Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leadership and building effective strategy out of compelling needs

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 12, 2012

I freely admit as I write this, that it is a gross oversimplification but one of the differences between a rank and file employee and a leader is that the employee with their task-level orientation focuses on the here and now details. A leader has to look beyond that level to the bigger picture. My goal in this posting is to at least briefly discuss a crucial side to that bigger picture, and what it means – meshing business strategy as it shapes overall goals and priories, and the processes for reaching them, with needs. And needs in this sense come from two very important directions: from within the organization and from the community and marketplace that surrounds it.

I have written extensively over the past few years about unique value propositions, and the importance of businesses to differentiate themselves in the marketplace for offering special and even unique sources of value to their customers and potential customers. I have written about how the true measure of “value” in this has to come from the marketplace and from those consumers and potential consumers, and is determined by their needs and preferences and how any given product or service addresses them. Effective business strategy serves to internalize this outside perspective into the business and into its products and services offered, its processes and resources for developing and providing them, and into every aspect of the business and certainly insofar as that business and its employees connect with and deal with the outside community in any way. Strategy gains meaning and value where it connects with, supports and validates the importance of the consumer and the marketplace, and their vision of value.

But at the same time this vision of leadership has to turn inward too, and in support of the business and its employees. Those employees may focus more on the here and now and the smaller picture of their specific areas of responsibility, and they may primarily look to how their specific hands-on work connects immediately into the work flow and with the effort of their immediate colleagues. But both individually, as teams, and collectively across the business they get the work done that make the strategic vision of the business a working reality and they make the idea of those unique value proposition products and services real too, and available to those customers and that marketplace.

So this posting is about understanding and balancing needs and compelling needs. Effective strategy serves to align internally and externally facing needs so addressing the one facilitates and supports addressing the other too.

I have seen and worked with businesses that seem to take the customer for granted, and I have felt the frustration of being a customer to such businesses. Fully automated “customer support” services that do not allow for contact with a real person comes to mind as an increasingly common source of consumer frustration, as do automated phone systems that force the caller to wade through a seemingly endless menu just to tell them that the business office is closed and they have to call back the next day. Product and service support and other information-based issues enter in here as do product design and usability issues and a great many other potential consumer and marketplace-facing friction points. Strategy should inform operational processes and practice and should be directed toward bringing them into alignment and support of consumer and end-user needs. Those are among the most important needs that a business faces, as meeting them or not determine how effective and relevant that business can be in its marketplace.

I have definitely seen businesses and their executives take their employees for granted, and almost acting as if they were all readily replaceable commodities – even though it is those employees who make that business work and make it possible, and it is those employees who make those executives’ jobs possible.

Whether you look at this in terms of the products and services offered, or the operational and business practices; whether you look at this in terms of the business and its internal needs or the consumer and marketplace and its needs, ultimately this is all about recognizing and addressing human needs. And this is all about aligning those needs so meeting some means meeting all.

And ultimately, that can become a business’ greatest source of unique value proposition. Simply offering a slightly value-added widget does not make the defining distinction in the marketplace and to your customers as providing widgets in a way that overtly connects with and supports the customer and in ways that validate their importance to you and your appreciation of them. And a key to making that work is in how you treat and work with and respect your employees and show that. They build and provide the products and services that your business offers, they interact with the customer when you have anything in the way of human contact with them at all – a core requirement if you are to avoid the alienation and anomie generating trap of over-automated systems that do not meet real world consumer needs and their need to be treated as people.

I have touched upon a lot of issues in this posting and acknowledge that I offer it as a thought piece and as a goad to provoke thought. I know for example, the arguments in favor of automated help desk systems and certainly for resolving the common help request issues that can readily be standardized and automated. But the exception cases that automated systems cannot resolve are the ones that will generate market share-harming negative viral marketing, and bad reviews on the crowd sourced review sites.

That is a detail point and this posting is not actually about the details, except insofar as the devil really can be in the details. Leadership, as I noted at the start of this posting is about strategy. Strategy, to effectively work and if it is to support and sustain value has to be focused on needs. And addressing needs is all about alignment.

As a final thought here, I would hope that any reader going through this posting finish reading it thinking that nothing has been resolved by it. My goal is to provoke thought and yes, disagreement, as you think through the details of your own business. But mostly my goal here is to at least attempt to bring you to rethink your business with fresh eyes, and with a particular sort of needs alignment in mind.

I have written about leadership a number of times and will, I am sure, come back to this rich vein of topics and discussion points again and many times too. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 (and also see Business Strategy and Operations.) I have also included this in HR and Personnel.

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