Wicked wisdom: How Deloitte builds a process for thinking about big problems
At Deloitte University, more than 2,500 Deloitte professionals met in a series of small group sessions as part of their development program. And they devoted an hour to what might be described as a supercharged brainstorm.
A battalion of brains “We wanted to give our people a sense early on that their skills can really contribute to finding solutions to the world’s biggest problems.” – Jen Steinmann, Chief Transformation Officer, Deloitte LLP
At Deloitte, one of the largest networks of professional services firms, the process of arriving at answers is as important as the actual answers. If the method of problem solving is successful and replicable, then it could be applied to all sorts of problems that seem intractable. It could be used by many different groups of people, whether in companies or other kinds of organizations, such as government departments, nonprofits, universities, and so on. Deloitte has launched a program called Wicked Problems to exercise and hone employees’ critical and creative faculties in a way that inspires them to seek solutions to some of society’s thorniest problems. It is testing this new process in the “laboratory” of Deloitte University, the organization’s leadership center near Dallas. “We wanted to give our people a sense early on that their skills can really contribute to finding solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems,” says Jen Steinmann, Deloitte LLP’s chief transformation officer and an executive sponsor for the Wicked Problems program. Beyond its potential impact outside the organization, the novel process of problem solving is intended to help Deloitte’s people work better together for a higher goal. “If you start to do that, then you get a different type of workforce,” says Steinmann. “They look at our clients’ problems differently and learn the value of incorporating different perspectives. So it’s intended to be personally enriching, to help in the wider community, and ultimately to help our clients as well.” Deloitte began the problem-solving program by tackling the elusive and universal issue of employee wellness. At Deloitte University in the four months ending in January 2015, more than 2,500 Deloitte professionals met in a series of sessions divided into small groups as part of their development program. And they devoted an hour to what might be described as a supercharged brainstorm.
Wicked wisdom: How Deloitte builds a process for thinking about big problems 3
Thinking by design START
Employee wellness is an example of a wicked problem–one that affects a large number of people, has a social and economic impact, and is intractable. It is one where the proposed solution to the problem has to be feasible, scalable, and measurable. Such problems are more likely to be solved by a group of people than by an individual. The term “wicked problem” was not invented by Deloitte. It was first coined in the late 1960s by Horst Rittel, a German design theorist and university professor1. By this he meant problems of social policy that could not be solved by science and for which “there are no ‘solutions’ in the sense of definitive and objective answers2.”
At Deloitte, Wicked Problems is intended to help participants improve their ability to solve problems, giving them an opportunity to apply design 3 thinking –a disciplined approach to difficult 4 problems–in three steps : Immersion This entails defining the problem and setting boundaries around it to limit the scope. Considerable work goes into this stage among Deloitte University’s Wicked Problems team to maximize the opportunity for participants to understand the context of the problems being discussed and empathize with the challenges faced by those experiencing the problem in a short period of time. The team also sets the stage for participants in order to be as creative as possible to craft something of lasting value.
Ideation Once the team has properly framed the problem and has presented it to Deloitte’s participants, the latter are guided through a structured process of individual and group brainstorming to generate and discuss ideas. Each group chooses the idea they think has the most potential. Then its members work together to develop it to the point where it is presented to the entire meeting, whose size ranges from a couple dozen people to more than 300.
Experience Some of the delivery experiences include an additional technique to prototype the ideas. The prototypes might entail building a structure or using craft supplies; the ideas could be drawn and mapped on a large poster or they could be placed on a storyboard, if there is a narrative; people could even act out a videotaped skit to show how the user might feel or employ the product that comes from the idea. The program output from a sticky note to a narrative is analyzed thoroughly for insights and trends, and shared with collaborators. Leading ideas are then selected to advance efforts in the field through various means such as eminence, prototypes, or a pilot program.
Churchman, C.W. (1967). “Wicked Problems.” Management Science, 14(4), B141–B142. http://www.spatialcomplexity.info/files/2013/01/Working-with-wicked-problems-2013.pdf
2 http://www.metu.edu.tr/~baykan/arch467/Rittel%2BWebber%2BDilemmas.pdf. Rittel, Horst W.J., and Webber, Melvin M. (1973). "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning." Policy Sciences 4, 155-169.
The concept of design as a “way of thinking” in the sciences originated in Herbert A. Simon’s book The Sciences of the Artificial (1969) and in Experiences of Visual Thinking by Robert McKim (1973).
One example is An Introduction to Design Thinking, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, Stanford University. Wicked wisdom: How Deloitte builds a process for thinking about big problems 5
Design thinking may seem abstract but is in reality a practical discipline that uses designers' methods to match people’s needs with feasible solutions. At least 17 of the top 30 companies in the FORTUNE 500 use design thinking techniques to help solve complex business problems and to innovate. For Deloitte, it is a valuable tool for leadership and development. It fits into the teaching methods of Deloitte University, which include live classroom and team-based learning. Deloitte University has been developing the leadership skills of its professionals since October 2011 in Westlake, Texas, about 30 miles from Dallas. Last year, nearly 60,000 people from Deloitte engaged in learning programs ranging from one to five days. A primary aim is to encourage people to think differently, by examining a problem from various points of view and evaluating possible solutions. In a Wicked Problems session at Deloitte University, participants collaborate as a diverse group and learn to work together for a higher goal. It taps into their aspiration to do good and make an impact that matters, a desire that is common among workers of all ages, particularly younger employees. Research has shown that people in their 20s and 30s are looking for more than just a job and want work that is consistent with their socially and environmentally responsible values. Deloitte University is seen as a logical place to experiment with different approaches to problem solving and to encourage its professionals to think unconventionally. Deloitte’s leaders such as Steinmann and Pete Sackleh, the managing director of Deloitte University, Deloitte LLP, began preparing for the introduction of Wicked Problems as part of the curriculum in early 2013. Deloitte chose this method of problem solving to help its professionals develop innovative skills that they could apply in their client engagements and in the wider world. “Wicked Problems is one of the ways we continuously build and reinforce our culture of inclusive leadership. It provides a forum in which all of Deloitte may participate, regardless of seniority and function,” says Deb DeHaas, chief inclusion officer, Deloitte LLP. Indeed, the process lends itself to diversity and benefits from different perspectives and different ways of thinking. 5 6 7 8
“It’s important to stay fresh; we don’t settle on one technique to solve a problem. Design thinking techniques have been used in a lot of different organizations. Wicked Problems is an interpretation of design thinking for an experience we want for participants within a time constraint.” – Pete Sackleh, Deloitte University Managing Director, Deloitte LLP
“It’s important to stay fresh; we don’t settle on one technique to solve a problem. Design thinking techniques have been used in a lot of different organizations. Wicked Problems is an interpretation of design thinking for an experience we want for participants within a time constraint,” says Sackleh. Design thinking is one among several approaches that attempt to come up with solutions or that try to provide answers to a perceived need. In recent years, crowdsourcing7 has become popular as a way of tapping online communities for ideas. Another approach is open innovation8, in which groups of researchers and technicians, sometimes from competing companies, collaborate to come up with new technologies. As with Wicked Problems, collaboration is an important ingredient. Working together in groups has been popular in the scientific community for decades and is being applied to more and more kinds of problems, on the assumption that many heads are better than one.
Brown, Tim (June 2008). “Design Thinking,” Harvard Business Review. Foster, Karen. “What’s Good About Generation Y?” Greater Good Science Center, University of California at Berkeley, Jan 24, 2013. http://crowdsourcing.typepad.com/cs/2006/06/crowdsourcing_a.html Henry William (2003). Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, Harvard Business School Publishing.
In the eye of the brainstorm
Once Deloitte University was ready to launch the program, Deloitte sought to identify a topic for the first Wicked Problems experience. The subject of employee health and wellness emerged in the fall of 2014 from a discussion of healthy eating and cooking between Deloitte and the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up by President Clinton to focus on global challenges. Since the foundation’s inception in 2001, it has focused on global health issues. One aspect of this is the development of programs around which certainly meets the definition of a wicked problem—it affects a large number of people, has a social and economic impact, and is intractable. Stress and employee morale are an issue in the U.S. and many other countries. One in two Americans, for example, is unwell and the cost in terms of lost workdays totaled $153 billion in 20139. Deloitte had been formulating its own strategy and plans to tackle employee health. “While we currently offer market-leading health and wellness benefits and flexibility options,” says Jennifer Fisher, national managing director, for well-being, Deloitte LLP, “we are just beginning our journey of creating a stronger and more holistic well-being strategy by working with our people to better understand their well-being challenges and creating the resources needed to better manage work, client, and life demands.” Wellness, then, seemed like a good fit for the first Wicked Problems topic. The foundation enthusiastically agreed. “We found there was mutual synergy and they had the vehicle,” says Alexander Chan, associate director for national strategy at the foundation. “We wanted to harness the untapped knowledge of people who were not necessarily specialists in health. Very often groups are siloed, so by allowing outsiders to add to the conversation, that’s a very valuable thing to have happen.”
“It was very different to what we were doing normally, learning communication and leadership skills. And then all of sudden, there’s this breath of fresh air, something completely different.” – Hannah Leinberger, Manager, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Over the course of four months ending in January 2015, more than 2,500 Deloitte professionals were engaged in discussion about employee wellness. During this time, Chan paid a visit to observe a session in which wellness was discussed. The experience was “inspiring,” he says. “I found Deloitte’s professionals were engaged and immersed in the topic and were thinking outside the box.” Wicked Problems sessions vary depending on the number of people involved, but their basic format is the same. In the case of the employee wellness issue, 60 managers attended a session at Deloitte University in November 2014 near the end of a day of training. Divided into groups of six, they were each armed with a whiteboard and Post-it notepads. “It was very different to what we were doing normally, learning communication and leadership skills," says participant Hannah Leinberger, a newly promoted audit manager in Deloitte & Touche LLP’s New York office. "And then all of sudden, there’s this breath of fresh air, something completely different."
Employee Health Improvement Framework, Clinton Foundation, 2014.
Wicked wisdom: How Deloitte builds a process for thinking about big problems
Two coaches from the Wicked Problems team entered the room, introduced the session and asked participants to follow the instructions of a 30-minute video-facilitated session, the video described the Wicked Problems methodology, the wicked problem of employee wellness, and the role of the Clinton Foundation in the choice and framing of the topic. The video is intended to put participants in the right frame of mind, encouraging them to come up with the boldest ideas and to place themselves in the shoes of the users of their ideas. The video also helps to make the program scalable, since it can be shown to hundreds of people, each of whom receives a consistent message. Leinberger and the other five members of her group were asked to spend two and a half minutes brainstorming by themselves to produce a list of ideas. Then she paired up with another member of the group and they picked a single idea from their respective lists. Next, they spent seven and a half minutes developing their idea by discussing how the idea would work in practice (the resources and tools they would need, the organizations they could work with, etc.). Leinberger and her partner then presented their idea to the rest of the group, and the others did the same, each for one minute only. A coach wrote each idea on the whiteboard, and the group as a whole voted for their favorite idea by placing a Post-it next to the name of the idea on the board. The team with the most popular idea took home some Deloitte swag.
”We wanted to harness the untapped knowledge of people who were not necessarily specialists in health. Very often groups are siloed, so by allowing outsiders to add to the conversation, that's valuable.” – Alexander Chan, Associate Director for National Strategy, Clinton Foundation
One remarkable fact about the sessions is that most of them last less than one hour. This is not too short a time to produce valuable ideas. In fact, Leinberger believes that brevity is the key to success. “You don’t have time to deliberate,” she says. “Getting us to think about the wicked problem does not need a lot of time; you would likely get the same results if you had a week to think about it.” The speed of the process seems to be liberating; there’s no time for participants to second-guess themselves, and this quickly enables the best ideas to come to the surface. Wicked problems have to be tailored to fit the time limit; if the scale of a problem were too large, such as “solving world hunger,” a one-hour brainstorming session of non-specialists would not be valuable. The problem also has to be something that non-specialists can tackle; if it is too narrowly technical, a multidisciplinary group of professionals would probably have little to contribute. Rapidity is not the only hallmark of the Wicked Problems process. The coaches in the program talk about the importance of empathy among the participants. The latter have to put on the shoes of those affected by the wicked problem and thus immerse themselves in the problem. One result of this empathy is that no participant feels selfconscious about making a mistake; there is no such thing as a bad idea. This provides them with the space to think unconventionally and boldly. Even though participants’ immersion in the wellness problem was brief, the Wicked Problems team worked hard beforehand to prepare the opening video for the sessions, describing the wicked problem very clearly and providing just enough context to get the participants started quickly
Factory of ideas The sessions on the wicked problem of wellness produced approximately 700 ideas, of which about 100 overlapped. Deloitte has categorized those ideas and found that nearly half of them belong to four main categories. From those ideas, the Clinton Foundation chose 23 based on being highly feasible, scalable, and measurable. The foundation wanted them to be “grounded in reality” and sustainable, says Chan, so that the idea would be useful and relevant for a long time and address systemic issues. The short list of 23 ideas includes programs to incentivize workers to focus on wellness and others that focus on psychological components, such as improving mental wellbeing through healthier relationships at work. Surprisingly few solutions in the short list focused on technology, although one suggested designing a mobile application that would track a person’s daily nutritional intake. At this point, a team from Deloitte and the Clinton Foundation collaborated to choose six top ideas from the 23. One idea that made it to the top six was to establish the position of chief wellness officer at large companies. “The idea of creating such a position is one we really liked,” says Chan. “We want to figure out how to take an idea like that and build it into a menu of leading practices.”
"At a national level, we want to set a high standard for employers to identify and highlight organizations doing health and wellness programs at work and establish a set of practices that others can try to emulate." – Alexander Chan, Associate Director for National Strategy, Clinton Foundation
Top six ideas n Health and Wellness Index: A national health and wellness index that provides an annual snapshot of employee wellness across the nation and slices the information by industry, sector, region, and/or business size as well.
Analysis of ~600 wellness ideas
n Chief Wellness Officer: Create a new role reporting to the CEO for a chief wellness officer who would be in charge of overseeing and promoting improved wellness within an organization.
10.8% 10.6% 9.8%
Employee Financial Incentive Mandatory PTO/Flex Schedule Fitness-Friendly Workplace
n Healthy Food Delivered Directly to Office: Arrange access to fresh, healthy food deliveries to the workplace, follow a model similar to membership in a food cooperative (co-op). Employees buy in to a plan tailored to their needs and receive food on a regular basis. Provide option for healthy ready-to-cook meals. n Make Work Active: Gamify holistic health and wellness. Design a points-based rewards program to incentivize employees for adopting a healthy lifestyle at work, with programs tailored to industry-specific wellness issues. n Nationwide Wellness Challenge: Design an intra-company, points-based rewards program to incentivize employees of different companies to adopt a healthy lifestyle at work, with programs tailored. to industry-specific wellness issues (i.e., gamification with intra-company competition). n Workday Recess: To promote a cultural shift toward a healthy lifestyle, implement daily scheduled breaks from work that would give all employees permission to get up and out of their seats.
Team Activity/Competition Other Wicked wisdom: How Deloitte builds a process for thinking about big problems
The leading idea entails ambitious data collection and analysis in the form of a health and wellness index across the U.S., comparing employee wellness in companies, industries, and regions. “At a national level, we want to set a high standard for employers to identify and highlight those organizations doing health and wellness programs at work and establish a set of leading practices that others can try to emulate,” says Chan. The foundation is in discussion with Deloitte regarding the implementation of the health and wellness index. They have benefited from exposure to the large scale of Deloitte’s human resources and are now armed with a list of ideas to consider integrating into their work. “The goal is to elevate the discussion and to move companies from discussion to action. The health and wellness index could be one of a suite of tools. We know from experience with other issues, such as child obesity, that once leaders are out in front on an issue, other organizations want to do the same,” says Chan. The Wicked Problems wellness program has benefited not only the Clinton Foundation but also Deloitte, at both an individual and an organization level. At the organizationwide level, Jennifer Fisher is very interested in the ideas generated by Wicked Problems participants. Her mandate is to drive strategies that create and support a culture of well-being at Deloitte. “Our strategy is a comprehensive approach to well-being–encompassing body, mind, and purpose,” says Fisher, “and providing the support and flexibility that empowers our professionals to define and activate well-being in their own lives for sustained engagement.” At an individual level, Hannah Leinberger has applied an idea that arose in her Wicked Problems session with her project team. As a thank you for her participation in the program at Deloitte University, she received an activity tracker wristband. In January, Leinberger was part of a team that was working long hours on a big project in New York. She encouraged others on the team to also use an activity tracker to help them break up the long hours with bursts of activity. “It led to an improvement in morale and more energy,” she says. It shows that a simple piece of technology can improve wellness among a group. 10
“At Deloitte, we believe that health and happiness are critical components in creating and maintaining a high-performing workforce. Our goal is to extend beyond the standard wellness program and instead focus on building a culture of well-being by supporting our people as they design a healthy and centered life professionally and personally.” – Jennifer Fisher, National Managing Director for Well-Being, Deloitte LLP
Fired up by the success of the first Wicked Problems exercise, Deloitte has moved on to apply the same process to the issue of improving U.S. academic standards in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), an area of education in which the U.S. has fallen behind many of its competitors. Once more, the idea emerged from discussions with the Clinton Foundation, which has focused on STEM standards in U.S. schools for many years.
Wickedly wider “After every delivery, we fine-tune the model and improve our approach to get the best possible outcomes, in terms of the ideas generated and the learner experience,” says Aryn Wood Erwin, Deloitte University’s director of strategy and operations, Deloitte LLP. Deloitte is committed to continuous improvement. One element that seems to need more work is the second step, which is defining the problem. Wood Erwin says this part of the process must not be underestimated: “We learned that how you ask a question is critical and that the refinement of that question is very important.” Chan sees this point, too. “The prompt we initially developed around health and wellness may have been too generic,” he says. “It was so broad, it was hard to compare ideas. My recommendation for successive iterations of Wicked Problems would be to have more well-defined prompts, so ideas that come out are comparable.” Wellness was the first wicked problem to be analyzed at Deloitte University, and the results are encouraging enough for the sponsors and the team to develop the initiative further, not only at Deloitte University, but also outside it. “It’s becoming part of the fabric of how people engage when they come to Deloitte University, but it’s also developing in such a way that it can be executed anywhere, anytime,” says Sackleh. “It’s not a Deloitte University initiative, but a Deloitte initiative around our innovation platform. It’s a tool that can be used to develop or even teach innovation.” In the next iteration of Wicked Problems, Steinmann says, Deloitte wants to connect Deloitte University to its clients by means of video conferences and eventually take it to university campuses so that potential recruits will be able to see how the organization develops problem solving skills. Deloitte would not take Wicked Problems to a client engagement per se, but it would count on its professionals to have the mental flexibility to look at the client’s problems in a variety of ways. Even as the program evolves, Deloitte will continue to hold true to the original idea, says Steinmann. This means giving professionals “an experience where they can gain confidence to push past where they think they can go. When you think about those differentiators for business— courage, optimism, confidence—we can go further than we think we can and we can do that together. That’s where I want Wicked Problems to go,” she says.
“We can go further than we think. And we can do that together. That's where I want Wicked Problems to go.” – Jen Steinmann, Chief Transformation Officer, Deloitte LLP
Health and Wellness Index Concept: A national health and wellness index that provides an annual snapshot of employee wellness and slices the information by industry, sector, region, and/or business size. Components: n Wellness Ranking: Create a nationwide index that focuses on the best company for the health and wellness of employees. This can be done by industry, region, and size of business. Use data from companies such as number and types of insurance provided, monetary offerings, non-monetary provisions, etc. Data would not infringe on privacy. n Wellness Partnerships: Collaborate with health clinics to publish tips and strategies that all industries could work to implement. Leverage social media channels to promote the ideas. n Company Surveys: Use company surveys to understand health and wellness by industry and as a nation. For example, a Happiness Indicator Survey where employees submit survey responses relating to how well they feel they can take advantage of wellness opportunities at their workplace. n Improved Transparency: Encourage companies to disclose health care costs (plan costs per person, service costs per person, investments in health and wellness per person). Disclosure will help encourage companies to take action to improve health and wellness. n Rewards for Companies: Incorporate a national policy (similar to carbon emission credits) that further motivates companies to improve employee wellness. n Innovation: Rather than creating a set of rules and lists that companies have to check off, implement policies that motivate companies to innovate, improve their wellness, and eventually improve the ranking of their industry and region.
Wicked wisdom: How Deloitte builds a process for thinking about big problems
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