Re-Designing the C-Suite with Creative Leadership?

It was quite big news to us in the design leadership space when Ford announced Jim Hackett would be the new CEO in mid 2017. As a business designer Jim has a long history in the creative space and close alliance with IDEO during his many years at furniture maker Steelcase - a recent article even mentions him having a permanent webcam link with David Kelley to be able to discuss any issue that arises. But also outside of the motor industry - which has always seen the business value of design - it seems designers are getting their shot at C-Suite influence.

But it seems that the US and parts of Europe are still ahead of the curve here. In South Africa the majority of senior leadership roles are still filled with lawyers or accountants - hardly disciplines that are known to drive empathetic, creative and future-focused thinking. But there seems to be a business case for giving designers a seat at the executive table. The Design Management Institute has been tracking the Value of Design with their Design Value Index and you can find some useful data to support this from their research into design as a driver for business performance. Also the friends at McKinsey - we have looked at their industry's appetite for design skills before - have looked a the bottom line impact of creative thinking.

One way to test this in large organisations is by maybe trying the Chief Design Officer route and hiring a senior creative leader to apply this thinking to your C-Suite discussions. According to the UK Design Council a CDO this will have some immediate impact on rewiring a business to be more customer centric and provide a richer narrative to large investment decisions. These are some of the attributes that one should look for:
1. Versatility / Employ a designer who has worked across a number of design disciplines.
2. Strategic mindset / Their track record should include designing systems, processes and experiences as well as objects.
3. Agency background / The senior talent pool of the design-led agencies is a great place to find candidates.
4. Cultural fit / Hire someone who will get along with the rest of the senior team.
5. A storyteller / Convincing the business that design has legs in a corporate world can require a lot of learning by doing – the CDO needs to be able to take people through meaningful and powerful experiences that change their perceptions.

But this change requires a long-term, patient view as Hans Neubert from FrogDesign mentions: "When companies view design as a catalyst to innovation, they do not judge design on aesthetics alone, but on value creation, problem solving, sustainability and process innovation as well. They will put their customers at the nucleus of a human-centred design approach. This might require reframing and restructuring the company, which can take years to implement."

There are some interesting case studies how corporates are starting to implement this design-centric mindset across their organiations - like this one from Deutsche Telekom - and we are keen to showcase some more of these journeys.