Future Focused by Rose Gailey Book Summary

Future Focused, Shape Your Culture. Shape Your Future by Rose Gailey and Ian Johnston


Culture helps determine performance, so maintaining a robust corporate culture is vital – a huge challenge in this volatile era with many employees still working from home. Leaders must make sure remote employees are still “living, breathing and experiencing” their company’s culture. Authors Rose Gailey and Ian Johnston tell readers why creating a “future-focused culture” will help their organizations thrive. Writing for senior leaders who are responsible for shaping their organization’s culture, they offer sound strategies for shaping, accomplishing and maintaining your cultural outreach.


  • The COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptions demand inspired leaders and new approaches to corporate culture.
  • Remote work is the new normal. 
  • Managing today means establishing smart policies and procedures.
  • Apply four guiding principles to shape your corporate culture strategy.
  • 1. Clarify and communicate your organization’s purpose and values.
  • 2. Realize that meeting new demands often requires personal change.
  • 3. Engage all your employees.
  • 4. In tough times, a firm’s moving parts can slip out of alignment; leaders must realign them.
  • Undertake six actions to deal with today’s fragmented corporate environment.
  • Survey your company to determine your employees’ attitudes.
  • “Weatherproof” your organization to focus it on the future.
Future Focused Book Cover

Future Focused Book Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptions demand inspired leaders and new approaches to corporate culture.

The pandemic forever changed organizational life, operations and culture. Now, executives face an array of unknown unknowns that no operations manual or business book can solve. The solution available in these trying circumstances is straightforward: inclusion, in your leadership and in your culture. Most firms have come to understand the value of connecting all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers and related community members – to their mission and values. 

“I’ve become convinced that culture is the most important predictor of where a company is going.” (author Malcolm Gladwell)

In today’s business environment, senior executives may no longer spend much time physically present with their staff, merchandise or clients. That means CEOs must become leaders who shift their focus to organizational culture and work to align it with their ongoing financial performance.

Clearly, firms can achieve impressive financial dividends when their senior managers tightly focus on linking organizational culture and purpose with performance. Research indicates that internally aligned companies earn double the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over a three-year period as organizations that can’t mesh their culture with their financial performance.

Culture is not a program or an initiative – it’s a drumbeat that pervades, inspires and unites an organization. Employees in a strong culture prove more resilient, loyal, engaged and inclusive. They trust their leaders and embrace their organization’s purpose. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies shifted their emphasis from traditional shareholder capitalism toward more enlightened stakeholder capitalism. Among other things, this means leaders prioritize employee well-being and pay more attention to it than ever in the past. The pandemic accelerated this humane, empathetic tendency, which will generate further deep realignment between executives, employees, organizational culture and organizational mission in the future.

Remote work is the new normal. 

Due to COVID-19, an increasing number of employees work from home, most with corporate support. As this trend strengthens, companies are cutting back on office space, another shift driving a pronounced reshaping of organizational culture. Corporate offices have become flexible hubs for scattered members of a company’s workforce.

This fuels significant changes in the nature of work. Today, former office workers watch during onscreen meetings as their colleagues’ spouses, children and pets wander into at-home workspaces, often adding a dollop of warmth to otherwise bloodless business communication.

“Culture becomes real and meaningful to employees across the organization when action and commitment are visible and authentic.”

This new, thoroughly human experience increases connection and trust among remote colleagues. They develop greater mutual understanding and become more adaptive and resilient. Like their employees, CEOs now understand that their firms must become flexible enough to keep today’s dramatic changes from swamping their organization and its culture.

Managing today means establishing smart policies and procedures.

None of the radical changes in the business world today come easily or without costs for organizations and leaders. One cost is fatigue; many modern leaders are increasingly weary of trying to keep their companies current in the “new now.”

Today, many executives strive to return to normal, but the business world they and their employees want to return to no longer exists and will not come back.

Apply four guiding principles to shape your corporate culture strategy.

So, where does this leave business leaders? What do they need now that they didn’t require earlier? In the face of uncertainty, they need to be clear and steady. In the face of disruption, they need viable ways to connect with their employees. In the face of work life and home life entwining, they need wise policies that support remote employees who often work in isolation.

“Culture must be systemically ‘hardwired’ into the fabric of the organization’s HR systems, quality and operational excellence initiatives and employee and customer experience to be sustainable.”

Leaders can follow four principles to create a business and cultural road map that can help them move ahead and act wisely in confusing times. The core principles of culture-shaping are:

1. Clarify and communicate your organization’s purpose and values.

Your responsibility as a leader is to define and reinforce the purpose and values of your organization. To do that, you need to focus, stay disciplined and practice intentionality. Assess your organization’s current state of affairs. Determine how things are different post-COVID-19, and try to anticipate how things will continue to change. What new approaches to work, and what new mind-sets and behaviors will the months and years ahead demand?

“Leaders now understand their cultures in the context of having emerged from a period of unprecedented change and needing to continue to adapt and reshape in order to thrive.”

Strive to connect the purpose of your organization to each employee’s individual purpose. Make this combined overall purpose the ultimate cohesive dynamic powering your organization’s remote or hybrid meetings. Determine the additional practices and policies you can devise to align and connect all of your executives and employees.

2. Realize that meeting new demands often requires personal change.

Values sustain people through large and small challenges, so as a leader you must recommit yourself to your core values. For many people, recommitting to their values calls for personal change or growth.

“Given the pace of disruption today, leaders need frequent updates on how their organization is performing and feeling, whether they are just embarking on a culture journey or are far along the path to a self-sustaining culture.”

This development requires nurturing a growth mind-set and becoming an inspirational role model for your employees. This doesn’t mean leaders should try to assume the role of all-knowing, all-capable and all-versatile super bosses who never make mistakes. No one is perfect. Humble leaders nurture their employees.

3. Engage with all your employees.

Your employees depend on you for relevant, meaningful, just-in-time information about the company, its plans and its market position. In this context, communicating effectively requires your full engagement.

“Given all the fundamental changes facing organizations today and the rapid pace of those changes, there is evermore agreement among leaders that purpose-driven, future-focused cultures are at the core of thriving organizations.”

A shared corporate culture is your communication lifeline. Be crystal clear and authentic in your communication with your workforce. Deploy the most advanced technology to disseminate your messages broadly and effectively.

4. In tough times, a firm’s moving parts can slip out of alignment; leaders must realign them.

Every organization has numerous moving parts that can fall out of alignment – particularly during times of change, such as the pandemic and other disruptions. Help reorganize these moving parts so they mesh together.

“We all need to be ready to make tough decisions, pivot quickly and act decisively – in other words, to be agile. Agility is essential both to manage the immediate priorities of today and to remain future-focused.”

Don’t expect that achieving this alignment will be easy. Among other things, it may involve working with your employees to redesign previous work processes and communication methods as well as instituting new practices and procedures so they can thrive amid disruptive challenges.

Undertake six actions to deal with today’s fragmented corporate environment.

This hectic, shifting and confusing world requires enlightened leadership. Take six essential leadership actions to keep your organization on a sensible path:

  1. “Look forward” – Address the future; don’t attempt to retreat to the past. Strive for success in today’s world, not the one you remember. 
  2. “Be open and transparent” – Your transparency and unfettered communication support your organization’s purpose and values. Ask for fearless objective input from all those around you, including your colleagues, employees, suppliers and other relevant stakeholders. Listen attentively and respectfully to all points of view. Share your perspective. Never be afraid to exhibit vulnerability.
  3. “Celebrate milestones”  Look for meaningful, relatable progress to celebrate throughout your organization to reinforce its culture.
  4. Don’t talk to your executives and employees about “returning to work” – Instead, organize discussions to incorporate such phrases as, “the future of our work.” This lets people know they must look to the future and not expect some magical return to the past. As a future-focused firm, you must exploit the latest technological advances. Only a few years ago, remote meeting participants could seem disembodied, almost spectral. With today’s advanced communication technologies, ghost-like voices sputtering out of desktop speakers are a phenomenon of the past. Keep your firm up-to-date with technology, especially the machines and systems that enable emotionally connected remote communications. 
  5. Promote various future-of-work strategies to differentiate your company – Even if your competitors are stuck in the past, move ahead. Consider creative collaborations. Incorporate thoughtful teamwork to foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie among remote workers.
  6. Develop enlightened “policies, practices and patterns” – Plan meetings to promote meaningful interactions among remote colleagues.

Survey your company to learn your employees’ attitudes.

Periodically commission detailed surveys of your company’s “digital pulse.” Ask employees how they perceive their new environment, whether internal or external. Are they accepting or rejecting change?

“An inspiring and engaging employee experience leads to a successful customer experience.”

Sometimes, the best thing a leader can do is to hold a giant mirror up to an organization to ascertain objectively what works and what doesn’t work. Are the new employee time arrangements satisfactory? Do your corporate themes and guiding principles and policies still make sense? What needs strengthening? What must you discard? Periodic surveys provide reliable answers to these and other revealing and important questions.

“Weatherproof” your organization to focus it on the future.

Having a well-defined purpose weatherproofs your corporate culture and enables your company to adapt to a variety of challenges with agility. Amid the post-COVID-19 tumult, these capabilities are even more valuable.

“Determining a culture baseline, grounded in data and research, is foundational to setting the road map for a culture-shaping journey.”

No CEO can deliver the ideal corporate culture alone. That has always been a job for the CEO in tandem with others: his or her executive colleagues, the organization’s relevant “culture carriers” and, eventually, the workforce as a whole. However, the CEO plays a critical role as a “culture-accelerator.”

To help shape the most robust corporate culture, the CEO should organize a leadership team representing the executive suite, culture leaders and up-and-coming leaders with high potential. Convene a group that can take concerted action to focus your culture on the future, emphasizing high performance now and in the years to come. 

“The future can consume the present.”

If you are your company’s primary future-focused leader, try to stay aware of what’s happening in every area, be mindful of possible future challenges and changes, prepare for the unexpected and to do your best to steer your organization through inevitable uncertainty with a steady hand.

About the Authors

Rose Gailey

Rose Gailey leads the Organization Acceleration and Culture Shaping Center of Excellence within Heidrick Consulting, part of Heidrick & Struggles. Ian Johnston is a partner in the firm’s London office and a member of its global leadership team.