Stef Miller has spent more than a decade growing companies and building teams using design thinking — a flexible, measurable and iterative process for problem solving and delivering excellent customer experiences. She realized the power of design thinking early on in her career and the result is an impressive track record in customer experience, demand generation, sales enablement and marketing strategy. Stef recently joined Everwise as director of marketing. We talked to her about how she’ll bring her focus on delivering people-centered experiences to Everwise.
How did design thinking become central to how you do your job?
I studied design in college. This is where I started to get my foundational thinking in how to approach challenges through the lens of creative, practical problem solving. My first job out of college was for a community bank. I reported to the senior vice president of marketing. She was a creative powerhouse who became a personal mentor. Her vision and philosophy led me to those first experiences with design thinking and she’s the reason why I switched from a career in design to marketing.
Today my focus is on demand generation, and how to use design thinking to help high-growth startups create amazing customer experiences – from the first interaction with a customer to every touch point thereafter. This is trial and error growth work that lends itself to design thinking. You’re trying to solve a problem using a specific framework, which forces you to constantly measure the results, make changes and iterate on what you’re learning as you go along.
How has that framework shaped the way you build teams?
In my previous role as a marketer at UserTesting, I was responsible for building the demand generation team. Design thinking was core to how we solved problems. By reconsidering assumptions and freeing our minds from biases, new ways of thinking flourished across the team. Whenever we talked about challenges, employees were empowered to arrive at their own solutions and they had the space and time needed to get there. This got everyone really excited about their work and it had a trickle down effect. Design thinkers realize there’s going to be more ideation than creation sometimes and it’s important for companies to allow for this.
Atlassian is a great example of a company that has seen the positive impact of design thinking across all facets of its organization. Not only do they train all new hires in design thinking, they also have dedicated design thinking office space that employees can use to ask themselves the three questions that matter most to the company: “Is this the right thing for our users? Are we solving the right problem here? Are we sure this makes sense?” Companies that figure out how to build teams around design-thinking principles are the ones that are going to succeed. We see that time and time again.
If companies examine the experience of their employees as the foundation for how the experience manifests itself for the customer, more of them are starting to understand that it’s not just the leadership that makes a business thrive — it’s the people on the front lines who are making companies succeed.
How does design thinking factor into modern management?
Being a modern leader today comes down to your ability to be flexible and your willingness to try new things.
We live in a rapidly evolving business and technological world. Customers are more demanding than ever, because they themselves can get things done much more quickly. If you want to be relevant in today’s world, then design thinking can be one of your saving graces.
Design thinking is a mindset. It’s about looking at a problem and saying, “What is actually impacting this situation?” and then mapping out solutions, making changes, making iterations based on those changes. It’s about not being afraid to move fast and build on momentum.
With design thinking, we put ourselves in the shoes of the user, and empathize with the problem in a very personal way. This foundation can apply to any problem in the world — from managing employees to creating new solutions for customers.
What excites you most about leading marketing at Everwise?
I thrive on being in an environment where change and evolution are a driving force. Joining a company where I can work with world-class people to do amazing things during this rapid stage of the company’s growth is a win-win. Another exciting opportunity for me is understanding the challenges that exist for companies trying to help their talented people grow and applying design thinking to help Everwise work toward solutions that help with these.
How is Everwise impacting the modern workforce?
So many conversations today about the future of work are focused entirely on technology and its impact on things like efficiency and productivity – how the internet of things is making the workplace more energy efficient or how machine learning will make us all more productive employees. No doubt technology will continue to play a huge role in how work is done in the modern world, but what’s often missing from these conversations is the people that make work work in the first place.
The companies that are seeing the most success in today’s competitive landscape are those who invest in their employees to ensure they have the support that they need at every stage in their career. A lot of organizations aren’t prepared to support the kind of professional growth opportunities that people are going to be asking for and need in order to succeed in today’s modern workforce. The challenge of how to solve that is a big one. That’s where Everwise is focused, on building technology that builds people.