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In Dark Times Culture Change Holds the Key to Growth

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More than five years into recession, the global financial crisis shows no sign of abating. Just last week, the IMF announced a combined cut in UK growth predictions greater than that of any other country.

But we don't need it spelt out for us; it's plain to see what's going on. British high streets are littered with closing down sales and empty shops, and the nightly news broadcasts increasingly worrying scenes from Greece, where the very fabric of society and democracy itself are under real threat.

But despite the gloom, by taking matters into our own hands I think we can get back to growth, starting now. Over the next three posts, I will share how everyone can create the kind of internal culture that has the power to turn their company and so the wider economy around, one business at a time.

While the factors influencing the global financial crisis are deep and complex, taking charge of your own corporate destiny is a bloody good place to start. Google, John Lewis and Nike all make big claims about their cultures being key to their success. We put ours down to something we call Open.

Open is both an expression of our culture and how we believe today's people-based businesses should work in order to survive, evolve and thrive. It is a philosophy of collective creativity and collective responsibility. It encourages increased collaboration between departments, the agency and its clients. Any business can be Open; what follows is a brief description of why we did it, how we did it, and the lessons learnt.

Why should we be open to Open?

Against such an apocalyptic economic background, where survival is everyone's primary concern, it may seem a luxury to talk about company culture. But if you subscribe, as I do, to John Maynard Keynes' view that how people feel dictates the health of an economy; it's possible to conclude that if we all invest in our company cultures, the confidence and motivation of our workforce, that together we can feel our way out of recession.

I'm not an economist. Grey London is an ad agency. But we are in the business of shaping trends, popular culture and convincing people to buy things. Media spend is often cited as an early indicator of the health of an economy, so if we're doing well, it just might mean that there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon. And we are. We're having our best year ever; but not at the expense of our people, on the contrary.

Like most of the western world, talent is the key to our success and therefore, as our greatest asset, it needs to be protected and nurtured. Open does exactly this.

Despite the talent-based economy we operate in, most Western businesses continue to operate a manufacturing model founded on the needs of mass production. Top down, hierarchical structures are simply not fit for purpose and stifle talent. They make for slower, less innovative and ultimately frustrating places to work. They ensure failure, not growth.

The challenge for these kinds of businesses therefore, is to create a culture that enables individuals to be the best they can be: liberated, inspired and motivated. The challenge for business leaders is to get out of their way and be cultural guardians, to mentor, not manage.

So, if you want to change, here's the first of three posts, and 10 ways, on how to become an Open business...

1. Don't just talk about change, do it now.

All businesses need continuous change, but to really achieve it you need three things: vision, courage and urgency. The latter is the most important, because talking about change rather than doing it is where most programmes come unstuck.

The perfect, pain-free time to change your business will never present itself. So getting started today, no matter what your diary looks like, is paramount.
Strategy is, in fact, the easy bit. Doing it is very hard indeed. You need to start quickly, but also be prepared for the long road ahead. Only a dramatic shift in culture, which creates a place that allows people to be the best they can be, will yield the best results.
What will follow in my next post is how you go about breaking the traditional parent/child relationship that exists in most businesses. Therein lies radical change for all companies, and so the economy as a whole.