This is How We Will Embody a Culture of Innovation and Agility

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January 03, 2018

This is How We Will Embody a Culture of Innovation and Agility

By Emma Proud

Director, Organizational Agility Mercy Corps

This blog was originally published on LinkedIn.

In the last year or so at Mercy Corps, we have ‘captured’ our culture. Culture is so much part of the essence of the organization that it was fantastic to be part of the conversations to distill it.

The big picture inspires, greatly. ‘Change is always possible’ drives me. ‘Think big and disrupt’ speaks to our systemic way of looking and working.

And then we get to the pieces that — to me — are at the heart of adaptive management, and an agile organisation.

‘Strategy is our compass — not our map’ — ‘strategy points the direction, but leaves room for teams on the ground to chart the precise pathway’. Our culture reminds us that every team at Mercy Corps should be driven by a clear purpose, and empowered to find ways reach it.

We don’t know, in advance, what route we should take to reach our destination. The contexts we work in are complex, so we need to observe, sense and experiment.

Innovation is at our core’ — ‘We experiment, test, iterate, tear down and build up better.’

From our systems work, we know that change seldom comes from actions in isolation, but rather from emergence. From the collision of ideas and the embracing of diversity.

Diversity is powerful’ — it ‘helps us unlock complexity’. But only if ‘Every voice matters’. So ‘We create a culture of trust and respect where everyone can share their ideas and safely challenge each other.’

As we know from the work of many, including Amy Edmondson, Kim Scott (Radical Candor) and Google, to safely challenge, first we need to ‘care personally’ to create psychological safety.

So, ‘We care deeply’ is crucial to our culture, and to our ability to work together to ‘do the best work of our lives’.

Our culture is summarised at the end by ‘what connects us — urgency, curiosity, and joy’. ‘We are restless and can’t wait. We are not only open to new ideas, we insist on seeking them out. Through it all we find joy and purpose.’

I find myself inspired by our culture deck. I love that it speaks to principles of transformative, systemic change. That it demands us to set our sights on possibility, and chart our path through experimentation, iteration and collaboration.

I also find myself thinking about how we can make sure it is real for all 5,000 people across our 40+ countries.

The answer I keep coming back to is through our leaders and managers.

Our experience and work on adaptive management has shown time and again that managers are key to creating a team culture where teams are encouraged to collaborate, learn and adapt.

So I feel really lucky that I have the opportunity to work out what it will look like for us to focus on managers as a key leverage point.

Let’s see what it looks like to integrate systems, neuroscience and lean/agile into pilots to work with managers at embodying our culture and building teams that “are not only open to new and better ways of doing things, [but] insist on seeking them out.”

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