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Centaur Stage Season 2 Ep.13- Coaching an Organization: Culture, Purpose, & People, with Lucy D’Abo

Centaur Stage is a weekly video series produced by Cosmic Centaurs, and this second season is all about the magic of teams. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 3:30 PM UAE-time, Marilyn Zakhour, CEO & Founder of Cosmic Centaurs, is joined by incredible guests who share insights, opinions, and perspectives about what makes teams cohesive, high-performing, and happy.

This episode of Centaur Stage Season 2 falls within the third chapter, all about coaching teams. Marilyn hosted Lucy D’Abo, the CEO of together, to discuss the roles of culture and purpose in the coaching of an organization. Watch the full episode here.

About Lucy D’Abo

Having lived in the Middle East for over 40 years, Lucy has been providing professional consulting services to clients and businesses across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe since 1998 and Her work is uniquely placed in the region.

Lucy is proud to deliver first-hand the infinite power of a positive culture on both business performance and employee engagement to make great culture the norm, not the exception, within workplaces around the world.

Her first business, DABO & CO, which she co-founded with her sister, Camilla d’Abo, was the leading independent communications agency in the Middle East (subsequently acquired by the world’s largest PR agency, Edelman) demonstrating that culture is a business superpower.

In 2021, Lucy launched together, a dedicated workplace culture consultancy focusing on 3 areas, People, Purpose, and Culture. Lucy has been recognized as Entrepreneur of Year by the SME Stars of Business Awards 2015 and named as one of the 50 Most Influential Brits in the Arabian Business index in 2013 and 2014.

Her company, DABO & CO, was also listed in the Top 10 ‘Great Places to Work’ Index 2 years consecutively, ranked in the Dubai SME 100, and received over 30 industry awards for the quality and creativity of the work. She is also committed to supporting women in business, is a Board Member of Global Women in PR MENA, and is an Executive Coach.

Lucy is an experienced public speaker on topics including Brand Culture, Purpose, Entrepreneurship, and Female Empowerment and has featured in several podcasts including Business is Personal with Dr. Corrie Block and The Drive to Succeed.

Lucy lives with her husband Chris, her three children (Jack, Poppy, and Florence), and their two dogs Leo the Labrador and Poppy the Cocker Spaniel (yes the dog and daughter share the same name!)

About the Topic

A quote by Peter Drucker that Marilyn often refers to is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Those few words summarize the many competitive advantages of culture: it’s very difficult to duplicate it, and so it clearly distinguishes organizations from others. Culture is necessary to consider in organizations because when it is properly measured and built on components such as meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job, and organizational fit, and strong leadership, it sets the path for a company to outperform its competitors (as per a Deloitte study).

Lucy’s work together

Lucy’s company ‘together’ focuses on three areas; people, purpose, and culture. Lucy and her co-founders believe that these are the three core areas that all contribute to whether a company culture is effective at driving business success and bringing people together, and will become a superpower. On the other hand people, purpose and culture can be ineffective and inhibit performance. The work Lucy and her team do is all about improving internal communications capability, team building, and coaching, helping organizations put people at the core and become a people and purpose-centric organization. “Large and small organizations often find that the leadership team has immense clarity on purpose, but there’s often a void between their understanding of it and that of the rest of the organization. It’s a shame because the other teams do not know how they’re contributing, or what the organization stands for”, said Lucy.

Why does purpose matter in organizations?

According to Marilyn, purpose sits very close to the core of why a company exists, and therefore simplifying is important for it to the organization to be fully purpose-centric. A story she often refers to in highlighting the importance of purpose in organizations is when John F. Kennedy visited NASA and asked a janitor what he does, the janitor answered, “I’m putting a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

“Vision is the picture. Mission is the path to get you there. Values are the behaviors that support the journey. Purpose is the reason you're doing it”, stated Lucy. “The reason purpose is so important is because we all strive to be contributing in one way or another to society, to the world, as well as to our own values.”

In Lucy’s words, she finds is that the vision, mission, and values of an organization change, but purpose - the core of those concepts - tends to stay the same. It might slightly evolve, but it does not undergo significant changes.

Lucy’s company’s purpose is about changing lives by making a great culture the norm and not the exception. That's what her team lives by every day. “Purpose is much greater than the revenue”, she said. “The revenue is important - we are commercial entities - but in the end, it is the purpose that allows us as individuals and as teammates to contribute to a much bigger, more important end goal, which eventually contributes to the revenue as well. Ultimately, everyone who joins our team feels the same.”

How do values help organizations align with their purpose?

Lucy explained that values are the behaviors that people bring to what they do every day. In the context of team dynamics, they are so important because they help teams develop their own sort of language, and be more of a community. She noted that this is particularly important in the contexts of hybrid and remote work, where it’s more difficult for people to connect and communicate. She also highlighted its importance in culturally diverse work settings, including her base in the UAE, where there are very high rates of expatriates who speak different first languages. Lucy elaborated, “In the case of organizations in the UAE, even if English is used as the primary language in the organization, using sentences such as ‘Do I trust you?’ can have so many different interpretations.

Values become really important at making things explicit. If trust is one of your organizational values, you have to be very explicit about what it means to you.” She concluded that values also help identify which behaviors to reward and which are not tolerated. “If you’re very explicit about behaviors and expectations, it makes it very clear whether someone fits or not.”

Are there good and bad values?

On the topic of whether organizational values can be good or bad, Marilyn believes they are always contextual. She explained, “I sometimes wonder whether it's worth it to write down “integrity” and “honesty” in your values because maybe we should all generally have integrity. That value should be a universal one, and we should try to focus on what makes our organization unique in terms of what we value.”

As for Lucy, values cannot be considered to be bad when they are created in an inclusive way to what the organization stands for. For example, the value of command might be considered good in the army, but not in other organizations. Since values should be part of a cultural movement in an organization, they need to be progressively created, and there are many tools to help assess how they are perceived. To Lucy, it’s also important for values to be more dynamic and less philosophical and aspirational because it would not be fair to the people in an organization to only be able to strive to reach them.

What if your personal values do not align with those of the company culture?

In Lucy’s perspective, as long as you feel like you’re not compromising your own integrity, you have to decide whether it’s worth it or not. She explained her point of view. “If you feel like you can’t bring your real self to work, it’s difficult. In the past two years, we faced so many unknowns and we learned how to deal with stressful work environments. That helped a lot of people realize that they can do what they want to do. It’s not as frightening as it sounds, and that’s why so many people are looking to leave their jobs“.

How do values carry purpose and culture?

Both Marilyn and Lucy agree that values have to be integrated into every aspect of the organization. “If the values are just being drummed home every day by leadership as a kind of repetitive non-action point, then, of course, it will just become white noise”, said Lucy.

For Lucy, leaders need to ask themselves the following questions: “Are we recognizing and rewarding people about living by values? Are we sharing stories about our teammates who are living and demonstrating what that value looks like when they are at work and doing that job? Are we looking at it under the scope of the big business objectives?” Lucy concluded that leaders are learning more and more about the importance of integrating values in their organizations and improving their culture, but it is also a big investment. Not just a financial one, but an investment of time and consistency.

How do you measure culture?

Lucy uses different tools, and one of these models covers four different areas: purpose, reputation (brand culture), engagement, and performance. For small organizations, Lucy recommends tools that work as pulse checks, as well as contacting Culture Amp. “It’s important to get any sort of data because if you don’t know what’s happening, it’s possible to make any sort of plan”, Lucy said.

Leadership endorsement & role modeling

“Since culture impacts every individual in an organization, everyone should be involved in building it. However, since it requires an investment and to be prioritized, it has to happen first from leadership”, Lucy said. “More importantly, leaders need to believe in the outputs of a cohesive culture because if they don't model the behaviors they've set out for the rest of the organization, it will never succeed. If we don’t all work towards the same goal, it’s really hard.”

She continued, “It’s a movement. You need the majority to be moving in the right direction.”

🔥 Rapid Fire

The one thing every team needs is…”Clarity”

The one thing a team needs to avoid…”Duplication”

A good team leader is…”Curious, caring, and available”

The best book on teams is…” Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't”, By Jim Collins.

What’s your favorite team ritual? “Getting people together. Nothing more important to team dynamics than connection. If you’re not doing things together, it’s very hard to build cohesive nature.”


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