One feature I’ve enjoyed at HRVision has been the spicing up of keynote sessions with challenging talks of a more TEDx nature, questioning some of the ethics and priorities of business. On the first morning we had Tim Macartney challenging legacy and on the second morning it was the turn of Unilever’s Geoff Macdonald to throw down the gauntlet on purpose and integrity.
It was a powerful, passionately delivered session in which he set out some thoughts for a kind of Capitalism 2.0. Some of the things he said:
- Let profit follow purpose
- There are too many strategies and not enough culture
- Don’t talk about consumers, talk about human beings
- Stop marketing to consumers and start mattering to people
- Put purpose at the heart of everything you do
There were two specific things he said that seemed to have a big impact on delegates. The first was about the Unilever Corporate Social Responsibility team, and how they had effectively closed it as a separate function to enable them to live CSR through their people and their brand, and everything they do – ‘It can’t be a department but must live through our products‘
The second was a call to HR professionals to stop obsessing on being business focused and to assume the role of Chief Integrity Officer for the business – ensuring they pursue purpose ahead of profit and don’t carry on doing business in the same way. “Create the culture that shifts behaviours” he said and channelled Drucker with “in a battle between culture and strategy there’s only one winner every time“.
Before Geoff we had the energetic and engaging Hollie Delaney from Zappos introducing the conference to their core values and culture. The three most popular takeaways were:
- Culture is everyone’s job
- If you trust your people to do the right thing then they will
- Organise the work not the people
Having culture as the cornerstone to recruitment, performance and hence hiring and firing may seem harsh, and might also raise questions over diversity, but it seemed to resonate well around the room.
The morning had opened with Gary Kildare, Global VP/CHRO from IBM. He told us that
- Engagement isn’t just about people inside your organisation but everyone you do business with
- There’s no ‘war’ between generations
- Hierarchy is dead
…and that senior leaders need to be open to change, good listeners, accept that there are other ways of doing things and to create opportunities for everyone in the organisation to achieve and develop their potential.
To some following from afar his observations may not come as news, but at events such as this it is usually the delivery, the energy and chemistry amongst attendees in the room, and the conversations and interactions that follow, that strengthens the message. To have the global CEO of a major business open the first day and a global VP the second, also strengthened the impact.
Overall the talk of integrity, purpose and belief in a better way of doing business, the strength of culture over strategy, and of building trust was an intoxicating brew for many. Taken together with yesterday’s session on legacy and sustainability, and linking it all with the power of social networks, we’ve been offered an interesting challenge and vision to take back to our businesses.