Expert Business Designer Priya Rajaraman has led numerous Business-Function transformation projects and Human Brand Experience-led projects for multiple Fortune 500 companies during her ongoing tenure with Fjord/Accenture, which is itself an award-winning Fortune 500 company.
She has a special talent for absorbing raw data, finding patterns, and presenting insights in a clear and practical way. She also regularly makes use of ethnographic and user research, customer journey mapping, and service design blueprint creation to provide value to her own organization and its many clients.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this particular professional specialization, business designers work with organizations to alter existing business models or create new ones, at least that’s the broad-strokes definition.
To put it another way, business designers help businesses find solutions to challenges both big and small.
Business design balances business viability with care and consideration for both customers and employees.
Rajaraman has shared her talents extensively throughout her work with Accenture, and speaking with Rajaraman earlier this month presented us with a unique opportunity to discuss her people-first professional philosophy, and we’re excited to share some of her key comments with you today.
Putting people first
The overarching theme of our conversation with Rajaraman was the importance of prioritizing people, whether it’s the people working within a certain organization or the people who are coming to an organization for goods or services.
Though Rajaraman is applying this outlook extensively in her current business design work, it has its origins in her time working in a different industry back in India.
“My interest in thinking about people grew deeper when I worked for digital marketing agencies in New Delhi. This helped me get a sense of how crucial the customer is in the success of any business. And that has remained at the core of my approach to solution-finding.”
During her time with these agencies, Rajaraman also started her own business, which created curated and customized lifestyle planners for many different kinds of customers.
Understanding what these customers needed and wanted was essential to this work, and the experience also gave Rajaraman a first-hand look at some of the challenges that business leaders face every day.
Perhaps most crucially, this small business experience demonstrated to Rajaraman that one solution doesn’t fit all situations. Trying to force a single solution to work for everyone at all times was simply counterproductive.
The importance of this concept was highlighted quite strongly with the emergence of the Covid pandemic in 2020, the effects of which we’re still experiencing today on many different fronts.
One of the major changes brought about by the pandemic was a shift in how customers shop and what they expect from various digital storefronts and businesses in general.
Rajaraman feels strongly that businesses need to change along with these customer expectations.
“If our customers are evolving, why shouldn’t the way we do business or provide services and experiences to our consumers evolve as well? We currently live in an Experience Economy, and organizations need to organize their whole business around the delivery of exceptional and meaningful experiences.”
Rajaraman explained that responding to new and changing customer needs is at the heart of the Business of Experience, or BX. Rajaraman’s BX work with Fjord/Accenture is about providing clients with “sustainable and future-looking solutions.”
None of this can happen without looking to the people behind the numbers. It’s not just about business, it’s about people.
Benefits of a human-centric approach
So what are some of the benefits of taking a human-centric approach in business design and other areas of business strategy? Well, there are many benefits, and we’ve already touched on one of the most significant: an advanced and in-depth understanding of both business and customer needs and wants.
Another key benefit is one of perspective. A colder, more calculated perspective from which to approach business design may only consider various factors in stark black and white, without any meaningful acknowledgment of the human realities behind all those facts and figures.
Such a perspective would be more likely to produce solutions that may not actually be effective in the real world, or may not be effective for very long.
In contrast, Rajaraman’s human-centric perspective opens up new avenues of communication and problem-solving. She learns about an organization inside and out, speaking with the people who allow it to function, and this gives her an immediate edge when it’s time to start ideating solutions for both the present and the future.
“Recognizing that an organization is its people enables me to anticipate its requirements and design optimal ways to meet those needs. When the emotions that define a person or an organization are addressed, it almost always enhances the chances of success of a recommended service or a product.”
Proceeding without an understanding of an organization’s employees and its customers and a lack of empathy for their circumstances can make for quite a gamble, and business design shouldn’t be about guesswork but rather confident recommendations that will lead to success.
Listening without bias
Effective communication is absolutely essential to Rajaraman’s work and the work of many other business designers.
In the early stages of working with any given organization, that communication consists largely of Rajaraman doing as much listening as possible.
Listening carefully can encourage people to share helpful information about the realities of their experiences with a company. Rajaraman places special emphasis on listening for the small details.
Another important part of this information-gathering process is speaking with many people across different departments of a company or many different types of customers.
These differences may also expand well beyond professional roles or demographics. Rajaraman works with clients from a wide range of cultural backgrounds as well, which requires a great deal of research prior to formal communication.
This research helps prevent cultural differences from obscuring what’s really being communicated by each person. It’s also worth mentioning that Rajaraman’s own cross-cultural background has been quite valuable in this regard.
Further, Rajaraman tries not to let prior experiences or conversations have an undue amount of influence over the next conversation.
“I consciously avoid letting earlier conversations influence the thought process by approaching each one as if they are the first person I am speaking with. It helps to clear the mind and not let it be affected by earlier conversations or even my personal biases. When I’ve collected the information and data, I then synthesize it to be able to come up with the best insights.”
It’s a human process rather than an automated one, and the personal experience of speaking with so many people no doubt has a positive influence on the creation of potential solutions.
After all, real people will be the ones carrying out various business solutions, and so it’s key to understand how those solutions will serve groups and individuals.
Planning for the unknown
Given the strategic nature of business design, professionals like Rajaraman always need to keep an eye to the future, and while nobody can predict the future, preparing for the future is both possible and necessary for every business operating today.
Rajaraman has a particular interest in what is called Future Studies, going all the way back to her time in school. This discipline seeks to maintain an organization’s sense of agency and adaptability, even in the face of extreme changes to markets and world events at large.
This is another area where it’s necessary to mention the world-altering effects of COVID-19. The economic and business ramifications of the pandemic, especially in the early months, were difficult or even impossible to ignore, and in many ways, those forces of change will continue to influence how businesses operate in the years to come.
Following the events of the first year of the pandemic, Rajaraman came away with two key lessons highly relevant to her work.
“From a business standpoint, there are two things the COVID-19 pandemic taught me: first, that we can’t always be prepared for everything, but we can be prepared to make quick and large-scale business model shifts in our organizations, and second, when in doubt, go back to the data. Looking at trends and data from the recent past, behaviors of markets and people today could inform us about the changes that may happen in the future. The best approach for any business isn’t to plan for today, it’s to plan for tomorrow.”
In fact, that’s an excellent way to summarize our brief look into human-centric business design, and we think that Rajaraman’s work serves as an excellent example of how organizations can be successful when they put people first.