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…


The Role Of The Community Manager

We’ve been talking a lot about ‘facilitation’ recently, where I work at NixonMcInnes. The role of the facilitator is very closely aligned with that of the community manager. Here’s some thoughts on the overlap and how it might be useful to practice some facilitation techniques in a community management type role.


I often hear people ask the question, “why would anyone want to interact with a brand?”.

Community management, however, isn’t about trying to get your customers talking to the brand as such – rather, it’s about creating a space for people interested in the same relevant topic, ethos or discussion which can then become associated with your brand.

According to FeverBee, this can be achieved by creating a psychological sense of community whereby those members will want to interact with each other. But, how can you create that psychological sense of community where people will be motivated to do this?

For Richard Millington at FeverBee, the community manager becomes a moderator. However, for me, the role of facilitator has a stronger connection.

If we take a look at John Heron’s facilitation model then, we can see that there are six dimensions of facilitation and three modes of which these dimensions can be handled. It’s these ‘modes’ that provide the most use to me, especially for this example. These are:

1. The hierarchical mode

Here, the facilitator directs the learning process, exercising power over it, and doing things for the group; the facilitator leads from the front by thinking and acting on behalf of the group.

2. The co-operative mode

Here the facilitator shares power over the learning process and managing the different dimensions with the group” s/he enables and guides the group to become more self-directing in the various forms of learning by conferring with them. S/he prompts and helps group members.

3. The autonomous mode

Here the facilitator respects the total autonomy of the group: s/he does not do things for them, or with them, but gives them freedom to find their own way, exercising their own judgement without any intervention.

It is the mix of all three of these modes which provide a useful framework for the group’s ‘learning process’ (or for this example, ‘process of participation’ might be a better phrase). Essentially this means that the facilitator, or community manager, needs to be authoritative (or ‘hierarchical’) but also gives the community space to interact with one another (illustrated by the ‘autonomous mode’) in order to create this psychological sense of community.

In this way, the facilitator will use different behaviours for each of the different modes highlighted below:

1. The hierarchical mode can be demonstrated by removing spam/ innappropriate materials, resolving conflict which are all things that can put people off participating.

2. The co-operative model can be demontsrated through simply asking a question and providing other prompts for discussions.

3. The autonomous mode can be demonstrated by allowing the community to ask and answer their own questions.

By moving between these three modes of facilitation as you need them, you will ensure that you get the balance right between a) removing barriers to participation and b) motivating participation, whilst also remaining visible enough to your community without being overpowering that it will put them off.