It’s not OK any more in this organisation to hold somebody in contempt
Svetlana Shapovaliants interviews Claire Edmunds, Founder and CEO of award-winning company Clarify to find out what happens to a company when Clean Language and Systemic Modelling are introduced. We worked with Clarify for a few days about 18 months ago. You can watch the interview and read the transcript here…
I have four questions. First of all, how were things before Clean was introduced into Clarify?
I originally reached out to Caitlin because I had a leadership team that was just not working properly. We had had a couple of situations where – I think because we’d worked together for a long time – people were starting to make up stories about what each other thought. We’d been together for 14 years, so actually, you almost form family type relationships and we were – at the point where there was a lot of conflict, people were holding each other in contempt on an ongoing basis, they were making up answers around things that they thought, even though they didn’t know that that was true, and it got to a crisis point really where I had one of my team that I thought… I just thought, we can’t go forward like this, this is broken. So it felt very important to me to do something about it, and that’s why I initially reached out to Caitlin and why we looked really, for Clean as a framework to be able to allow us to have some conversations that we weren’t getting at.
What did clean do for you as a manager?
As a leadership team, we went on a journey with that. Initially, it helped us to start to breakdown – start to get the communication working again, but also to look at some of the things that had built up over time that were really quite established in the way that we worked with each other, and we needed to break those down and change them. It gave us a way to be able to call out situations that – it allowed us to start to ask questions of each other I suppose, and that was the big thing. That’s been the big change and it’s still hard. I don’t think that we by any means have got it, but we now do at least say, ‘Hang on a minute, before you jump to that conclusion, just ask a couple of questions.’ And that’s then fed into the rest of the business.
So I saw a team go through a process of coming back together and realising that we were arguing furiously about the same thing – violently agreeing – and then also, breaking down some of the misconceptions that we had and creating a way to talk about it. That was really important. It also allowed us to understand that the behaviours that we had and the way that we saw the world was not the same as the way that everybody else was seeing the world, and to get curious about what other people thought and how they interpreted the same situation. That’s allowed us to get much closer and much tighter, meaning that we take responsibility for ourselves much faster.
It’s not OK any more in this organisation to hold somebody in contempt. It’s not OK to be in a position where you make a judgement without finding out information. We give feedback more effectively than we used to and we take responsibility for who we are and how we show up in a way that, I don’t think we were doing. I think we were creating – we were allowing in a small business there to be politics and you can’t have politics in a small business and actually now, I feel that there’s a very united group. From that, we’ve been able to layer on a set of methodologies that have allowed us to then do more work together as a leadership team, so I feel that the strategy within the business is tighter, the whole business is more aligned behind that.
I think that the personal responsibility piece has been really significant because once you start having that happening in the centre of the business and the heart of the business starts saying, if you don’t think that something I’m doing is right then you have permission to call me out, I want you to tell me, then you’re actually changing the fundamental culture of the organisation. So the result for us has been that we’ve got to that stage but actually, I think this has had a really powerful impact on the business culture. I think we’re much clearer about what we want to see and hear in our business, what’s right for our organisation, I think that’s helped people to understand what our values are, how we operate. All the things that really make a business come to life, it’s given us a model that allows us to do that.
What is the impact of all of that on you personally as a business or on the results of the company, on numbers, on clients?
I think it’s helped us to create growth. It’s meant that some people haven’t come on the journey, they weren’t necessarily the right people to come with us, so you have to get okay with that. I think that it’s allowed us to retain people who we might not have done otherwise. We’ve really been able to help sometimes people to see that the things that they’re making up aren’t really – to explore that with them. I was about to say not true and that would be completely counter-productive, but to actually allow the conversations to happen. I think people have grown faster, their professional development has happened faster and people have taken on roles that they might not have done otherwise.
If I look at my leadership team, there are people in there who behave fundamentally differently to how they did before. It’s not just a business thing, it has an impact on your life outside too. I think that one of the things you have to understand when you go on this journey is that, it’s a little bit like having scales over your eyes and as they come off, suddenly you see the world slightly differently and that is not easy as a process to go through. That’s quite a responsibility I think as a business owner to take people on that journey. I don’t think you should enter into that lightly and I think that you have to be leading it from the front. I don’t think that this is something that you can ask somebody else to do or introduce into your business. I think if this is something that you believe in, you have to lead from the front on it.
What would be your message to people who are thinking of implementing Clean Language, if you could give them advice?
I think my first piece of advice is make sure that you put it into the top of the organisation. You very quickly realise that this is about modelling and understanding that you are as the leadership team, you create the business that you want it to be and unless you model the behaviours that you want to be seen by the rest of the organisation, then nothing is going to change. So it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do, and I think Clean helps you to make sure that you’re aligned around that and that you can work effectively, and you really do build trust.
So, you have to be prepared as the leader of the organisation, as the leadership team, to be that vulnerable with everybody. Some people find that more difficult or some people find that easier than others. I think that the whole leadership team have to be prepared to do that at all levels within the business, so it’s not something that just happens in one part, it has to happen everywhere. I think my advice would be don’t start on the journey unless you’re prepared to do that because it will fail.
Is there anything else you would like to add before we close? Maybe I didn’t ask something that you wanted to say.
I think that increasingly, particularly if you look at what’s important in the workplace today, I think that people and individuals and the way that organisations are having to behave, and the uncertainty that exists in the world, that increasingly we don’t have time to be rushing about, dealing with lots of emotional baggage. I think as businesses, literally if you put the right structures in place, you can clean that up and you can get yourself into a situation where the whole business starts to perform better. There’s more trust at the heart of the business if you can create the right kind of culture around that and I think that, the way that business is changing, there’s going to be five generations in the workforce by 2020 and to be in that environment, you have to be able to operate and be agile, and I think agility is about good structures, good communication, being able to understand and be clear about what it is you’re trying to achieve.
I think that for that to happen, you’ve got to have that level of honesty in there and I think Clean creates a way for you to be able to do that as a business. I think it’s a massive tool. I think it’s hugely powerful and I think it gives you permission to be who you are and that is a really powerful thing.
We’ve plugged Clean into so many areas of the business from recruitment through to the development process through to the way we… Every quarterly off- site that we have, we start with Clean set-up, we introduce walking meetings, we use it to establish our vision, our strategic planning. It’s right through our business and I don’t feel like we’re even touching the power yet, so I think that’s what’s really interesting.
Contact us if you’d like to introduce these tools into your organisation.