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2018.. The year of clarity?

It’s already February, but I feel as though 2017 went by with such velocity that I only just got a handle on it. Sharing my experience of 2017 and my predictions on trends in business and organisational culture in 2018 I hope might encourage some genuine conversations in contrast to the politically loaded rants of the “Chattering Classes” that seem to dominate mainstream media platforms these days.

My 2017 was quite eventful. I started the year working for a large state government agency in a whole of agency safety role. To say there was politics and administrivia would be an understatement. Picture a totally unfunny version of “Utopia” and you get the idea. However this environment forces you to develop a particular set of skills as even minor organisational change takes commitment, agility, persistence, patience and everything else you can throw at it.

I ended the year in my own business. It had been my side hustle for a number of years but circumstances aligned in 2017 for me to take the plunge. My altruistic (and some might say naive) vision for the business is delivering improved business performance and cultures through risk management systems, supported by mindful cultures. I also structured it as a socially conscious enterprise to deliver tangible benefit to my local community. I won’t bore you with any more buzzwords but I’m always happy to chat if those concepts appeal.

Throughout the year I continued to learn a lot about my imperfections as a human through the journey of parenting. My family and I also quite unexpectedly welcomed a new four legged family member. A Bull Arab cross is not a dog breed I would have ever considered, but the wonderful folks at Hunter Animal Rescue knew better and Moo the wonder dog now feels like she has always been part of the family. The only reason I bothered mentioning this is because training a dog that has has a bad start to life has reminded me one of one of the most valuable lessons on true leadership. Body language and non verbal cues are equally if not more important leadership tools than words could ever be.

2017 seemed to be the year of corporate culture failures. I know they happen every year, but in 2017 they seemed to happen in a particularly dramatic and public fashion. Whether it was in the sporting world, the banking sector or retail it all went south. The common theme in my mind was poor quality governance and enterprise risk management, combined with naive notions of the way strategy, systems and culture interact in an organisation. The quote has been around for some time but I firmly believe that 2017 cemented it , “Culture trumps Strategy”. If systems and culture are not aligned then culture will ultimately define ( for better or worse) the decisions an organisation makes and the manner in which people in an organisation behave. As a non exec director myself, I have seen significant mis-alignment between what boards and executives think their organisational culture is about in contrast to the reality of operations.

“Disruption and “Resilience” seemed to be totally done to death as business buzzwords in 2017. I can only shudder to think what 2018 will bring in that department. I recognise that disruption is happening in every market and sector but I think if someone else preaches to me about disruption or resilience I am going to lose the last shred of what little sanity I have left. The smarter approach is to reconcile that disruption is the new normal and create business strategy and execution on that basis. Search VUCA if you don’t already know what it stands for and you will realise that VUCA is the new market playing field.

In the same way, “Resilience” is a term that particularly frustrates me because it infers that we are all somehow unwell? Actually, the more I reflect on 2017, the more I become convinced that there is something sick and dysfunctional about the way contemporary culture has evolved. We are all so connected, yet more isolated, tense, anxious and alone than ever before. I witnessed the reality of that state in the faces of numerous executives, board members, line managers and professionals that I worked with in 2017. I don’t think resilience is the antidote! Instead of accepting that state or working to become more resilient to cope with it, we can make conscious choices to create organisations that work to reduce tension and isolation and improve the quality of human interactions. When it’s executed in a committed fashion , it actually results in more profitable and competitive organisations filled with healthier and more focussed people. It can be as simple as setting a standard for your organisation that discourages people from fiddling with phones during meetings, role modelled by the senior leaders and the board.

And the trends for 2018…

  • Disruption will continue to occur in every market and sector ( I know I must be psychic!). Many pundits believe Peer to Peer lending will soon be a contender to disrupt the Banking Sector. With this disruption, less popular corporate structures such as Cooperatives will experience a renaissance.
  • Information security and privacy risk management will continue to be a hot topic as mandatory data breach reporting schemes come into effect.
  • Smart organisations will intensify the use of strategic enterprise risk management techniques such as horizon scanning to improve competitive advantage.
  • Smart organisations will improve their ability to engage with millennials and improve their “street cred” in relation to social and environmental stewardship.
  • Leading organisations will take the lessons of the corporate culture failures of 2017 and use them to critically analyse their own cultural maturity.
  • Leading organisations will continue looking to mindful techniques to improve performance and new buzzwords such as “Focus” and “Clarity” will start to circulate.

And lastly, in 2018, more people will take the time to laugh at themselves, I know I will.

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