Do You Have an Empathetic Strategy?

A little empathy can help your strategy.


I’ve kept this one in the queue for quite a while.  Sometimes things just get stuck there.

In an early 2015 insight by McKinsey, Catherine Courage, SVP of Customer Experience at Citrix Systems, landed this outstanding strategic punch while talking about “design thinking” with an interviewer:

“Design thinking is an ideal framework for us to use because it focuses on developing deep empathy for customers and creating solutions that will match their needs—as opposed to just dreaming up and delivering technology for technology’s sake.”

Design thinking has been, for me, one of those near cringe-worthy topics because of the essential nothingness of the term.  As a matter of fact, a large proportion of the interview in the link above is dedicated to merely defining “design thinking.” And, while I still think “design thinking ” is better suited to a marquee than to a management process, I think Ms. Courage nails it with her comment on empathy.

We would do well to extend her comment on empathy to our company strategies as a whole.  If design thinking is the focusing of product design and development on the experience of the customer, then strategic thinking shouldn’t stray far from a focus of resources on meeting the needs of customers.

Call it strategic empathy.

I’ll be the first to tell you that strategy is all-too-often devised for internal purposes and not for attainment of external goals.  Strategy, in the wrong management team’s hands, becomes just another process.  It becomes a set of steps to complete so that a capital request can be approved or a new project can be started.  It loses customer empathy very early on.

Similar to unenlightened product design efforts that never really touch the customer, unenlightened strategic plans ignore the market and customers as well.  The worst offenders wrap their strategy around a financial model.  As a huge believer in the financial model as a foundation of strategy, I can also say that a financial model is necessary but insufficient for defining a company’s strategic plan.

That requires listening to the market.

That requires empathy.

That requires patience.

Take the time to understand what it is your capabilities can deliver to your customers, then set direction.  You might find that a little bit of design thinking–applied empathy, just as Ms. Courage from Citrix describes–can help your strategy.

What do you think? 


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