Creativity + culture = change
5 pointers for achieving effective transformation inside your business
By Joe Hale, CEO Dragon Rouge London
As we emerge from a profound period of instability and uncertainty, companies everywhere are seeing a unique opportunity for renewal and transformation. While some leaders are looking to reshape their offers and services, some are seeing an even bigger prize – the chance to reimagine and redesign their organisation’s DNA – its purpose, how it works and how it grows.
At Dragon Rouge we see this as the perfect time for companies to rethink the role and practice of creativity within whole business and brand transformation programmes. In this article we highlight five reflections that we hope help guide leaders and teams to more effective change.
Here are our five reflections.
Behaviours and actions move purpose
Much has been said on purpose as a company’s guiding or north star. People want to belong to something beyond making money. To an organisation that truly values the impact it makes to society and our environment. But purpose without proof and action is worthless. We’re now in the era of action where employees and stakeholders are wanting purpose to truly inform meaningful action and achievement – inside and out. Purpose needs to link to value creation in tangible ways and not be something said but never lived.
This means that now, more than ever before, businesses need to think creatively about how they turn purpose into rituals and collective behaviours. A recent McKinsey survey of employees at US companies found that while 82% said organisational purpose is important, less than half of that number said their purpose was driving impact. What’s the missing link? Culture.
Culture is the connective tissue between purpose and experience. It’s the source (not sauce) of behaviour, ways of working, innovation (ways to grow) and the impetus for the design of differentiating experiences. And as businesses increasingly look to ‘reculture’ at speed, their ability to truly connect purpose with behaviours and experience will be of huge strategic importance. Culture change only happens when people take action. So start there.
Connected thinking at source
How businesses design and set up teams can often be the determining factor for their end success. Effective transformation and reculturing requires connected goals, connected hearts and connected process. That means creating strong alignment across key functions or capability areas at the source – marketing, sales, people, culture, operations, sustainability, procurement, finance. You get the picture.
But as you’d expect, some companies are far out in front of the rest with the way they established networks of teams that are empowered to operate outside conventional structures. Multi-disciplinary teams that are designed to take over critical operations, and deal with rapidly evolving situations. Companies such as Google who adopt a “non-zero-sum” approach to team design in which the development of lines of communication running in all directions is more important than reporting relationships. Such teams bring together cross-functional skills and a wide range of creativity and experience while avoiding the usual baggage that comes with more hierarchical mindsets. The teams can act fast because they are flexible. They form, disband, reshape, and experiment as they learn lessons, make and correct mistakes, and try new approaches.
Others have taken potentially more radical steps by looking to bring customers and consumers directly into their change and transformation design process as they strive for more ‘live’ insight and response on their proposed change. These creative steps provide fast, real-time and outside-in opportunities to test, refine and optimise prototypes. While seen by many as unconventional, moves like this only serve to raise the question why so many transformation programmes are never ‘market tested’ when their origins lie in changing market dynamics or bold new moves for future value creation.
Encourage an abundance mentality
At every turn and stage in your transformation journey leaders need to have an abundance mentality when it comes to ideas and creativity. Too often we see organisations defaulting to process and implementation before fully exploring the potential of fresh and less ‘expected’ ideas. The dominant culture and structure of today’s organisations are perfectly designed to produce their current behaviours and outcomes, regardless of whether those outcomes are the ones you want. Designing in steps and stages to challenge conventional bias is a hallmark of effective change. This is where championing the power and value of creativity is critical.
Steve Jobs almost prevented Apple from creating the most profitable product in the world. The team was trying to convince him that this innovation was a perfect fit for Apple. Jobs couldn’t see the path to success – but after months of discussion and a commitment to further creative thinking, Jobs tasked two teams to experiment with different paths. Should Apple add calling capabilities to the iPod or turn the Mac into a tiny tablet that doubled as a phone? As a result, the first iPhone was born. The rest is history.
Give your people the permission and freedom to experiment within your transformation programme and accept that ideas can come from everywhere. The best companies seek good ideas regardless of their origin, recognising that ideas that might start small, can grow exponentially to create movements that ignite positive change.
Sprinting for lasting strength
As an integrated agency with offers spanning both global consumer product groups and global corporate and service brands, we’ve been intrigued by the merging approaches and overlaps of these two traditional client types. In the race for more impactful redesign projects and the endless thirst for higher performance the ‘design sprint’ mentality – for long the chosen methodology of the FMCG world – is being adopted by corporates. They’re embracing the idea of faster, more creative and diverse thinking to re-energise internal teams and re-imagine process.
Trialling and embedding new techniques are another facet of business transformation and re-culturing. The design sprint approach is enabling companies to re-condition their working systems so they can become more agile, respond faster and ultimately be more effective in implementing new ideas and out manoeuvring their competitor moves.
The concept of using short intense sprints to optimise performance and impact over the long term has clear parallels to elite sport. In 1930, Swedish coach Gosta Holmer created the concept to counter the growing decline in his team’s cross-country performance. Fartlek training is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running. The variable intensity and continuous nature of the exercise is designed to optimise both aerobic and anaerobic systems, leading to a higher degree of overall fitness and stamina.
As businesses look to optimise for speed and recondition their culture, surely there is something interesting in this way of thinking and adopting similar principles for the way companies embrace creative speed-play to improve overall performance.
Embrace signature symbols
The most effective change makers are experts at constructing and deploying symbols and characters that simultaneously create a feeling of solidarity and demarcate who they are and what they stand for to the outside world. This is again where creativity brings an added dimension of meaning, authenticity, emotion and engagement. Such symbols help define the boundary between “us” and “them” helping to make your transformation programme more ever more powerful and memorable.
Symbols can be as simple as office spaces, internal communications and creative workshops that help to unlock new ideas, behaviours and actions that can symbolise the change you wish to create.
Many businesses go one step further and link their change in culture and purpose with a new corporate brand identity. Internally and externally, the act reinforces a message of unity and commitment. The entire company stands together alongside these symbols, in pursuit of their purpose.
Dragon Rouge is a global independent brand agency with offices in Paris, London, New York, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Hamburg and Warsaw. We partner with forward thinking leaders and brands who have a clear and focused vision of their future and believe in the power of creativity to ignite and inspire change. Through deep expertise in insight, strategy, design, innovation, culture change and activation we provide a whole-system approach to brand transformation. We partner with the world’s most progressive businesses – from established global Fortune 500 businesses to bright and brave start-ups.
Joe Hale is CEO of Dragon Rouge London.