How to Design Your Business

Leaders who think hard about their company’s operating model use a kind of “design thinking.” As they design their business, they allow themselves to engage in a kind of divergent thought process. After they’ve explored all angles, they begin to hone in on the solution with a convergent thought process. Roger Martin, the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rutman School of Management, calls this abductive thinking. In this type of thinking, the mind suggests a possibility and then explores it.  Design thinking led the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to conduct a detailed study of its customers’ attitudes toward the company.  Check out The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage (Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 2009).

On the basis of the results, company leaders concluded that the Four Seasons could be a winner in the market by offering first­class service, but it would have to invest heavily in recruitment and training in order to have its service match its rhetoric. Making the decision to provide superior service wasn’t enough. All the people in the organization had to understand the importance of customer service in the success of the business. They had to be motivated to provide top­notch service, be trained to serve customers, and be rewarded when they provided that service. First­class customer service had to become part of the Four Seasons operating model. Bill Breen, writing for Fast Company has a terrific article on the topic.

An operating model like the Four Seasons or like yours manifests itself in the stories employees tell about what they do in their jobs. If you asked the leaders of the Four Seasons about their business design, they would mention customer service. If you asked employees about their jobs, they might say they are trained to identify a struggling customer and to immediately offer help. An operating model is only as good as the number of people who can live it every day!

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