Fifi’s Founders: A Culture Conversation with Jane Ginnever

6 March 2020 

Last week we sat down with Jane Ginnever, Founder at Shift, to discuss self-managed teams, workplace culture and how tech is changing the way we work. 

How would you define workplace culture?

Culture is how things get done round here. However, people don’t often consider all the elements that underlie that and make things work the way they do. At best, they probably think that somebody has a plan or that someone, somewhere is pulling levers to make you feel a certain way. 

In truth it’s much more random than this, yet somehow ends up being the accepted norm. You join a company and start acting the same as everybody else. You want to belong and to be accepted, so you go along with it. It’s self-perpetuating and very difficult to change.  

The kind of culture I advocate is one where everybody uses their brain and experience to contribute. I don’t think we give enough thought to the impact a culture has on our behaviour. It can really inhibit the way we operate and what we expect from others. 

This really needs disrupting and that’s what I do at Shift. 

In terms of your day-to-day, is there a specific type of organisation that you look to work with?

It’s broad to be honest. The smallest business I worked with had six employees and the biggest was a team of around 1,500.

I look to work with leaders who have a clear vision of what they want to achieve, rather than a specific type of organisation. 

It tends to be leaders that want employees to use their initiative, make decisions, work collaboratively and contribute meaningfully. I help by introducing more autonomy for employees and giving everybody within the organisation a voice. 

What are some of the biggest culture challenges organisations are facing in 2020?

There’s an increasing appetite amongst the workforce for the flexibility that tech enables. Unless you’re running a café or a shop, you don’t really need people to be ‘there’ I.e. in a particular location at a particular time. I ascribe to the theory that if you want to get the most out of your employees, you need to give them control over where, when and how they work. 

It’s so much easier to share information these days. It’s no longer stored in a drawer in the corner of the office. Because of this, employees expect to be given more visibility. This is helping to drive transparency in many companies. 

Can you share any examples of organisations who have made radical changes and had success?

There’s a company I worked with in Bristol that has around 70 employees and they took away all their management roles two years ago. The Chief Executive really trusted people and had a vision that taking a very different approach was the right thing to do. 

He wanted to free up employees to be the unique and wonderful people they are and help them  make a real contribution to their work and to the team.  

We’ve helped the team recognise their power and step up into the space he’s created for them. They’ve been able to get people involved in a host of cross-functional projects and get a better understanding of what makes the business work and this has made a fundamental difference to the results that the business achieves. 

For those interested in learning more, are there any resources you can recommend?

There’s a book called ‘Reinventing Organisations’ by Frederic Laloux that’s all about self-managing teams. I’d recommend reading that. 

There’s also a website called Corporate Rebels that’s run by two Dutch guys. They’re engineering graduates who entered a large organisation and were shocked by the way they were being asked to work. They rebelled and advocate that others do the same.  

A book called ‘Brave New Work’ by Aaron Dignan is also worth a mention. It looks at things from a different perspective and views the organisation as operating systems. It’s very interesting and certainly worth a look if your readers take a systemic view of organisations.