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Scaling the Right Way: Clarasys' Path Forward with Progressive Principles

Klara Nenadlova
Written by Klara Nenadlova August 20, 2023

At Clarasys, our core purpose is to make a lasting difference to the way how people work, live, and grow. As an independent consultancy headquartered in London, we have undergone a transformative journey spanning several years. During this time, we boldly tore up rulebooks, structures, and behaviours to become a non-hierarchical business owned by our employees. Ultimately, we are a business driven by our people, their passions, goals, and development.

Our challenge: balancing growth and identity

As we continue to grow, our organizational model must support our evolution while staying true to our fundamental values. These values are the essence of what makes Clarasys an exceptional workplace. We set a standard that is ambitious yet achievable.

Something that's incredibly important to us as we scale is retaining our culture while allowing room for innovation and change. While we aim to be profitable, engaging in interesting and rewarding work, empowering employees to act as owners of the business, and deriving enjoyment from what we do are our top priorities.

Clarasys has always had an open culture, enabling us to explore ways to move the business forward. Our structure, in which everyone is involved in shaping the business through internal work measurable by Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), empowers us to envision the future and challenge the status quo appropriately.

Setting the stage for growth and evolution

In 2021, we established a dedicated Clarasys Way OKR team to explore how we should scale while keeping our great culture. The OKR was active for two years, with a vision to serve as "the catalyst for building the company that we are proud to work for, both now and in the future."

The discovery phase involved extensive ideation, focusing on the right way to move forward. What, if anything, needs to change? How can we stay ahead of the curve?

Progressive principles at the core

One of our business's unique selling points is our agility and our commitment to pushing boundaries further than traditional consultancies. As the Clarasys Way OKR team, we identified alignment with research by Corporate Rebels around progressive organizations and became particularly interested in its eight progressive principles. These tools help to distinguish progressive organizations from traditional ones:

  • Team of teams over hierarchical pyramids - Networks of teams promote agility, speed, and engagement, alongside increasing responsibility and a sense of belonging.
  • Purpose and values over profit - Move the focus from solely shareholder value to building a workplace around a common purpose and values.
  • Distributed authority over centralized authority - Decentralizing the decision-making process to those who have the best understanding of the changes and client needs to enable organizational agility.
  • Freedom and trust over rules and control - Act on the belief that employees are responsible adults who can be trusted; performing best when given a high degree of autonomy.
  • Radical transparency over secrecy - To enable distributed authority to frontline employees, a culture of radical transparency is required.
  • Talents and mastery over job descriptions - Move the focus from distributing activities based on job roles and titles to employees' strengths, talents, and interests.
  • Servant leadership over directive leadership - Moving away from a culture where leaders ‘direct’ subordinates towards one where leaders are supportive of those who are ‘closest to the fire’.
  • Experiment and adapt over predict and control - Progressive organizations abandon guesses masquerading as precise predictions, focusing on experimentation instead.
“As we continue to grow, our organizational model must support our evolution while staying true to our fundamental values. These values are the essence of what makes Clarasys an exceptional workplace.”

Shaping the future: embedding progressive principles

We needed to make deliberate decisions about transitioning the Clarasys 'operating system' from its current state to where we want it to be. We wanted to retain certain things, draw inspiration from other sources, and introduce new ideas. Since there wasn't a single answer, the OKR team facilitated a company-wide discussion, tested improvements, iterated based on feedback, and subsequently championed and embedded new ways of working. We concentrated on exploring specific areas of these working practices, including people’s sense of belonging, a decision-making tree, and external insights.

Evaluating Clarasys' baseline for progressive change

We asked individuals where they felt we aligned with the Corporate Rebels principles and discussed whether this was desirable or if further improvements could be made. In the May 2022 Company Update, we presented the current baseline status and discussed potential improvements. The results demonstrated that our employees regarded our organization as progressive, although not always at the highest end of the progressive spectrum.

Striking the right balance: progress vs. tradition

We concluded that we didn't want to be ‘very progressive’ in any of the principles, as this might suggest there was no room for improvement and could potentially stagnate innovation. With people joining us from various backgrounds, we want to preserve the diversity of thought within the organization. We agreed that it's healthy for the organization to have differing schools of thought, as long as nobody perceives Clarasys as ‘very traditional’ in any of the principles.

Driving change with ownership and action

Incorporating Corporate Rebels' principles into our survey to give us a baseline, we also checked for deviations. We identified groups where the sense of belonging was below average, ran workshops to identify the causes, and fed the information back to the business. In line with our distributed decision-making mentality, we left the ownership of actioning the results to the relevant business areas.

Cultural enrichment: infusing progressive principles into our fabric

We have incorporated Corporate Rebels' progressive principles into the organization in several ways. We have fed these into a ‘Teams 101’ guide on how to make teams more high-functioning in different scenarios. Similarly, including the principles in our onboarding provides new joiners with a clear view of not only our culture and organization but an understanding of how and why these principles are important to us.

To identify dips or deviations from the baseline, we also measure against the principles in our company surveys, allowing us to maintain our culture as we scale while innovating where relevant.

Collaborating for progress: Clarasys and Corporate Rebels

We are thrilled to be now working with Corporate Rebels as a delivery partner to help other organizations on their way to becoming more progressive.

* This article was co-written by Hannah Worth and Scott Docherty from Clarasys.

Written by Klara Nenadlova
Klara Nenadlova
Business consultant at Clarasys with a passion for organisational change.
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