Updated: Apr 13
I spend a considerable amount of time each week working with a Financial Planning business, Emery Little. Here I explore how we have begun to genuinely embrace change as opportunity, and offer some practical suggestions based on our experience.
We’ve gone through a LOT of change in the last twelve months, and last summer we launched quite possibly the biggest project we have ever undertaken. As this project unfolds and hits inevitable stumbling blocks, I have noticed something working for us, that we’ve never managed to harness before.
We are developing agility. For the first time ever, we are living “progress not perfection”. We are iterating, trialling, reviewing, and then iterating again.
And it’s really working. Even in the midst of a crazy busy tax year end. We're still innovating, and improving.
Better still, the team are more bought in than ever to where we’re heading, and solving problems as they arise. The overall morale and motivation is consistently higher, across the whole team, than I ever remember it.
It’s got me wondering why. What has made the difference that has moved us from stuck to constant evolution?
Two things stand out.
I listened to an interview with Simon Sinek a few weeks back, talking about his book “The Infinite Game”. I can’t claim to have read it yet, it’s in my ever-growing reading pile, but the interview gave me an overview of the central concepts and it really got me thinking.
Sinek suggests that if in our businesses, we are driven by finite long-term goals (“to be the best xyz in the area”, “to have 60% market share”, “to reach turnover of xyz”, or any of the nice specific, outcome focused, finite goals we like to set for ourselves) then we become naturally more fixed in our mindset, and far less agile in our approach.
He suggests that from this mindset, we are less able to respond effectively to the inevitable bumps in the road, and external factors that inevitably crop up (like erm, a global pandemic or something) and threaten to pull the rug out from underneath us.
He goes on to suggest that defining an infinite goal for our business, combined with a clear set of guiding values is far more effective. With those things in place, we can learn to navigate the bumps more creatively and with more agility, always in service of the overarching purpose and in line with our values.
Listening to this made me realise that we have done this without realising it!
We revisited our core values and purpose at the end of last year. The infinite goal that we created together is “Creating better lives through expert life and financial planning”. At the same time, we revisited our core values. This time around, giving ourselves far more clarity of what they mean in practice. They have become values that we live by, and importantly, they guide our decisions.
So when things threaten to knock us off track, we have a clear guiding light to bring us back to what’s most important.
On its own that’s pretty powerful. But it’s not just that.
Progress not perfection
A few years ago, we introduced the team to the Thinking Environment. It turned out to be an absolute godsend when overnight we had to move a team of 20 online. Already, we had well established habits of thinking in turn and not interrupting each other.
As the year went on, we got even bolder. Not just team and leadership meetings being held in a Thinking Environment, but all meetings. Especially those relating to change, and projects. It was so effective, why limit ourselves.
Thinking in rounds, about clear questions that had been considered in advance, and aligned with the purpose of each meeting just seemed to work. It made sense to make the best use of everyone’s time on Zoom, to make sure every single hour spent in a meeting moved us forwards.
And we had a practical way of making that happen. Which, as a happy by-product also fosters psychological safety (see my previous posts related to that here).
So now, when we sit down to review how a project is going, we have a clear structure.
Below is the basic outline that we have adopted, for a meeting to review how a project is going. For about six people, this usually takes between an hour and 90 minutes.
First, we land in the room and decide on our “virtual table”. This gives the order in which everyone will get their turn to contribute. We stick with that for the whole meeting.
Recognising that we are people first, we ask an opening question that honours that. “What’s made you smile recently” is a nice easy one. "What are you enjoying in your job at the moment" is another.
Then we consider what’s going well. “What do you think is going particularly well with this project so far?” is simple and effective.
Next we start to dig in a bit and uncover challenges. “What do you think remains a challenge with this project?”
“What do you think is the main challenge with this project?”
This bit is usually the longest. It’s working out which lever we could pull to have the biggest impact is worth spending some time on!
We require something from every person, on every question – even if it’s “I’ve got nothing to add here”. But honestly, most people contribute, most of the time, given the opportunity.
“How do you think we could resolve that challenge?”
Gets everyone thinking creatively about possible solutions. Key elements to achieve this are "how do you think....." and "could" rather than "should". Both expand thinking considering possibilities rather than absolutes, moving thinking into new and exciting areas.
Bringing the discussions to some sort of conclusion is obviously important, so then we move on to ask:
“What have we agreed today, and what do you think need to be our next steps?”
This, incidentally, is the only section that we take notes for, as we come out with clear actions and assigned accountability.
Finally, send everyone away from the meeting in a positive frame of mind, and recognising the work we have done together, take a moment to think something positive and appreciative.
“What have you most appreciated from this meeting?” or perhaps “What do you most appreciate about working with this group of people?”.
I wish I could give you a handy acronym to remember all of that, but I couldn’t come up with one! It’s pretty logical though, once you get into the swing of it.
My experience so far is that this structure has yielded some amazing results. By drilling down to the one biggest challenge, the answer often becomes obvious. And you resolve the one thing that is likely to have the biggest impact, immediately. Better still, in fact, the team resolve it, which leaves them motivated to take action.
You have simply facilitated the conversation.