Creating meaningful change

Last week I was part of a fantastic piece of work at NixonMcInnes.

The brief was to help a large PR company become more connected with their values and culture through a period of intensive growth.

I personally connected with this piece of work for several reasons:

1. It’s meaningful – Since being at NixonMcInnes, I have witnessed the importance of a culture which everyone buys into, values which everyone feels a personal connection to, and ultimately, an organisation which everyone feels a responsibility for.

I’ve experienced, first hand, how these fundamental pillars can make a difference to the happiness of staff (and, therefore, the progression and retention of staff), of the reputation of the company, and of its long term health.

2. It’s interesting – We involved the whole organisation to participate and drive this piece of work with passion and belief. Through workshops, we were able to watch how each of the individuals communicated with each other and how a few key people can have an influence upon the dynamic of the group.

The way the work is framed is fundamental to the success of this work and to the quality of the outputs. Bearing this in mind, we introduced a set of guidelines to ensure that everyone participates equally and are actively listening to each other, so that the value from each conversation did not get lost. A big question for the day also helped focus the workshops on a direct output. This question needed to be big enough to be inspire the group but also have a personal connection to the group. Our question was ‘What makes [organisation] so unique and special to us?’

3. It works – Our approach is based on science and art. More specifically, we use ‘Art of Hosting‘ principles, alongside the science behind drivers of change in 21st century business.

For example:

Collective intelligence. Studies from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) say that the collective intelligence of a group is higher than the individual IQ of each participant. It’s also influenced by how much that participation is equal across the group and the different ‘flavours’ they bring (ie. more women in a group usually has a direct correlation to the heightened intelligence of the group).

Motivation. Daniel Pink, author of ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, looks at the key drivers of motivation, and looks at the ‘candle problem’ – a study in which a group of people were asked to fix a candle to a wall without letting the wax drip on to the table below. Two groups were formed – the first were motivated with a small incentive if they completed the task before the second group. The second group were told that they were being timed in order to find the average time the task could be completed in. Interestingly, group two were faster. Pink says:

“There are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance… autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” — Daniel Pink

Participation. My colleague, Max StJohn, talks a lot about participatory leadership. He says that the traditional methods of motivation is essentially about top-down control, hence the division of labour and highly structured businesses. Max argues that this was very successful in the production of mass produce about 100 years ago, but businesses now have other issues to tackle which don’t fit the models Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor introduced to us. Max makes a case for more ‘participatory leadership’ in which collaboration is key in a world in which exercising trust, flexibility, happiness, autonomy and purpose are becoming crucial to businesses if they don’t want to fail.

“Humans had the brains to develop tools, culture, society etc 10,000s years before they did. What gave evolution the boost it needed was critical mass – ie enough people in the same place led to specialisation. We built ideas collaboratively – learning, developing, evolving. This is collective intelligence.” — Belinda Gannaway, NixonMcInnes

In conclusion

We’ve noticed that the following things work when solving business problems:

  • Involving in as many people, from across the business, as possible
  • Helping to replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity and giving people the space to fail
  • Using a “Yes and” mantra, rather than “No, but” to help build on ideas rather than quash them
  • Using a number of different tools suitable for extroverts, introverts, visual/ auditory and kinesthetic learners to get an equal mix of participation
  • Framing the day with guidelines to help people communicate in meaningful ways

I’m looking forward to doing more of this type of work, helping organisations change in more meaningful ways and learning how to do this with even more impact…