By Roxanne Batty
If a company really wants to help people, it follows that people should be at the centre of all its processes. However many businesses still struggle to think in a people-centric way, partly due to the many layers involved when making this strategic decision. It can be a difficult process to understand how a company can manoeuvre itself into becoming a people-centric enterprise.
For example, what if you are selling a product that is predominantly B2B? How can you be people-centric when you are not dealing directly with consumers? And which part of your business should be people-centric? The communication department? Sales? Design? Management?
The first thing to remember is that, even if you are a B2B company, a ‘business’ is not a scary exterior entity; a large looming building with no feelings or personality. Businesses are made up of people. It will be people that build, design and communicate your product, it will be people who ultimately choose whether or not to buy it and it will be people that benefit from the outcome.
Secondly, it is also important to remember that somewhere, there is a community with the problem that started the whole idea in the first place. This may be the community within the company you are building the product for (especially if you are B2B), or it may be the community outside the company that benefits from your services (it could also be both). Either way, there will always be people involved – and these people hold the key.
Why bother with the people-centric approach?
Fundamentally, the people centric approach is positive because it leads to innovative design that helps people. It acknowledges that human beings hold the solutions to their own problems, and that people are at the heart and soul of every single business or organisation. Following the people centric approach can not only improve your relationship with your customers or users, it can also have a huge impact on your employee relationships, which ultimately boils down of to improving trust. Trust is essential in any company, both internally and externally, and is said to currently, as of 2017, be at a crisis point according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.
“To rebuild trust and restore faith in the system, institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model that puts people — and the addressing of their fears — at the center of everything they do.”
Where to start with the people-centric approach?
There are various ways to implement the people-centric approach, and many areas of the business to consider. Let’s take the design of the product, for example.
“Design thinking” has exploded over the last few years, particularly in the startup world. It is inherently people-centric, focusing heavily on human behavior and problem solving. It is a solution based approach, which is very useful when trying to tackle complex problems that are ill-defined or unknown. The needs and experiences of people living with the problem are included from the very beginning, as well as brainstorming ideas and solutions.
The five stages of Design Thinking, defined by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, include: Empathise (with the people you are designing for), Define (the problem in a human centric way), Ideate (to generate ideas through your findings), Prototype (to make inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product), and Test (the product). Although these steps seem linear, in practice they are flexible and iterative. Even during the final stage, results can be used to redefine the problem. This loop allows designers to understand their users and the difficulties they face on a very deep level. Not only this, but products built in this way tend to be simpler than offerings from competitors, as there has been considerable consideration about what a product should do and what it should not do.
Design thinking is not an approach solely reserved for the design team: it is about focusing on user experience. It is important to use emotionally charged language to discuss ideas, whether they be in marketing, communication, or even finance:
“The focus on great experiences…infuses every customer-facing function. Take finance. Typically, its only contact with users is through invoices and payment systems, which are designed for internal business optimization or predetermined “customer requirements.” But those systems are touch points that shape a customer’s impression of the company. In a culture focused on customer experience, financial touch points are designed around users’ needs rather than internal operational efficiencies.” Jon Kolko
Ultimately, communication is your companies voice to the world, and the way you frame that voice speaks volumes about the product or services you offer. For example, B2B communication is traditionally product focused. However, there is still a person at the other end of the transaction. Instead of drowning people in data and impressive specs, users benefit from the chance to understand the product, to test the product before they buy, and to understand the people behind the organisation they are buying from. Allowing customers to give feedback on what was useful and what wasn’t also builds trust and brand communities. There are so many channels out there to have many to many conversations – now is the time to utilise them.
“To create engaging and interactive content, put yourself in the shoes of the new B2B buyer audience, understand their challenges and build a campaign around those insights.” Nick Clark
Leading with a People-Centric Approach
Finally, there are the leaders. Leaders are often overlooked when considering the people-centric approach, however starting from the top can fundamentally alter the way the rest of the business operates. Joel Trammel, founder and CEO of Khorus software, states:
“Even though there’s universal agreement that business success is centered around finding the right employees, many leaders use a data-centric approach — rather than a people-centric approach — to operating their companies.”
Trammel also outlines 6 important steps for leaders to implement:
Know the why behind your company and communicate it clearly to your employees and stakeholders.
Use a few clear priorities.
Ask people for their unique insights – don’t just pore over the data.
Hire based on the value somebody can bring to the business
Know your key employees, and know how much they contribute.
Look for good managers. Some people have the people skills to manage, others don’t.
Taking a people-centric approach is not as simple as a quick change in focus coupled with some internal rejigging. One benefit of BloodLink being a startup is that the company is being built from the ground up, and people-centricity can be implemented throughout. However, that doesn’t mean established companies can’t shift towards it, and it is something that can be implemented over time. Moving towards a model that builds trust and improves products can only be beneficial, not only for your business, but also for society at large.