has been around for less than 3. The thing is that Airbnb is making a dent. There was a memo circulated around the hotel industry recently that stated that in cities like New York there are 35,000 rental spaces available in Airbnb. The hotel industry is getting hit. Their occupancies are dropping. What used to be 90 percent occupancies in cities like Chicago, New York, and LA are now running at on average 80 percent. They're attributing a lot of this to Airbnb. How does a company like Hyatt become competitive against Airbnb?
Sean: That's got to require true executive support, not just the lip service that you made reference to.
Jared: Yeah. You've got to rethink the whole business. Every touchpoint, every internal system, everything has to be rethought. That shift, that's turning a cruise ship. In the case of a company like GE which as multiple divisions, each of which could be a company that is an industry leader in its own thing, like GE Healthcare, their transportation services, or their jet engine industry which competes against Rolls-Royce. GE is not just turning a cruise ship, that's turning a whole navy. You've got to have support across every function, and that's got to be top down and it's got to be massive. It's got to be something where the organization is saying, "This is so important, we're going to take the hit for having to retool our operations to make this work."
Sean: At the UX Advantage Conference, will you be speaking with folks that will discuss and describe how they gained this support?
Jared: Oh, yeah. We've got a whole army of folks to talk about this. We'll have Steve Turbek, who's the SVP of design for Fidelity, who, with his team and with the complete support of Abigail Johnson, who owns and runs Fidelity -- the Johnson family owns Fidelity -- are reinventing what customer service is like at Fidelity, completely rethinking this system that used to be exclusively through their financial advisors. Now they're rethinking the role of the website and their applications and the financial advisors, and how they all work in sync. He's going to talk about how he was able to prove that they needed to switch to an agile-based system, to integrate design into that, and he pushed forward on that. Bill Scott, at PayPal, is basically, at this point, the number-three guy at PayPal. He has been reinventing the engineering level of their user experience, figuring out how to change their system so that they can respond and build great customer experiences with a technology platform that's actually flexible, so undoing all the legacy stuff from their early days and putting in all-new technology. Again, had to get complete buy-in and support for dismantling a huge machine that's in, what, 238 different countries, with all these rules and regulations. This is not an easy job, to take apart all the business rules and take apart all the functionality and then reassemble it with this new technology platform. Karen Pascoe, at MasterCard, is going to be talking about how, on the eighth day that she was hired, she and Cindy Chastain are infusing MasterCard with this whole design approach to all their products and services. Karen got called into the CEO's office on her eighth day at the company. It was basically said, "Look, whatever you need, you have it. We just want to learn how to do this right." She says that they've just been this incredible learning experience. At GE, Samantha Soma's going to talk about how she's been working with every division to bring them online and to get them thinking about design and putting design into their practice, doing these workshops where she walks them through product development processes and actually builds new systems based on a design-infused approach. She's been doing this with the complete support of the CEO of GE and all the top management there. All these folks and all the others are going to be talking about how they had to work from the top levels down. This is no longer a grassroots effort. This is something that is top-down.
Sean: Listening to you talk, it sounds like there's a significant amount of risk with this sort of organizational change, and you absolutely need that executive support to make any sort of change like this.
Jared: Oh, absolutely. You can see the organizations that are completely afraid of doing it. My good friends at United are completely scared of making any of these changes. They're trying, but they keep just trying to put a veneer over broken systems instead of stopping and re-engineering the systems. To re-engineer systems, they have to re-engineer union contracts, they have to re-engineer how the basic operations of the airline work. All these things have to be done, and they keep patching it with bubble gum, and it's not happening. You compare that to an organization like Virgin America, where they're rethinking it. Virgin has an advantage over United -- they're new. They didn't grow up with these legacy systems. These companies that I've been most interested in are the ones like United, that could show United the way, like Marriott or Capital One or PayPal, ones that have got these older legacy systems. MasterCard. MasterCard's been around since the '70s, and this whole technology thing just snuck right up on them. They realized that they have to make major shifts, and it's not an insignificant shift. They have to replace every terminal in every restaurant and retail outlet that someone can swipe a card with to take something like Apple Pay, or whatever their new equivalent for that's going to be, right? These payment systems have to be upgraded, and someone's going to have to either shoulder the cost of that, or convince all those merchants that this is worth it by giving the merchants a better experience. Because why would a restaurant owner want to pay a thousand dollars to get a new terminal if it's not going to deliver value to them? They have to figure out how they're going to create this customer experience that's going to blow away their competition and, at the same time, make sure they don't lose their trusted retail agents. It's a huge problem.
Sean: It's a very complex topic, and if anyone is struggling with this, they'd be well served to come to the UX Advantage conference.
Jared: You could say that with way more enthusiasm.
Sean: I'm going to get there.
Jared: [laughs] I know I'm excited about the UX. Are you excited about his conference?
Sean: I am. I couldn't be more excited about it.
Sean: I'm almost bouncing out of this seat here.
Sean: Once again, we've had the opportunity to talk to the co-executive producer of the UX Advantage conference, Jared Spool, and we've obviously gotten his co-executive support, and I want to thank him for his time.
Jared: [laughs] Yes, I was co-executing right over here the entire time.
Sean: Excellent. Watch for other podcasts covering more of the conference topics, and be sure to check out the conference speakers and all the topics at uxadvantage.com. We hope to see you in Baltimore August 18th and 19th. Bye for now.