Redefining value - with Maureen Thurston-Chartraw

As Aurecon’s first Chief Experience Officer, Maureen Thurston-Chartraw is leading the organisation’s efforts to continuously create better outcomes for its clients. The first ever CXO within any engineering firm internationally, she brings global experience working with executive leadership teams across a broad range of industries and a systemic, human-centric approach.

One of our keynote speakers at the upcoming ACE New Zealand Conference 2022, Maureen will explore how we ‘redefine value’ as consultants, and how we can use innovation and procurement to deliver better outcomes for everyone.

We spoke with Maureen ahead of this to learn more about how she defines ‘good value’ and what she thinks those of us in the professional services sector should be doing to bring it to bear.

How do you define good value?

The definition of ‘value’ typically falls within a context of how much something costs, but I believe that value needs to be defined far beyond the price point.

When you're thinking about delivering good value, much like beauty, it lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Everyone has a different interpretation of what good value is, so the trick for those of us selling professional services is to get an understanding of where clients are coming from. By doing so, you can provide good value in the way that is meaningful to them. If you don’t, you’re only framing value according to your perception and pushing that onto your client.

In the current, challenging economic climate, it can feel counterintuitive to move away from a low-cost approach to procurement. What advice do you have for organisations grappling with this?

What's interesting in the professional services world is that much of the value we offer is often intangible.

When I had my own design consulting practice years ago, one of the very first things I would always do, was meet – in person – with my client’s procurement manager. I wanted to understand what their expectations were of me as a service provider, but I also wanted to learn from them how to translate my service ‘intangibles’ into something that would be of tangible value to them.

We would, of course, discuss price but I wanted them to know I recognised their mandate to get the highest return on their investment. So, we would talk through how, together, we could achieve both our goals. Trust me, this early conversation paid dividends in the long run.

As service providers I think it's our responsibility to initiate that conversation with procurement – it helps avoid the potential for ‘us versus them’ relationships which prevents everyone from achieving ‘good value’.

As Chief Experience Officer for Aurecon, how have you encouraged people in your organisation to re-think what represents best value?

Delivering good value begins with asking ‘why’.

When a client comes knocking on our door and says they need a bridge, rather than jumping to solutions it’s important to take the time to ask why they need to cross the river. Exploring the ‘why’ in the beginning leads to a much better solution in the end. A great book that talks about the importance of asking ‘why’ questions is ‘A More Beautiful Question’ – you might want to check it out.

One of the other things I stress to our people is to acknowledge that every client interaction is an opportunity to create a better client experience. But delivering a great experience comes from a deep appreciation of what the client actually ‘values’, as we discussed earlier. Understanding what stakeholders need and why they need it is paramount and the foundation for getting to a better place.

There was a book I read years ago called ‘Getting to Yes’. It introduced Harvard’s 10 principles of negotiation, which in essence, proclaimed that the key to successful relationships is grounded in understanding where the other person is coming from.

So, the point here is that, to get to real genuine good value, you must have a co-created definition of what ‘good value’ is.

Do you think that we think about value differently in New Zealand to in other parts of the world? If so, how?

Something that has always impressed me is the purpose-led approach of the Māori people. To my mind, that is the only way to do business.

From my observation, whatever it is they’re investing in, they’re doing it on behalf of the next generation. I have an enormous amount of respect for the way New Zealand’s Government is trying to make sure that the Māori approach is woven into its way of working. I believe that is a conversation in New Zealand which Australia could learn form. Purpose-led intent is good value delivered.

Register now for the ACE New Zealand Conference 2022 in Rotorua on 1-2 September, to enjoy this and other inspiring speakers delivering practical solutions to help you do ‘better business’.