The way we do things around here when no one is looking

Over the last few months I have been working with several clients helping them re-define their Operating Model at an organisational or functional level.  Now this is not short term, quick fix stuff and requires a level of commitment and patience to ensure that the activity delivers against the strategic rationale or drivers.  One of the early conversations we typically have when thinking through the approach is about recognising and accepting that a new Operating Model is not just a new structure chart with new names, less names or no names in a series of boxes that look something similar to the last structure chart.  Structure is only one part, to be successful requires looking at 3 dimensions that contribute to making organisations what they are and what they deliver.

  •  A structure that is fit for purpose – teams, work allocation, key accountabilities, spans of control and governance that provide a scaleable and flexible organisation or function.
  • Standardised processes that are value adding, efficient, enabled by technology, clearly documented, managed, owned and followed consistently.
  • A culture and appropriate behaviours at every level in the organisation / function that are supportive of and enable the structure and processes you have defined to deliver the value you require.

\"cultureCulture is the dimension that is most likely to be missed and certainly the hardest to impact, so for me, it is the most interesting and important.  As a consequence I have been reflecting a lot on the challenge of changing culture within clients, within Kili Consulting i.e. me :-), and at home with my family.  To help me I steal with pride a wonderful definition of culture from a client I was working with.

 Culture = the way we do things around here when no one is looking!

 So what have I learned that I can share to others thinking about embarking on the journey?  From a client perspective there are a series of lessons or principles that I believe are important if you are looking to change, develop or proactively manage the culture you have.


  • Focus on behaviours, make the appropriate behaviours explicit at all levels in the organisation / function
  • Do not dress it up as a “culture programme” or you will be destined to failure – culture is an enabler not an end point….. so…… instead……….
  • Focus on delivering on your priorities as the vehicle to change behaviours e.g. improving customer service, or whatever yours maybe
  • It is driven with both top down and bottom up activity – if you start at both ends you are most likely to drive change in the difficult but hugely influential middle layer
  • You challenge and equip leaders at all levels with the capability and focus to accelerate and embed the changes. Role modelling and leadership is one of the most impactful levers for changing behaviour and if it is inconsistent or ineffective it is probably the biggest blocker
  • But it is not the only lever, so ensure that you look at all the key levers for driving behavioural change.

From inside my own organisation…………………….. blimey it is tough to do it to yourself. Discipline, momentum and encouragement are all hard to generate in a team of one. Finding strategies to share and engage and get support from others is proving to be critical. BUT I have made progress and the single biggest contributor to that progress is focusing on what has gone well, has changed and improved rather than all the things that I have failed to do!

From my family 🙂 – oh my, even tougher!! Lesson one – don’t start with teenage daughters!! However, we are where we are and the challenge of creating greater empathy, personal accountability and reading books over tablets / phones is one I think I am destined to lose but am soldiering on\"ipad regardless. I think the lessons are probably quite obvious and I am sure that many of you reading will have far more experience than me, but conversing (and by that I mean mostly listening rather than speaking), is probably the single biggest observation. The other learning is something a good friend passed on – ‘children will follow your example not your advice’. I have never read so many books when not on holiday!! JThe other bit of wisdom that I have picked up recently, pertinent to this conversation, is focussed on habits versus results. There is a great article by James Clear, that I have created a link to on my website, which explores the challenge of creating and sticking to new habits. Get the habit embedded first and then start working towards the results you want.

  • Right girls – one page every day and 1 hour without your phone or ipad!
  • Right Richard – a 2 paragraph short blog every week

Good luck with the challenges you may be facing to change culture or the way you or others around you behave when no one is looking!


4 responses to “The way we do things around here when no one is looking”

  1. Frazzled Anon avatar
    Frazzled Anon

    I would love to get time to establish a habit. There are things that I would love to do to make me the best I could be or fulfil my life in the way I would wish it to be fulfilled. But life just gets in the way of all that good stuff!

    Anyone out there got any useful tips on how to stop the world and give me space to do the things I want to do????!!!!!! Can’t even find time to work out the things I need to stop doing that would give me time to do the things I need to do. It’s bonkers

    Yours, in exhausted anticipation.

    PS: looking forward to the 2 paragraph blog you promised for today Mr Ferguson 

    1. Lee Duckworth avatar
      Lee Duckworth

      Dear Frazzled,

      I have empathy in bucket-loads for you. I’ve spent the last 14 years doing 12 hour days and once, when handling a cluster of different projects and responsibilities, (at a previous business to the one I am at now) did 17 hours a day for 7 weeks…..

      There is no singular answer to this issue however over the course of the last 12 months I have focussed on:

      Personal Time Management – nothing new: To Do Lists; use of Outlook diary for tasks I know I need to complete and setting a time within which I should be completing them in; remove non-value add activities (that report you’ve done every month for the last 5 years does NOT get read any more) etc.

      Delegation – not easy to do when you like to be close to the detail and this naturally involves great faith in your managers. It also raises the question of how much time you spend up-skilling your managers to enable them to perform at a level you require – something that often gets overlooked.

      Value Added Time – I recently started recording my daily tasks into Value Add or Non Value Add time – the differentiator being a combination of whether the task in hand was either:

      a) Likely to move a number/improve the chances of reaching a target, or

      b) Will directly lead to improved individual or team performance, or

      c) Whether I am doing a task for the sake of doing it and because it had always been that way

      The results were surprising and I have extended this practise to my managers who are targeted on reaching 50% Value Add Time per week to ensure that focus is always maintained.

      I hope this helps!

      1. Some great insights and builds there Lee – so impressed you are having such an impact on your productivity! Congratulations 🙂

      2. Frazzled Anon avatar
        Frazzled Anon

        Thanks Lee. Just back from a week away in the snow capped mountains of Switzerland and feel refreshed and renewed (if not full of bruises). Your top tips are just what this girl needs to start back with renewed vigour. Value Add time (the only VAT we do like) – here we come……..

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