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  • Karen Zeigler

How Innovation Can Dissolve Employee Complaints

Updated: Jul 28


Dissolve stress and complaints were the early signs I was destined for design thinking.


In the 90's I was a VP in the financial industry and always reading the latest in management books. One in particular - In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman - espoused the concept of management by walking around (aka MBWA). In an era of neverending bank mergers, MBWA was a useful tool. The practice of MBWA was encouraged for keeping a finger on the pulse of morale and employees focused on the company vision amidst uncertainty from the latest merger. Looking back it was these walkabouts where my inner design thinker first began to bloom. During these times my ears would perk up to the stressors and the complaints of the employees. Innovation was my tool to dissolve complaints and stress. Organizational innovations are discovered through the process of design thinking.

In an era of neverending bank mergers, MBWA was a useful tool. It was in observing and listening that we were able to quickly innovate whatever the uncertainty of the merger threw at us, all the while maintaining a high-performing team.


Two critical tools of innovation


Fast forward to today observation and deep listening are still some of the most invaluable tools I use as a design thinking consultant. They are so ingrained that I find I do them with friends as well. While I've learned the hard way - companies, not friends, want you to solve their problems. I still get giddy about the opportunities for innovation when I hear someone express stress or a complaint about their work. Here are a couple of examples:

"We can build a kitchen in six weeks but it will take us six months to put the door knob on the pantry." -Salesperson for Remodeling Company

This complaint is an excellent opportunity to use design thinking to achieve innovation by revising the process, restructure staffing, or a combination of factors uncovered in a thorough investigative phase.

Frustrated with antiquated technology that employees have to use to serve clients, an Associate of Global Tech Company states "The Cobbler's children have no shoes."

Budget constraints are often the culprit to this type of unresolved complaint. The easy answer is an innovative investment. The more challenging answer and the one design thinkers love to wrap their heads are finding the workarounds. And that's the fantastic thing about design thinking. It tests and prototypes multiple scenarios that work around limitations of every kind.


The innovation opportunity - turn the negative into a positive


And this my friends is why I love design thinking. The opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. Improve the lives of employees by reducing stress and complaints. Create improved customer experiences. And ultimately the ability to improve the lives of companies. Happy employees and customers have a positive impact on the bottom line.