Simon Sear, founder of Studio 44, describes his business as “the next generation consultancy”. When it comes to making the changes most businesses need now, the problem with many existing consulting firms that claim to specialize in transformation is that they are good at one thing or another. Some are characterized by ideas, while others can implement projects. Studio 44 wants both, explains Sear.
“The prototype phase is important, but it’s the scale-up of the idea that delivers dramatic results,” he argues. “It can also be difficult – it’s about taking a more rounded look at technology projects.”
What does that mean in practice? One example is Studio 44’s recent work with a company that needed to roll out Covid-19 testing for employees in locations around the world. Sear conducted a series of experiments with the company to test different technologies, vendors, and operational approaches, but also focused on broader topics such as communicating with employees and discussing with unions. After Studio 44 decided on a working model, it helped the company roll it out company-wide.
Sear spent the first half of his career in senior technology roles at blue chip companies such as Enron and BP. More recently, he worked as a board director at the consulting firm BJSS, advising clients such as Fidelity Investments and Deutsche Bank on technology-driven transformations and establishing Sparck as the company’s “design backbone”.
A year ago, Sear decided to go it alone and start Studio 44 as a project to support him in the next phase of his working life. “It’s not just about making money. I also wanted to build something on purpose, ”he muses. “My job is to help leaders think about preparing for the future – and realizing that growth should be progressive.”
Simon Sear, founder of Studio 44
The good news, Sear says, is that this continued growth is within our grasp. He is convinced that the time after the pandemic will remind us of the roaring twenties a century ago, with the prerequisites for strong growth, but also for positive social change.
The natural process of catching up after the recession, coupled with strong incentives from governments and individuals who spend savings, can sustain an economic recovery, he says. “But there is also something going on socially; There is a real pursuit of change. “Government support for the environmental agenda is just one example of how growth can be more sustainable, he suggests.
How then can one benefit from these supportive conditions? Sear believes it is crucial to learn the lessons from the crisis. “Covid-19 has shed some important lessons, but these may work in our favor in better times,” he claims. In his view, leaders – regardless of the size of their organizations – need to focus on ten lessons that have emerged from the pandemic:
- Create a common mission. In times of no crisis, organizations often pay lip service to their mission – it’s written down, but nobody really buys it. If the crisis did one thing very well, it was creating a focus, suggests Sear.
- Deliver the need for speed. The pace of change has already accelerated, but the crisis has accelerated it. Organizations now need to be able to respond faster and more agile than ever, Sear adds.
- Change the mindset of the company. Many companies have long held beliefs that limit their ability to react and transform, argues Sear. These assumptions must be rejected.
- Make bold investments. The successful companies of the past 12 months were the ones that had historically invested in new ways of working and supported bold new proposals, argues Sear.
- Experiment. In a decade marked by rapid change and transformation, inexpensive and rapid experimentation must be in the DNA of an organization, says Sear.
- Put your best people on your best opportunities. Sear believes that as the pace of change accelerates and the battle for talent intensifies, executives need to balance the need for transparency and fairness in order to quickly get the right people in the right roles to open up opportunities to optimize the overall success of the company.
- Teach more than just new digital skills. Build on the successes of work from home and a time of change and disruption, Sear says. It is important to teach employees new cognitive strategies and behaviors so that they can adapt.
- Break the silos. Covid-19 prompted innovative executives to put together diverse teams and give them space. Going back to more traditional operating models would be a mistake, Sear says.
- Keep communicating. The pace of disruption and uncertainty over the next decade will often unsettle people. Give reassurance, suggests Sear, just like good leaders did during the Covid-19 crisis.
- Practice stakeholder capitalism. “Executives need to incorporate a collaborative model into the next phase of transformation,” says Sears. “You have to take a long-term perspective in order to have a strategy that not only ensures financial performance in the short term, but is also invested and seen in long-term positive results for everyone involved.”
If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, Sear recommends keeping things as simple and focused as possible. “Remind yourself every day what your company’s mission is – even if it means sticking it on the fridge,” he says. “Decide on your priorities when resources allow and make sure you have teams that are brave and open enough to embrace them.”