How to grow the right culture to thrive

In such challenging times, consultancies can’t rely on individual stars to succeed: it takes an agile, curious and diverse team with a growth mindset, motivated by a common sense of purpose

by John Stern
Last Updated: 23 Mar 2020

The future of consulting, and businesses of all kinds, lies in creating a culture of teamwork. The idea of internal competition is outdated and not a basis for the future of organisations. You want your best competition out in the marketplace, not internally.

At Capita Consulting, we recently conducted our first set of reviews following a successful launch year of recruitment. One question we asked our people was what they had done to build on the ideas of others. What had they done to help make others successful? You could tell this was a shock to some but it’s something that we’ll be discussing every time we sit down with them.

No individual can be solely responsible for delivering success – it has to be a team effort. We’re a start-up in a very new area, so people will grow at different paces anyway and we can’t afford to have some people who are heroes or some people who just don’t feel they fit.

We have to grow as a band of sisters and brothers, so it’s been very important how we develop targets and metrics relative to the culture we’re trying to build.

About 83% of people in organisations are said to be disengaged and when people are disengaged, you have to hold them to account by a target and a threat. If you employ people who are purposeful, engaged and naturally curious with a growth mindset, targets are just numbers. They are motivated by delivering real change.

I recently read Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age, by Edward D Hess and Katherine Ludwig, which talks about the new cultures and skills required in a fast-changing world.

One of the authors’ assertions is that knowledge has less than a three-year shelf life and that time frame is shrinking all the time. So you have to get good at ‘not knowing’, which is a mindset shift from the old hierarchical days where people assumed you ‘must know’. If you’re good at not knowing then you’ll find the best people with the best ideas, no matter what level of the organisation they’re at.

Fixing Windows

This is a key strand of the philosophy of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who talks about the importance of a growth mindset and wanting ‘learn-it-alls’, not know-it-alls.

We’ve been very impressed by Microsoft’s reinvention. From a position of rapidly decreasing relevance, it’s now only the third US company to be valued at $1tn. We had the opportunity to speak with the Microsoft leadership and all they really talked about was culture – not technology, product management or product strategy. We learned a lot from them and you could see how much people at all levels believe in that culture. The organisations that are now working on their future cultures will be the ones that will prevail. The ones that just pay lip service probably won’t.

Microsoft took a difficult, radical – but necessary – step, which, in effect, meant cannibalising its own revenues. Nadella realised that the business was overly reliant on the sale of the Windows operating system. The decision to give it away forced a mindset change and allowed the company to modernise and reinvent itself.

Companies that have done things like that will survive and thrive. Companies that play around the edges with existing products, existing services, trying to do things incrementally, are failing all the time.

Data diversity

We’ve been hiring since the launch of Capita Consulting in January 2019. In that time we’ve taken on 350 people and we expect that to double by the middle of next year. We thought there would be serious challenges, given the reputation of the Capita brand in recent times, market uncertainty and the perception of us being more of a BPO services provider rather than digital and consulting.

But we’ve been able to hire above expectations, including the acquisitions of a digital design company, Orange Bus, and a data science company, Barrachd. We’ve recruited a layer of expertise on top of that.

We don’t have the brand heritage of our competitors, so we have to be flexible, agile and innovative. Our culture and ethics will play a big part in that. We just brought in our first set of graduate entries and will bring in our first set of apprentice hires in the next few months. So we want that input from the ground up. We want a mix of ideas in the team, which means diversity of age, gender, backgrounds and skills.

Diversity is talked about often, almost out of obligation and as a way for people to feel good about themselves. But it’s the only way to do it. I say to all my people who are involved in design and product management that your bible has to be a book from last year – Invisible Women, which is about how data is used in a way that perpetuates the fact that the world was designed for men. We’ve already seen issues in the early stages of AI models, because most of them were programmed by young white guys.

Rapid change

We’ve only been trading since the start of this year but are seeing significant wins, including a contract with the Royal Navy to support the second-phase roll-out of its Agility Plan. No one would have expected us to win this, but the Navy’s CTO, Colonel Dan Cheesman, says: “Capita Consulting brings a fresh perspective from cross-industry practitioners who have achieved agile success at scale.”

The environment is changing rapidly, particularly in the government and public sector. You could almost say that the government wants to run the Civil Service like a start-up and put an end to things like multi-year procurement processes. You’re going to see a lot more agility. It’s not the old business processes of ‘your mess for less’, it’s about a transformed state. Capita Consulting is uniquely placed because it’s at the heart of government already with the other parts of our business, and that we can do things differently

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