In 2016 Creative Metier were engaged by a family led, Africa focussed impact investor to support a strategy refresh, Founder CEO transition, and team expansion. Our work together over the past six years has enabled the clear roles to be put in place, with the right people supported into those roles, and careful work to set and maintain an organisational culture appropriate for the complexity of the context and strategic ambitions of the organisation. In this interview we talk to the CEO of the organisation to find out the impact of our work and how it benefitted the team.

Please note this interview is intentionally anonymised due to the confidential nature of the work.

What was the moment of change that you were navigating at the time you engaged Creative Metier?

Firstly we were looking at a new strategy with a stronger focus on commercial viability across the portfolio, and navigating the tension between commercial viability and impact. At the time we had a small team, the Founder CEO, members of the family in senior roles and a small number of senior executives. Our Founder was looking to transition out, with myself and key family members preparing to step into the CEO and other senior roles.

What were some of the key focus areas for the collaboration?

As our Founder looked to transition out in 2018, Creative Metier led a process to understand the capability of each of the team members and to develop a structure to deliver our refreshed strategy. The Creative Metier Career Development Diagnostic enabled me, as the incoming CEO, to have visibility of myself and the team, their strengths and areas of development, and potential to step into more complex roles.

The process was extremely accurate and enabled us to make the right decisions around people in support of role transition, and to maintain a relatively flat organisation. Definitely by 2020 we were seeing the diagnostic findings being confirmed with how the team was developing, and this enabled us to spot and address gaps. Critically, the work enabled me to understand how to communicate most effectively with different members of the team to balance strategic context and/or contextual and task clarity. Team members also had sight of their own capability and areas for development so they could drive their own careers.

Having that visibility of both yourself and the team, how did that serve you as you stepped into the CEO role?

Our Founder CEO is an extremely strategic thinker. The process helped me to clarify how I would deliver the role. We think in the same way, but I wasn’t sure I would agree with him on everything. Also, going back to the team with confidence. Understanding how the complexity inherent in our vision and environment impacted our structure and roles supported me to look to the longer term horizons – the 10 or 15 or 50 year view – and look to the risks, what’s likely to change and how as a leader I can ask myself the question “how should I be thinking about this?”. I started to ask “what’s small holder farming going to look like in Africa in 15 or 20 years? What other models are there out there that are disrupting the small holder farmer paradigm? How do we position ourselves to be part of these conversations when they emerge and also maintain clarity around our current strategic focus?”.

The approach also helped me to balance my communication with the team, allowing for their comfort with uncertainty and complexity, and to articulate a longer or shorter horizon as needed.

What are your reflections on the contribution of the coaching skills and coaching components of our work together?

The coaching provided a useful sounding board to support me to navigate the board, our outgoing Founder CEO, and as other family members stepped out of senior roles, to adapt my role. The coaching also provided a sounding board around strategic team issues. It was also useful that the rest of the team was also having coaching and that that gave our coach a deep contextual understanding of what was happening as we stepped through the transition, enabling her to ask questions which prompted greater insight on my part. As the coaching continued through the Covid lockdown, it sent a very positive signal of our support for the team.

Our work evolved from the Career Development Diagnostics, through role induction and on to coaching and building team skills and culture. Did you have a view at the outset of the impact you hoped for?

Not really, we had faith in the Creative Metier team to deliver, and I was also learning many things on the context side. The skills training was helpful but at the outset required a bit of a leap of faith on my part. Many parts of the work were, by their nature, emergent. I recall one workshop where there was noticeable unspoken tension, anxiety or misunderstanding amongst the team. I didn’t know the outcome going in, but we came together with you and focussed on the team and the relationships, and made time for that.

What impact did you see from the Leading for the Future sessions, on how the culture of the organisation has evolved over the time?

Certainly, listening was something that became central, that certainly had a big impact. There was also something about a kind of intentionality around communication and considering the audience and the message you want to communicate.

If you were to zoom out and look back across our collaboration, what do you notice?

Creative Metier worked with us at key moments in our evolution. I think Creative Metier has a gentleness that has also entered our culture, it was already there to some extent, but has become reinforced within the organisation.

What is the positive difference resulting from our collaboration?

We are certainly a lot more deliberate in the things we do, and we refer to some of the models in short hand within the team and they underpin how we do things. The Career Development Diagnostic work has had a big impact. These ways of working have become embedded in our organisational language and I guess our organisational culture. As did the work on behaviors and trust, it brings the organisational language to a common place and creates a framework for communicating.

What difference has this collaboration made in terms of the organisation’s impact externally?

I do think it’s made us function a lot better. So, in that sense, any positive impact we have, a portion is attributed to the work Creative Metier did. I think that the listening with partners is quite important. Looking to consciously build that skill, to engage with potential partners and listen to them, understand them.

There was also one seminal strategy session where we started to realise how uncomfortable we were with linear processes and thinking for approaching investment. It was hard to articulate at the time, but it surfaced an issue which we have now, one strategy refresh later, addressed explicitly through our focus on systems change and entry points. That conversation in the session is highly relevant to how we operate today

Which key realisations emerged through the process?

The transactional analysis model was a big one. Then also the listening and feedback. I wish we’d spent more time practicing this, as you think it’s easy, but giving negative feedback is tough. It’s tough to do in a way that is honest and is accepted. I realised I wasn’t very good at listening, we had an intense three way exercise where we were observed and it really highlighted the deficit.

I can also remember coming away from coaching sessions, seeing things differently than before I went in. I think with coaching you kind of come away thinking it’s all your own idea, which sometimes it is, but you forget that maybe you didn’t always think that way.

How would you describe working with the Creative Metier team?

It was good, really positive, and although the sessions themselves were sometimes challenging, the process itself was extremely easy. As a team we talked about it in terms of being enlightening and you could say that the organisation has definitely shifted.

If you would like to know more about our Organisational Strengthening work, including the Career Development Diagnostic and how complexity impacts your structure and roles then please do get in touch.