‘Time to change organisational culture.’
An interview with Managing Director Maria Coulson
by Kay Hare
What encouraged you set up a consultancy business?
I have to put this question in the context of my career. The first part of my career was with the NHS, particularly within the mental health sector (I am an ex-mental health clinician). The second part of my career has been working at a senior level in consultancy. Working in consultancy, especially in a Big 4 organisation has given me a wide range of skills. After several years working for consultancy firms, I decided to set up my own business to follow my passion (constant throughout my career) – people, behaviours, and culture. Having my own business allows me to follow my passion and work with clients in a truly bespoke way that is right for them and directly relevant to their business.
In a nutshell, can you describe your services?
Helping people and organisations to be more successful. My drive is to improve organisational culture and behaviours with an emphasis on healthy and inclusive cultures. I also support clients with leadership development, coaching, and people aspects of change.
Who would you say are your main clients, or do you work with anyone who requests help?
My clients are varied, and I have worked across the private, public, and third sectors, but since setting up my own business, my main focus is in the private sector. Any organisation that employs people but usually companies with twenty or more workers. I have also worked with start-ups to advise them on the kind of culture they want and how they can achieve the right culture for their business.
How do people find you?
The obvious ways are through my social media profiles, website, word of mouth, and networking. It is very much about reputation, getting to know people, building relationships and trust. In consultancy, people buy people. They have to like you, your style and approach, and trust that you will work with them to impact their business positively.
What are the main differences the pandemic has brought to your business, and what changes have you had to make to continue as ‘normal.’
I think the challenge for consultancy at the moment is that consultancy is seen by businesses as a ‘discretionary spend’ investing money on improving their organisation. In the current climate, many companies cannot do this or are reluctant to. There is a lot of rhetoric around mental well-being in the workplace and culture, but companies are currently reluctant to invest. Even if they are not struggling financially, many are waiting to see what happens with the pandemic, the current economic crisis, and, for some businesses, trading with Europe.
At the moment, maintaining contact with people is so important. Interestingly I am actually doing more coaching individuals than usual. Currently, it’s a challenging job market out there. More people are concerned about their jobs or that they may not be developing as quickly as they had liked. People are trying to improve themselves and taking the initiative. A combination of covid and Brexit is being felt by almost all businesses, particularly small businesses and the financial sector. There are all kinds of issues with Brexit that are not getting exposed to the wider public because the pandemic is at the forefront of the news. There are a lot of opportunities as well, but this is all affecting decision-making by the business.
Do you have a specific area of interest that you would like to expand/develop?
Diversity and inclusion, but my passion is inclusion. I believe in diversity of thinking, not just demographic diversity. Bringing people into the organisation with different experiences and backgrounds. If you recruit everyone who is the same as you, looks like you, sounds like you, and had the same education, you will end up with the same ideas and results; however, pulling people with different thinking and experience creates a more innovative business.
Another area of interest is having ‘difficult conversations.’ Many employees don’t have the skills or confidence to have such conversations internally or externally with clients, particularly vulnerable clients – this is a particular focus for financial services given recent Financial Conduct Authority guidance. But it equally is important in many sectors.
What do you think are the positive/less positive aspects of working from home?
A lack of commute into London for sure, it’s been nice not having to do this. Working at home was great to begin with, but many are missing the office, face-to-face meetings, social contact with colleagues, and the opportunity to bounce creatively off each other. Some organisations say that staff are more productive working from home, but this is likely to be because the staff are online for longer hours. Long hours do not equal productivity. Many organisations are recognising that. We will end up with a hybrid situation of people working from home some days and in the office some days. This is likely to vary from organisation to organisation. The different ways of working will require organisations to revisit their culture.
Working from home does not suit all employees or organisations, and many employees feel overlooked. For example, many younger people are struggling from working in small rooms all day and feel isolated, impacting their mental well-being. It highlights the need for organisations to relook at their culture and whether leaders have the relevant soft skills needed. I have published a recent article that touches on ‘The impact of leaders soft skills on mental wellbeing in the workplace’ (find out more here).
What would you say is your main area of expertise working with new start-up projects or longer, more established companies?
I work with any organisation interested in people and culture. Start-ups benefit from thinking early on what sort of culture they want for their business and how they may achieve that, including the sort of people they need to recruit and fit in. Some organisations achieve a ‘family-like’ culture to start with, but if they grow rapidly, it can be challenging to keep that and adapt whilst keeping the business’s values and ethos. Then with more established businesses, how do they change or improve their culture.
Fundamentally whether you are a small business or a large business, you have to understand what kind of culture benefits your organisation and ultimately improve your business. Taking the time to look at your business’s culture will impact your brand, reputation, and talent retention. Customers are looking to companies that reflect their own values and ethos, and increasingly, customers are looking for inclusive organisations. Keeping your customers with you all the time while you grow has many benefits.
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