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!
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!
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.”
Starting Up the University
It may surprise some folks that my 13-year career in non-profit higher ed contributes a large part to my business and entrepreneurial knowledge. But it was a pivotal time for me, because it was nothing like a traditional career in higher education. For one, when I arrived, the University wasn’t even accredited, let alone open for business. (That came 16 months later!) I was one of only 8 people (today there are over 100) working to launch this non-profit, STEM university in downtown Harrisburg PA— without the benefit of lots of cash to support our creation.
Try convincing parents that their child should attend a brand-new university that practically no one’s ever heard of, operating on the top floor of a high school! We had no track record of success, no alumni, no sports, no dining hall or dorms, and a just couple classrooms. Undergraduate education is a crowded market, and so is corporate training. Yet, with the help of a skilled and spirited team, we launched a modern-day university which has gone on to be widely recognized as an educational innovator and leader. At the time, only two other new universities were attempting similar launches, but they weren’t bootstrapping like we were. Maybe one day I’ll write a book about it, but for now, take my word for it, it was not for the faint of heart!
The Parallels of Strategy and Curriculum Design
I did a lot of strategy work in those years at Harrisburg University. We were constantly listening to the market and responding with new initiatives, fine tuning our offerings, experimenting with marketing strategies and building strategic partnerships. Beyond the start-up experience, there’s more about my background starting a new university that has prepared me to be a strategy advisor.
The process for curriculum development, which I facilitated in collaboration with a slew of faculty and subject matter experts, is very similar in some regards, to the process of strategy development. In both cases, you research and design a program to facilitate a fundamental shift in attitudes, actions and results.
Like designing learning, developing business strategy is a process of deconstructing a high-level objective into its foundational building blocks. We look at the ‘current state,’ we envision a brighter ‘future state,’ and develop a set of activities to bridge the gap. Using human-centered techniques, we assess the needs of our intended audience and leverage our expertise and imagination to invent meaningful solutions. In the case of learning, the solutions are exercises and information to help the student internalize a new set of skills and knowledge so they can solve problems in their life and career. In strategy development, we create a set of activities and information for employees to use in solving problems for their customers. In both cases, it’s important to measure progress along the way, determine if change is happening, and calibrate the activities accordingly.
Surprisingly to some, there are many parallels between inventing new programs for learning and creating new programs for solving customers’ programs and growing businesses. If you’re curious about more connections between strategy and curriculum design, let’s schedule time to chat! To learn more about my background, check out my LinkedIn profile and read about the history of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.