Abbie Walsh
Jackie Jones

Living Business: design-led cultural and organizational transformation

CEOs and their boards spend plenty of time examining numbers and sweating over their share price – understandable, when it’s clear that eagle-eyed shareholders are doing the same and when there’s so much riding on it. But how much time do they spend connecting the dots between their share price and their people?

Change is a constant. As such, it’s the most constant challenge in business. New initiatives are outdated almost as soon as they launch, whether it’s a new product or service, re-organization of the hierarchy, a new operating model, or a new divisional reporting structure. The process of executing large-scale projects is often cumbersome, time-consuming, and can prove to be a drag on a company’s progress. But what’s the alternative?

The key lies in your culture. Engage your people through a culture that thrives on change, and your business will have the agility to keep ahead of the market. Focus on your people, and your share price will take care of itself.

In this world where rapid shifts in technology are becoming the norm and customer expectations are becoming more ‘liquid’, we need to approach organizational change in a new way.

This is why Fjord is tackling both our own organizational challenges and those of our clients by rethinking the service and business design methodologies we use in our everyday work in a new context. We believe the key is to become a “Living Business.”

Change driven by design

You can design a culture that gives your business the characteristics of an enthusiastic, forward-thinking human. In other words: it would be excited when parameters shift and able to spin on its axis to remain not only alive, but fresh and relevant. Transforming into a Living Business means becoming one that has the intelligence and agility to refresh itself with minimum hassle.

We’ve identified four Vital Signs that a Living Business must work to optimize: Personality, Instinct, Craft and Relationships.

Starting with Personality, this is the set of behaviors, beliefs and values that shape the experience of interacting with a company – whether as a customer or a colleague. All organizations have personality, but is it one that enables people and the company to flourish?

Instinct relates to how an organization makes decisions and adapts to change. For instance, are employees trusted to make decisions without needing to seek approval from the management each time?

An organization’s Craft is the essence of what that company does. It’s the combination of all of its people’s skills and talents, that make its offering unique and inimitable – including those in “supporting roles” that can sometimes be overlooked, but are critical.

These three Vital Signs are underpinned by the final one: the Relationships within the business’s ecosystem, including customers, employees, suppliers and the wider society. Great business has always been founded on great relationships – and this is more important today than ever before.

Together, the Vital Signs work to provide the healthy balance and dynamic attitude to change an organization needs to thrive. However, change doesn’t always come easy – nor often. The tricky part is helping people see that, while daunting at first, change will ultimately lead to progress that directly benefits them.

Understand the issue

Internet pioneer Katz Kiely speaks eloquently about why people are resistant to change, and she strips it back to how human brains are hard-wired. “We’ve evolved with two key states,” Kiely says. “Unexpected change triggers the ‘threat state’, so people get anxious and resistant and angry … Certain conditions trigger the ‘reward state’: empathy … certainty … respect … autonomy … fairness … connectedness.”

So, actually, the answer lies in involving people in the process so that they feel understood and valued (empathy and respect), they know what’s coming (certainty), they feel trusted (autonomy), they appreciate why change is necessary (fairness), and they have a sense of doing it together as a team (connectedness).

If we work with people in this way, they will experience change differently; they will start to experience change as something rewarding.

Gambling with autonomy

Running a Living Business involves giving employees permission to make decisions (without escalating up the chain of command), which brings risk. What if they get it wrong? Humor us for a moment and drop the search term “failure quotes” into Google. You’ll turn up plenty of frequently trotted-out soundbites that all amount to the same thing: failure isn’t the issue – more meaningful is what you (and your employees) do with failure and how you learn from it.

When people are included in the conversation, liberated from bureaucracy and trusted with responsibility, they will surprise you. Some will disappoint you too, but that’s okay – they’ll be in the very small minority. The transformation of your culture into one that positively thrives on change will allow you to adapt nimbly to new influences without losing productivity, engagement or – worse still – talented people.

Ultimately, if you put your people at the center of your thinking, the result is a business where change is rewarding for everyone – including those all-important shareholders.

Abbie Walsh
Jackie Jones

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