Jim Taylor Finding Impact

FIP 32: Designing an Organisation that People Love to Work For with Jim Taylor

Proximity Designs started in 2004 in Myanmar as a social enterprise focusing on the rural sector. Starting out with smallholder farmers, they first introduced a simple pump that dramatically improve water use and boosted productivity and incomes. They’ve since moved on to launching many products and services that can touch thousands of villages and millions of lives. Currently, their products are available to about 80% of the rural population with customers in over 10,000 villages.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Proximity Designs have structured their distribution network to reach millions of farmers in their villages.
  • Jim believes that the management and operational workforce needs to be made up by local staff otherwise you miss out the nuances and parts of the culture that are critical to serving customers.
  • Where skills are unavailable locally, Proximity Designs judiciously uses international experts to embed in the organisation and train staff, who will then do the training company wide.
  • They run an in-house training facility, called Proximity School, whose core course is difficult conversations. These are inevitable to any organisation, more so when the culture is about avoidance of confronting problems. The course aims to separate the emotion from the facts.
  • Proximity Designs teach staff using 10% classroom time, with the rest on the job learning, of which formal and informal feedback via managers is critical.
  • For example, frontline sales staff are trained in sales methodology, and their managers are trained in coaching. Managers ensure a structured conversation, called a “clear conversation”, on a regular basis, with their staff.
  • To attract great staff, they offer people the opportunity to find meaning and purpose in their work, and a great work culture that supports individual learning and development.
  • To keep a finger on the pulse of a large organisation, Jim stays in close contact with manager, plus they use an intranet to encourage discussion across all levels of the organisation.
  • Culture is paramount. If someone is a high achiever, but does not fit with the values, they’ll prefer to let them go than disrupt the culture.
  • One of Jim’s roles as CEO is to ensure people are engaged. Jim measures employee engagement to keep a track of the health of the company. It’s an intentional process, not just an email that goes to staff.
  • Results of employee engagement are published internally, and broken down by different department and location.
  • Jim talks about having learnt so much about organisations and their shortcomings before starting proximity designs, so recommends learning those failures early on in your career, if you intend to lead an organisation.
  • A story of failure Jim recounts, was about how the private sector started serving the rural energy sector much more efficiently than they could, so they exited that part of the company to focus their scarce talent and resources on other more important areas, like farm finance and advisory services. It was a difficult decision that paid off.


What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!


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