How I Would Start 2024 as an Internal Changemaker

How I Would Start 2024 as an Internal Changemaker

Tiresome strategy meetings that feel loose and disconnected, gigantic detailed reports with ambiguous metrics, and autocratic new year mandates imposed from above. We’ve fallen into some bad habits at the start of the year, because much of this corporate bureaucracy doesn’t lead to positive results; it leads to apathy.

From my experience as a culture coach, I’ve observed teams so committed to their annual plans that they attempt to force them into reality, despite the complexities of organisational life. Add to this the pains and challenges of external turbulence, and it’s clear that the beautiful annual plan crafted in January quickly becomes as obsolete as the floppy disk.

Instead, I want to propose an alternative. It’s by no means perfect, but it offers a different approach to January, and indeed every other quarter. Because if we seek real, tangible results, we must start from a place of awareness about what’s obstructing progress.

Here’s an honest guide to starting 2024 as an internal changemaker. (For clarity, by ‘changemaker’, I refer to anyone who influences the way their team or organisation functions.)

If you’re tired of repeating the same cultural routines that invariably lead you to the same outcome, here’s a chance to be bold and try something new.

Things I would do

Plan quarterly

Every business typically operates with a 12 month plan, and often, a five-year strategy. While these plans are beneficial for guiding the company’s overall vision, they can quickly become outdated. Approaching cultural evolution solely from this standpoint fails to consider current emerging trends and needs.

Adopting a habit of planning by quarter allows for a more responsive approach. It’s likely to enable a better grasp of what is needed in the near future and to adapt more effectively.

It’s important to have an annual plan, but it shouldn’t be viewed as unchangeable. Your annual plan will evolve; therefore, I recommend utilising quarterly plans. Regularly review your annual plan to ensure its continued relevance and feasibility.

Ensure goal clarity 

As you will often hear in the realm of culture – “culture is a means to an end” – which means you need to have goal clarity on where you want to be in the next three months. 


What goals need to be achieved? 

The goal at this stage should be the company or organisational goal. What are three results the company wants to achieve within the next three months? For example this may be; 

  • Increase profits by X/% 
  • Increase customer satisfaction by X/% 
  • Increase organisational happiness by X/% 

I know what you’re thinking – Not another rule of three. 

However, when we have clear targets, and less of them, we take more intentional action and can prioritise in a far more realistic way. As author Jim Collins says, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” 

Once the company goals are set, it’s then about ensuring everyone in the organisation understands them. This is where communication and clarity are key. Any miscommunication or ambiguous jargon leads to lack of clarity. We want everyone in the organisation to know and understand these goals. 

One activity I would pursue is to do an all hands meeting to discuss these targets with all teams. This should be a space where people can challenge them, ask questions and seek clarification.

Let teams and individuals decide their goals 

Once the organisational/company goals have been set, it’s then about giving teams and individuals the opportunity to set their own goals. 

Too often the goals handed down to teams are a diluted version of the organisational goals, with no ability for the team or individuals to take ownership or have any personal input. This means people have zero motivation or enthusiasm about their goals – which then leads us down the path to poor performance. 

We want people to create goals they actually want to achieve. Plus goals that are tailored to people’s strengths and aspirations. The more ownership we have over our goals, the more motivated we are to achieve them. 

Of course this doesn’t mean goals are frivolous or disconnected, it’s about finding common ground between the company and the individual. 

One simple framework that works well here is agreeing on S.M.A.R.T goals, however I would couple this with having transparent dialogue with team members. For example, individuals sharing their goals to get feedback from their colleagues before their goals are set. This enables people to know if what they’ve set out to achieve is possible or a big enough challenge, and keeps people accountable to the team. 

Working collaboratively on team goals, and then building individual goals, keeps everyone aligned.  

Define roles and responsibilities 

Who is responsible for what? 

If there’s a common thread in organisational life it’s the complaint that people do not take ownership of things. If we were to look under the surface, again, people lack clarity. 

While defining roles and responsibilities is not a common practice, it is one that can take action to a whole new level. After all, when people are fearful of treading on toes, or not knowing who needs to do what, suddenly everything halts to a stop. Or worse, it all gets stuck up at the top of the chain with a manager telling everyone what to do. 

Regardless of position or job title, constantly reviewing roles and responsibilities enables teams to move fast and remain clear about what their key accountabilities are. After all, how can you take ownership of something you never knew you had ownership of in the first place? 

Job titles rarely tell us what people do, they tell us where they sit in the organisational hierarchy. Here, we want to get clear on what everyone’s roles are and the responsibilities that are associated with it. 

You should end up with something that looks like the below diagram. You can also use apps for this such as Peerdom or Maptio, or create something more bespoke on a Miro Board or a company intranet. 

Conduct a retrospective 

Retrospectives have become popular thanks to the Agile community and for good reason. The method helps us identify what’s working, what’s not working, and what we could improve upon. 

As a coach, I use retrospectives frequently with my clients, and it’s something that I encourage them to pick up quarterly to help them keep connected to the areas they need to work on.

A retrospective will help identify some of the things that are in the way for us achieving the goals we’ve set out. Especially if we use the goal as a lens on the retrospective.

Depending on the size of the business, and on your operation, you may wish to do an organisational retrospective, or just a team one. This also depends on the levels of psychological safety present in your organisation. 

Start where the need is 

A retrospective will identify areas that are supporting and not supporting teams. This piece of insight can be used to ignite your culture evolutions for the year ahead. For example, it may identify that people feel there are too many meetings and it reduces focussed work time. Therefore one experiment to start for the first quarter is to look at how as a company you can improve your meetings. (This is exactly what Shopify did, and I wrote about their experiments here.)

What we want to do here is understand what the biggest tension, frustration or need is within the teams so that culture iterations are actually useful to and enhancing the working dynamic. 

A good question to ask teams is; with the goals in mind, what’s in the way for us to achieve them? 

Another very simple exercise but highly effective, is to use tension prompts. You can use these pre-made cards by The Ready, or create your own. 

Using the tension prompts, teams place a sticky note, or vote anonymously, on what feels most present for them within the company culture. From here you will quickly discover the trending themes and areas which need to be addressed. 

Of course, this is one route of discovery. Ultimately what we want to do here is gain insight from the teams about where the energy and resources go to begin the quarters culture experiment. You could do a survey, or use another diagnostic tool, but I would strongly suggest that whichever path you choose, you make team and people feedback the lynchpin of your strategy. Too often culture initiatives are disconnected from real team and culture needs and instead simply a top down agenda that is far removed from the realities of organisational life.

Things I wouldn’t do

Now I’ve shared my quick start guide to starting 2024, I want to share the things I wouldn’t do, but that we so often get caught up in because they’ve become habitual. 


Rigidly follow a year long strategy 

As I mentioned at the start, by all means you can create an annual strategy, but the tendency here is to become rigidly obsessed with it that it ends up doing us more harm than good. 

Instead, if we can come from a place of curiosity, and get into the habit of coming back to the strategy and questioning it, we can then become more agile and adaptive changes that happen internally and externally. 

Push an irrelevant culture initiative 

Whether it’s the latest HR fad or culture trend that’s going around, unfortunately culture shifts have become heavily influenced by social influence rather than what is truly needed. On the other end of the spectrum we have initiatives that come with a hidden agenda; these are often ideas that spring from the top which have no relevance to teams.

Ignore people and customers 

Perhaps I’m going over the top now on my mission to make people-centric cultures the norm, but we’ve seen countless bad examples of when businesses forget about their customers and their employees. We can’t ignore those who our service or product impacts, and it should be at the forefront of our minds. What we do internally, should without a doubt, benefit those who buy from us or use our services.

So, in a very quick one-pager, that’s the bare bones of what I’d be doing if I was an internal changemaker launching into 2024. It’s not rocket science, and it’s certainly not a one mix bake, but hopefully it gives you some inspiration and ideas to change the way you approach culture evolutions. We want to be learning from action, not stuck in a strategy, report stasis.


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.