Work should inspire, unite people to do amazing things; this should not be ideal but the norm in companies. A reflection to mark our 11th anniversary.
Every year around the 21st of June, I look forward to sit in small groups to receive feedback and affirm how each one of us have put into practice, our beliefs of unity, humility, leadership and professionalism. We do this in small circles of not more than eight persons so that it will be intimate rather than intimidating.
We call this practice Bonsai and the idea is: a person, like a Bonsai plant, needs pruning so that he/she can improve and enhance collaboration. Since I am serving as CEO, I get to be pruned first and usually the most junior person in the group will get to have a go at me. First timers are usually rather worried because they are allowed to criticise the boss, but they don’t know how not to jeopardise their careers! The seasoned ones, after knowing that we have a process of respecting feedback tend to be more comfortable to give you the hard truths.
What did I learn this year? The senior partners asked me to slow down on my workload since I am preparing for the birth of my baby girl and consult them a bit more before going ahead with business decisions. The junior ones are tad milder and merely asked that I give them more airtime to speak before jumping to conclusions. As for affirmation, the partners appreciated the fact that I had contributed substantially to building up the consulting process and improving the relationships among the senior partners. The younger staff appreciated the fact that they have the chance to be in a company where senior and junior consultants have the opportunity to dialogue and build a kind of unity that is practical.
Every time after bonsai, I feel enlightened and grateful. I consider myself a rather spiritual person and so it is a unique experience because I always thought that this kind of spirit-filled experiences can only happen in a church retreat. But here I am, among Atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and we are able to hear such inspired feedback, shared with care, and be able to speak with openness without fear that someone will judge you. But I realised that it is more than just the practice of bonsai that created this atmosphere. These fruits were by design and perfected over the years of commitment through regular practices like Friday sharing sessions where we ask how was work for everyone. These Friday sessions which we call Consulus circles include our colleagues overseas. In addition to this, our annual retreats which we have just concluded, make a huge difference. During these retreats, we share the meaning and definition behind our strategic plan and what it means for every Consulite and how the plan affects our policies and practices.
Over the years from our own experience and in the organisation transformation work that we do for clients, we have understood that a few essential factors need to be present, if we truly want companies to become places of communion, where effective comradeship can be nurtured for growth and innovation.
1. Individuals at all levels must be clear about their own purpose
Many leaders, managers and staff are unaware of the baggage they bring to the company. It might be ego or the hurts that they have experienced personally in life, but often these issues affect their work and interaction with people. Unless there is a process to clarify the purpose of why they are in the company or in a management role, a lot of people will suffer unnecessarily. In the early years of our firm and then for our clients, we often ask leaders and staff to write about their purpose of being in the company or in leadership. This document asks them to mention the skills they bring to the table, and then we invite them to share with each other. The results from these sessions are amazing and soon you will realise that it is better for some people to be in another type of work as they are not doing the work they believe in. Making sure the right person work in your organisation matters if you want innovation and creativity to thrive.
2. Clarity of business goals and defining the approach to achieving them matter
Many companies have grand visions and strategic plans, but they don’t bother to define the implications, the effects and what it means if they were to implement them. We had a client who identified that being excellent in corporate development matters. Later we learnt that they merely wanted to win an award and had no intention to implement the checks and balances needed to achieve it. It was sad because promising talent soon became disillusioned with the lack of progress and left. The shortfall of competent leaders now affects their ability to grow.
3. Without a commitment to building culture, a zombie-like culture sets in
Many organisations hope that good culture will simply take root without a plan. But without a strategy and consistent corporate practices like collaboration sessions, clear strategic plans, personal development programmes and consistent application of beliefs, a good culture which generate results will not happen. We know so many companies who have given up on building culture because of the severe breakdown of trust between management and staff. Soon a different type of culture emerges which we term as zombie culture. People come to work, hoping never to get involved with anything that contributes to building up shared practices and culture in the firm. So people continue to work on their own and refuse to share any meaningful insights with one another, ignoring the risks and the changes in the market. The insiders can see the impending dangers confronting the business but since it is a zombie culture, they choose to keep quiet, eventually this type of companies fade away or simply fail.
People desire companies that are purpose-driven and united for innovation
Eleven years ago today, we founded our firm on the premise that there must be another way to build companies. That companies can be places of inspiration, where people believe in the kind of unity which produces results, that an effective purpose can inspire people to do extraordinary work. Fortunately, after serving numerous organisations throughout the world, across different industries, from start-ups to billion-dollar enterprises, we have found that people deeply desire this kind of companies. It has been an enlightening experience and a privilege to be able to do this work. We will continue to go to the ends of the earth to ensure that this idea no longer remain just an idea but the norm.
Lawrence Chong serves as the CEO of Consulus and is grateful for the opportunities that clients and partners have given to Consulus over the past 11 years.