This post is a short break from my series on the history and theory of organizational development, to discuss how we work with organizational development in practice at Ugilic.
In the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, weather reporter Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, wakes up on the same day over and over again. After the initial reaction of panic, he starts taking advantage of his situation and ultimately uses the many opportunities to relive the day to get it just right.
Last week, we celebrated our first year as a company at Ugilic by getting together for two days for what we call a ‘strategy-reset seminar’. The idea is that, once a year, we throw everything out the window and start over with a blank sheet. It’s our opportunity to learn from past experience and make the company just right.
We started the seminar with a presentation of what has happened during the past year. Despite having failed fast with our technical offerings, we were able to celebrate an impressive number of large cap clients and successful transformation and coaching projects. We have also presented at a number of conferences and are pretty happy with our position in the market. After patting ourselves on the back, we had a lot of fun roleplaying what would happen to Ugilic if a pure capitalist or extreme left-wing social group took over Ugilic. Halfway though, we switched roles, and it was actually more difficult than expected to completely switch mindset. The exercise was more of an icebreaker than something we would use directly during the rest of the seminar.
Next, we were given 30 minutes to draw a poster of our personal dreams for the company, and then we presented in turns. My poster focused on Ugilic as a strong network of highly skilled consultants, an enabler of collaboration on solving large engagements, but also a platform for individuals to shine and build clear profiles in the market. The other part of my presentation (image on the right) was about work-life fusion and being able to continuously adjust the balance between personal time, family time, and working time. Like everyone else, I could use a few more hours in a day, but I’m fortunate to really enjoy my work and often be able to pick the clients I want to work for.
After getting to know each other a bit better, we created a backlog of all the issues we wanted to discuss and then took them one by one in prioritized order. We defined a time-box for each and then evaluated if we needed more time on the issue or if we were ready to move on to the next one. Sounds familiar?
The first issue was also the biggest, and our decisions would guide how we would solve most of the other issues in the backlog. The question was fundamentally what type of company we wanted to be during the next twelve months. On the one hand, we discussed the advantages of building a ‘regular’ company with employees and economic firepower to take on larger initiatives. On the other hand, we discussed the pros and cons of a loosely coupled network structure where individual consultants can do almost what they want. I will spare you all the details and jump to the conclusion. Everyone at Ugilic values the freedom associated with being self-employed consultants, but also sees the benefits of a shared brand and being able to share knowledge and deliver our services together. We will therefore still work under the same name, and share and build knowledge and services together. When we decide to bring in new clients we will work together to deliver the best services possible, but it’s an individual decision which clients we want to work for. This is not a revolution in how we previously operated, but we will try to make the profiles of the individual consultants stand out more clearly. In the end, people buy from people and bringing someone onboard to help you change your company is very much a matter of trust and chemistry.
After framing the overall direction of Ugilic, we were able to quickly reach conclusions on a number of issues including:
- Focusing on offering transformation and team coaching services.
- Splitting our training business from our consulting business and trying out a different financial model for that part.
- Seeking partners to help us advise clients on the technical aspects of Agile software development instead of bringing on board new consultants to build our own offerings organically.
- How to recruit new consultants to help us meet the current demand.
- How to split the profits from our first year of existence.
- Changing our financial contribution model from a percentage to a fixed (and lower) monthly fee, but still sticking to not making any money on selling other consultants or bringing in new clients.
- Getting rid of the DKK 25,000 bonus for leaving within the first six months as it had no real effect.
- Bringing in an administrative person to help us out.
- Redesigning our websites to reflect the outcomes of the strategy seminar.
- Changing our strategy-reset frequency from yearly to twice a year.
- Changing our meeting frequency from half-day biweekly general-purpose meetings to quarterly full day conferences with an optional bilateral topic- specific workshop in between.
- Terminating the lease of our current office and looking for something better for hosting our open courses.
The list above is not even extensive, but I still think it’s quite impressive and shows the strength of our culture and the agility of our process. Maybe even more impressively, we were able to get up the next morning after a wet evening celebrating our first year of existence and act on many of our decisions. By the time we closed the seminar that evening with a dinner with our families, we had set up meetings with potential partners, updated our list of possible candidates and started calling them, calculated and paid out profit sharing, and terminated the lease of our office. We had also set up meetings with potential administrative staff, a web designer, and an online marketing advisor, made a plan for redefining our training offerings, and decided on a financial model. Thanks to Per Beining (@perbeining) we also managed to update our Ugilic Manifesto to reflect how we will operate until we throw everything out the window again in six months, and start all over in our pursuit of getting it just right.
Final Thoughts on Our Strategy Process
I have worked and consulted at many companies where employees are included in and able to influence the strategy process, but never experienced the level of truly equal influence we have at Ugilic. I think this unique aspect of our company can be explained by at least four factors, where we differ significantly from most companies I know:
- Our purpose is evolutionary and we embrace the opportunity to completely change course regularly.
- Being born as an unbossed network organization, there is no authority or monetary privilege associated with ownership, role, title, status, or seniority.
- Everything from individual earnings to service offerings is transparent, enabling everyone to contribute to the strategy.
- We basically trust each other.
The skeptics will say that our model doesn’t scale beyond a certain size. They might be right, and if they are, we will hopefully realize it in time and act accordingly.
Finally, I want to thank all my colleagues for a great seminar and especially Kristian Haugaard (@haugaaards) and Martin Vinther (@martinvinther) for doing a great job facilitating. It’s not always the easiest job in the world to facilitate a bunch of facilitators.
If you want to know more about our journey and how we operate and develop Ugilic, please feel free to contact me. And as always, please feel free to use the comments below to join the conversation.
- Reinventing Organizations – In Search of a New Leadership Paradigm
- Ugilic – Building the Ultimate Home for Agile Clients and Consultants
- 2014 Personal Reflections: The Old Man Isn’t Dead Yet!
The feature image is of the team working during the strategy seminar.