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The year that changed us

By Sarah Pettinger

2019 has been a year of exciting change for Omobono. We're embarking on a journey inspired by the work of Brené Brown and Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations. Guided by the expertise of the brilliant Mack Fogelson, we are evolving Omobono into everything we think it means to be a successful modern business in an industry that is changing rapidly.

In life, there are years you look back on as turning points. Sometimes you know it’s happening at the time, other times it’s only after the event that you realise. The highs (and lows) of becoming a mother are my obvious ones, often it can be a person whose impact can’t be fully understood until you reflect back and see their influence on your life.

I believe the same is true in business. Obviously the years when things are going well, big client wins or huge growth, awards or a star hire who can really transform what you can offer. But also, perhaps even more so, the years when things aren’t going well. It all shapes us.

I think it’s impossible to run a business without going through some peaks and troughs. For many businesses surviving is, understandably, the goal, but our ambitions have always been about more than surviving. In our hearts we want to be the best company we can be – an extraordinary place to work, outstanding results for clients, commercially successful.

2019 has been one of those turning point years for Omobono and we’ve started on a journey that will, I think, change the company for the rest of its existence.

That’s a bold statement! So what is it that we’re doing?

Well it’s been a year of change. I think change is something Omobono has always been good at, we’ve always rolled with the inevitable punches of 19 years in business. But this year we’ve started to change our mindset about the sort of company we want Omobono to be, and really importantly, about how we’ll get there.

We’ve started out on programme of change we’re calling Omobono 2.0. It’s everything we think it means to be a successful modern business in an industry that is changing rapidly, and a world with political, economic and environmental uncertainty. Inspired by the work of Brené Brown, having hoovered up Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations, and guided by the expertise of the brilliant Mack Fogelson, we are reimagining Omobono as a place to work.

This is unlike any other ‘change programme’ I, or any of us, have encountered. We have no rigid plan. Omobono 2.0 is not an end goal, it’s about learning the skills to live with uncertainty.

We’re slowly shifting power out of the leadership team and into the agency. Omobono 2.0 will allow voices from across the company to shape what it’s like to be an Omobonian; from helping people achieve their ambitions within Omobono and afterwards, how we deliver for our clients, to how we approach pay and benefits. We don’t want decisions that impact us all to be imposed top down.

We are learning Daring Leadership to enable us to have braver conversations, set boundaries, learn accountability and build trust. We’re learning what it means to bring our whole selves to work and engage with the fears and feelings that we’ve generally been conditioned not to talk about at work. It’s created a far stronger sense of trust and connection within our leadership team and changed the way we run the business.

Practically, we’re changing our ways of working to build stronger teams with clear operating rhythms. Our teams are guided by a set of transformational guiding principles:  small moves over big moves, experimentation over planning, progress over perfection, open over closed, freedom over control.

The teams working in this way are coming together through action meetings that are far more focused and productive. We’re achieving more because we’re focusing on less. We’re no longer paralysed by trying to find the perfect solution, instead we take step after step in the right direction.

We remain as ambitious as ever but we’re learning what it means to engage with vulnerability and to stop trying to plan our way to success, and to rather focus on sensing what is happening and respond.

We’re learning to experiment and fail within our business. With guardrails of good decision making and being grounded in whether something is ‘safe to try’ we’re getting comfortable that not everything we do will be successful, but that it all creates an opportunity to learn and improve what we’re doing.

It’s exciting to be part of meetings that feel fundamentally different to those we might have had at the start of the year. Our team is better connected, we check-in during meetings now, we focus on what we need to do, we’re better at sharing information and, excitingly, we’ve made progress on things we’ve wanted to tackle for some time.

Our ambition for 2020 is taking this into every corner of Omobono. The change we’re embarking on is hard, it’s challenging us to rethink all aspects of how we work, relearning, breaking habits and challenging our default behaviours. It’s not quick. As leaders of the agency we need to relearn our old ways in order to be able to support the whole organisation ultimately working in our new ways.

We also see Omobono 2.0 being about how we work with our clients. Looking back at our work in 2019 I am very proud at the quality of what we have produced and the impact it has made on our clients businesses, but many agencies can say that. I believe our work building Omobono 2.0 also brings opportunity to bring to clients a really different, and much better, way of engaging with an agency partner. Truly great work can only be produced when there is honesty and trust in a client/agency relationship – the work we have started in 2019 has the potential to help us take our relationships with clients to another level. We aim to take Omobono 2.0 to our clients – working in the open, being braver about experimenting, learning through retros and connecting better as people. If you’re up for being part of that journey let us know, we’re looking for some pioneers!

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