Authored by Nik Davis

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new


The line between the individual and the organization is becoming increasingly blurred, as organizations move away from a mechanistic, bureaucratic structure, towards a living community and individuals strive, for a balanced life, where they feel that what they do matters and that they matter too.

The skills required in our brave new world are changing – we are living in unpredictable, volatile, and unprecedented times of change, disruption, and opportunity. As such, we need creativity, resilience, and empathy in bucket loads.

Creativity is the last legal, competitive advantage

~Edward de Bono

Below, I have shared some challenges to disrupt, challenge, and motivate organizations to do things differently. Every change starts with action – no matter how large or small, it just needs to start.

The future is today, we are the change we are waiting for, please take a challenge and see where it takes you.

And remember carpe diem.

Bringing Humanity and Compassion to Life

Encourage, enable, and motivate every employee to take time out every few months to go and volunteer for a ’cause’. They are free to choose the cause but it must adhere to the following criteria:

  1. No less than 1 day
  2. Involve a vulnerable part of society
  3. Be at the ‘front line’ of the cause

And why you may ask should an organization do this? What value will it bring? What is the ROI? This practice will ensure three critical outcomes:

  1. Bring humanity and compassion to life throughout the organization via tangible action.
  2. Help people retain their sense of perspective, focus on their strengths, and reach their potential.
  3. Encourage people to judge less, listen more, share more, and therefore connect far more effectively with their colleagues.

The ROI – it’s priceless, simply priceless.

  • People feel good about themselves when they can help others.
  • People thrive when they are in a community built on shared values.
  • People need meaning and purpose.

It is within the gift of the organization to enable this to happen, so please just do it.


SEE ALSO VIDEO: Ricardo Semler: How to Run a Company with (Almost) no Rules


Bin the Plans, Start a Mission

Bin the plans, take a fresh approach – ‘the mission’. The aims of your mission, should you choose to accept, are to:

1. Articulate in no more than 2 sentences your raison d’etre – ask everyone in the organization to write it down. Analyze the results. You will either have your answer or you are lost, in which case pause for thought and align your raison d’etre and mission with those who matter – your employees.

2. Define your key values – ask everyone in the organization to name their top 3 values to be adopted in pursuit of the raison d’etre. Analyze and compile a majority – if that is not possible, dig deeper, do you need more than 3? If so, then choose more than 3 but not more than 5. Why 5? Because you have to stop somewhere or else it becomes impractical.

3. Ask each team to articulate a) what and how they will contribute to the mission b) how they will bring the values to life c) what budget they require and d) what requirements of leadership and the organization do they require to deliver their part of the ‘jigsaw’.

Viola, your planning is done.

Next step – deliver the mission, review outcomes in real-time, and change what needs changing when it needs changing, based on information from those who know.

Make your Working Environment Speak Volumes

Build an environment capable of inspiring and caring for your community. It’s important never to under-estimate the impact our environment has on our ability to be happy and to be content. The working environment is the physical representation of the organization’s culture, meaning, and commitment to its community.

So, the challenge is to build that environment – put a library at the heart of it, to inspire the constant pursuit of knowledge, human connection, and discussion. Create quiet, private spaces for inner thought and reflection. Build that trim track, get people outdoors to re-invigorate their bodies and minds. Provide a restful and alluring place to eat. Ensure daylight floods in from every angle so that mother nature can be seen and perspective retained. Give people the space and quiet they need to work but also the proximity to talk and reach out for help when they need it. But most of all, keep it classless – value everyone’s contribution and don’t play to the optical illusion of greatness being defined by the size of your office.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, this will take time so, start today.

Understanding your Mission

In one sentence, write down the core goal of the organization, it’s raison d’etre (justification of existence). It has to be captured in one sentence – if you are not able to do this then you need to go back to the drawing board to understand your raison d’etre.

Share that sentence with every team in the organization and ask them to respond with three sentences. Those three sentences need to succinctly describe how each team adds value to the core goal of the organization. The output from this challenge will tell you three things:

  1. As an organization, do you really understand your goal?
  2. Do your teams understand the goal?
  3. Do your teams add value to the overall goal and how?

You will be amazed at some of the answers you might get.

The Ingredients to Create Creativity

Ensure that you have all of the ingredients required within your organization to create creativity. Creating something new or coming up with a new idea is made possible by taking pieces of existing knowledge and combining them together to create something new.

No one is able to have new ideas. You are only able to make new combinations of two or more existing pieces of knowledge.

~Fuster (neuroscientist)

On this basis simply recruiting creative people is not enough in its own right. The organization also needs to play its part in two critical areas:

  1. Create new knowledge: recruit and create diverse groups of curious people to enable the development of new knowledge
  2. Combine that new knowledge to come up with creative ideas: Provide an environment that provokes and encourages the combination of knowledge to come up with new ideas – one way to do this might be by sprinkling change agents across the organization.

Take a good look at your organization, do the ingredients exist?

Plant your Change-Makers

Plant your changemakers. Change doesn’t just happen, like anything in life it requires passion, motivation, commitment, and focus. Create new roles across your organization – the change-makers. Allow them to roam freely, work alongside teams, attend meetings but most importantly, make relationships based on trust. Their job is to encourage and mentor people to embrace their creativity and change. They will question and provoke – ‘yes that’s a good idea, let’s see if it works? Have you thought of looking at it this way? What about if we started again? Why can’t we do that?’

Give them budgets, empower them, trust them.

Plant the seeds of change by sprinkling your changemakers across the organization to actively support and enable your teams to reach their full potential and build a culture of change.

Are you Walking the Talk?

How real are your initiatives? Is your organization ‘philosophizing’ or ‘walking the talk’.

Ticking boxes on the latest hot topics such as well-being, diversity, and innovation, to name but a few is no substitute for the ‘real deal’. In fact, raising the hopes of people in anticipation of a fundamental shift on a topic that is important to them and then not delivering can cause more harm than good. So, don’t do it – yes you heard correctly. Only promise change through initiatives if you are really serious about actually doing something different that will positively impact people.

Test yourself. Choose an initiative, one that has had senior backing and a big ‘noise’ associated with it. Then go out there and see if you have really ‘walked the talk’. Analyze whether the anticipated benefits have been achieved, conduct interviews, carry out surveys, observe behaviors – seek out the truth and be honest with yourselves about whether you have been philosophizing or really creating change.  If not, why not? Take it on the chin and then really take action.

Let go of Budgets

Let go of the budgets – yes you heard me, just let them go. Allow your teams to be responsible for their own budgets – how much do they think they will need? How much do they think they will generate or enable others to generate? Let the team manage their budgets and discuss progress with their leaders – in a positive and constructive way. If things go wrong, have a backup plan – an ‘oops didn’t see that coming’ pot that teams can access with the help of their leaders.

Set guidelines, there is only so much money available in total so when all of the budgets are in, analyze the over or underspend. Yes, you may find an underspend believe it or not, and then go back and talk to the teams, as grown-ups about how to resolve the deficit and manage priorities.

And don’t just ask teams to think about $ or £’s, that is only one aspect of a budget. $ and £’s are incurred by people and activities required to generate outcomes. So, encourage your teams to think about that too – how are the outcomes going to be achieved, can they afford it? I not, what other options do they have? Empower them to manage their resources, be creative about how they use them, and provide support not punishment if the plans go awry because that’s life.

Choose your own Team

Allow people to choose their team. One of the reasons why so many people are unhappy at work is that they simply do not enjoy what they do. What if we allowed our teams to ‘play’ (within the realms of reality).

Try running a small experiment. Take 3 teams, each focused on different aspects of the business. Get each team to choose an anchor – the person who will not rotate to another team as part of this exercise. The anchor then presents the raison d’etre, working protocols, and outcomes of their team to everyone involved. All of the other team members are then empowered to choose which team they would like to join for a trial period of 1/2 weeks. Now a level of common sense will be required, i.e if everyone only chooses one or two of the teams there may be some deeper issues you need to address first!


READ ALSO: Effective Steps that will Help you Increase Teamwork Motivation


Can we make people happier and more engaged by giving them a chance to try something new, that they are naturally more drawn to? How will it affect the longer-term quality and outcomes of the team? After an initial period of training and familiarisation, can the new level of energy and motivation outweigh the upheaval of creating the change in the first place?

So, encourage your teams to think about that too – how are the outcomes going to be achieved, can they afford it, if not what other options do they have? Empower them to manage their resources, be creative about how they use them, and provide support not punishment if the plans go awry because that’s life.

Change the Labels

  • Don’t have full or part-time jobs, simply have jobs that deliver outcomes.
  • Don’t ask for recent experience and employment, ask for relevant experience and life skills.
  • Don’t ask for a CV – ask for a biography.
  • Don’t ask people to come to an interview, ask for a conversation.
  • Don’t set a location, discuss a journey.
  • Don’t talk about salary levels, discuss value, and agree on a fair ‘deal’ for the outcomes required.
  • Don’t offer a number of days holiday pa, talk about the level of ‘time out’ required to replenish, refresh, and re-engage people’s being.
  • Most importantly, don’t talk about being at ‘work’ – talk about where and how people create and innovate, what the community can offer, how you will be empowered, what is your contribution to the overall purpose of the organization, and how can you shape it.
  • Don’t have a start date, have a ‘try it and see’ period so that both the organization and individual can experience each other and validate/tailor/change how they can contribute to each other’s development.
  • Be a part of your organization not only a leader of it – be brave enough to see where you end up, which may well be so much better than where you had planned to go.

Change the Way you See the Organization

What would happen if you looked at your organization using this as your template?

  1. Redefine the organization’s purpose, profit is only as good as the value it can create.
  2. Keep the strategic goals simple and directly driven by the raison d’etre.
  3. Develop a community rather than a workforce.
  4. Ensure that change co-exists alongside BAU.

The common goal will drive the community, which will deliver the outcomes, which will deliver the value, which will create the profit.


READ ALSO: Workplace Spirituality: Why & How it Works like a Charm


Organized Chaos

Are you ready for a daring and gutsy approach to managing your organization?

Welcome to ‘Organised Chaos’. ‘Organised Chaos’ – these 2 words are profoundly important and the balance between them is the key to your success. Too much structure stifles creativity, restricts the development of employees, and ultimately, reduces the value to clients. Alternatively, too much ‘chaos’ and freedom can lead to dis-connected ideas, budget overspends, employees focused on their needs not that of the wider community, and a culture of confusion.

So, the trick is designing an organizational model loose enough to be flexible but strong enough to hold the vision, community, and outcomes together.


READ ALSO: 8 Complexity Management Strategies that will Help you Cope


That model will be different for each organization but the critical success factors against which it should be rigorously tested will be the same:

  • Can it create and bring to life a common, purposeful vision?
  • Can it attract and constantly develop employees to be their ‘whole self’?
  • Can it enable new ideas and value creation for its customers in a painless manner ensuring that people understand who is responsible for what by when?

But remember the foundation upon which it must be built has to be trust.

Can Organizations be Too Big?

What would happen if organizations actually stopped themselves from becoming ‘too big’. Sometimes, being too big can harm rather than help an organization’s purpose, culture, and ability to deliver. Now being big is different from being accessible or reaching people. In our digital age organizations don’t need to need to be physically big with 1,000’s of employees – they need to be smart, agile, and accessible. I genuinely believe that organizations can get too big – people become numbers, customers become transactions, communication becomes a labyrinth, and the core purpose is obscured by process, bureaucracy, and PR.

Be ambitious, be seen, be heard but be conscious of your raison d’etre, caring of your people, and serving to your customers. Split yourself up into self-managed entities, work with partners, look for smart ways to achieve your purpose that avoid the pitfalls of size.

Invest in People

Randomly choose 10-15 people from your organization. Ask them what their hobbies and interests are, then invest in them. Buy them a day, an experience, something where they can go off for a day or two and immerse themselves in their passion.

Ok, it needs to be practical so maybe not a space flight! When they return, run a session with them. Find out what they learned, how it made them feel, who they met, how it developed them. Then ask what, if any insight and ideas it gave them that could be applied in their working environment. You might just be surprised by what you get.

Who is up for the challenge?

Change the Way you View Change

Change the way you view change. We talk endlessly about change – getting people to accept it, agree to it, own it, deliver it, make it effective, etc.

Let’s change the way we look at change and stop trying to do the big things. Focus on small change instead, build confidence, empowerment, and a culture of change by making it a choice, accessible, and do-able to all. Choose a team, any team – ask them what small change they would like to make in the organization or within their team. Empower them to set the scope, shape the change, and deliver it. Make sure the change is within their gift, actually doable, and preferably not too big.

Build a culture of change through small steps of achievement, getting your people to drive the change, and rewarding the success of it when they do.

8 Point Test

Are you really doing what you do to the best of your ability? Challenge of the day for leaders and managers. You don’t need to make or sell ‘funky’ products & services to be a great organization to work for. What matters is that you do what you do, to the best of your ability. Take the ‘8 point test’, to see whether you are getting all potential out of all of your people including yourself.

  1. How much of your time do you spend responding to complaints/issues as opposed to hearing about new ideas?
  2. On average, how many applicants do you get for a job vacancy?
  3. What is your attrition rate?
  4. What is your sickness rates and do you understand what the main contributing factors are?
  5. How much time do your people spend on doing their ‘day’ job as opposed to learning/development, team building, and socializing/playing at work events?
  6. Do you have any way of measuring/understanding how ‘happy’ your people are?
  7. Describe your culture in 5 words and conduct a survey to see what % of your people agree or disagree with it.
  8. Conduct another survey, ask your people to list their top 3 priorities in life – not at work but in life, that’s really important. Analyze the results, work out how or if the organization contributing to them?

Start Being

Stop leading and start being. All of my role models, without exception, have inspired, empowered, and developed me, not by explicitly leading but by being. Being with me, spending quality time with me – very often our meetings would purposely be away from the office so that the environment was ‘classless’ and I was free to talk about both professional and personal concerns and achievements.

My role models would often look at my work with me, give constructive feedback but always made me see and understand my true value. They shared themselves with me – they were human too. We had a relationship, we had genuine respect for each other – they saw me, they heard me, they helped me to help myself and they let me into their world too.

So, leaders – open up, make relationships with people, empower them, mentor them, believe in them, trust them but most of all teach them to lead themselves.

Say Hello

For every person in an organization – forget grade, seniority, experience, or skills, just do this one small thing every day, preferably to people you don’t know that well or do not know at all.

Ask someone you are standing next too, sitting next too, walking next to, or within talking distance – “how are you today? how is life going?” When they answer, look at them, give them your full attention. Do not interrupt or start talking about yourself, just let them have their moment. Just as you will have yours when someone else returns the favor.

That’s it – nothing complex or big – just small, subtle changes to show people that you have seen them, heard them, and care enough to ask about them.

Amazing the difference it will make to someone, somewhere.

Who are People Really?

Everyone has a story and behind that story lies the key to unlocking their true potential. At an organizational level, we focus on the superficial stuff – experience, jobs, education, skills, etc. We need to get behind this, to really unpick the threads that lead to the passion, motivation, and ultimately, the way to unlock that potential.

So, the challenge is to find a way to understand the person behind the CV. What is their background, what are their hobbies, their passions, the things that really motivate them, what is really of value to them? Find a way to see the ‘whole’ of the person, not just the part they think or you think that you need to see.


READ ALSO: Henry Mintzberg: The Epidemic of Managing without Soul


Consider changing your on-boarding process – take it outside, for a day or more, not just hours. Make it about so much more than the role and the immediate team. Widen it to include people from across the organization including leaders. Multi-task, use onboarding as a way to have frequent, cross-function events, and time out. Think outside of the box. The best way to get to know people is to spend quality time with them, not just when they start with you but throughout their time with you.

It is the only way to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Mental Health

Mental health is the number 1 threat to organizations’ productivity. Roughly half of the UK population are unhappy with their jobs. Management is seen as disconnected and remote. Customer service is still a dream versus reality. Organizations are judged on their ability to generate profit rather than meaningful value.

Not sounding like a particularly attractive proposition, right?

The solutions are part of human nature, they don’t need to be invented. Let’s start with 5 basics and work from there:

  1. Create meaningful goals with all of your people, not just the senior leaders. Measure the success of your goals in value created not purely profit.
  2. Put culture at the top of the agenda, create a senior role to ensure your organization has a ‘heart’ and operates as a ‘live community’ not a hierarchical machine.
  3. Physically and emotionally move management to sit, work, and play with the wider organization so they can both see and feel how it really is.
  4. Bring back passion and self-motivation by creating space in people’s day to play and be involved with something they love, link the creative output to what you do.
  5. Create a working space that is a destination you choose to go to, not a prison you have to be in.

Change your Destination

Change your destination – just change it. This can happen in more ways than one.

Give your people the freedom to work from a place that plays to their strengths, put your roots as an organization in a place that inspires and attracts people, set your goals to achieve a destination that you haven’t been to before.

Get off the beaten track, discover the undiscovered location – if it hasn’t got commuter links, make them. Use the enormous savings you make from not paying for over-priced, over-crammed offices to create alternative places of work with alternative models of work. Maybe it’s one place, maybe it’s more than one, maybe it’s by the seaside, maybe it’s in the countryside. The UK, in particular, is tiny compared to many countries, it is not that difficult to get ‘out there’ if you really want to.

Your workspace speaks volumes about your ethos and desire to embrace and care about your people.

Get off the beaten track and create a destination workspace.

Create Transformation

If you are a CEO, CIO, CFO, COO, Director, Manager, or generally anyone with some power, influence, or responsibility and have the desire and guts to see things done differently, then please use your influence to transform your organization and try giving this a go.

Put your employees’ names in a hat (ok it may not be practical to do that for all employees depending on your size, geographical layout, etc so take a pragmatic approach to this exercise), pull out 15-20 names at random. Employ an experienced, high-energy, and alternative external facilitator. Get yourselves in a room with a view or in a place with a view (weather dependent) for a few hours. Re-think your goals and ‘raison d’etre’ as an organization. Do not allow constraints or boundaries, they can come later. Just allow yourselves to create with people who may a) not have worked together before b) not have been encouraged to create before and c) not ever have experienced being empowered within the organization before.

See what comes out of the process. You might just surprise yourselves.

Be a Team

“No man is an Island” This phrase expresses the idea that human beings do badly when isolated from others and need to be part of a community in order to thrive. Leaders can often be isolated – sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstances, and sometimes because people just don’t get to know them as they are not always accessible.

For anyone in a position of leadership your challenge today is to take ‘all of you to work’ and share that with your employees. Do they know your passions, your dislikes, anything about your life outside of your professional persona? Do they understand that you have great strengths but also areas you need help with? Get out there, talk to people, eat lunch with them, have a conversation, share stories, work next to them – find your common ground. Bringing people together achieves far more than the individual parts – let your employees know that you are human too, let them in.

You might just be surprised by what you can achieve together.

Share your Challenges

Be honest with your employees, share your top 3 current management challenges, with everyone. Ask them for feedback on 3 areas:

  1. Ideas they may have on how to address the challenges.
  2. What they think would be required to deliver the solutions.
  3. If their solution is progressed would they like to play a key role in taking it forward?

Ask everyone in the organization no matter what their role level. Creativity transcends boundaries. You might just find what you seek.


READ ALSO: Henry Mintzberg: Transformation from the Top? How about Engagement on the Ground?


Answer the Questions

Three great questions for an organization to be able to answer, succinctly, and clearly.

  1. What product would we be really proud of, that would create real value for people?
  2. Can we do it?
  3. If not, why not?

Test your Agility

The critical test for how agile and open to change your organization really is:

  1. How many conversations do you need to have in order to do something differently?
  2. How accessible are resources and funding for new ideas?
  3. How many steps does it take to test and implement a new idea?
  4. When you present your new ideas, how many negative, positive, or constructive questions/comments do you receive?
  5. What percentage of your meetings on new ideas are spent on persuading, developing, testing, or implementing?

In all honestly, I see lots of organizations philosophizing about new concepts, being agile, and embracing change but it remains EXCEPTIONAL to see those that actually ‘walk the talk’.



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