Steward Leaders: [Designing A Business] Client-Centeredness

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2.jpgAs leaders who want to "Do Good while Doing Well," we care how the people around us feel, and we care about what they think. Whether employees, constituents, clients, customers, funders, or even the general public, people, and the impacts we have on communities of people, are important to us. Doing this implies a certain level of client- (or customer-, or constituent-, or member-) centeredness.

I can relate. I'm building my personal brand around client-centeredness. Our firm as a whole focuses on helping organizations and their leaders - which is inherently a client-centered position.

It's sometimes difficult to keep this focus, isn't it? And honestly, some of our best business advice, if taken to an extreme, pushes us off client-centeredness to a different orientation, for instance:

  • Focus on what you do well;
  • Keep overhead low;
  • Protect your intellectual property;
  • Help your clients/customers/constituents discover what they really need (even if they don't know they need it yet).

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! All of these things are good things. And, taken together, they are the hallmarks of good business. But unless client-centeredness is not just the "what" of our business, but also the "why," these good things can become very self-serving:

  • Focusing on what you do well can a focus on ourselves;
  • Keeping overhead low can become either cheap on the customer side or abusive on the employee side;
  • Protection of our property can make us grasping, militant, or litigious;
  • Helping people surface unknown or unrealized needs can cause customers to waste resources on trifles rather than truly gain value.

The "why" reminds us that we are client-centered not just because it's what we do, "we serve customers," but because the client (or customer or constituent, etc.) really matters. They become, at some level, the reason we exist. We are stewards of others' resources - not the least of which is customer trust.

(Related: The Story We Tell with Cost and Value)

When designing our businesses, we have choices as to where we start. We start with an idea; we start with a customer; we start with a product; we start with a value proposition; we start with an activity. Client-centeredness means that no matter what our starting point, at some stage of our business development we take a clear-eyed look at our business model and business plan and orient ourselves to the customer/client segments we have identified, and then build for them - not just to them. We build the kinds of relationships they need. We communicate and deliver value along channels they prefer, and we tailor our value propositions to their most essential jobs, desired gains, and most grievous pains.

Recently, I've been using a tool called the Business Model Canvas to help leaders think through their overall business design. (Don't worry, it's incredibly helpful for non-profits and other non-traditional organizational types as well!) It's not a tool we have designed ourselves - but we know a good one when we see it. Check it out here.

Once you've had a chance to sit and look at it, let's talk about how we could use it to assess and design client-centeredness in your business or organization.  Feel free to call me (toll-free) at 1.877.771.3330 x20, or e-mail me . I'd be glad to help you find simple, clear approaches to increasing your client-centeredness.


In service,


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Topics: client centered, business plan, steward leadership, business design, business model, business models