Art & Science of Business Growth

Art & Science of Business Growth

For a very long time the focus of business leaders has been improving the performance of the business through a diverse array of management practices and improvement processes. Today there’s a growing awareness of the need to balance these scientific methods with new ways of thinking and working that are more creative. Yes, the future of business is creativity!

Our New Business Model Blueprint

Uncover New Opportunities with the Business Model Blueprint


If your business needs a refresh or a boost, capturing ‘today’s reality’ in this 1-page business model template is a great way to get started. I created this template and use it with every business I talk to. It’s available to anyone who wants to use it for themselves or with their clients.  And now, it’s finally in a spiffy new format that’s an easy-to-use editable PDF form available for download on our homepage.


For anyone who likes the Business Model Canvas by Osterwalder and Pigneur, you’ll notice the familiarity, and I think you’ll love the changes we made—especially that it’s so easy to fill-in and edit. I added space to identify the business purpose, customer needs and differentiation, and revised some of the language to make it more user-friendly. These are the core reasons I remade the original into my own version.


If you’re new to the idea of documenting your business model, here’s the gist. The business model is the ‘formula’ for how the business creates value—it represents all the main drivers at a 40 thousand-foot view. It’s much easier to analyze and see new opportunities when all the moving parts are spread in front of you in one easy-to-take-in visual table. It captures information on vision, customer needs, product, marketing, operations and finance. Anyone who wants a lean approach to strategy and innovation should start by looking at their business model in this 1-page template.


Business models become outdated as internal and external factors change over time, so it’s necessary to make changes. To be vibrant and sustainable, businesses need to update their business model, not just products, services or marketing alone.  And thus, we also created a set of questions to evaluate your business model and identify target areas. This will help you think about things like changing customer expectations, changing demographics and trends, leveraging the latest technologies, dealing with workforce trends and aligning with new strategic partners.  


I could say more, but you should just check it out and see for yourself how you could use it to think differently about your business, your clients or your workplace.


If you’re in the central PA area, drop by the Lunch and Learn I’ll be doing on Oct 30 at The Candy Factory in Lancaster.  Learn more about that, and the innovation workshop we’re doing in November, at   Meanwhile, you can download the blueprint at the bottom of Align’s homepage or our Services page.


I’d love to hear your feedback!  

What's Your Innovation Capacity?

How important is innovation in your company?

Strong business performance today could come at the expense of innovation that strengthens your business tomorrow.  Can your company do both— innovate for tomorrow, and deliver strong operational performance today?

It’s easy for a successful company to get stuck in the status quo, even when it’s breaking new ground. Say what??  Innovation thought leaders call this incrementalism: making small changes to existing products and processes to grow.  And, the more successful the company, the more it may resist innovation.  Huh? 

Even when a company introduces something new, there’s a good chance it’s emerged from the realm of expected - incremental and ordinary.  Sometimes this is the correct approach and it’s absolutely what you need to resolve difficult challenges. But there is a fundamental conflict between maintaining the business and experimenting with new things.  For that reason, many companies feel they must play it safe.  When companies perform well, they are lulled into incrementalism: thinking they’re safe and asking ‘why fix what’s not broken?’ Persistent problems are tolerated.  Complex or ambiguous opportunities are avoided. 

However, persistent problems exist because, by their nature they’re complicated, cross many departments or boundaries, and are often entrenched in a system of the status quo.  Perhaps you have a good idea that could resolve the problem—and the bigger issue is vetting it thoughtfully and building traction for it.   Or, perhaps your team has been ‘noodling on it’ for a long time and you’ve accepted that ‘it’s just the way it is.’  When most companies accept a situation as ‘just that way,’ that is precisely the time for YOUR company to reject that limiting belief. (Think Uber, Whole Foods and Hulu.)

Even if you do commit to experimentation or Big Hairy Audacious Goals, you might wonder how you could possibly use emerging technologies as a solution. How can you deploy new technologies when you haven’t the time or expertise to truly explore their relevance, or think creatively about how they could impact your business?

If the problem of incrementalism resonates for you, you might be a great candidate for a Spark Circle.  

If you have the ultimate responsibility for business growth, strategy and the overall vibrancy and relevance in your market, then you need a place where you can not only spark new ideas, but wrestle with knowledge, skills, and abilities that will overcome the systemic issues blocking breakthroughs.    

SOOOOOOOO, check your innovation capacity.  Tell us what you think and help shape the design of new programs at Align.   

Take this short survey to measure your strength related to balancing innovation with performance.

We'll use this information as we finalize the design of our new spark circles program! 

Interested in the Spark Circle?  Read more here.

Strategy Sprint Creates Momentum

Use a Strategy Sprint to Create Momentum for Growth

We’ve developed a process to move from ideas to action in about 8 weeks. If you’re not sure how to grow your business, improve performance, or capitalize on disruptive forces, the strategy sprint will guide you to the answers.   

The key to success is having a solid plan and carrying it out effectively.  The strategy sprint creates the foundation for both.  

But, a plan that sits on the shelf is not our goal.  Instead, we provide an experience that energizes, strategic options that are impactful, and support through the planning stage to results.  This is something you and your team will enjoy—really. 

Strategy doesn’t need to be onerous.  It’s a balance of creative and analytical work. It’s a simple concept really— know where you are, envision where you want to go, and identify the right steps to get there. The strategy sprint is also a simple idea. It applies the 80-20 rule and is designed to ‘hit the high points’ while getting you to the finish line quickly.  (Saying yes to this, means you’ll actually get this off your to-do list this year!)

It’s an efficient, yet systemic way to turn ideas into action.  We use it to identify strategic objectives based on your strengths, your customers, and the market. Then we prototype simple ways to test feasibility and impact. Finally, we help you set up accountability and progress measures.   The process is built around our Business Model Blueprint and techniques we’ve borrowed from the field of human-centered design.  

Strategy should be a pro-active response to what’s going on in the business and in the market. Goodness knows, there’s been lot of change effecting both arenas, and this will only increase as technology becomes more complex and influential, and as customer expectations continue to evolve. Because of this, businesses need to pause regularly for a strategic assessment and adjustment.

Better yet, they need a strategy blueprint that is constantly syncing up with reality in and outside the business.  The sprint not only provides strategic options and implementation readiness, it will teach companies some of the techniques they can use to make their organizations slightly more agile and responsive in the future. 

How clients benefit:

·       Uncovering new possibilities for new revenue, new customers or internal efficiencies

·       Objective insights about the unmet needs and preferences of customers, which can be used to improve or expand products and services

·       A collaborative experience to energize the team, create consensus and communicate the big picture

·       Practices that help improve profitability while also improving stakeholder impact

·       Testing ideas for feasibility and effectiveness before investing resources and time

·       Hands-on support for implementation, if desired

The strategy sprint is smart and simple.  It brings together our collective knowledge about strategy, innovation and organizational change.  It addresses the negative attributes of traditional strategic planning, which can feel impractical, lengthy and resource-intensive.

Closing the gap between today’s reality and tomorrow’s possibilities is about seeing things others don’t yet see, and managing a strategy that fully leverages your competencies and capacity.  

If you want to learn how the process could be applied to your business, drop us an email, or just set up an appointment for a quick call with our Chief Strategist and Founder, Jen Reiner.

Selling and Being Differentiated

Selling and Being Differentiated


If you’re in Sales, you need to have a good answer to ‘why would I choose yours over my other options?’ The answer is the essence of what differentiates your product.  Thing is, many products are really not that differentiated.  So, what makes your offer stand out?  Is it the product or the sales process???

So often, when I ask sales reps or others in business development about what differentiates their offer, they say things like ‘our commitment to our customers’ or ‘great service,’ or worse yet ‘trusting relationships with our clients.’  These answers are so vanilla that they are not helpful at all. Please stop saying this.  Anyone selling should score an ‘A’ on those factors and consider it a basic prerequisite for doing business together.  There must be an answer that aligns with the things that are important to your customers. 


Thinking in terms of a business model and strategy are a good way to help identify what differentiates your product if it is not already obvious - and meaningful. I can help you think about your business model, your prospect’s business model and how to frame what differentiates your offer.  Further, if you don’t know what gives your business a competitive advantage in the market—and how to use this to substantiate what differentiates you, then I can help!  I’ve got some workshops on this coming up.  The key is thinking in terms of business model and strategy—not product and marketing alone.  (PS, it's possible your business model and strategy may need an update, but more on that later.)


I’m pleased to be partnering with Mark Birch, Donna Valente and the Enterprise Sales Institute to offer sessions that will help sales leaders think differently about how they frame their offer.

Join me on Nov 30 or Dec 15- online or in Philadelphia. Learn more about the Enterprise Sales Institute and these upcoming sessions here.   

I welcome your feedback – endorsements or challenges, and some examples of what differentiates your offer!

Human-Centered Strategy

In 2016, when I started Align, I knew strategy would be my core service, but there needed to be more.

At the heart of it, I want to help people reach their full potential and affect positive impact on the greater good.  At the time, I had a growing positive reaction to human-centered design (HCD)— a problem solving and creative development process used in product development and popular with many of the best product and services companies.  

Remarkable Ideas –  Well Executed  

Much of business is about influencing human behavior, which is why business needs to be more human-centered.  This means putting the individual at the center of the process— not technology, processes, or the thing you are selling.  Specifically, it’s a development process that focuses on the customers’ needs, from their point of view.  

This isn’t about using feel-good methods. It’s about creating home-run solutions, which happens when you use deep and unique insights about what's important to the affected audience.  This piece is about converting novel, ‘killer’ ideas into amazing customer experiences. It's the creative piece.

In addition, for me, being human-centered means factoring in human nature, like what motivates people, how teams work, and what holds us back.  This stuff shows up in an organizational culture and an individual’s work habits.  It can stop strategy dead in its tracks, if it’s not taken into consideration. This piece is about execution and accountability.  

A Strategy Process That’s Lean, Systemic and Innovative

At Align I’ve taken the HCD concepts and applied it to strategy.  Strategy starts with the humans it’s intended to affect—including owners, employees, customers and the community. 

I start with Purpose. 

·       Why does this business exist?
·       Who, specifically, are you serving?  Who can benefit from your purpose and expertise?

A business strategy should focus considerable attention on customers. Among other things, it should also factor in the marketplace, social trends, technology, industry changes, and your capabilities and resources.    

Align is a human-centered strategy company that helps businesses grow.  We employ strategy techniques and some lean start-up tools that lead to development of an innovative business model and a competitive strategy.  This applies to young companies, as well as established companies who are continually adapting and growing.  The approach and the outcomes are different and better than what you see in a typical strategic planning process. 

On Your Terms

Let me interject a separate idea. In addition to developing better business model strategies by making them human-centered—my process for working with a business on its strategy is also human-centered.  I’m flexible.  I know you have many constraints on your time, your resources and your mental space.  I make the process of working together enjoyable and productive!  I approach each client differently, depending on where they are, what they’re trying to achieve, and what they’ve got to work with.

In short, Align helps companies develop a ‘killer’ strategy, using an approach that doesn’t ‘kill’ anyone in the process.  This entails:

·       Taking pain out of the process.
·       Being curious about what motivates you and your team.
·       Walking along side you to overcome obstacles and regularly check for progress.
·       Being deeply customer-focused.
·       Discovering stand-out solutions by tapping into the creativity and unique insights of team members.

Together we can create a strategy designed for growth that addresses what customers want, what your people can deliver, and what you consider success.

UPDATE - Sept 20, 2018

I wrote this over a year ago and would change very little about this article, except to add more references to the mounting evidence of the effectiveness of strategic design as the best way to lead business innovation. Here’s just one of thousands of articles you can read to better understand Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking. Forbes’ article on Design Thinking. Cheers!

Laboring over the right things

Are you laboring over the right things?

As we celebrate Labor Day and take a moment of reprieve from the daily tasks of our work, be sure to ask one critical question: “is all this work paying off?”

What matters?  What should your priorities be?  How do you know you’re going in the right direction?

A lot of people consider the Fall as a season of opportunity—even though it’s actually the end of the major ‘growing season’ in the US.  Kids go back to school and we emerge from summer (hopefully) having had at least a small opportunity to rest and relax.  Things get back to ‘normal’ and, hopefully you’re invigorated to close out the year on a high note. Maybe you’ll even use this time to start something new.  Hence my question- “is this work helping you grow?”

As a business leader, here are a few specific questions to consider:

  • How specifically do you define the best customers—so they are easier to find and get in front of?
  • How deeply do you understand what ‘makes them tick,’ so that you can deliver a solution they buy and love?
  • What gives you a competitive advantage and meaningful differentiation?
  • What special things are you doing that provide a high perceived value for customers, without incurring a high expense?
  • How do you measure progress—prior to sales?

Got you thinking?  Want to be a standout business?

A strong business model can help you improve the answers to these critical questions so your business is more competitive and positioned to grow.  It’s about strategy and execution. It starts with a one-page framework to pull all the ‘moving parts’ together (which you can find on our homepage). 

Most businesses performing below their potential either need to improve an average or outdated business model, or need to do better at implementing the existing strategy.

Models, metrics and accountability don’t sound all that refreshing, but I assure you that the satisfaction you’ll feel from achieving progress is as refreshing as watermelon on Labor Day!   As you ponder whether your hard work is leading to the outcomes you desire, use the Business Model Blueprint, designed by align, to guide your thinking.  Cheers and Enjoy!


PS. One parting thought… if you want to know more about improving your business model and strategy, join me October 19 at The Lancaster Chamber for the 2-hour workshop Designed for Growth—The Art and Science of Your Business Performance.”