What it takes to build a Liveable Company.

December 18, 2020 / By Carina Calzoni & Leigh Stewart

We all know that our people are our most valuable resource. That so many businesses have managed to remain open and even thrive in these times is testament to people’s resilience and willingness to adapt.

But we can’t pretend that this year hasn’t been tough. Like most, our team has had to adjust to new ways of working, deal with new technology and home-school and general uncertainty. And we’ve come to realise that it’s not enough to simply value and support our staff. If we’re serious about respecting boundaries, avoiding burn-out and providing the headspace needed for deep thinking and learning (where we do our best work) – then we actually need to change our approach to how we work. And not just for these challenging times – we’re talking about changing our business model.

If this year has proven anything, it’s that we are capable of change and of rising to new challenges. In that spirit, we’re challenging ourselves to better walk the talk and build a liveable company.

But what does this mean?

Carina Calzoni, Managing Director

In 2020, during a pandemic, we developed a new company 3-year strategy. As crazy as it sounds to build a strategy amongst so much uncertainty, it’s been an excellent opportunity to focus on what is really important to Clear Horizon and build shared ownership of our vision.

Now we are focusing on how to live and breathe the strategy – it’s not enough to just say we want to do it. We have to build the roadmap for achieving this, which is our Strategic Plan. We’ve started by making “Become a Liveable Company” a key strategic goal.

We have also set a more modest company profit target which means lowering our targets for client work. We’re also investing in our Clear Horizon Academy, in order to reduce our reliance on consultancy work while making “sharing our learnings with our sector and beyond” a built-in organisational priority.

Jess Dart, Founding Director

We attract awesome, dedicated staff, who give 120% to the clients and projects we’re passionate about. We also have fantastic clients, who give 120% working for positive outcomes for people, place and planet. But when – as a consulting agency – we’re operating on a 70-80% client billing model, that means there’s simply no downtime, no time for reflection, and no time to share learnings beyond our immediate team. And that’s not just an opportunity lost – that presents a real risk of burnout.

That’s why we’re looking to fundamentally shift our business model. We don’t have all the answers and know this is likely to be a long-term effort. But as a starting point, we’ve reduced the proportion of our billable time to a 60% client model.

Secondly, we will continue to narrow down the projects we choose to work on to those that are most clearly aligned to our mission – those that truly inspire and energise us. That’s always a risk for a consulting firm, but this is about backing ourselves and the quality of work we offer, and the impact we want to create. In the long-term, watch this space!

Jenny Riley, Chief Digital and Data Officer

Technology can be a game changer. For many businesses – ourselves included – survival of the business has depended on rapid technology adaptation. And it’s been amazing to see how quickly and efficiently our staff have transitioned to doing all their work online –including running large and complex workshops.

To be more liveable, we can continue to use what current technology is offering to build in greater efficiencies in the way we work with each other and the way we deliver. While some of these are simple improvements, they all represent a very real reduction in daily frustrations and double-handling, meaning we have more time to focus on the work that matters to us – creating social impact for clients. Some examples include:

  • Deliberately applying the data modelling and reporting insights that we generally offer to our clients to our own internal business functions. This means we’re getting a clearer idea of where we’re spending our time and where we have “black holes”. We’re then dedicating time and space to co-design solutions to these inefficiencies to ensure we’re working ‘smarter’ not ‘harder’.
  • Moving much of our internal day-to-day communications and shared filing to Teams: this has not only helped cut down on emails and improve response time, it’s also meant less doubling handling of documents. We’re also gaining efficiencies through services such as “voice-to-text” for interviews.
  • Continuing to invest in and leverage digital technology and systems support: We know that when push comes to shove, we can adapt and find new ways of working. It needn’t take a pandemic to shift to new technologies or platforms when they become available that ultimately can make our working lives easier.

We’re only at the beginning of our journey to become a liveable company. But we’re starting with some excellent (if hard-won) lessons from 2020, which we can deliberately and strategically apply to our future work. That means embedding adaption and flexibility into our approach, doing design experiments on ourselves to test different ways of working and seeing what fits best.

It’s a process – and ultimately, we’ll be relying on staff creativity and contribution to identify approaches and practices that work for us in becoming a truly sustainable and liveable company.