Organisational Change Management (OCM) is focused on Changing, rather than Change. (Think of “Change” as a noun, an end state. Think of “Changing” as a verb, the journey to get to the end state.)

A design approach can be applied to both Change-the-Noun – what is the thing we seek to make/solve/achieve; as well as Change-the-Verb – how will we go about helping people adapt from what they know and do now, to what we hope they will do and know differently in the future.

Much of what you read about Design Thinking will be focused on Change-the-Noun. Here’s a simple path forward for applying design to Experiences and Activities within Change Programs – that is the Changing (Change-the-Verb) aspect.


Starting with a perspective on the essence of Design

To design is essentially to make or create something that is fit-for-purpose.

In order to do this, you need to understand:
a) the Person/s who has the Purpose; and
b) What their Purpose is from their Perspective. And then
c) to be in service to them in making sensible design choices to Fit to that.

Here’s a handy visual to remind you of these three things.


In OCM, a key thing that we can design is Experiences.

‘Experience’ can be defined as “practical contact with and observation of facts or events” and “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone”.

These words from an old song can inspire us to think afresh about experiences:
‘T ain’t what you do, it’s the place that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do, it’s the time that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
That’s what gets results
~ Song: “T ‘Ain’t What You Do”

We can think of ‘Experiences’ at three levels.

  • Macro: A series of events; over an extended period of time; with self or a group
  • Meso: A discrete event; duration of many minutes; with group
  • Micro: A discrete event; duration of a few minutes; with self or with a group

Thus a Change Program is an example of a Macro Experience; an Information Session or Course is a Meso Experience; and a conversation between two people is a Micro Experience.

An example of a designed (Macro) experience is the Fly-away Go Live experience, I designed and implemented at a university.


The How of Designing Experiences that are Fit for Purpose

In the diagram below, the Design process articulated by the at Stanford University, provides a sense of the design territory to traverse. The process is presented as five phases of design activity. (The language for, and choice of, four to six phases is common across many design process frameworks.)

At Questo we have tools and application-knowledge for the OCM context that sit in the different phases. These are positioned in the diagram above where they are optimally used. A bit of an explanation now follows.

Empathising is getting to know the person(s), their context, their concerns, what’s valuable to them and their needs. There are many ways to interact and observe to get such knowledge, and I’m not covering those here. What is particularly useful is the (1) Empathy Map (from XPLANE) for two reasons: a) it provides a mental model of the things to keep front of mind when seeking knowledge about others; and b) to organise the thoughts, facts and insights you get from understanding others.

The facts, thoughts and insights that come from multiple interactions with people, are a source of insight for (2) The Human Factor of different types: Physical, Psychological, Team, Organisational and Society. In OCM, it’s important to remember, there’s more to being human than the knowledge a person needs to acquire to adopt the change. Learn more about the Human Factor for OCM context.

In the Define phase, translate your understanding of the human context into what impact is being had on (3) Key Factors for OCM: Hope, Trust, Compassion and Stability  These four things provide a focal point for human aspects to affect during the changing process; as well as what to monitor to ensure there is sufficient quantities to the needs of the particular context. Up to you to read the situation and determine what is ‘sufficient’.

For thinking about principles to apply in affecting the Key Factors, turn to the (4) Change Design Principles.

The Define phase is expected to produce design criteria arising from the understanding of the people needs. These are necessary to guide the ideation of potential experiences to shape and create – this is where you got the ‘fit’ knowledge for being ‘fit for purpose’. The Change Design Principles Card Set provides a hand set to organise and quickly present a limited set of relevant design criteria for experiences.

The Ideate phase is a divergent phase of coming up with ideas for experiences constrained (in a good way) by the design criteria. One way to stimulate ideas is to draw on metaphors or analogies of other human experiences. We’ve collated a few in this list of (5) Treatment Suggestions. (If ‘treatment’ sounds like an odd word, think of its use in this phrase “Window Treatment Styles’.)

When you’ve arrived at some strong ideas (aka concepts) for potential experiences (Macro and Meso types) – put them into a low-fidelity form using the (6) Learning Event Canvas.  Do a Canvas for experiences you think have potential  – you are prototyping, not creating a design brief at this point. Prototype testing can done as a Thought Experiment, or a Critique Circle to get insights of whether what you propose is a good fit. When you are ready to firm up the design of an experience for ‘production’ – then reuse the Canvas again to define and agree on the key aspects – this stage turns the Canvas from a prototype tool to a high-level design brief.

Update (Sep 2021): As a better alternate approach to using the Learning Event Canvas, consider using the new Engagement Activity Canvas. Use this Canvas, just like described above.


Across all the phases of the design process you will serve others well if you cultivate and apply (7) Design Sensibilities. These sensibilities will keep you oriented to a designerly way of doing things.

There you have it – a design approach for organisational change management activities. I’d love to hear how you go with applying this knowledge in your circumstances.


A closing thought for any experience you are designing – consider the feelings your experience will create or trigger. How people feel is what separates their perception of bad experiences from good and great ones.


Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.

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