5by5: Establishing Trust and Meaningful Connections with Robert Bau

A conversation about establishing trust and meaningful connections inside a client organization with Robert Bau, Senior Director, Service Design at Fjord. He is also a workshop facilitator at the upcoming SDN Midwest conference

Interview by Thomas Brandenburg and Twisha Shah-Brandenburg, a collaboration with 5by5.blog

Disclaimer: The views in this interview are those of Robert Bau, and not necessarily that of his employer, Accenture.


“The principles I always try my best to follow in client projects are:                      (1) extreme collaboration, (2) extreme transparency, (3) extreme flexibility, (4) extreme simplicity, and (5) extreme vulnerability (e.g., by admitting knowledge gaps and mistakes). These principles will not only help build trust but also streamline the decision-making process.” —Robert Bau


Question 1

What are ways in which you establish trust with your client organizations so that you can create meaningful outcomes that go beyond your engagement?


  • Help clients to articulate a working hypothesis – including the perceived problem/challenge, the envisioned solution or solutions, the desired outcomes, and the indicators to measure success.
  • Get to the bottom of client and customer drivers and needs by being insatiably curious, by asking open-ended questions, by seeing things from multiple perspectives, and by challenging assumptions and biases.
  • Show that you can instill and facilitate collaborative practices across multiple silos in the client organization – there is no better way to tap into employee creativity, drive bottom-up innovation, and make real change happen.
  • Constantly revisit and revise the hypothesis during the project based on research findings, concept development, prototyping efforts, and ongoing client discussions.
  • Actively engage the client in the decision-making process by (co-)creating multiple scenarios, North Stars, concepts, and roadmaps – there is no such thing as an optimal solution.



Question 2

What are the barriers or biases that stakeholders have that you have seen show up across different organizations?

The traditional stage-gate innovation process is a huge barrier in my view. Like Accenture puts it, the stage-gate process is more like an “innovation-choking funnel” with a series of decision points designed to reduce uncertainty as exposure to risk grows. This means that big ideas (transformational innovation) often get weeded out in favor of small ones (incremental innovation). Furthermore, the stage-gate process tends to discourage experimentation, iteration, and evaluative research.


Question 3

Can you share with us your perspective on the dynamics of trust and decision making, (power) in the design process when working with stakeholders?

The principles I always try my best to follow in client projects are: (1) extreme collaboration, (2) extreme transparency, (3) extreme flexibility, (4)extreme simplicity, and (5)extreme vulnerability (e.g., by admitting knowledge gaps and mistakes). These principles will not only help build trust but also streamline the decision-making process.


Question 4

In order to be effective what are signals that you pay attention to before accepting a new client/project?

The client seems ready, willing and able to:


  • explore the problem and solution spaces with an open mind
  • embrace new ways of working
  • tap into the creativity of employees and customers
  • set realistic goals and expectations
  • spend the time, money and effort necessary to achieve the desired outcomes



Question 5

As you think about the future of service design as a profession, what are norms that need to be established so that we can gain trust and momentum within the business community?

We are always competing with other types of consultants and designers, all claiming that they can solve the problem or tackle the challenge better than service designers. The best thing we can do is to demonstrate (with real business cases) how our human-centered innovation and design process will ultimately produce sustainable solutions and create long-term value for multiple stakeholders.


Bonus Question

For designers starting their service design journeys what advice would you have?

Besides mastering the basics of design thinking and service design, learn as much as you can about services management, marketing, and innovation.


Interested in this topic? Register now to be part of a larger community at the SDN Midwest conference in Minneapolis, MN, June 15, 2018. For more info on conference programming visit here.


Learn more about Robert Bau and his Advanced Mapping of End-to-End Experiences Workshop at the conference.