Impact Thinking is a great way of seeing things differently, particularly when it comes to developing your value proposition – as a business but also as a person. In this article, I use three case studies to explore how adding a dose of Impact into your positioning can make a huge difference. Beware, you might bump into some real revelations here… Keep reading!
There is something funny out there. Whenever I talk to people about Impact Thinking the answer is the same: “that sounds cool, but Nah, I can’t do it.” This is very wrong, of course, but the message is not that easy to pass on and people usually struggle with the idea that they (yes, they) can make a difference.
Yet, Impact Thinking is a super powerful tool, especially when it comes to defining (or refining) your vision and your value proposition, as an organization but also as an individual.
So, over the past few weeks, I’ve decided to document some Impact Thinking sessions to illustrate the fact that my message (YOU can make an Impact) is not only fully legit, it works.
These sessions took place with experts in strategy building, strategy implementation and culture change. And each of them led to the same conclusion: Impact Thinking is a super ingredient when it comes to building a strategy because it helps people, teams and businesses to formulate things that they have (somewhere) in their mind even though they are completely incapable of putting their finger on it.
As you will see in this article, adding a dose of Impact Thinking into your strategy-building work has major effects. One, it can help you differentiate what really matters to you (your real Why) from the usual cloud of general and boring industry pitfalls (your default Why). Two, and by doing so, it can also help you write a very compelling value proposition capable of solving real problems for your end-users.
Now, let’s get straight into the matter.
The first Impact case study of this article will tell you about how Impact Thinking helped to supercharge the value proposition of a business coach and strategist. The second will tell you about how the method impacted the profile of an international career development Director. And the third will focus on how Impact has created a paradigm shift for a high-caliber culture change consultant.
Want to find out more? Keep reading!
1. Being Impactful as an entrepreneurs’ coach.
The first Impact case study I want to talk about is that of Philippe, a business strategy coach specialized in helping entrepreneurs and executives with developing their businesses one (big) step further once their team reaches about fifteen people.
Philippe isn’t a random coach. As the Director Manager for Business Talents Asia, he is part of a growing business advisory firm and manages a small but efficient team dedicated to helping entrepreneurs. We’ve known each other for some time, we’ve written a couple of op-eds together, and he has recently started to work on the Impact Strategy I’m developing for the CUHK Law Faculty.
The case is interesting because although Philippe is a pro at building business strategies and value propositions, Impact Thinking was not part of his toolbox until I brought the topic to the table.
When discussing his business activity, he would usually deliver a pitch based on helping entrepreneurs figure out their problems and unlock their business potential. Yet, as far as his message was concerned, the narrative just sounded like selling a service.
From being unique to making an Impact.
You see, one of the points he keeps making with his clients is that you should always keep developing whatever makes you unique. The argument makes a lot of sense, and those of you who know a little bit about Blue Ocean Strategy methods know that in business a good way not to fight against the competition is to actually swim away from it.
The difficulty, of course, is to figure out how do you do that. Being unique isn’t really easy these days. With the internet and the digital economy, all businesses offer similar services and products, hence creating a demarcation is tough.
For Philippe, business was working well but something was missing in terms of vision and message. When we explored his vision, for instance, the issue which kept coming back was that coaching is often intangible for prospects. When you can’t see in advance what you are about to get for your money, anything becomes too expensive and risky. So? Well, his initial vision was that the industry needed change.
At first, the discussion accordingly focused on finding ways to build a business which could become perhaps more concrete and less expensive. In fact, the problem was rather general and faced by most coaches, so Philippe felt confident that the problem he needed to solve was legit.
In reality, however, that problem was essentially an industry problem and, as a result, the initial vision and value proposition of Philippe’s business both turned around accessibility and pricing.
There were two problems with this, however.
First, pricing talks are not very exciting and essentially get you into a hard sales process that nobody likes. Second, pricing and accessibility were Philippe’s problem, not his clients’, which meant that the vision and the value proposition were intrinsically limited. In fact, they just didn’t help to place him under the prospects’ radar.
Impact Thinking applied.
What that means is very simple: we needed to find the real motivation behind Philippe’s business activity that would help his prospects relate to the business. That one thing was obviously there, somewhere, and all we needed was to put our finger on it.
So we started introducing a dose of Impact Thinking into the business strategy discussion, and things changed rapidly. In fact, as soon as we discussed his business in terms of Impact, Philippe’s narrative changed completely.
I always say that making an Impact requires having a cause to fight for, but this is also the case when you work on building a value proposition. So we looked for a cause to fight for. Philippe works with entrepreneurs on a daily basis, therefore we explored his narrative from an entrepreneurship perspective and wondered what problems would increasingly be faced by entrepreneurs in the future.
Minutes later, we had identified a very specific type of beneficiary, as well as their very big problem. And that gave a whole new context to the business. Instead of trying to solve his own problem (I am not tangible enough for many prospects), Philippe identified a major challenge as well as a cause that people could relate to.
Meeting Philippe’s Impactful Value Proposition.
With more people losing their jobs and more young people struggling to do something with their lives, there will be tons of new entrepreneurs over the next decade(s). These entrepreneurs will not be trained entrepreneurs, however. They will be by-default entrepreneurs, who build businesses because they need to try and make a living somehow.
They won’t have the money to get themselves an MBA. And they won’t have a year (or more) to spend in class to learn theoretical business methods.
What they will need is plain and simple: easy, hands-on and actionable business methods based on industry best practices, which they will be able to use and benefit from immediately.
As a business coach, in other words, Philippe therefore had a very clear beneficiary, a very obvious problem to solve, and a cause to fight for. This got him to think about ways to make an Impact on those entrepreneurs in the short, medium and long-term. And, eventually, the idea came up that turning coaching methods into scalable digital instruments would not only make sense, it would also help alleviate pain for thousands.
From strategy-building to Impactful strategy-building.
In essence, although Philippe has spent the past ten years helping others build business strategies, adding a dose of Impact Thinking into the equation has helped realize that his own business strategy and value proposition could both become a million times more Impactful.
In fact, whilst people say that Impact Thinking is not for them, the interesting thing here is that this paradigm shift has impacted his business in two distinct ways.
First, adding the word ‘Impactful’ into his vocabulary has given a new dimension to his business. Giving a broader sense of purpose to his activity has given him a real cause to fight for, which in turn has given him a way to transform his business model dramatically, from personal coaching to digital knowledge transmission.
Second, Impactful Thinking has helped to change the narrative which surrounds the business. The point is no more to approach prospects to turn them into (expensive) paying clients. It is now to focus on achieving a wanted Impact through a tailor-made solution designed to match the exact needs of the identified beneficiaries.
Ultimately, the idea of building a product that is more tangible and much cheaper to the client is still there. Only, this point has turned from being a weak vision into being a very compelling value proposition as well as an actionable solution.
2. From Career Director to strategic team builder.
I mentioned previously that I would also give you an example related to strategy implementation, so let me continue with the case of Marie.
Marie is a Career Director and she has spent the past fifteen years helping MBA student with their professional orientation, in line with the career strategies of the international institutions she worked for. Yet, when the moment came to write her own story and personal plan for the next years, she got stuck with something she couldn’t explain. The big idea was there, somewhere, but putting her finger on it was the difficult bit.
Exploring Marie’s value proposition.
The discussion began as with Philippe, with simple questions as to what Marie had in mind.
As a Career Director with experience in several high-level institutions, she immediately embarked into an analysis of how her industry functioned. Some things worked but others didn’t. So she came up with some rather specific thoughts as to what she wanted to do.
Marie’s approach to doing things is mostly purpose-oriented, so when assessing her current occupation she identified a particular distortion between her role and her goals. Think about it, how can you truly support students in finding their way when the main expectation of your management is numbers?
Soon, Marie therefore identified her basic vision, which by then was a matter of giving a meaning to her work, and to focus on things that would make sense to her.
Except that this wasn’t a proper vision. Something was missing (a value proposition, really) so we went further to identify Marie’s real driver.
Bringing some Impact Thinking into Marie’s equation.
When Marie researched what really moved her, Marie realized that the issue she had focused on so far was, again, a problem for her but not a problem that the students actually faced. This was creating discomfort for her, but there was no real beneficiary, no real problem and no real cause to fight for there.
With a dose of Impact Thinking, however, the perspective changed.
Marie realized that her direct clients were not the students but the strategy-makers who exercised the wrong kind of pressure on the implementing team. And when she did that, she realized that her real Impact would relate to implementing strategies more efficiently, and to empower teams.
The students would benefit from the change, of course, but they were not her real driver so she dropped the education dimension of her vision to focus on what she really enjoyed: strategy implementation and team-building.
Of course, education is a big thing and I am not saying that Marie realized that she didn’t like it. No. Her point was rather than what she enjoyed was to get in the middle of strategy-building, and to make it happen by taking responsibility for building the team in charge of implementing the next moves.
Whether that happened in an educational context was a different element in the equation. In fact, thinking about her Impact made her realize that she might well operate in a completely different environment a few years from now, depending on how interesting her next challenges would be.
Analyzing the shift.
As with Philippe, this value proposition shift means that the initial ‘why’ identified by Marie was not her real driver. Making sense of her work was fundamental to her, but the real driver was clearly related to implementing strategies and building the teams which would be needed for that purpose.
As a result, her real vision became focused on making an Impact, while her initial ‘why’ became her mode for action.
When Marie talks to her interlocutors and stakeholders, she now has a compelling message to convey, and guiding principles (or values) to explain how she plans on making that happen. In retrospect, she says that the exercise was “a revelation” to her. Impactful, uh?
3. From culture change management to financial inclusion impact.
The third case study here is that of another consultant I happened to work with as part of the CUHK Law Impact Strategy project. I needed a specialist in change management to help with conveying a culture change to the Faculty Staff, so I asked for Nick’s help.
As the former COO of a Big Four consulting firm, Nick had massive experience in the field of culture change and was the most qualified person I could think of for that mission.
Yet, as with Philippe and Marie, what Nick came aboard with was a strong ‘what’ (culture change strategy-building with user-centered pricing principles), but not Impact Thinking. But that gave us an opportunity to have a discussion about his own Impact, and again the discussion proved super instructive.
Struggling with a non-Impactful value proposition.
As with the other discussions, I started the session with questions as to what was the biggest problem in Nick’s industry (financial services and Fintech, by the way).
As a former Big Four consultant, Nick came up with a variety of issues, mostly related to the consulting world. Pricing was usually excessive, for starters. And the value created for the client was overall insufficient compared to the price paid.
After years in the field, his answers made sense, of course. But as with Philippe and Marie, some part of the discussion wasn’t there (yet) and that we still needed to put our finger on the right problem.
Nick was talking about consulting issues which he could see, from the inside. Consultants are too expensive, the value for the clients isn’t significant enough… But as for Philippe and Marie, those problems were not the clients’ problems.
These were his own problems and they were sending him the wrong direction because they couldn’t create a real cause worth fighting for.
Again, if your vision is that the consulting world doesn’t work well, then the only value proposition you can provide is probably going to turn around the quality of the service and the pricing. And what that means is simple: the only way you can fight is to provide more for less. What you do when you do that, however, is to throw yourself into the competition instead of becoming a unique YOU.
From high-value consulting services to a financial inclusion value proposition.
So we introduced a dose of Impact Thinking into the discussion. And, again, the paradigm shift happened loud and clear.
Nick and I had spent some time talking prior to this discussion, so I knew that he had a sensitivity for a very singular and tremendously important topic: financial inclusion. After years in the advisory sector, Nick could talk passionately about Fintech developments and about how financial technology would sooner or later (sooner, hopefully) help bring financial services to the masses. Particularly in Hong Kong where, despite the city’s financial reputation, many people remain totally underbanked.
So? The value was clearly not in pricing and consulting ethics!
Nick was a consultant but consulting was his ‘what’ rather than his ‘why’, and focusing on improving the method wasn’t a vision at all.
In reality, his Impact is not about revolutionizing consulting services in terms of quality and pricing. No. His Impact is tied to a single message – we need more financial inclusion and we need to push for change to make it happen, and the best way to do that is to help Fintech companies with their development plans.
Case study analysis.
As for Philippe and Marie, the change in narrative is obvious and means that Nick’s initial ‘why’ was not his absolute driver. In effect, the initial driver became his ‘what’ or mode of action, and it gave him some values and guiding principles to turn his wanted Impact and vision into value creation for his future clients.
Interestingly, when I told Nick about my analysis of our session, his feedback was that I was perfectly right. After spending weeks questioning his positioning, the Impact Thinking method has helped him put his finger on a disconnect and helped him identify his real value generation potential.
A couple of days after our meeting, in fact, Nick met with some prospects and began the discussion with some thoughts on financial inclusion. As it turns out, those guys had similar objectives in mind, and that gave a super strong basis to start building a long-lasting relation.
When I asked Nick how he would summarize the contribution of our Impact Thinking session to his business projects, his conclusion came loud and clear: adding a dose of Impact to your vocabulary is the best way to articulate what you are about, to create a potential for connecting with like-minded people, and to create a common language you can then build upon as the relationship develops. If that’s not Impactful…
Supercharging your value proposition: concluding thoughts.
These case studies are interesting because they show how Impact Thinking methods can help entrepreneurs develop a new approach to things. Putting our fingers on our real drivers do not just help us figure out what we really are about. It also helps us figure out that, oftentimes, our initial ‘why’ in fact constitute our best guiding principles to make an Impact.
The beauty of it is that the same method works for everyone. It works if you are an entrepreneur, but it also works if you want to think about your next career moves, or if you want to create your own leadership path. It works if you are trying to build products as well, or a publication strategy, not to mention a business strategy as a whole.
In fact, what worked with Philippe, Marie and Nick have helped more people build interesting projects, and if you look around you, you might realize that mission-driven undertakings are everywhere.
Tesla is not just a car-manufacturing business, it is a business built on the idea that humanity needs an alternative to fossil fuels. Apple did not produce the iPhone because we needed a phone, it built it to bring technology in every home. Jack Ma didn’t build Alibaba as a simple online shop but with the “aim to build the future infrastructure of commerce”. Oh, and Google’s vision is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
The bottom line is, Impact is at the heart of turning what you do into something bigger than you, and Impact Thinking is like a magic sauce which can help you clarify what really matters.
When you do that the cost argument isn’t relevant anymore. What matters is your internal driver, and figuring it out means a lot in terms of business positioning. No more consulting competition concerns, just an intimate conviction that entrepreneurs will need something not available so far, that Fintechs have a power to change the world, or that what really matters to you is to build teams that rock.
When your real impact goal appears, the rest becomes a set of guiding principles which can help you increase both your value proposition and, ultimately, Impact delivery.
Not too bad, don’t you think?