As we start a new year, I have been like many of us, reflecting on some of the learning of the last few years. With my work, I am exposed to working with businesses and clients with varying teams, leaders and sizes and therefore find it interesting to see the changes that are moving organisations forward.

I was looking through my notes and project plans and started to see themes in some of the more progressive workplaces in the last two years. These patterns raised questions. Why were people more engaged in those environments? Why did the organisation adapt to change more effectively? Why did those businesses stay strong amongst disruption to their industry?

I started to narrow down and categorise these themes based on teams, leaders and frameworks and saw some common themes. What I want to share is the move towards each of these and provide you with a key example of how I have helped, observed or facilitated changes such as these in the hope that leaders can consider their own workplaces and what they could implement to get some new wins.

Trend 1: Profit vs Purpose and Values

Focusing on targets or objectives that move away from just the money brought in, and focusing on the purpose of the business and the values that dictate how they operate has completely changed the level of staff engagement, consumer buying decisions and the way the organisation is perceived in the market.

One company I worked with took their key performance indicators for their frontline staff — $$$ generated per account, bookings made and total number of accounts. We looked at their values — great customer experiences, happy people, striving to make a difference and used these as pillars for a workshop on how we can change these measures towards more values driven targets. We came up with targets like the total number of customers helped, number of customer good news stories, and development activities per staff member. By not focusing on the money, the money came anyway. What significantly changed was the sense of purpose in the staff and the conversations with the customer. In fact, they did better revenue because customers and people were happier.

Trend 2: Job Descriptions vs Talents and Mastery

Trend 3: Hierarchical Team Structures vs Network of Teams

Trend 4: Centralised Authority vs Distributed Decision Making

One client was having trouble with keeping up with the many technological changes in their industry. So much so, that they were finding they had to restructure teams as quickly as every three months just to compete.

So we trialled something very different. We took away job descriptions, which highlighted roles and responsibilities. We replaced them with project deliverables and customer/people outcomes. Teams could re-design their roles as they knew it and as long as they were delivering on the key deliverables, how they decided to work was completely up to them. We saw much more cross functional innovation, we saw people recognising creativity in their peers and there was a lot more group decision making happening.

As other projects came in, it either became part of an existing deliverable and therefore the work spread between the existing teams or a meeting was held to explain the new project and those that were interested would come to that forum and decide if they were deliverables they wanted to work towards within their scope for the next 3 months. Although it was never officially measured, staff productivity was never more interesting or exciting and for that 6 month period, they didn’t lose one staff member — even to another department as everyone wanted to stay.

Trend 5: Leaders become less managers and becoming more coaches

I consulted on a project by introducing a coaching framework for leaders to use for their new teams. They were a group of nurses that supported care for others and were teamed by regions they supported. They had teams where the leader was nominated within the group. This nomination process happened every 6 months — something that I found very interesting and was keen to work with and understand. When observing two of the teams, leaders did not show any directive communication. Instead, they have facilitated group thinking, updates and asked lots of questions. I was consulted as they were missing structure to the learning outcomes when having coaching conversations. However I felt the team structure and culture were already big wins in getting the outcomes they were looking for. These two teams had the strongest patient engagement results since they changed their team structure and leaders changed their approach.

Trend 6: Secrecy vs Radical Transparency

Trend 7: Rules and Control vs Freedom and Trust

Trend 8: Plan and Predict vs Experiment and Adapt

A company terminated one of the most influential senior leaders in the business for misconduct. A situation that usually brings with it a level of discretion. The CEO thought differently. He wanted to let everyone know the reasons. It was very radical for the culture at the time. Now it has become the norm.

I started to work with the executive team to coach and through a change management framework, provide the organisation with a “relaunch” of their values. A key outcome of our time together was to have people resonating with their values and being able to link all values to the way they work, treat customers and build relationships with one another. Over a series of different workshops, leaders were asked to solve problems where there was no answer. In other words, failure was the only result. In some workshops, there were more than one resolution and it was working through the “most right” solution as a group. These workshops filtered through the rest of their teams that they facilitated with my observation and support. We continued these over a span of 6 months so that they were supported and had the opportunity to be coached.

Small incremental changes sparked new found engagement and purpose for people in the business. And although that project has finalised, it was one of my most interesting and challenging programs of work that I have been a part of.

So what are you doing to build a more progressive, inclusive and dynamic environment for your people? How do you continue to attract customers to your business? Are your leaders changing their approach and building on their own skill set so they create environments of change and innovation?