New Year, Big Changes

If you haven’t heard the news about the changes to NixonMcInnes you can read up the full detail here.

In short, NM have decided to decentralise the business and many of the consultants will become associates and spinning off their own initiatives.

For me, these changes mean something BIG, SCARY but very EXCITING!

….I will be starting up my own business with Danielle Sheerin as my business partner, launching February 1st!

We will be calling ourselves BrightCultures and we will be focusing on digital transformation.

Specifically our focus will be on helping organisations to align their digital strategies, cultures and leadership, to help them thrive in a complex, uncertain world.

We know that digital and social technologies have changed the ways that the business world operates and organisations need to adapt to meet this challenge; to thrive in the post digital world they need to be authentic, innovative and collaborative.

This is where BrightCultures can help:

  • working with organisations to understand what this shift means for each part of their operations, for example, customer experience, innovation, internal comms, etc
  • evolving digital, social and comms strategies accordingly
  • supporting them to build their capabilities internally and implement these strategies effectively
  • and creating a climate that allows them to deliver responsive and resilient digital leadership at all levels of the organisation

I’ll include our BrightCultures website soon, but for now, I’d like everyone reading this blog to keep us in mind for anything and spread the word.

Massive thanks to all those who have supported us so far including Tom Nixon, Nick Shepherd and Leesa Albrighton to name a few….sending you all lots of love and happiness for the New Year! Let’s rock 2015!

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Meaning: My Top 10 Highlights

There’s *so* much I could say about this years’ Meaning – our annual conference for people who believe in better business.

Here were my top 10 highlights:

1. Joel and Michelle Levey’s rockstar-like appearance

These mindfulness legends have 90 years worth of experience learning, teaching and embodying mindfulness. Watching these guys talking about their work – involving the (once secret) ‘Jedi Warrior’ training they designed for the U.S. Army and how they bring mindfulness into modern business practices, such as the G-Pause at Google – makes me feel in complete ore.

15199532574_ec898e499f_z2. Mark Stevenson’s fast-paced opener painting a big picture of the future

I’ve always enjoyed Mark’s comical presentation style – making us all constantly question ‘normality’ – is his doctor a racist?

3. The ‘before I die’ boards

15821469562_f0417ee981_z (1)4. Comedy from Bob Doak

It’s always great to have someone talking about better business from a massively successful global company, but when Bob Doak’s making the crowd crease with laughter, it’s even better.

5. Lunch!

They say the best learning’s at conferences happen in the breaks. There was a real sense of community over lunch this year over a beautifully hot Greek meal and conversation cards to help keep the conversation flowing.

15199629334_980b7730ae_z6. Neil Mullarkey’s energetic close

I’ve always loved watching Neil on ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?’ and I had very high expectations but he didn’t disappoint. His approach to applied improv was brilliant and useful.

7. The sense of community

Everyone who participated in the workshops, the brave volunteers who were pulled up on stage by Neil Mullarkey and Karen Pine from DSD who jumped up on stage at the last minute to encourage us all to take action.

8. Iain Chambers’ inspirational return to the stage

Conferences are great for inspiration and for learning new things, but they are extremely powerful when they actually help you to deliver action. Iain’s story demonstrates this so nicely.

9. The powerful return from everyone’s favourite Chief Happiness Officer

Alex’s talk on ‘how to be a workplace rebel’ demanded we all take action and be the changemakers we want to see. He invited us to look at the funny side of conformity and to stay unique, unlike these guys

Conformity – elevator candid camera from Ryan Beck on Vimeo.

10. The hard-hitting stats of Mark Stevenson

I never knew the actual cost of the Iraq war or the price we pay for technology –

“When blackberry messenger went down for a weekend in Abu Dhabi, the crash rate went down 40% because no one was texting whilst driving”.

 

Can’t wait for next year… No pressure Louise!

What a month!

There’s been so much going on recently that I’ve been neglecting my blog.

It’s only now that I am sitting on the bus traveling home that I have had a bit of time to digest everything and I’ve realized how exciting life is at the moment.

I’ve been completely inspired by so many things recently.

Here’s what’s been going on:

  • Meaning Conference was AMAZING
  • I’ve been working on a (top secret) plan for a new initiative, which I can release very soon….
  • I’ve been on a journey to bring mindfulness into the workplace, I’ve been lucky enough to be trained by World Class mindfulness gurus, who were founders of the once secret Jedi Warrior Training program for the U.S. army, Joel & Michelle Levey, I’ve me and had some amazing conversations with people on a similar journey, and I’ve published a whitepaper on mindfulness approaches to change, leadership & innovation which is also going to be published by Melrcum next week
  • I delivered a new type of workshop around a new model of leadership with my colleague, Danielle Sheerin, for PR Week which seemed to go down really well
  • I’ve had been inspired by conversations with people who are designing a new type of business fit for a VUCA World. Plans include demolishing decision-making completely, and mapping energy to create a decentralised organisation
  • I’ve been uninspired and re-inspired by green dots
  • I’ve been through an almost life-changing Clear Ideas Process with Very Clear Ideas man Charlie Davis
  • I had training on complex systems thinking which changed my whole perspective on leadership
  • I received some great news from my previous apprentice
  • I’ve experienced Tom Nixon’s radical business school pilot

I’ll be writing some posts on all of the above over the next few weeks, and I’ll include the links above as it happens.

What does it really mean to be a democratic business?

NixonMcInnes, where I work, is one of the top democratic companies in the world, recognised by WorldBlu.

My understanding of this has changed, and it’s only starting to become clear what this actually means in practice.

Although we’ve always known that being democratic is the right way of doing business, it hasn’t always been easy.

For us, in the past, it has meant that everyone has had a say on everything. This brings up some frustrating memories – evenings spent debating minor details of the annual budget with 20 people is not a good use of time.

WorldBlu

Our WorldBlu award

So what does it mean?

WorldBlu has 10 principles it says every democratic organisation should live by:

  1. A clear purpose and vision

We’ve just become super clear on this at NM. Our purpose is to create meaning in business. In our case, since becoming clear on this, it’s meant that everyone in the organisation has had the clarity required to be free to do whatever they want, as long as it is serving this purpose.

Personally, my challenge has been around shifting my mindset and behaviours from putting profit first in everything I do, to prioritising making this purpose real above anything else.

In practice, this has been very difficult for me because it goes against everything I’ve traditionally been taught about business. This will only truly ever work if the leaders of the business believe and do it. And that’s what has helped me in my transition.

  1. Transparency

This is the bit I believe we’ve always done well, but perhaps we haven’t always been very good at understanding why we do it.

Open book accounting, knowing everyone’s salaries and having whole team strategy meetings, are just some ways we’ve been able to practice transparency.

In practice this means understanding why we do what we do and being fully open so that everyone is able to have a greater understanding of what the company requires and how each individual can help accordingly.

  1. Dialogue and listening

If you’re going to be open & transparent then you need to be able to give and take feedback. The idea is to create new meaning and connections so that everybody can work together to serve the purpose.

  1. Fairness and dignity

For me this goes hand in hand with point 3 – listening and dialogue has to occur through the entire organisation to be truly meaningful. Treating everybody as equals builds trust, confidence and happiness.

When I first joined NixonMcInnes as an intern I was genuinely shocked to see how interested everybody was in my opinion. But it makes total sense now – everyone has a perspective and everyone can add value.

  1. Accountability

This has been a point of tension at NM in the past.

The idea that everyone had to have a say in absolutely everything we did made it extremely difficult to be clear about who was accountable for what.

Now we’re in the process of solving this issue by being super clear about who owns an initiative. At NM we see different initiatives as ‘circles’. Each circle sits within our over-arching purpose and has an owner – the source of the idea initiative (for more info on ‘source’ read this). This means that this person owns that initiative, because they hold the vision, so it’s down to them to recruit people in to help and ultimately have complete creative authority over it.

This is still in progress at NM, but currently is working out pretty well for empowering those with ideas to serve the purpose and creating fulfilment – one of our values.

  1. Individual and collective

We are all at NM to serve its purpose so we all need to be fully bought into it. At an individual level though we all have our own purpose.

We’ve been working with Charlie Davis, Very Clear Ideas & NM Associate, to define our company purpose, which ultimately starts with the source (founder, Tom Nixon), but we’ve also been encouraged to find our own sense of purpose. It’s when these two things align that beautiful things will happen. And the overlap between these two things is the sweet spot.

  1. Choice

We are now actively encouraged to ‘follow the energy’ at work. Just the other day I sat down with my coach and MD, Max StJohn, and we came up with a list of all the things I enjoy doing at work. Then we made a list of all the things I don’t like doing. He pointed at the ‘stuff I don’t like doing’ column and said “stop doing this now”. It’s been completely removed from my job role!

When I tell other people this story, they immediately think of the negative impact it might have on the company – “what if no one wants to do the same thing that’s crucial to the company?” is the question I normally hear. But how could it be so crucial to the company if no one wants to do it? What’s the point in doing it if there’s no drive behind it? The job will be badly done and we won’t be living our values – to be fulfilled, and to have complete autonomy.

  1. Integrity

We’ve now really started to change things up with the way we hire. We only want to hire people who really believe in our purpose and our values because that’s what and how we want to deliver.

  1. Decentralisation

Again, I think this was something we hadn’t got quite right in the past. Now we have a clearer understanding of control – it sits within the source of the initiative. So, although we have decentralised control, control still exists.

This means, instead of having everything open to everyone all the time, we have four stages, or operating models – just like the different options on a Google doc (another Very Clear Idea from Charlie):

  1. Private – protecting it so that it can grow
  2. View – sharing but not asking for input
  3. Comment – inviting feedback and input
  4. Edit – designing it together

10. Reflect and evaluation

Leading and developing is crucial to success. We practice feedback to each other but also give space for the whole team to talk about what we feel is working, or flag if something needs to change.

I really buy into these 10 principles and, although I’m still figuring lots of this stuff out, it’s becoming much clearer.

Democracy isn’t just about involving everyone all the time, it’s about creating freedom by having clear lines of accountability and giving everyone an equal opportunity to input and make decisions that will affect them.

 

The paradox of structure in business

Several decades ago, there was a wide belief that school playgrounds should not have fences because they would inhibit children’s creative play and sense of freedom.

Someone conducted an experiment to prove this*. But surprisingly, the opposite was true.

In this experiment, there were two playgrounds – one of these had a fence around it and the other one did not.

When a group of children were let into the fenceless playground, the children used a limited space and stuck together right in the center of the playground. Yet, when they were let into the fenced playground, the children used the entire space.

In this example, the physical structure paradoxically created a sense of freedom.

Photo by zendt66

Photo by Zendt66

This is the same in business too.

I recently took part in a systems thinking workshop.

As part of this workshop, we were given a role. We were either ‘tops’, ‘middles’, ‘bottoms’ or ‘customers’ – representing different stakeholders of an organisation.

In teams (tops, middles, bottoms) we were given a brief, a day (represented by 12 minutes) and an area of the room.

What was really interesting was, as the ‘day’ played out, most of the ‘bottoms’ were becoming frustrated because of the lack of direction from the ‘middles’ and ‘tops’. They hadn’t been given enough boundaries and this translated into a lack of understanding and knowledge to get on with the task in hand.

What was interesting was that not all of the ‘bottoms’ felt like this and some of them had thrived from the freedom they felt to get on with things in their own way and style.

This is because people have different creative styles.

The key, for any leader, is to create ‘gates’ in structures, to allow people to choose the structure that is right for them.

This can mean making the physical and emotional structures more flexible. It’s no coincidence that most creative agencies have open offices, lots of big whiteboards and encourage flexible working hours.

But there’s also something a bit deeper at stake here. It’s about giving people a purpose to work towards and a set of values to work by, and letting them do the rest, in their way.

*Source: Coursera – Creativity, Innovation and Change

The Ikea Effect and Democracy

When people use their own labor to construct a particular product, they value it more than if they didn’t put any effort into its creation, even if it is done poorly.

This is known as the ‘Ikea Effect’.

134768829_5708c03ee1_b

Photo of flat packed furniture from IKEA (courtesy of Kawanet)

The ‘Ikea Effect’ was an experiment published by Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely in 2011.

“The Ikea Effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when consumers place a disproportionally high value on products they partially created. The name derives Swedish manufacturer retailer, IKEA, which sells many funiture products that require assembly” — Wikipedia

This reminds me of what it’s like to work in a democratic company.

I’ve been working in a democratic company, NixonMcInnes (NM), for over three years now. It means I get to voice my opinion and make decisions about how the business runs.

Ultimately, as an employee at NM, I get to help construct the business and add value to the development of it.

As a result, I feel a deeper connection to the company than a traditionally run company. And in turn, I place a higher value on it – I believe in the success, I believe in the decisions made and I am extremely engaged in what I do.

The opportunity for business owners is to think about how they can leverage the Ikea Effect, to deepen the connection with the company for customers and employees.

As the experiment suggest, customers will not only pay more for your products, but they will also become more loyal. And I reckon its the same for employees to.