A CEO's Perspective On How To Start An Organizational Transformation

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree April 29, 2018

I started with Shared Lives SW at the end of February as their new CEO. Shared Lives SW is an amazing charity that works with 250 incredible carers that share their homes and lives with people that need it. At the heart of Shared Lives is simply put, people caring for people as part of their lives, in communities.

Before I started, I had gone through quite a personal journey involving lots of reading. Cutting a long story short, I was left with a list of values I felt were important, and an understanding that listening can be very powerful and plans were rather pointless.

How, why, what

Instead my plan now is “start by looking the HOW (Values), then think about WHY, and finally look at WHAT we are doing”. In the past I would almost certainly have worked in the reverse order.

As a quick aside, the books that I have read are:

Going back to ‘not planning’. The strangest sense is that without a plan I have a growing sense that things are unfolding to a plan that simply isn’t there. Instead I focused on responding to questions that mainly arose as I progressed.

How do I know what my baseline is?

During my investigations I discovered the Corporate Rebels, who kindly supported me with their insights on the ‘8 habits of highly progressive workplaces‘. So, we used their diagnostic tools as a starting point.

The results were really interesting. Radical transparency stood out as the area where my new colleagues thought there was the largest gap between the current and desired states. Which led to a new question…

How can I help everyone have an open conversation about the values?

In thinking this through I was reminded of an exercise Jane Pightling did with me using the map of meaning, but in my usual style I took what I wanted and left the rest. I thought it most useful for everyone to listen to one another about what the values meant to personally as well as professionally. Then we discussed any changes we should make.

We all agreed they were pretty good as they were, but there was a very strong sense that they need to be lived not just written down.

How can we focus conversation about the insights onto action?

Using Radical Transparency as a clear focus area helped the conversation. Then we used a pretty standard facilitation method using colored post-it notes (Rose for good, Bud for opportunity, Thorn for bad) to explore current practice and issues.

After clustering the post-it notes, we named the clusters and spent some time re-framing them into ‘How might we?’ statements. This created positive and future- facing challenge statements. Voting on the statements (3 sticky dots per person) resulted in 2 clear priorities:

  • How might we create a fair and transparent pay and review system?
  • How might we develop a culture of feedback and reflective practice?

These goals are so compatible it reinforced a sense of serendipity and the power of listening to one another as a group. The next step is to expand these goals and identify the outcomes we need to achieve them – in other words, create driver diagrams.

We can start with small-scale tests. I’m hoping we can use the Life QI system to good effect for this.

How do I just listen?

I have spent a lot of time meeting with staff one to one, listening to their views. These meetings have been incredibly useful to identify individual perspectives. “Time to Think” by Nancy Cline helped me to structure my thoughts on this.

But whilst this is important for my personal understanding, I think it’s important not to become the owner of the solution, but to take any issues back into the collective space for resolution.

I have found myself saying, “Oh I will l sort that!“ rather than working with the person. Recognizing this, sometimes too late, I’ve had to go back round the process with others.

How do we change the focus of management team meetings?

A number of people recommended using the Holacracy meeting structures: Tactical and Governance. So we tried it and my reflections are:

Tactical: The tactical meeting required a lot of set up and it was less obvious what we should be bringing up in this meeting. Overall, it felt a little unsatisfactory, like we should have discussed more. On reflection, it’s a sense of a pattern changing rather than anything that was actually missed. We are getting more used to this discussion.

The main practical issue at the moment is identifying a facilitator!

Governance: The governance meeting was much more successful and we covered two pretty significant issues in one hour, which showed me the effectiveness of the meeting structure. The output was much more focused and it felt like we all had a chance to have exactly the input we wanted and needed.

I was struck by an interesting sense of being given responsibility (even as CEO) through that process.

How do we reflect our values through recruitment?

I was also lucky to be asked by a colleague to help with a recruitment process. We have really started asking how well our recruitment process values those that apply, and uncovers their strengths.

Helen Sanderson has been hugely helpful in guiding our thoughts on this. As one of the most important decisions any team or organisation can make, I look forward to seeing where we get with recruitment.

Thank you

Finally, massive thanks to those that have really helped my thinking and responded to my pleas for help as I go through this journey. Just to name-drop: David Wilson, Jane Pightling, Matthew Mezey, Andy Brogan, Helen Sanderson, Karen Mason and Lou Close have all contributed in ways I shall always be thankful for.

I look forward to continuing to share and learn from those around me and I aim that this dialogue widens out from me into the organisation as we go forwards.


Matt Bell is a father to Euan, husband to Nicola and CEO of Shared Lives SW. He is passionate about finding ways that we can live better lives, in tune with one another and with our planet. When he’s not at work, he can generally be found near the sea, crabbing with Euan (age 6). You can find Matt on Twitter

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