Is there a place for heart and soul in a business strategy?

By | December 4, 2013

Don’t walk the line: part two


Elaine Hickmott

Elaine Hickmott

The second of two guest blogs by Dr Elaine Hickmott, who studied for her MBA on business strategy and sustainability at Bradford UniversitySchool of Management. Read Part One here. 

Here is part two of my guest blog for the School of Management on strategy and sustainability. Part one – Should sustainability be part of your business strategy? – explored how approaching strategy as a dynamic, circular process is key to evolving and transitioning to more sustainable, circular business models. But this is only half of the story.  With sustainability and the circular economy key themes for the School of Management’s 50th anniversary, I want to propose we place heart and soul alongside the economic case.

Following any process blindly without challenge or purpose does not bring progress. The ACID Test I discussed in my first blog just gives us the nuts and bolts. To make positive changes and enable companies to embrace more circular, sustainable models, I believe we need to add heart and soul to strategy and business.

After years of helping technology companies grow and thrive as a leader or advisor, I decided to investigate what the common elements were when we achieved success and what was missing when things didn’t quite go to plan.

My assessment identified four elements which consistently combine to bring success:

  • Perspective
  • Adding-value
  • Creativity
  • Empathy

I call this the ‘PACE Approach’.

The PACE Approach

The PACE Approach

Why perspective and creativity are important in achieving business success


Perspective and creativity give strategy and business its soul. They help bring an honest, open and broader view to strategy and business. With so many opportunities and possibilities to explore, modern business leaders cannot afford to be constrained by old ways of thinking or narrow-mindedness. Perspective and creativity encourage them to move away from straight-line thinking and blind process-following to being more holistic.

Our interpretation of situations is often influenced by the information we have in front of us, and our perspective.  Having a jaundiced or skewed view can lead to negative interpretations of positive situations, just as inaccurate trends and assumptions can be drawn from incomplete, poor quality data. A healthy perspective is therefore vital, and applies to both future aspirations and the current situation. It helps you to recognise the difference between them, highlighting gaps, helping to define challenges, and making what needs to be done more real and tangible.

Creativity brings soul by ensuring that we are open to ideas and suggestions, can see beyond the obvious, and are able to face and solve challenges in a way that brings competitive advantage. Seeing the world as a series of straight lines, assuming everything is black or white and sticking to the same old ways of approaching sustainability won’t bring success. Being bright, engaged and open are traits that a creative business leader should exude.

Why adding-value and having empathy is important in business

Adding-value and having empathy give strategy and business its heart. Whatever the sector, people are at the core of any organisation. They are pivotal to developing and implementing dynamic strategy and building sustainability. If we understand and empathise more with our customers and teams, we have a better understanding of how to add value for them.

Today we all have extensive choice both as customers and team members: we can find alternative suppliers or replacement solutions; we can move company or decide to start a new venture. Therefore, it is important to understand the current value we add for our customers and teams and be constantly looking for ways to add value for them in the future.

With people at the centre of everything we do, ignoring their feelings and emotions is a recipe for poor performance both inside and outside of the organisation. They are part of company success, not a means to an end. After all, when it comes to developing and implementing strategy and adopting new circular business models, it will be people that make it happen or bring it to a halt.

As for our customers – with so many options to help them meet their needs or solve their problems, we cannot afford to ignore what matters to them, what they need and want. Even in situations where the offering to the customer is new or game-changing and they may not even know they want it yet, we must still understand the people that it is designed to appeal to. People are a rich source of knowledge and ideas that should be nurtured and developed. And a brilliant strategy and aspirations to improve sustainability won’t be going anywhere without clients or commitment from the team.

Peter Hopkinson talks about the business benefits of sustainability in his blog on the circular economy. I now want to extend the sustainability theme even further – by looking at the humble washing machine (or ‘not-so-humble’ washing machine if you’ve seen this brilliant TED talk by Hans Rosling).

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

In a recent BBC news article, Roger Harrabin discussed a proposed washing machine leasing model as a way of combating our current linear ‘take – make – use – dispose’ model. The model makes obvious sustainable sense, but it was Roger’s opening phrase that struck the strongest chord for me; “it may sound absurd as more of us each year aspire to own a metal box that cleans their clothes”.  But with the PACE Approach applied, it shows this aspiration is key to changing mindsets and not ‘absurd’ at all:

Perspective and creativity: The washing machine had, and continues to have, a huge impact on the lives of women globally. Timesaving and freedom from wash-day labours have made it a commodity and aspirational object. Encouraging manufacturers to reduce in-built obsolescence and create more sustainable supply chains may be achieved by highlighting the economic and financial benefits, but addressing the deeply engrained societal position of owning a washing machine will need a much more creative approach.

Empathy and adding-value: The leasing model would still afford us the same access to a washing machine in our homes. It does not mean that we would have to borrow it or share it with our neighbours. I am sure, in mechanistic terms, it would have little impact on our current laundry habits. Despite this, and because we are dealing with an empowering, timesaving part of our everyday lives, we cannot ignore or underestimate the concerns and needs of the end-user.

To become more sustainable and adopt circular economic models, companies around the world must have a true perspective on their current situation and future aspirations and take a more creative stance when facing challenges or capitalising on opportunities. Successful enterprises also understand and empathise with their teams, peers, partners and customers, and proactively strive to add value for them.

As the world is constantly changing and complex, blindly and blandly walking the line is not an option for successful sustainable modern organisations.

Achieving success in this environment demands leaders who use dynamic vibrant strategy as their ally and who are constantly increasing the PACE and incorporating large doses of heart and soul. Are you?

I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on my approach – do you think it would work for your business?  If not, why not?  Please do share your comments below.