What are the 8 pillars of business design?

Updated: Feb 8

Impactful business design not only enables you to fulfil your promise to a client or customer, but it also future proofs your brilliant business for the long term. Learn more about operational design and why your business needs it in my latest blog.


You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘business design’ thrown around in the past. Perhaps an old manager drilled it into you. Maybe it’s even something you were heavily involved in, during a ‘previous life’. But how often have you sat down and truly thought about how it could apply to your business?


The facts are simple: a business without design can just be a collection of haphazard decisions, clunky systems and ineffective people. And that’s the beauty of business design… it draws these crucial components together into one powerful machine. It brings a business to life.


What is business design? Business design is a human-centred approach to innovation. It combines the core principles of client experience, with experiential design, business strategy and human skills and needs. The result? A thriving business.


But what does an effective business design actually look like? And why do you need it?


Read on to uncover my 8 core pillars of business design.



When should your business start thinking about business design?


In a word? Now!


It is never too early to think about business design; and you don’t need a team of 100 to reap the benefits. In fact, even sole traders should prioritise the design of their growing business.


At its heart, business design enables more efficient working, less mistakes and a stronger sense of motivation. On the flipside, a business without a strategic design in place may find staff overworked and overwhelmed. Major decision anxiety and a lack of clarity, purpose and direction will often find themselves high on the agenda.


Business design is all about simplifying your business and getting it to a place that works. And there’s no blueprint for this. It’s a process that has to revolve wholeheartedly around your unique business.



So, where do you begin?


There are several business models, but my ‘go to’ model has to be McKinsey’s 7S Design Model. It’s flexible but with a robust framework, making it ideal to adapt to all businesses.


McKinsey’s 7S Design Model digs into 7 key areas:


  1. Strategy

  2. Structure

  3. Systems (and processes)

  4. Styles

  5. Skills

  6. Staff

  7. Shared values


However, I like to add in an 8th area: the client experience.


You’re probably wondering how these pillars tie into your business. Let’s explore them all a little further.



Pillar 1 - Strategy


“Strategy is simply resource allocation. When you strip away all the noise, that’s what it comes down to. Strategy means making clear cut choices about how to compete. You cannot be everything to everybody, no matter what the size of your business or how deep its pockets.”
- Jack Welch

Your business strategy should be seen as a high level, guiding view of your business. In a nutshell, this will cover WHY it exists, WHO it’s for, WHAT it is, WHERE it’s going and HOW.


This matters, because without an overarching understanding of your business, you will struggle to embrace clarity, purpose and direction. Time and time again, you will find yourself blocked, unable to take the next step to scale your business.


On the other hand, once you are sure of (and excited by!) your business strategy, you will feel more comfortable and confident to make the right decisions when they arise, as well as take (informed!) risks with new products or service ideas.


Your strategy will also act as the catalyst for the rest of your business design.


TOP TIP: Your strategy will never be set in stone - it should adapt and grow as your business does. Find the joy in moving with your strategy and capitalising on new opportunities.



Pillar 2 - Structure


This pillar is all about how the people within your company are organised.


Even if you outsource to just one person, this applies. It’s vital that you are always clear on roles and responsibilities, as well as the fundamentals of your business relationship. How does that relationship work? How do you communicate? How do you deliver feedback? Do you have a way of measuring success?


When you have employees, this becomes even more important. Your organisational structure will - at this point - provide the foundations for official reporting relationships and the workflow of a company. Plus, a formal structure will make it more streamlined to add in new positions, while allowing for a growth pathway for staff.


Whatever position your business is in right now, you should consider well in advance of taking that next step (be that outsourcing or hiring) precisely HOW you will structure your growing business so that the move is as seamless as possible.



Pillar 3 - Systems (and processes)


We often collect systems; we try them on, chuck them away and move onto the next. It can be difficult to find the one that works for your company, especially if you aren’t 100% sure what your business actually needs.


The issue with this slapdash approach is that it massively under values the impact that streamlined systems can have on your business.


We use systems to manage people, clients and products, and then create the processes that ‘hold up’ these systems. The ultimate aim of these systems and processes is to save you time and money.


Picture those endless repetitive tasks that you find yourself labouring over on a daily basis… invoices, client onboarding, expense reports, email sequences. The list is never ending. The right systems will take over those tasks for you and become your ‘tech stack’ (aka, the foolproof set of systems that keep your business running).


Systems also contribute to the bigger picture; they integrate consistency and efficiency into a business. This then has a knock on effect on your customer experience and team productivity, ensuring that everyone understands their role within the wider business and that any bottlenecks can be identified and cut out immediately.


TOP TIP: Keep it simple! You don’t want to end up with so many complicated systems that you actually end up losing time just from navigating them. You should also review them regularly and update when necessary.



Pillar 4 - Styles


"Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes."
- Margaret Wheatley

‘Style’ refers to the way a manager leads the rest of their team. This could include their decision making responsibilities, their motivational tactics and their means of rewarding staff.


It won’t come as ‘breaking news’ that this is important. If you want your team to run effectively, it stands to reason that you need to refine your management style. After all, there’s a common belief that people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.


Your leadership qualities should be clear and consistent. This reliability of style will help you build trust and embed the company culture across your entire team. Inwardly, this will lead to a stronger, more focused and passionate workforce. Outwardly, you’ll be seen as a slick, highly professional company that people can count on.


In addition, a well recognised management style will make it clear to staff who the decision makers are, and what responsibilities rest in their corner.



Pillar 5 - Skills


There is no successful business without the right talent bringing it to life.


Once you understand the skills you need, the roles they will encompass and how these roles will be integrated into your business, you then need to consider the type of person you need to fulfil those spaces.


The talent you choose goes far beyond the skills they possess on a piece of paper. Personality traits, working styles and individual motivations should all be carefully considered when bringing a new person into your team.


I believe that this is one of the most important steps for a business that has aspirations of scaling. Attract the right people, and you will find yourself at the helm of a productive, excited team that brings the best out in one another. Find someone that doesn’t fit in with your company culture, and the opposite could be true. Low productivity, office politics and a high staff turnover. Not what you want, in any circumstance.


A lot of this will come down to the way you hire staff - but I’ll dive into that topic in a future blog.



Pillar 6 - Staff


“Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.”
― Sheryl Sandberg

There is no successful business without the right talent bringing it to life.


Once you understand the skills you need, the roles they will encompass and how these roles will be integrated into your business, you then need to consider the type of person you need to fulfil those spaces.


The talent you choose goes far beyond the skills they possess on a piece of paper. Personality traits, working styles and individual motivations should all be carefully considered when bringing a new person into your team.


I believe that this is one of the most important steps for a business that has aspirations of scaling. Attract the right people, and you will find yourself at the helm of a productive, excited team that brings the best out in one another. Find someone that doesn’t fit in with your company culture, and the opposite could be true. Low productivity, office politics and a high staff turnover. Not what you want, in any circumstance.


A lot of this will come down to the way you hire staff - but I’ll dive into that topic in a future blog.



Pillar 7 - Shared values


A key way of ensuring someone is the right fit for your team, is identifying whether or not they share your company values; better known as your culture.


Company culture is a wide phrase open to interpretation; but, essentially, it comes down to what you deem to be important in the way your business runs.


This could be creating a collaborative spirit across staff. Or building an environment of constant improvement. Maybe it’s about your purpose, and motivations beyond financial income.


Your business should live and breathe this culture… you should be known for it. And it should align entirely with your business vision and motivation, starting from the very first day your enterprise comes into existence.


TOP TIP: Don’t tell them about your culture, show it! A strong leader will embrace company culture as much as any member of staff. It should be seamlessly woven into different aspects of your operations and be a core part of your business design.



Pillar 8 - Client experience


Finally, my own addition to the group; client experience. Client experience is vital as - if you hit the nail on the head - it can lead to loyal customers that quickly become your ultimate cheerleaders.


You should craft your client experience by allowing your ideal customer to shape it. Don’t ever assume; learn from them, and allow yourself to be guided towards an experience that they genuinely want and need.


The client experience encompasses everything from initial enquiry calls right through to off-boarding them at the end of your work together. Use feedback (which you should always make a priority) to review and reshape the experience. You may find that this means adapting processes and systems, as well as putting the touch points in place that help them experience your values, all while having the right people working with them.





Now you know what business design actually is, are you ready to put it front and centre in your business?


Yes? Fantastic!


Effective operational design isn’t an overnight task; but, with the right support and a clear focus on what you want and need for your business, it is totally achievable… whatever the size of your business!


For more support and information, why not sign up to Innovate & Thrive Notes? I share tangible, hands on advice and guides twice a month to reshape and refocus your business. You can sign up on my home page.





Steph Sanderson is a business design consultant who helps service-based businesses to accelerate their growth in a sustainable way through pricing, customer experience, process planning, systems and strategic planning. She has over 15 years experience in the field, working as a business manager, global Change Manager and Implementation Specialist. Find out more.

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