Organisational Vitality in 2023 – End of year report

Organisational Vitality in 2023 – End of year report

Our progress this last 12 months and our ambitions for the future

Our Work

Our ambition to serve only organisations that are genuinely committed to doing their level best to address the environmental and social challenges of our time is beginning to come to fruition.  Our client base is now over 50% bcorp or equivalent, many are employee owned or are in the process of becoming one.  All clients are genuinely committed to create an ever-better employee experience through rewarding work and a developmental culture.   Our goal is to be at 75% in the next 18 months.

Our office, administration and technology

For many years we have benefited from using green energy, Scandinavian levels of insulation and solar thermal water heating. Our aim is to become a net producer of green energy through a solar PV array, we hope to have plans in place for this in the next 18 months.  Our website is way too carbon heavy, rated D, emitting 3.1kg of carbon a year.  We plan to shift to green web hosting with Krystal in the next 12 months, alongside switching  to a more ethically conscious bank in March ’24.

If we are to achieve our aim of establishing the Vitality Index as the “go-to” cultural diagnostic and improvement service for purposeful organisations, we ourselves need to be walking that same path, challenging ourselves to have an ever-better impact on people and planet.

Our Travel

For the third year running we have done as many business miles by bicycle as we have by car.  We haven’t used air travel.  As we do so few car miles, our switch from ICE vehicles to Electric is not something that we anticipate being able to justify in the near future.

Our social investment

Or voluntary work providing mentorship and learning opportunities to socially disadvantaged young people has increased in the last 12 months primarily through our work with the Gold Scholarship Programme at the University of Bath and the Internship programme run by Bristol Creative Industries. We continue to take a leading role in The Deming Alliance UK and ReinventingWork in Bath


This post was written by Ben. Making the world of work a better place is both his personal purpose and a happy consequence of the work he does professionally
The Vitality Index is absolutely the best way that we know of expressing our skills, knowledge and experience to create awesome jobs.   Awesome jobs make for happy people, happy people make cohesive and supportive families and communities.  Doing this work with organisations that are making a real difference environmentally and socially enables them to do what they do even better. 

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Great performance comes from flow

Lionesses celebrating

Great performance comes from flow

Lionesses celebrating
Picture credit BBC News

Sometimes teams just click.  Most of us would recognise that those virtuoso performances come from a place of deep mutual understanding, connectedness, and alignment to a shared goal or purpose.    However, there are some other vital ingredients which, are universally important and often neglected.

In your teams, have you ever noticed…

  • Conversations not being as equal as they might be, a view or individual dominating
  • Resorting to “decision by exhaustion” or “decision by senior status / authority”
  • Conversations in deadlock, cycling round without resolution and progress
  • Relationships being unnecessarily tested, often through misunderstanding
  • Lots of views exchanged, not so much progress
  • People feeling they’ve not been heard and understood
  • Some people holding-back valuable contributions
  • Introverts sitting in resentful silence

And then wondered why there is a lack of buy-in to the process, the output, or even the team itself?

Introducing Teams in Flow (TiF)

What could your team achieve if…

  • There was a positive and cohesive climate
  • Decisions got made with more speed and less friction.
  • There was greater psychological safety; more innovative ideas, energy and engagement
  • Buy-in to decisions was improved, even by those who offered alternatives

What is the magic ingredient?

TiF is all about improving our interactive skill in conversations.  It is well proven with a rigorous research base.

TiF is a unique blend of two threads of research and our own subsequent in-use refinements that span decades.  One thread is behavioural, it relates to the conscious skill set that enables participants to engage with others in conversations which flow, are generative, equal and engender psychological safety.  The other essential ingredient is a guide-rail to structure the conversations – idea generation, decision-making and problem-solving are structures that apply most often in the work of organisational teams.  Both threads are necessary, neither one is sufficient.

TiF results in enduring behavioural change

Skills are only learned, embedded and become habitual through cycles of practice and feedback.  The TiF intervention is all about creating a safe place for the team to learn together through practice.  It is vitally important that the content of the discussion is real and meaningful to the team.  The happy consequence of this is that the “real work” of the team gets progressed at the same time the team is acquiring the new skills.  By virtue of working with every-day teams peer-to-peer feedback and support endures long after the learning experience, sustaining the behaviour change.   

Extraordinary results require a radically different approach

Here at Organisational Vitality our purpose is to help leaders and their teams liberate their full potential; to have fun doing their best, most rewarding work; and to enjoy ever-improving performance. 

We are very comfortable being an outlier to the majority of providers in the Organisational Development space.  We don’t follow the crowd. Challenges in organisational dynamics are, by definition, wicked and messy, and yet most providers offer simple, unresponsive solutions that are incapable of dealing with that inherent complexity. 

We have optimised to serve organisations that are purposeful, progressive and those that are scaling.  We offer highly personalised service, value the relationships we hold with those we serve, and based on our unique diagnostics and interventions co-create healthy participative change in organisations.

Curious to know more?

We would love to hear from you.  The conversation could change the flow of your team – forever!

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Is it time you cleared out the “deadwood” in your organisation?

Cutting out deadwood

Is it time you cleared out the “deadwood” in your organisation?

Cutting out deadwood

Springtime is the right time to get out in the garden with the pruning shears and reshape your fruit trees ahead of their next phase of growth.  We imply something similar when we talk about “deadwood” in the context of organisations.  Only we are talking about people not vegetation.

What or who is for the knife?

Deming observed that 95% of performance (good or bad) results from the system and only 5% from the people.  Following that theme this post will present the idea that it is “the system” that we should be attacking with a sharp instrument, not human beings.

Why change the system?

When we first completed the research that underpins the Vitality Index it was way back in 1990.  In 2010 when we reran the research, on aggregate and based on the organisations in our samples the Vitality of UK organisations had dropped by something like 5 percentage points.   

“Vitality” is an umbrella term that we use that encompasses employee experience, adaptability, and ability to innovate. 

We package these three things together because they are the unavoidable consequences of a set of 26 practices that our research identified.

If you adopt the practices, you will get these outcomes – all of them; you can’t pick and choose – sorry.

What changed between 1990 & 2010?

The rate of change, that’s what.

A lot happened between 1990 and 2010.  The internet happened for a start and brought with it entirely new ways of doing business, building relationships, communicating as well as opening-up a whole new world of easy-to-access information.  This combined with a whole heap of other new technologies meant that the rate of change in the external environment accelerated to a whole new level.  And yet in the same intervening time the ability of our organisations to adapt deteriorated.  And that in spite of the zillions of words written on the subject of how to manage change in a VUCA world.

If the world was speeding up, why were organisations slowing down?

This is the $6M dollar question.  Our research was able to indicate and broadly quantify the slow-down but was not designed to identify the why.  

Based on our observations however, we have a hunch.   In this time organisations seemed to get taller, with more layers of management, and wider with much more functional specialism (i.e. in these two decades procurement became widely professionalised, the ratio of HR people to numbers employed  exploded).  So much more of everyone’s work was done within the constraints of an IT system (great for visibility, efficiency and consistency, not so good for continual improvement and adaptation).    Industrial regulation widened to affect more sectors and deepened in its complexity and implications.  A net result of all of these, and other factors, is that organisations became much more cumbersome, getting things done was rarely straight forward. The risk aversion of leaders also infected the mindset of anyone in the organisation with decision authority . Thus, to “prevent the worst happening”, processes, procedures and rules proliferated, and decisions got slowed by passing them up to the boss.  

Sorry for the loaded question, but what do you think the net effect of all of these factors might be on an organisation’s ability to offer a great employee experience, to be nimble, adaptive and to innovate?

What is bureaucratic drift?

Processes, procedures, rules and authorisation levels all have their place, but have you ever noticed how much more common it is for process and procedure to get added and for rules and authorisation requirements to tighten than it is for them to be removed or relaxed?   In the absence of this removal / relaxation activity, year on year, the level of bureaucracy grows without anybody really noticing, a bit like boiling a frog. So, unless there is a routine and deliberate effort to prune back the ever-expanding bureaucracy, we should expect our organisations to fall into a state that we call bureaucratic drift, becoming more and more bogged down in resource sapping and unrewarding activity which is of questionable value.  

How might we go about the job of pruning? 

When teams in organisations use the Vitality Index, we help them make changes in the form of safe-to-try experiments.  Thanks to the research-based diagnostic capability of the Index, the teams are directed towards specific areas of practice that have the greatest potential for each individual team.   Drawing on the knowledge contained in the Vitality Playbook, and the tacit knowledge in our heads, we offer some ideas to stimulate their own suggestions.  We always encourage the team towards changes that lighten the bureaucratic load, rather than add to it.  Here are some examples:  

  • Rather than adding a new report, meeting or agenda item, how about removing something that seems to add no value and see what happens?
  • Search for and scrap processes / systems that have become institutionalised – the ones that may have had some value in the past but have outlived their ‘see-by-date’.
  • Locate processes that are justified under the name of ‘control’ and check to see what actual control there is.  Or do we just have the ‘illusion of control’ but none in reality?
  • Check the ‘earners and spenders’ ratio.  Earners are the people who generate the organisations income and add value to customers.  Spenders do not.  Shift spenders to more added-value roles, especially those that add value to customers.
  • Crowd source to find out what is currently most difficult for and frustrating to employees and what they would like to see changed.  And then engage them with the change process, from the why to the what to the how.
  • Check to see how time is occupied with routine, repetitive activities – that are a bit like running hard on the spot, but don’t generate forward movement.  Then engage people in stuff that will improvement performance in some way – the one-off tasks and events that will create movement
  • Search for opportunities to replace tight, prescriptive rules with broad guidelines – and work out with the people involved what they should be.

Be bold; unlike the work of secateurs, pruning bureaucracy is reversible

“Safe-to-try” is the key here, all changes can be made in some way partial, time bound or reversible, so in way there is nothing to lose and learning is guaranteed.  So no need to be timid, be radical.  Unlike other forms of pruning accidents you wont be left trying to re-graft limbs onto trees or losing the wrong people. 

Be bold, explore, experiment, have fun and whatever you do, don’t drift into a place you don’t want to be.

This post was written by Ben, he likes nothing more than helping with teams as they bushwhack their way through the bureaucratic entanglements that frustrate them and stifle the organisations’ performance. 

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OrgScan, enabling you to innovate management and enhance your culture

OrgScan, enabling you to innovate management and enhance your culture

OrgScan is for you if:

  • Your organisation’s culture is not what you’d like it to be; you are losing good people or worse still they are burning-out
  • Your performance as an organisation is not what you’d like it to be; you are losing customers or competitive advantage
  • You are about to embark on a journey of organisational change; here OrgScan helps because knowing where you are starting from is as important as knowing where you are going
  • You are looking for something with rich insights to base your people strategy on; something more robust that an employee survey or more sensitive to your context than the latest OD fad.

What is OrgScan©?

OrgScan© is a rapid diagnostic that has been developed to identify the underlying system conditions (cultural, structural, process, resource etc.) at play in an organisation and some of the appropriate levers for change.  The approach is unique to VitalOrg and can be completed within a week. Whether planning an intervention or facing a challenge, the OrgScan© diagnosis gives an objective, evidence-based analysis of the current reality of the organisation.  In doing so it avoids the pitfalls of change challenges that address pseudo problems and not their causes, or perhaps attempting to address problems that are perceived by those with a voice but not really the priority.

How is OrgScan©


Like many discovery processes OrgScan© uses structured conversations between facilitator and respondents.  It has, however, some key distinguishing features; these have been developed to address five requirements of discovery interventions where understanding the whole-system perspective of the organisation is important.

  1. The first is to develop a valid understanding of the organisation involving only a short time-scale and low commitment of resources. The speed of the discovery process is important, since the system that is the organisation is always changing as is its external environment, thus invalidating any analysis that is slow.  Additionally, short timescales and low resources also lead to low costs.
  2. The second is to develop an understanding of the organisation that reaches into the hidden and obscure, as well as those features that are ‘visible, and on-the-surface’. This includes all the ‘soft systems’ and cultural dimensions, as well as the harder, process and structure orientated characteristics of the organisation.
  3. Associated with this is the risk of data contamination occurring. The OrgScan© uses indirect, non-judgemental questions that reduce this risk to negligible levels.  The insights generated are grounded in reality, not in miss-interpreted questions or “party-line / personal agenda” responses.
  4. There is clear evidence that mono-dimensional initiatives (like “digital solutions” that fail to address the human side of change) seldom deliver significant gains in performance. The need is to capture all of the issues that are currently impacting performance, and then design an intervention that addresses all the priority issues.  The OrgScan© is configured to provide breadth as well as depth.
  5. Finally, there is the happy consequence of the ‘intervention effect’ – that which gets measured gets changed. A very normal consiquence of the OrgScan© is that respondents are positively motivated towards expecting change, and they spread that expectation within their networks.  By adjusting the approach, this effect can be built up or reduced depending on the objectives for the project.  If desired, the effect can be targeted so that the change is in the direction that is needed.

How does it work in practice?

Alongside the sponsor and their team, we carefully select a representative sample from the overall population of employees, every function / team / location needs to be represented, within the various levels of hierarchy need to be represented also.  Also, be aware of character; think about those people who will be open & honest and aim to have a healthy mix of enthusiasts and sceptics. For most organisations 12 – 25 respondents should be sufficient.

The conversations are held by a facilitator, and follow a semi-structured approach, they take between 40 and 80 minutes, the vast majority of participants report that the conversations are enjoyable and helpful to them.

The indirect questioning technique means that it is not the specific content of the individual responses that brings the insight, but much more the patterns and consistencies / inconsistencies that aid understanding.  These are identified when the responses are brought together and analysed.  This means that we can guarantee absolute confidentiality; we never quote any statement, unattributed or otherwise.



What is the output?

The output is typically a set of main themes which are the key factors that the organisation needs to work on (the “what”) each with underlying, more specific addressable aspects impacting the organisations behaviour and performance (the “how”).  These factors are almost always interrelated, thus are typically represented in a mind-map format and used to structure the feedback conversation with the sponsoring team.

How does that help?

Before embarking on any journey of change or improvement, we believe that it is really important to have good data about where you are starting from, the nature of the system and the sorts of things that are driving behaviour.   Regardless of the nature of change (technology change, integration, reorganisation, merger etc.) or type of intervention (coaching, training, leadership development, continual improvement, introduction of new technology and the like) having this understanding helps optimise the intervention design and highlights the potential pit-falls.

If suitable individuals can be made available, we encourage the client team to put forward their own people to become acquainted with the process of running an OrgScan©.  That way they can re-run the diagnostic themselves (with support from us doing the analysis) after a suitable period, thereby better understanding how things have changed and what the next set of improvements might be.


“I highly recommend Ben and Denis for the change they can make in your ways of working, and improvements to your business. They have such a personal approach, and genuinely care that you achieve your goals.”

Martina Arnold – HR Manager at Ventrolla

At VitalOrg we actively promote The Vitality Index (VI) ahead of our other diagnostics for the simple reason that for progressive, purposeful or scaling organisations it is the only diagnostic they need.  OrgScan has a place for organisations where a more “open” and holistic perspective is deemed to be useful.  The nature of the questions enables OrgScan self-configure, thereby identifying the priorities for the organisation.  

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Is experimentation the key becoming a more human-centric Organisation?

Experiment your way to a more human-centric culture

Is experimentation the key becoming a more human-centric Organisation?

Experiment your way to a more human-centric culture
Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

I’ve been reflecting on a day spent with the wonderful people at Mayden recently. For those that don’t know them, Mayden are a Corporate Rebels bucket list organisation who have flattened their hierarchy and embraced agile across all their activities. Needless to time spent with them is always thought provoking.

Are there only two types of Organisation?

Sweeping generalisation alert: I wonder if there are only two types of organisations.  Those that have recognised the folly and toxicity of the command and control approach to management and rejected it, and those that haven’t. 

Now here’s the thing.  Most leaders of most organisations would feel that their approach to management was not “command and control.” yet it is only a tiny minority of organisations who are, genuinely, committed to a path where the tacit assumptions that underpin command and control are entirely absent.  Indeed, many accepted best practices are built on one or more of those assumptions.

Another way of framing it is to consider which of the following open questions better describes your organisations’ approach to people: 

  1. How do we create the conditions where people find great intrinsic reward in giving the best of their whole self at work? or
  2. What are the best levers, carrots, sticks, perks and coercions that we have to give us the best return on our salary bill?

These two questions set you on very different paths, so is there any middle ground?  A question I’ll return to.

The convergent evolution of progressive organisations

Bill Gore set up W.L Gore to create an organisation entirely free of bureaucracy. Jos de Blok set-up Buurtzorg to reconnect nurses with the job that they loved and to give their patients the best, personalised care. Chris May developed Mayden with a desire to do something better for its people than follow the herd with conventional management.  Although very different in size, sector, era and geography there are spooky similarities in the norms and everyday practices you would find in all three organisations.   And I guess we shouldn’t be surprised; if you set-out to create your organisations to fundamentally “work with the grain” of humans; our psychology, sociology, and anthropology we will, by iteration and emergence, arrive in a similar place.

If we set out now to invent the norms and mechanisms of our organisations based on what we know about humans and human performance, what we’d come up with would bear no relation to what we see in most organisations today. 

But many of us are not starting our organisation from scratch

Bill, Jos and Chris all bore the scare tissue of experiencing command and control management and that galvanised them to create something different.  Those different “somethings” were all built on very different and better informed assumptions about people.  Most of us are not in that situation.  The organisations that most of us lead are work in progress, not a blank sheet of paper.  Many of us feel that we have inherited a situation which is not of our design, very likely there are bits about it that we don’t like and perceive those bits to be hard to change.

In reality we are all on a journey

No start-up has ever scaled and flourished into an organisation and got everything right first time.  Snags, glitches, wrong calls and failures are inevitable and essential to finding the right path for your unique situation.  Even the poster child progressive organisations have had these set-backs along the way, they are quite open about them

This is perhaps where we find the middle ground, every organisation will have its own level of comfort or discomfort with the conventional approaches to management.  The more discomfort there is, the more rapid the evolution will be.

What determines how quickly your organisation will evolve?

So, assuming you ascribe more to Q1 (How do we create the conditions where people find great intrinsic reward in giving the best of their whole self at work?) than Q2, how do we get started and how quickly can we progress?  Here I’m reminded of something that Margaret Heffernan said when speaking with Lisa Gill on her excellent Leadermorphosis podcast.

“…do not think you can think your way to the answer. You can’t, it’s impossible. You have to do something different and see how the system responds. From that you’ve learned something that you can build on. But absolutely, none of us can solve these real world problems in our heads. It’s not physics, it’s not math. It’s human beings working together. And the way people learn to work together, is by working together.”

Is experimentation the difference that makes the difference?

The practice of experimentation is the key. Experimentation is largely absent in command and control organisations, and woven into just about everyone’s roles in progressive organisations. Based on our research into change-enabled organisations, experimentation is the “how” that applies to the majority of the 26 areas of practice that our research identified.
Experimentation is also, in and of itself, a practice that helps people find great intrinsic reward and creates opportunities for them to give the best of their whole self at work. It is also the engine-room of ever-improving ways of working. So, both the process and the output are accelerants to the evolution.

Two types of organisation?

Absolutely not. Some are more command and control than others, some more human-centric. But if you are committed to a journey from the former to the later, giving people the time, the safe climate, and the autonomy to develop their own safe-to-try experiments will really help build momentum. What’s stopping you from experimenting with it?


The Vitality Index (VI) engenders the habit of experimentation in every team in the organisation. Based on our research, The VI is able to identify the three (out of 26) areas of practice that, if changed will be most beneficial to that specific team at the current moment in time. These insights, in combination with some independent facilitation from us and some inspiration from the Vitality playbook get the teams started on their journey towards ever-better ways of working. This is not just experimentation, this is change that the team own, change that is emergent and responsive and most importantly change that people feel good about.


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Introducing Teams in Flow (TiF)

Interactive Skills

Introducing Teams in Flow (TiF)

Interactive Skills
Image courtesy of the wonderful folk at ISL Talent


Teams in Flow recognises the vital importance of good interactive skill is based on the following very simple pieces of logic.

  1. In organisations it is people that produce performance
  2. It is what people do (as opposed to what they know or how they feel) that ultimately makes the difference.
  3. In the age of knowledge work, value is rarely created by individuals in glorious isolation; it is teams and collaboration within and between groups that are the “engine rooms” of productivity.
  4. In order to be greater than the “sum of the parts”, a key enabler of groups and teams is the ability to interact in conversation in a generative and effective way.

The vast majority of us go through life without being conscious of our conversational behaviour, and precious few of us are lucky enough to have the “safe space” and opportunity to objectively work on it as a skill.

What is its purpose?

The purpose of Teams in Flow (TiF) is to raise awareness of the personal and collective conversational behaviours that exist and through feedback of objective data, promoting enhanced awareness and vastly improved skill.

Why might you invest in it?

Once learned, participant’s often say, “everyone should have these skills” or “I wish I had this years ago”; they are truly foundational.   Many people report that without the skill, teams are only able to achieve only a fraction of their true collective potential.  With the skill this changes dramatically.

While the main target group is that of management, from first line supervisors to senior executives, Teams in Flow produces more widespread benefits.  By definition, the new style is practised and applied between participants in the training but also with all others with whom they interact at work.

As the new conversational style tends to be reflected by others, there are immediate positive consequences in terms of other employees’ involvement in, and engagement with the business.  The quality of decision-making is improved, as is the effectiveness of planning and execution of changes to improve performance.


When might you use it?

Any of the following might be a signal that Teams in Flow would be beneficial to a team or organisation:

  • Before embarking on a significant challenge or change
  • When the psychological safety in team / group settings is low
  • Where the “HiPPO” effect is prevalent[i]
  • Ineffective team-working
  • Circular conversations & inability to reach group decisions that all can buy into
  • Lack of idea generation and innovation
  • Presence of unhelpful conflict
  • People not feeling valued or understood.

[i] HiPPO referring to Highest Paid Person’s Opinion dominates

How does it work?

The intervention works best with “real” teams in organisations, i.e., groups of people who frequently come together to make decisions or generate output collectively.   VitalOrg facilitators promote a conversation about a decision / challenge / opportunity that is important and relevant to the team at the time.  Using the Teams in Flow model, the facilitators observe and record each and every exchange into one of eleven categories. The facilitators then offer feedback to the group in the form of “count data” of each of the behaviour categories.

Participants quickly appreciate that their unconscious conversational profiles are all similar.  The “ideal” blend is then revealed and straight away the participants are given another opportunity to continue the discussion with the vital difference they are now conscious of both the “how” as well as the “what” of their contributions.

The practice and feedback process repeats through several iterations, so participants practice modifying their patterns of behaviour until they closely approach a researched set of ‘ideals’.  In all cases, the learning groups apply their new skills while processing real issues, decisions and challenges.  Typically, other learning topics are covered as part of the mix.  These may include structural skills such as decision-making, problem-solving and idea creation.  Generally, there is a blend of skill development and knowledge transfer.

Peer-to-peer feedback develops through the learning process, and this continues after the formal learning process is complete – through colleagues naturally providing feedback to each other, thus a sustained behavioural change is achieved.      


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Avoiding the speed wobble as you scale-up

Avoiding the speed wobble as you scale-up

Small is simple

When you were leading a start-up of 20 people, decision making was quick, people genuinely all knew one another and helped each other.  Such was the level of connectedness between people, the need for much in the way of rules and procedures was little to non-existent.   Now that there are over 100 people working for you, the above statements become less true.  It can be an uneasy feeling, people you don’t really know are making decisions on your behalf; duplication and gaps begin to appear; perhaps worst of all, for many people work is not nearly as much fun as it used to be.

You are not alone

If this resonates with you, you are not alone.  The unease that you have about your organisation’s culture since you had >100 on the payroll is usual.  Dunbar’s number is a piece of evolutionary psychology theory which seems to indicate that the “speed-wobble” you are experiencing is very normal and predictable.  Studies of all sorts of human groups over the centuries and all around the globe seem to indicate the presence of a tipping point at around 150 people where the communal dynamic changes profoundly.  There is general agreement that the reason for this is that we humans can only really maintain personalized, caring relationships with that number of people.  Great, but what to do when you need to grow beyond 150?  Good question, and one that we’ll return to…

Some of the inevitabilities of organisational life are not inevitable

Many of us founders understand all too well the realities of corporate life; most of us grew up in big business and many of us set up on our own because big business no longer thrilled us. The instruments of management that are commonplace in those businesses have not changed much at all since they first emerged during the industrial revolution.  Control was, and still is, the de facto purpose.  Hierarchy, functional specialism, rules, procedures, authorisation thresholds, incentives, budgets, decision authority being held by senior people at the centre, and performance reviews are just some of the practices employed in pursuit of the ever-elusive goal of control.   The reality is these practices are much more effective at eroding people’s energy, engagement, commitment, and creativity than they are at gaining control.   Despite bearing the scars of life in over-bureaucratic corporates, many founders feel that layering on the red tape is an inevitability as their business grows.  Spoiler alert: we don’t!


If we set out now to invent the norms and mechanisms of our organisations based on what we know about humans and human performance, what we’d come up with would bear no relation to what we see in most organisations today. 


What if we set out to build our scale-up to be human-centric, not control-centric?

Since the industrial revolution our understanding of neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and anthropology has progressed way beyond what was imaginable then.  And yet that scientific evidence is still not being heeded in most organisations today.  A moment of self-refection tells us, in the majority of circumstances, we humans do not respond well to being controlled.  Can you think of a time in your working life where you needed to be controlled to do a good job? Think about that before you adopt more controls; your organisation can be and should be different.

But beware: removing or avoiding bureaucracy tends to leave a void where chaos likes live 

The best way of dealing with this problem is not to treat it as a problem in the first place; “prevention is better than cure” as the old truism goes.  It is control and bureaucracy that exacerbate the unavoidable limits of social intimacy and acquaintance.  You are a young, vibrant, scale-up business, you have got this far without too much in the way of bureaucratic process, you can go a lot further without needing it too.   However, organising with a minimum of bureaucratic control as you grow through the 100s of employees is in and of itself certainly not a recipe for success; it is more likely to bake you a nice big serving of chaos.

So, if not more bureaucracy, then what?

Here we return to the $M question; what should we be doing to avoid the perils of the speed wobble?  I could write a book at this point, but I won’t.  Instead, here is a handful of randomly selected human-centric practices; things that will help maintain a great culture, bring the business results you seek AND avoid the red tape.

Have a “no rules” rule.

Prescriptive rules come with a whole heap of downsides.  They tend to alienate, they reinforce a ‘parent / child’ as opposed to ‘adult to adult’ dynamic, they constrain, and no rule can ever hope to appropriately fit all situations. The alternative approach is to work with people to generate broad guidelines, defined around purpose.   These are more adaptive to the wide variety of situations. Also, they give people the space to use their knowledge and skills to deliver customer value, to innovate through experimentation, to share ideas and resources and to become more closely engaged with the business.

Power to the people; reconnect decision making with the work

If you were given the choice of decisions made on rich, first-hand information or on regurgitated, second-hand information which would you choose?  What if those first-hand decisions were quick, and the one -step-removed decisions slow, which then?  It takes a degree of trust to delegate decision authority, but for those organisations and leaders who actively push the responsibility for decision making towards the action and not hold it tight at the top, there are all sorts of upsides.  Not least of all is trust.  Trust itself is a powerful thing and a two-way street; by demonstrating your trust in others, commitment and loyalty come flooding back in the other direction.

Be super-clear on purpose; let your people determine the how, the when, and the who

Why does your business exist? If each and every person you employ were asked that question, would the responses be strong, consistent with each other and said with some feeling?   If not, then it is your job to make it so.  Purpose also exists at a team and individual level; ask a corresponding question to every team and every role.  What is their purpose, their contribution to the bigger purpose?   A useful tactic is to give people the space to work out the purpose of their own role, and then give them even more space to get on with delivering it.  Try it – it works.

Design for agility, not efficiency.

In those corporates that we loathed and left, ‘designed’ organisation structures distribute resources and the power to assign them – and control the money.  ‘Designed’ organisation processes distribute tasks and the responsibility for delivering them – and create coherence.  Thus ‘design’ is about providing efficiency, stability, predictability and repeatability (and nothing about creating a great place to work).  Efficiency etc. is great for snapshots in time but also does a fantastic job of preventing change and innovation, and in these increasingly uncertain times that can be fatal.  

Regardless of what the org-chart says your organisation is a network of relationships between people, working together in pursuit of the purpose, and by the way, the network looks nothing like the org-chart!   Your job as leader is to nurture that network, create the environment where it can be strong and flourish.    

What on earth does that look like in real life I hear you ask.  It depends, but here are some examples of changes you could try:

  • Avoid functional measures and targets, instead measure “what matters to customers”.  
  • Encourage curiosity about “who could I work with to help improve how this works?”  
  • Help your people see their every-day work through the lens of customer value and not internal performance.  
  • Internally crowd source for the generation and prioritisation of improvement ideas.  
  • Create an inviting and exciting “space” for people with different specialisms to come together and experiment, innovating ways of working AND product / service development ideas. 


“An individual without information can’t take responsibility. An individual with information can’t help but take responsibility.”  Jan Carlzon


Be transparent with everything

The larger the organisation grows, the harder it becomes to prevent unhelpful “them and us” divisions based on power, even if it is informal power.  One way to prevent this is adopting a mantra of radical transparency.   By making all, or very nearly all of the company’s information accessible to all employees is a healthy demonstration of trust, an advantage in itself, it also helps garner wider input to decisions, supports collaboration and nurtures a helpful “big picture” perspective.   There is more to transparency than changing the permissions on electronic files and folders though.   Leaders also need to demonstrate openness and honesty, often about mistakes and other unwelcome news.  Uncomfortable? Quite possibly.  Preferable to hiding stuff and being found out? Almost certainly.

We hope that at least one or two of those has sparked your curiosity.  None of these ideas are without risk, and no one will ever implement them anything like right first time.  My hope is that you get started with something.  

In the speed wobble it is the leader who has the steering, the brakes, and the gas.

Speed wobbles, or even the mild pre-tremors of them can be really scary.  In order to emerge safely on the other side, you need to be brave and bold.   For a leader this can be daunting.  Where to start?  With whom? How to avoid inviting chaos were control once was? There are many things you could do, but what things will work best for your organisation?  And then there is the question of how?

As a leader, would you like to make those decisions based on data and research as opposed to “a stab in the dark and hope for the best”?   Would you like to be able to identify what to change and how to change it based on a proven analysis of your organisation at this moment in time?  What if that precision were not only available for the organisation, but for every team within it? What if that data could be collected within a couple of weeks?  What if teams could start on their change journey within days after that?

If these sorts of benefits have appeal, then The Vitality Index might just be for you.  We look forward to talking things through with you.

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The conversation has the potential to change the future of your organisation.

Stop press – people LOVE working in progressive organisations

Stop press – people LOVE working in progressive organisations

Right now there is much to celebrate in the world of progressive organisations… 

Haier, the world’s largest networked organisation (at 75,000 people) is enjoying both unrivalled growth in their sector and great notoriety given its story of organisational innovation.   Spotify has had to do a lot of things right to become a $46Bn dollar business and the most used music streaming service on the planet, a sector which is riddled with the corpses of other services that couldn’t make it.   One of the earliest progressives, Gore, (of Gore-Tex fame) was founded in 1958.  From the beginnings it has sought to relentlessly innovate its approach to management and how it organises itself, with the belief that that product and market innovation will follow.  With a product portfolio including everything from guitar strings to synthetic medical implants to outdoor apparel, they have proved their point.  

What mostly gets written about these organisations are their strikingly radical organisational designs.  Haier a “an ecosystem of entrepreneurial micro businesses”, Spotify also championing team autonomy but with a different approach where “squads, tribes and guilds” are the order of the day. Gore have always aggressively minimised bureaucracy, a big part of which is to have a very different approach to hierarchy, one where it is the teams who decide who they want to be led by.

If, as a leader, you would like to emulate these organisations and the innovation, growth and employee experience they enjoy you may well be wary of a step into the unknown by pursuing a new, radical organisational design.  And well you should. 

We have been researching and working with organisations who have the innate ability to innovate, change and retain the best talent, and those that cannot, for decades.

Our research found that the single strongest determinant of success in these three areas was not structure, size, sector, or age of the firm; it was management practices.  This has been borne-out by Gallup’s recent research which indicated that management practice was the biggest single determinant of employee engagement at around 70%.

Therefore, our strong advice would be not to restructure as a first step.  The biggest gains can be made by comparatively small (not necessarily easy; old habits are hard to break) changes in how we “show-up” as leaders; what we do, how we do and the decisions we make.  But where to start? Who has influence, what things should we change, what changes to make and how to make them? 

This is where The Vitality Index© comes in; it is able to zero-in on the management processes, practices and behaviours, that, if changed will have greatest benefit in engendering not only high levels of engagement, but also enable an innovative, change enabled culture to emerge.  These are specific to each organisations context at a precise moment in time and can be filtered by any attribute; region / business unit / function / team etc.

The Vitality Index© diagnostic is different to polling your people by way of the “employee engagement survey” in a number of different ways:

  1. Such surveys tend to ask direct, judgemental questions. Whilst, on the surface this may seem to be appropriate, these types of questions invite a significant amount of bias, both conscious and unconscious, and this data contamination severely affects the validity of the output.  Improvement actions informed by unreliable data are unlikely to bring the desired impact.
  2. Engagement surveys usually don’t have a diagnostic capability; they aggregate 1000’s of responses into visually appealing bar charts, depicting the respondent’s judgement of various symptoms that they experience. By contrast, The Vitality Index© diagnostic capability is based on our own empirical research of organisations, through this artificial intelligence is able to pin-point the specific and addressable management practices that reside below the surface level symptoms.
  3. Indexer offers concise, actionable insights. A typical Investors in People “Insights Assessment Report” runs to around 50 pages of words, numbers, charts and graphics.  In our experience, at this weight, most with line management responsibility leave them unread, and even if read, unactioned.  In contrast, a line manager on the receiving-end of The Vitality Index© output only receives the information that s/he needs to make improvements, things they can get started with that hour.  
  4. Many of the most commonly used employee engagement surveys guide organisations towards a “gold standard” that is anything but “progressive”, aligned to a style of management more relevant to the world of work in the 1910s. This was a time when repetitive manual labour was the norm, this is not the management we need if we wish to create an environment where highly intelligent and skilled knowledge workers can bring their very best creativity and intellect to the fore. Enlightened leaders know this, they are looking for ways to break away from a “parent-to-child” relationship prevailing in the management dyads of their organisation.  The Vitality Index©directs organisations towards management practices based on what science tells us, not what we’ve always done.   A working environment where everyone, regardless of their role or status shows-up in an adult-to-adult climate, able to speak freely and give of their best.

If, as a leader, you are thinking about pursuing a more progressive approach to the point that you are ready to commit to change yourself, then we hope this article has been useful and we are cheering you on all the way.  Beyond that, if you think some guidance in identifying knowing exactly what to do, and how to do it, based on causes (not symptoms) specific to your organisation at this precise moment in time might be of interest, then please get in touch. 

Let's talk

The conversation has the potential to change the future of your organisation.