Seeking a good answer on how user needs and business goals can be aligned. I'm also looking for practical methods for accomplishing this. Please advise.
Basically as a typical UX person you can't.
Some business models are aligned perfectly with user needs. For example when my software powers a business that sells to customers and I get a commission from every transaction (e.g. a payment processing software, an online marketplace or any other aggregator/mediator type of business). When the customer wins, I win.
Other businesses are "neutral" to customer needs, to varying degrees. For example Microsoft Outlook. If I send more emails, Microsoft doesn't get more profit, they only want me to buy the software once every few years or to renew my subscription once in a while (although if email were abandoned altogether I'd stop renewing of course).
Other businesses have a model that's directly opposed to client needs. For example any direct ecommerce website - the business wants to set higher prices and the customer wants to spend less. Or any online news outlet - the customer wants to get the content for free and without disruptions, but the business wants to set up a paywall and to display ads.
In most cases both the customer needs and the business model are out of the UX person's control, unless there's a UX person really high up the chain who can affect either the business model, or the type of customers the business is serving.
The exception is systems where you manage to create internal motivation drivers, and then you can create "artificial" user needs that are aligned with your business goals. An example is this website, where the reputation system provides much of the motivation, and motivates users to improve the content on the website, which aligns with StackExchange's business goals to create high-quality content (from which to profit via different means).
Aligning business needs and user needs can definitely seem daunting at times. One of the most important steps is to start by defining what the business goals are in your own words and in a way that you personally understand. Depending on the company, designers are often not included at that higher level of defining what business goals are. There has been a shift in this way of working over the last few years but still commonly occurs.
If you can understand and fully get on board with the business goals of your company, you’ll reflect those goals in your designs and I have found that if you understand what the company is trying to achieve, that often is exactly in line with what users need from the service or product they are interacting with. For instance if a company has a business goal to sell x amount of products every quarter, the gap that you need to bridge from a UX stand point is to help users get to the point of buying as easily as possible, which, as customers or buyers of that product, they also want to be able to buy as easily as possible. In my experience, a lot of it is removing friction where possible.
UX Designer = a designer who is focusing (mostly) on user's needs Product Designer = an experienced designer who can take into account not only the needs of the user, but also the needs of the business.
With more than 10 years of experience, I can say that, it comes from work experience and learning. If you want to please the business as well, you should switch career path from UX to become a Product Designer/Product Strategist. Product designer understands the lingo (language), the domain and the market as well, not just UX principles. But this takes time.
When you search for your company's business goals to align your user's needs with, you should look for that goals in two areas: 1) your business's value proposition,and 2) margin. Some businesses' primary goal is to have an unique competitive advantage through outstanding value proposition. Examples of this could be providing more selection, quality, cost effectiveness and so on. These product or service attributes are often underrepresented in the market and ux design team can get to it via market and competitive research. And for some other businesses, the primary goal could be to grow customer base and or profit margin. (Look at the revenue equation and you will notice what I am trying to say) To have more customers, UX designers could intent for an inclusive design and or reduce frictions throughout the customer journey and or user flow. To gain more share of wallet from a single customer, UX designers could focus on designing for those with higher income level or meet the design challenges of these people through studying the quantitative data in customer funnel.