Purpose, Principles, and Profit: A Q&A with New Navigate Partner Amy Marshall
February 15, 2024
February 15, 2024

What’s the key to implementing a strategy successfully?

According to Amy Marshall, organization and talent leader, business transformation specialist, and Navigate’s newest partner, strategy is often a matter of deciding not just what to do, but what not to do. The struggle that many organizations have in deciding on these tough tradeoffs is not necessarily due to lack of effort or capability, but often enhancements or changes needed to their organizational culture. This is not a purely HR activity or just about creating a great place to work, but core to strategy alignment and execution.

Amy has spent the bulk of her career immersed in cross-functional, project-based work, helping organizations navigate their most complex interdisciplinary challenges. Bridging the gap between strategy and culture is the overarching principle guiding Amy’s approach, whether she’s crafting strategic frameworks or coaching leaders and teams through disruptive change. While culture holds significant sway over strategy, the synergy between the two is essential for success.

We sat down with Amy to understand the importance of working across silos in organizational culture, effecting lasting change, and more.

You’ve worked with emerging startups, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. How does your experience spanning organizations of all shapes and sizes inform your approach to consulting? 

I focus on companies that have a degree of established history and are looking to embark on the next chapter, whether it’s rapid growth or pivoting long-standing ways of working. Finding solutions in this context requires creativity—in the past I had not viewed myself as a creative person, because creativity in our culture is often defined in terms of things like art or music. I’ve come to appreciate a broader definition of creativity, which can be crafting an outside-the-box solution or thinking about things in a different way. 

It’s why I excel at consulting and solving problems that require building frameworks from the ground up. I gravitate to opportunities where there’s a need to merge diverse ways of thinking and create customized, bespoke solutions. Navigate has a special sauce that can be hard to put into words, but you can definitely feel it in the people and the work. The team’s diverse backgrounds, natural curiosity, desire for impact, restlessness with unnecessary silos, and affinity for getting beneath the surface to the root of complex challenges truly propels us to be both strategic thinkers and practical implementers.

Can you walk us through your experience in environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) and how you’ve helped clients achieve their visions for sustainability?

Years ago, many firms viewed corporate social responsibility (CSR) primarily through the lens of philanthropy. Inspired by concepts of stakeholder and conscious capitalism, I wanted to explore it more deeply, focusing especially on employees and developing a framework I now call the “triple P”: purpose, principles, and profit. This framework asserts that being driven by purpose and adhering to core principles can lead to greater profitability. I realized I didn’t want to take just a CSR lens; I wanted to help build leaders of organizations with a purpose-driven ethos.

Following the pandemic and recent social justice movements, many companies are now engaging in sustainability reports and transparency efforts. I’ve assisted clients in setting up their initial ESG reporting tools and approaches. While more organizations are starting to have a Chief Sustainability Officer, often with varying backgrounds, ESG is still often fragmented within different parts of an organization and not yet embedded within a company’s core strategy. 

My perspective centers on building a culture of sustainability and the business idea that every role in every company should ultimately understand its impact on the planet and society. This isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s crucial for the survival and success of the business. Whether the entry point is through the head or the heart, there are dual benefits—these things are good for business and they are the right thing to do. However, considerable work remains to be done in establishing real accountability and ensuring a top-down approach to ESG integration throughout organizations. 

Are there any trends—in ESG, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), or business at large—that you find particularly exciting or challenging?

As a white woman with a multi-racial spouse and kids, I am aware of the privileges I benefit from, my blindspots needing education, and the hidden biases I battle. Many organizations set lofty aspirations, like 2030 goals, yet face the uphill battle of translating these ambitions into tangible achievements. The prevailing approach often involves incremental changes rather than embracing bigger, bolder shifts necessary for achieving ESG goals or reimagining outdated business models.

Organizations are up against a similar dilemma when faced with disruption. It’s crucial to address the hard questions head-on, particularly regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). While strides have been made in representation, focusing on equity in leadership positions is essential and representation is not enough to truly evolve traditionally homogeneous organizations and gain the full benefits of diversity. This means organizations need to be committed to introspection and addressing the challenges within their cultures.

Ultimately, you’ve got to bridge the gap between top-down understanding and the grassroots passion evident within organizations. While there is acknowledgment at the executive level of the imperative for change, aligning this with the groundswell of bottom-up initiatives requires a common language. It’s about navigating the divide and fostering communication that resonates with multiple perspectives. There is a need as well to sync up interdependent strategies and changes that are often managed disparately—the need for more agile ways of working and cross-functional teams, the expectations on ESG and DEI, the looming disruption of AI, the growing shift to skills-based vs. role-based career pathing, ongoing push for hybrid and remote work, and growing emphasis on employee well-being—need to be increasingly integrated into existing efforts of strategy, process design, performance management, and leadership development.

I’d also argue that culture plays an integral role in effecting change. This extends to the broader idea of bridging strategy and execution, too, with culture acting as a natural intermediary. To address cultural change, leaders need to candidly examine decision-making processes, power dynamics, and the incentives that promote or discourage experimentation (again, aligned to whatever the business strategy requires), aspects often overlooked in traditional discussions around workplace culture.

At Navigate, we frequently talk about bridging the gap between strategy and execution. As someone who’s been heavily involved in strategic planning processes, what do companies do well (and not so well) when it comes to strategy?

When I coach clients on constructive planning, I try to emphasize that strategy is just as much about what you’re going to do as what you’re not going to do. It’s important not to overcrowd your strategy with too many initiatives, attempting to be everything to everyone. But there are some trade-offs. Who are you not going to go after? What are we going to stop doing? In essence, who are we going to be?

Another crucial element is aligning organizational culture with the desired strategy. Cultivating the right culture requires behavioral shifts, whether big or small. Achieving a cultural shift means addressing behaviors, revisiting processes, and potentially updating policies to align with the envisioned culture. 

This is a large part of what Navigate’s organization and talent practice focuses on, and I look forward to helping clients evolve their approach to strategy and make those behavioral and cultural shifts for successful implementation.