UX/Design leaders often get caught up in their personal missions, their narratives of change and impact, and believe they just need to “educate”, “persuade,” “evangelize” their point of view, typically one of customer-centricity and the importance of quality, in order to influence those around them. This proves ironic, as these UX/Designers who espouse ‘outside-in’ when it comes to delivering customer experiences, now practice “inside-out” when trying to get what they want.

In my work with leaders, I counsel them to “connect the work of UX/Design to what the Business values,” and to meet their leaders where they are on their maturity curve. This means listening to them and their concerns and responding to that, not foisting your desires upon them. 

This came to mind as I read Janice Fraser and Jason Fraser’s recent book, Farther, Faster, and Far Less Drama, a practical guidebook to lower-stress leadership. It features a sidebar from Hannah Jones, now the CEO of the Earthshot Prize, and formerly Nike’s first Chief Sustainability Officer (a role she had for 16 years). She shares how she practiced change, and features this bit of wisdom:

The advice I would give people undertaking to change an organization is to understand motivation… Motivation is at the root of most human behavior—and most people are pretty entrenched in what their motivations are…If…you’re not critical or judgmental of them, then you can start to meet people where they are and bring them with as you allies.”

She then shares what that meant practically:

“So sustainability as ‘hug a tree’ wasn’t getting us anywhere. But once we framed it as a risk mitigation effort for the board, a financial benefit to the CFO, and a growth opportunity to the innovator and the CEO, we could start to pull levers with far greater power than when I had remained entrenched in my own language…

“…Know your place in the system, but know other people’s places and benefits and why they…[are] doing what they do. Then figure out how to make their worlds feel better to them. ‘Make everybody else the hero in the story” was one of my mantras.”  

This resonated with something I posted a while back, how Billie Jean King got women paid the same as men for professional tennis, the heart of which was: “Just understand their side, so when you sit down to speak, and have dialogue, you actually have some understanding and empathy for them. And, if you can show that, I think they’ll start to think about you in a different way as well.”

In my experience, UX/Design types do more to constrain their ability to make an impact than anyone else. Rein in that missionary zeal in favor of making a connection. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an idealistic agenda, but don’t assume what motivates you motivates others. Does this mean you’re playing politics? Yep. That’s the job.

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