Colin Coulson-Thomas

Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas is an international authority on winning business, director, board and business development, corporate transformation and future organisation.....
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Developing Directors, Colin Coulson-Thomas
Developing Directors

Winning Companies; Winning People, Colin Coulson-Thomas
Winning Companies;
Winning People

New Titles

Transforming Knowledge Management, Colin Coulson-Thomas
Transforming Knowledge Management

Developing Directors, Colin Coulson-Thomas
Talent Management 2

Winning Companies; Winning People, Colin Coulson-Thomas
Transforming Public Services


Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas


Investigation shows how companies can boost innovation

Business leaders at global convention learn how to balance freedom and control

Prevailing practices, leadership styles and organisational structures are stifling people and inhibiting innovation according to Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas. Speaking in Dubai at the 25th World Congress on Leadership for Business Excellence and Innovation the author of Winning Companies; Winning People told business leaders that standard practices, norms and controls can result in risk aversion and a dull uniformity.

Coulson-Thomas believes that if companies are to become more entrepreneurial, innovative and sustainable business leaders need affordable and practical ways of balancing freedom and control. Rather than constrain people he reports that governance, risk and compliance frameworks can be designed to foster diversity and creativity and set people free to develop new solutions and additional options.

The professor has led an investigation covering over 2,000 companies and over 500 professional firms. The findings are set out in three reports Transforming Knowledge Management, Talent Management 2 and Transforming Public Services. They present a quicker, cheaper and less disruptive route to high performance organisations that can be adopted by businesses at different stages of development in many sectors.

Coulson-Thomas reports: “There is an affordable and practical approach to compliance that can lead to a more innovative and sustainable business. One can balance freedom and control across a company and its supply chain with existing people and without restructuring or a change of culture, in ways that benefit both people and organisations.”

The professor believes: “Creativity, innovation, diversity and freedom are interlinked. Most of us are born with an innate desire to reach out, explore and learn. We are individuals with the ability to experience and think for ourselves, but our evolutionary journey has also taught us the value of collaboration. Collaboration creates opportunities for exchange, co-creation and sharing.”

Rules, regulations and norms may be required for effective and fair interaction, and codes and guidelines can also provide helpful advice. However, Coulson-Thomas believes there are potential downsides: ”Prescription can inhibit free expression. Too much order can stifle creativity, hinder innovation and discourage exploration. Norms and approved approaches can also lead to intolerance, exclusion and hostility towards outsiders”.

In his 1992 books Transforming the Company and Creating the Global Company Coulson-Thomas called for more flexible and responsive organisations that can evolve organically. Networks of collaborations and portfolios of projects offer huge advantages. Yet bureaucratic and hierarchical models of organisation persist, despite huge improvements in affordable connectivity.

His 1997 book The Future of the Organisation set out essential freedoms for adaptation, creativity and innovation. They were designed to accommodate different approaches, capabilities and styles. He finds: “How, when, where and with whom we collaborate, co-create, work and learn can vary according to the particular project or task, the situation we are in or the relationships we require. Our preferences and choices can also reflect our roles, family commitments and lifestyle choices.”

Coulson-Thomas believes: “Freedoms appeal to those who wish to include, engage and liberate people. Yet rules, standard procedures and mandated practices often constrain. In some environments there is little experimentation. Exceptions are rare. Directors worry about risks, setting precedents, opening loop-holes or creating problems for processes and systems.

He continues: “Many younger, creative and entrepreneurial people that organisations need to retain, involve and engage long for greater control over their lives and more opportunity to express themselves. Predictability, prudence and responsible risk taking are desirable. Yet freedom can foster innovation, create new choices and tackle tricky problems.”

We cannot blame directors for being cautious. The professor points out: “They have onerous duties and responsibilities. Some people seek personal advantage and commit fraud. The challenge is to prevent the harm they cause without inhibiting the enthusiasm, commitment and creativity of those who want to contribute and innovate.”

Coulson-Thomas reports: “It is possible to build checks into performance support frameworks and tools without incurring the excessive costs and unreasonable delays of some approaches to compliance. People can be liberated to develop new approaches, responses and solutions while avoiding commercial risks, regulatory breaches, quality issues and legal problems. Responses can be tailored to the needs of individual customers, citizens and clients.”

He continues: “Contemporary connectivity and social networking across a community can allow continually updated and personalised support to be provided on a 24/7 basis, wherever people are, including when they are on the move. Users can free to pioneer, investigate new possibilities and explore alternatives, while those in leadership roles can be confident they have taken evidenced steps to ensure compliance with legal obligations and corporate policies.

Coulson-Thomas stresses: “There is no point just speaking about the desirability of innovation. People need to be helped and equipped to make it happen.” The new leadership advocated in the professor's reports goes beyond rhetoric and the formulation of policy. It embraces the reality of implementation and switches the emphasis from monitoring people to helping and supporting them.

Performance support solutions have transformed results and simultaneously delivered multiple benefits in many areas in a variety of sectors and across supply chains. By supplying tools that make people aware of the consequences of their buying decisions and lifestyle choices pioneer adopters have both gained market share and enabled more responsible and sustainable consumption.

Social networking can enable support provided to be critiqued. Instant updating can enable information and assistance to remain relevant and current. Early adopters have reacted quickly to marketplace, technological and other developments, challenges and opportunities. Solutions can be quickly rolled out across a global network. In the afternoon people can deploy responses to problems or requirements they did not know existed when they had breakfast that morning.

Coulson-Thomas emphasises that “Speed, focus, relevance and affordability are key requirements for contemporary business success. Companies of all sizes can embrace, retain and fulfil customers and other stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds, locations and cultures. They can become living entities and adapt, develop and evolve organically as required. Diversity and creativity can be accommodated. We can set people free while respecting their differences and ensuring compliance. In summary, one can be entrepreneurial, innovative and responsible.”

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas was speaking on balancing freedom and control at the Dubai Global Convention and 25th World Congress on Leadership for Business Excellence and Innovation which was held in the Ballroom of The Meydan Hotel, Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, UAE. He holds a portfolio of board, public and academic appointments and has helped companies in over 40 countries to transform director, board and corporate performance and to responsibly innovate. He can be contacted via The findings of his recent investigations into quicker, more affordable and less disruptive ways of transforming performance and simultaneously delivering multiple benefits for both people and organisations are summarised in three reports: Talent Management 2, Transforming Public Services and Transforming Knowledge Management. They set out the change of emphasis and new leadership required and can be obtained from

23 Apr 2015
Colin Coulson-Thomas


Tel: +44 (0)1733 361 149 | Email: ku.oc.ilacsit@tcniloc