Leadership? It’s followship we should be worried about

At a recent HR Conference, attended by HRDs from some of the largest organisations on the planet, there appeared to be only two topics of conversation over the canapes and warm pinot grigio. Leadership and Engagement.

It’s instructive for non HR types to attend these things. HR holds up a mirror to how we, as business leaders, are thinking about our people. And we clearly have some re-thinking to do.

Everyone recognises that employee engagement is the absolute key to higher productivity, efficiency, agility and financial performance. And this is seen as a “Leadership Challenge”. In other words, it’s a top-down issue. The thinking goes, ‘if only we had leaders who could engage, who had better EQ or better communication skills the issue would be solved’.

But what if this isn’t a top-down problem at all? What if it isn’t really an absence of leadership but an absence of followship?

Whilst EQ, compassion and communication are really important skills for the leader, of equal importance are the beliefs, feelings and behaviours of the followers.

And whilst leadership is complex and nuanced, there are only really three key elements to making followship easier.

the best managers figure out how to get great outcome by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people” Reed Hastings

Firstly, there needs to be absolute clarity of purpose – shared in such a way that it is relevant and motivating to everyone.  Put simply, why is this thing, whatever it is, needed, and why does this matter to me?  This sounds screamingly obvious but, in most large organisations, clarity of ‘why’ is a rare commodity. Senior management often describe any initiative in ambiguous and often unaligned terms. They rarely communicate purpose. They rarely define context. Yet, to quote Reed Hastings of Netflix “the best managers figure out how to get great outcome by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people”.

Clarity and congruence of purpose creates engagement. If messages are muddled or mundane it’s hard to engage as a follower. It’s a big reason that initiatives don’t gain the traction.

Ownership is the source of engagement. It’s actually how most good entrepreneurial businesses do it.

Secondly, ownership must not exclusively rest with the senior team.  Most companies develop initiatives in the senior echelons of the business then launch them on an unsuspecting workforce. There is then a natural pushback. The human reaction is to resist change of any kind. Employees therefore concentrate on why the initiative won’t work. This is a huge waste of time and energy dissipated in negativity and water-cooler dissent.

In order to facilitate a sense of ownership, leaders must instead structure, and allow time for, a process of early involvement from people right down the business before a “launch” is contemplated. Creating a process that is iterative rather than directive creates a sense of ownership. And ownership is the source of engagement. It’s actually how most good entrepreneurial businesses do it.

The value and knowledge in the business sits at the grass roots. And yet we expect all the solutions to come from the top.

So, how many people need to be involved? To achieve absolute buy-in and unstoppable change 15% of people need to feel some degree of ownership through involvement in the creative process. It’s a big change in approach for most large organisations. But the benefits don’t end with the achievement of passionate engagement and adoption of your initiative. You’ll also get a far better solution as pitfalls are ironed out as the initiative develops. As one CEO remarked recently ‘I am always aware that in every meeting I attend I am always the least informed person in the room. And it is the same with all my department heads in their meetings. The value and knowledge in the business sits at the grass roots. And yet we expect all the solutions to come from the top.”

Thirdly, trust is absolutely key to followship. It’s a simple truth that people will not follow where they do not trust or, crucially, feel trusted.

According to neuroeconomist Paul Zak “building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance”. And he provides plenty of evidence that “people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout”.

According to PwC, 55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.

So, how to build trust in a large and complex organisation? The answer is that eventually everyone in the organisation needs to be involved in developing a new way of behaving. Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn talks about the necessity of a whole organisation learning the skills of compassionate management.

Trust is actually the most contagious of viruses

In a large organisation this sounds terrifyingly onerous. But trust is actually the most contagious of viruses.   Most businesses, like LinkedIn, have found that you start with a discrete and manageable group and through a process of engagement, education and coaching transform their beliefs and behaviours.  With consistency and support, the trust bug spreads and once 15% of people in the organisation are working with compassion the change is unstoppable,

In his book ‘Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies’. Paul Zak identifies eight factors that build a high trust environment which can be summarised as: offering frequent praise and recognition; setting clear expectations and holding everyone to account on these; allowing maximum autonomy and encouraging self-management; being open with information; demonstrating care and investing in personal and professional growth; and encouraging complete authenticity.

For followship to take root, organisations need to fundamentally rethink their whole top-down, command and control methodology and instead build an organisational culture based on ownership and trust and with a clear and agreed purpose providing clarity ad context.

The simplest and most entertaining representation of how followship works in any human community, and the dramatic and unstoppable impact of getting this right, is best understood by googling ‘shirtless dancing guy’ (do it now if you are not one of the 4,500,000 to have already done so).

The skills of leadership are critical in today’s complex and ambiguous business world. But it is not enough. To create real engagement, agility and velocity right across the organisation it’s time we thought much more about the skills of followship.

If you want to know more about followship and a new approach to business agility you might enjoy this film from TheEthWord. Or do get in touch jrosling@contexis.com @jrosling.

The trust dividend – how to build trust in a VUCA world

Building high trust cultures is a key concern for most organisations in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world.  Trust has shot up the CEO agenda in the last 12 months, as reported by the PwC CEO Survey; in the recent 2017 poll 58% of CEOs believe a lack of trust will damage their business.

58% of CEOs believe a lack of trust will damage their business

The impact of a high trust environment has been widely demonstrated on a range of business drivers from staff motivation, discretionary effort, innovation, engagement and retention. The 2016 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list measure a staff turnover rate half that of industry peers.

We are also familiar with what happens when a culture lacks trust.  Gallup recently reported that 70% of Americans actually hate their job. Only 8% of employees feel their job enhances their wellbeing.  It’s easy to imagine the impact on productivity if that statistic could be turned around.

The question is how to create this environment of trust at work? There is an enormous body of research and many methodologies seeking to address the challenge. Stephen Karpman’s seminal 1968 work on Transactional Analysis stands out in this field.

Only 8% of employees feel their job enhances their wellbeing.

Karpman’s contention is that, in the absence of a trusting environment, most of us will automatically react to life in what he refers to as ‘victimhood’. And this reaction is damaging to our wellbeing and mental health, our relationships, and our creativity and productivity.

Karpman describes this dynamic in his ‘Drama Triangle’ Model. Every dysfunctional interaction takes place on this Triangle between one of three roles: Persecutor, Rescuer and a Victim. Karpman described these as the three aspects of victimhood. Each person has a primary or most familiar role, based largely on unconscious core fears and beliefs acquired in childhood; the fear of rejection and the belief that we are not good enough in the eyes of our parents or peers. 

  • Rescuers resolve those fears by seeing themselves as helpers.  They hold unconscious beliefs that they are valuable because of their support for others. Seeing their actions as helping or protecting others, the Rescuer can tend towards control and can be manipulative but their motivation is actually to defend their self-worth. Rescuing is an addiction that comes from a need to feel valued. Their reward is to feel good about themselves. Their greatest fear is that they are not needed.
  • Persecutors repress these deep-seated fears and feelings of worthlessness behind a facade of anger or detachment. They can intimidate others to feel powerful and in control. Persecutors must always be right. Because they deny their own inadequacy and vulnerability, they will need someone to blame. They need a victim. Their reward is to deflect blame away from themselves and to feel strong and secure. Their greatest fear is powerlessness.
  • Victims respond to their subconscious sense of inadequacy by allowing themselves to believe that they are powerless and by reassuring themselves that they are therefore absolved of blame. Victims are open to both persecution and rescue by others and, at extremes, are open to self-abuse, addictions and mental illness. Their reward is to receive attention from others and absolve themselves of blame. Their greatest fear is that nobody cares.

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 13.09.46

In the Karpman triangle, people’s responses are based on fear. Fear that exists in the absence of trust. Any position taken on the Triangle requires someone else to react by adopting an opposing role. This leads to dysfunctional relationships, a loss of empowerment, creativity, discretionary effort and fun.

Fear exists in the absence of trust.

You will see this played out in your own teams. Under pressure, an individual will communicate to a colleague in a way we have come to accept as normal in a business environment along the lines of ‘I can’t believe you haven’t finished that report yet’ or ‘how many times do I have to explain this’. This aggression, however, is essentially masking his own sense of inadequacy with a verbal assault. His team-mate will react as a victim, blaming other parts of the business (‘I’m a victim of forces out of my control’) or trying to shame the persecutor by complaining about how much pressure they are under. Someone else in the organisation will inevitably step in to rescue the victim. This may result in the original team member persecuting the rescuer (‘I can’t believe you always take her side’) or, now feeling persecuted themselves, adopting a new tactic of victimhood of their own (‘don’t gang up on me, I’m just trying to get a job done here’). And round the Triangle we go.

This is both destructive to relationships and a huge waste of energy dispersed in endless conflict instead of being directed towards a common goal. It can be so ingrained in our cultures we scarcely notice the damage. So much modern management is built on either controlling or ‘supporting’ employees; in other words, in persecuting or rescuing them. In either case we remove their autonomy and ability for self responsibility. The subconscious response is for people to react in victimhood – blame, internal bitching and jobsworthiness – which results in unhappy and unproductive cultures.

This is so much a natural part of our psychology that we don’t even need another person involved to operate in the victim triangle. We are perfectly capable of doing it on our own. We can move around the triangle in our own heads as we do in external relationships.  We criticise ourselves for being not as clever, or slim, or well-paid as someone else. When the criticism gets too painful we luxuriate in the story we tell ourselves that it’s not our fault, it’s not fair; it’s the economy, or our employer, or our genes; and we rescue ourselves by justifying, minimizing or engineering some form of escape.  

And where the damage can be greatest is with our closest relationships. It’s true to say most couples and families expend an enormous amount of energy, and generate a significant amount of pain playing the victim triangle. Just consider how often you’ve heard or said the words ‘you always..’, ‘why haven’t you..’, ‘don’t blame me..’, ‘it’s not my fault’. It’s uncomfortable to reflect on how often we play victim and force our partners to play persecutor. Or how often we rescue our children in the mistaken belief that our job as protector is to make their life easy.

But there is another way. And that is to recognise our behaviours and reactions for what they are and to take responsibility for the choice of how we respond. We have the choice to move away from the victim ‘Reactor’ paradigm of behaviour, driven on our fears and old beliefs, and towards a Creator paradigm based on trust. What bridges these two worlds is self-responsibility; the ability to take genuine responsibility for our feelings and actions.

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 13.11.25

In our observations of high velocity and entrepreneurial cultures we see that the combination of alignment and high levels of trust create cultures that are creative rather than reactive. What makes the difference in entrepreneurial cultures is the demand for, and willingness of people to accept, true responsibility, and the willingness of the culture to embrace mistakes as a learning and not to disempower people through fear, blame and control.

What makes the difference in entrepreneurial cultures is the demand for, and willingness of people to accept, true responsibility

To make this choice, to become more entrepreneurial, we must become our own internal ‘coach’ and to train ourselves to notice our conversations and our reactions, especially those that make us feel wary or uncertain at work or at home.  

For a Rescuer to maintain the illusion of being needed there must be a victim. To feel better about themselves, the Rescuer creates dependency of colleagues, friends or family. To move towards the Creator world, those with a tendency to rescue must accept that authentic helpers act without expectation. They empower rather than disable. They encourage self-responsibility rather than promote dependency. They believe that everyone has the right to make mistakes and learn.

It can feel very threatening for someone stuck in the role of Persecutor to be honest with themselves and acknowledge that their behaviour is sourced in their fear or sense of inadequacy. It requires them to give up the easy option of feeling angry with others to mask their own fears. In the same way that the dependency of others can be an addiction that energises a rescuer, anger can act as a fuel for persecutors. It is a drug that can be hard to give up. But without accepting genuine responsibility and acknowledging the true causes of our behaviour, a persecutor cannot cross the bridge into a creator paradigm.

In order for a Victim to get off the triangle, they must acknowledge and understand that they are choosing to be dependent on others or simply on an interpretation of circumstances. Those who play a Victim role must learn to assume responsibility for themselves rather than seek to blame circumstances or look for someone to rescue them. It’s important to focus on what you can control and not blame what you can’t. How often do we blame the traffic for being late rather than acknowledge that we didn’t allow enough time? How often do we blame a meeting over-running for our lateness rather than accept our responsibility for choosing to stay at the meeting?  By blaming others, the victim disempowers himself by pretending he has no responsibility, whereas he could have the courage to politely leave an overrunning meeting or choose to stay and have the honesty to subsequently explain this choice to those he will be late to meet. By acknowledging that you have a choice, you stop the cycle of victimhood.

Whenever we fail to take responsibility for ourselves, we end up on the triangle, we are unconsciously choosing to react as a victim. To quote Lynne Forrest in her article The Three Faces of Victimas long as we chase ourselves and others around the triangle, we relegate ourselves to living in reaction rather than creation. Instead of living spontaneously and free through self-responsibility and personal choice, we settle into dull and painful lives ruled by the agendas of others and our own unconscious beliefs”.

Changing this is a gradual process; behaviours take time to change. Trust takes time to build. To quote Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn “Trust equals consistency over time. There’s no shortcut for either.”

“Trust equals consistency over time. There’s no shortcut for either.” Jeff Weiner

It takes a lot of practice and some patience. You may want to create some strategies as a team to help each other in gradually crossing the bridge to a Creator world. One major global financial institution we are working with has adopted the phrase “I just feel like saying..” before individuals embark on any conversation with colleagues that might normally – in a fear-driven, reactive world – create a victim or persecutor response. Those words are code for ‘what I am about to say is without blame or judgement and does not undermine the central trust in our relationship’.

It’s also a choice. You may conclude that you and your team will be happier, healthier and more productive in a more self-responsible, Creator world. But, inevitably, some situations will drag you back to Reactor. In some situations you may even achieve more of what you need in that old world. Just observe what happened and why, how you behaved and what reaction it created and choose again next time. When you don’t feel good about how you have behaved with a colleague, ask yourself what position you took and the reaction you caused and learn from this.

Remember, how others see us is not what we should focus on. How we see ourselves is what creates change. With awareness it’s amazing how quickly you see victim behaviour all over the place. But you can’t force others to comply, even with a Creator world, without yourself being a persecutor. You can only take responsibility for your own actions. As Ghandi said ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.

Ultimately, this is a choice. For most of us we interact with others through old, unconsciously held and limiting beliefs of our own inadequacy. These core beliefs combine into the stories we tell ourselves. Trust and openness that are the core of all great teams requires vulnerability and honesty. Believing at heart that we are unlovable or defective makes it impossible to reveal ourselves, impossible to build trust-based and productive cultures at work or at home.

We are not victims unless we choose to be so.  As we liberate ourselves through self-responsibility and trust, we transform our lives – and the organisations we spend our time within.

A high trust culture is critical to building the adaptable, innovative and entrepreneurial teams  and businesses that will prosper in a volatile and ambiguous world. Trust engages and emboldens talent, fosters ideas and innovation and attracts customers. And trust starts with the individual and their willingness to take responsibility.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

How entrepreneurs manage when they don’t even know what the question is

What drives agility in large, complex organisations?  Most have spent a great deal of time, trouble and money creating and communicating a clear Purpose. And most are finding it’s making no difference to the behaviours in the organisation. There is a gap between the purpose at Board level and the experience of employees and customers.

Entrepreneurially-minded organisations achieve agility not by having a purpose but what they do with it.  These agile and entrepreneurially-minded businesses exhibit a clearly defined set of drivers within their cultures that are the secret to bridging the Purpose Gap.

The first two of these, TRUST and OWNERSHIP  have been discussed in previous articles.  The final driver of entrepreneurially-minded businesses is the skillset of managing in CONTEXT.

“High performance people do better work if they understand the context…the best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people”.

Reed Hastings, Netflix

Whilst trust drives a culture of agility, and ownership drives behaviours of engagement and autonomy, the ability to manage in context defines how effectively and efficiently management behaves. In my previous article I suggested that ‘with consistent and effective management the transition from control to self-responsibility will be a natural process and the behaviours of engagement, autonomy and shared commitment will emerge”. The question now is what the source of that effective entrepreneurially-minded management actually is.

Entrepreneurial management has long been adept at navigating a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world.

The answer lies in developing in the management community the awareness and skills of contextual management. In a world of increasing complexity and speed, if management at every level learns the skills to be able to use ‘context’ and not ‘content’ to make decisions it greatly speeds up the decision-making process and allows for clear-headed management, able to communicate decisions clearly to others. Much has been written recently about the business environment becoming volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Increasingly, people are required to manage in an environment where not only are the answers not clear but even the questions are not easily understood.

This requires a significant amount of adaptability; and that is something that entrepreneurial management is all too familiar with. Whether because of the speed of development, newness of the market or paucity of resources, entrepreneurial management has long been adept at navigating a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world.

The key skill entrepreneurial management demonstrates is the ability to make decisions contextually to create clarity and direction, ‘keeping the main thing the main thing’,  rather than getting bogged down in the content. And this is a skill that can be taught.

Reed Hastings at Netflix is a passionate proponent of contextual management as the only way to motivate and retain talented people and maintain the velocity and agility required to keep up the pace of growth Netfix has experienced. “High performance people do better work if they understand the context” he says and adds “the best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people”.

Contexis Purpose Gap_v3_5

Where management uses a clearly articulated purpose as the context for key decisions, within an environment of trust, and where the whole team is willing to take responsibility, it creates real clarity of thinking and far greater adaptability in management.

An understanding of context allows management to pivot and creates the kind of ‘speed with direction’ or velocity typical in entrepreneurial management teams. Referencing to purpose creates flexibility in a dynamic and changing world.

Put simply, contextual management is agile management equipped to deal with a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world.


You might also be interested in these articles:

‘Most big companies won’t have the velocity to see out the decade’. Survival tips from the ones wearing the running shoes.

Purpose transforms performance. But if you can’t measure it how can you implement it?

How one bank is creating radically different relationships with the small business market by teaching their relationship managers to understand the mind of the entrepreneur.


Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

The entrepreneurial idea that management theory and practice has just spent a generation trying to suppress

Entrepreneurially-minded organisations achieve agility not by having a purpose but what they do with it. These agile and entrepreneurially-minded businesses display a clearly defined set of drivers within their cultures that are the secret to bridging the Purpose Gap and making purpose work in an organisation.

“trust equals consistency over time. There’s no shortcut for either”.  Jeff Weiner

Contexis Purpose Gap_v3_4The first major difference in these organisations is a strong cultural assumption of TRUST. These cultures tend to be open, compassionate and creative rather than inward looking, fearful and controlling.  Purpose is able to live in the organisation and create value and impact because people implicitly trust in its authenticity.

In more traditional cultures based on control, people are instinctively distrustful of the purpose and hence it has no power to change things for the better. We once interviewed, across global markets, 600 middle Managers of a global Bank whose CEO had created and communicated a compelling and authentic purpose, strongly supported by the Board. Yet, the percentage of Managers who identified with or even believed the purpose was in low single digits.

What drives trust, allows purpose to thrive and transforms cultures is a marked difference in the organisation’s approach to people. Whilst it’s not always perfect, people tend to feel valued and trusted because management from the top to bottom is encouraged and supported to consistently act and behave differently. This is about managing compassionately, using a specific skillset that gives managers the knowledge and confidence to understand another’s point of view and take more time to listen and understand.

Trust allows people absolute confidence in their expectations of how they will be treated which means everyone’s energy is focused on making good things happen in the company rather than on protecting their own positions. People feel confident to try new things and go the extra mile which makes these cultures open and creative outwardly-facing. People strive for self improvement and mastery because the default setting tends towards learning before blame.

Compassion isn’t simple empathy; it requires action and gets results.

There is nothing soft or altruistic about this. Compassionate management isn’t simple empathy; it requires action and gets results. It is about creating exceptional productivity and efficiency. It is about building agile, responsive and highly effective cultures.

These cultures do not happen by accident but as the result of a conscious choice to manage people differently. It is also not an instant fix. As Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, who has consistently built a culture based on compassionate management, says  “trust equals consistency over time. There’s no shortcut for either”.

To create a culture built on trust requires a conscious and courageous choice for senior management, backed up by consistent and sustained focus. In our experience, an entire culture can be transformed only when enough people are working, thinking and feeling differently to reach a tipping point. As a rule of thumb, 15% of the organisation’s management at every level must develop a fundamentally new way of thinking for change to become permanent and self-sustaining.

As Jeff Weiner says “compassion can be taught” by which I think he means the techniques and methodologies can be taught. Compassion is a core part of the human condition. Management theory and practice has just spent a generation trying to suppress it.

Perhaps it’s time to release people’s natural compassion in the workplace. As Linkedin has discovered, the rewards of creating Cultural Agility in terms of building cultures that are innovative, open and always learning can be extraordinary.

To find out about the other key drivers of entrepreneurial agility in large organisations, read here and here.

You may also enjoy these articles:

‘Most big companies won’t have the velocity to see out the decade’. Survival tips from the ones wearing the running shoes.

How thinking like an entrepreneur could make corporate organisations 26% more productive

Purpose transforms performance.  But if you can’t measure it how can you implement it?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The Neuroscience of Trust

We’re big on trust here.  We believe it is one of the fundamental ways for an organisation to bridge the gap between its Purpose, as articulated by the board, and everyday reality for its people.  You can read more about our experience of how fast growth businesses use trust to help bridge that gap , about how entrepreneurial organisations harness trust and about the crisis of trust between big and small businesses.

[pullquote]55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation’s growth[/pullquote]There is a lot of data that validates the importance of trust in an organisation. Employees in high-trust organisations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.

Yet organisations frequently approach the development of their culture in an ad hoc way, and do not focus on the behaviours that help to build a high trust culture.

[pullquote]Ultimately, you cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and getting out of their way.[/pullquote]Paul J Zak has been researching the relationship between trust and economic performance since 2001, both mathematically and behaviourally, and his latest article for HBR summarises the last ten years of neurological research as well as identifying eight management behaviours that build trust.  The full article is well worth a read and there is a summary of the behaviours below.

Recognise excellence.

The neuroscience shows that recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public. Public recognition not only uses the power of the crowd to celebrate successes, but also inspires others to aim for excellence. And it gives top performers a forum for sharing best practices, so others can learn from them.

Induce “challenge stress.”

When a manager assigns a team a difficult but achievable job, the moderate stress of the task releases neurochemicals that intensify people’s focus and strengthen social connections. When team members need to work together to reach a goal, brain activity coordinates their behaviors efficiently. Conversely, vague or impossible goals cause people to give up before they even start.

Give people discretion in how they do their work.

Once employees have been trained, allow them, whenever possible, to manage people and execute projects in their own way. Being trusted to figure things out is a big motivator. Autonomy also promotes innovation, because different people try different approaches.  (Read our article on how a sense of ownership, which has nothing to do with stocks and shares, drives performance)

Enable job crafting.

When companies trust employees to choose which projects they’ll work on, people focus their energies on what they care about most and take accountability for the outcomes.

Share information broadly.

Uncertainty about the company’s direction leads to chronic stress, which inhibits the release of oxytocin and undermines teamwork. Openness is the antidote. Organisations that share their “flight plans” with employees reduce uncertainty about where they are headed and why.

Intentionally build relationships.

The brain network that oxytocin activates is evolutionarily old and when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves , not least because they don’t want to let people down.

Facilitate whole-person growth.

High-trust workplaces help people develop personally as well as professionally. Numerous studies show that acquiring new work skills isn’t enough; if you’re not growing as a human being, your performance will suffer.  Assessing personal growth includes discussions about work-life integration, family, and time for recreation and reflection. Investing in the whole person has a powerful effect on engagement and retention.

Show vulnerability.

Leaders in high-trust workplaces ask for help from colleagues instead of just telling them to do things. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader—one who engages everyone to reach goals.  Asking for help is effective because it taps into the natural human impulse to cooperate with others.

The Contexis Round Table Series: Catalyst or Catastrophe? What’s the role of shareholders in purpose-led businesses

We thought we’d find out by getting leading lights from the pensions and investments industry around the table with global corporate leaders, academics, charity heads and a sprinkling of entrepreneurs to have a no holds barred debate.

What we found out was a complete surprise.

I thought you might be interested in the outcome which you can read here; it’s a short Slideshare and well worth 3 minutes of your time.

How to make corporate purpose more than just corporate jargon

Steve Fuller’s latest article for Management Today makes the case for corporate purpose and links up nicely with our latest Round Table debate – Purpose: Revolution or bandwagon

[pullquote]Ignore these three truths and yes, your ‘purpose’ will just be corporate jargon.[/pullquote]

Click here to read the full article or there is a summary below.



Senior managers must recognise that purpose is supposed to transform your business from top to bottom. Think of it as something akin to a capital investment.  It should be scary and create ‘perpetual stretch through constant innovation and business transformation.


To be credible, your purpose must be mapped against clear and measurable goals. If your purpose to promote healthy eating, how much sugar will you cut from your products and by when?


Without the full backing of the entire leadership team, it is very difficult for purpose to take root. This is why purpose can’t ‘belong’ to just the PR or sustainability team.

But if your purpose is audacious and transformational, securely tethered to the realities of your business and backed by an ‘all-in’ commitment from your senior management team, then you will be able to reap the commercial benefits.

The Contexis Round Table Series – Purpose: Revolution or Bandwagon

The latest in our House of St Barnabas debates was a scorcher.

We thought we’d try and put people who run global corporations, banks and consultancies round a table with charity heads and some feisty entrepreneurs, suggest that Purpose is just another bandwagon and see what would happen.

The result was a fascinating and impassioned debate. Some incredible people were there and I am so grateful for their candour and their insight.

I thought you might be interested in the outcome which you can read here; it’s a short Slideshare and well worth 3 minutes of your time.


Purpose could add an extra £130bn to the value of British business

At Contexis we love Salt magazine, and this article by Steve Fuller, summarising a new report linking corporate purpose with commercial performance, is a recent favourite.

To read the whole article click here, or there is a short summary below.

The taskforce behind the research, brought together by the Big Innovation Centre, includes FTSE CEOs, investment houses, leading business schools and consultancy firms, supported by the Bank of England.  It is unequivocal about the link between purpose and economic success, concluding that if purpose is put at the heart of British business, it could increase the value of British firms to the tune of £130 billion a year..

[pullquote]the key to corporate greatness is ‘the pursuit of a clearly defined visionary corporate purpose, which sets out how the company will better peoples’ lives’.[/pullquote]

Our current British business ecosystem works against the creation of purposeful companies. Systemic barriers include fragmented, diversified shareholder base, and a legal and regulatory system that promotes short-term profit maximisation.  Another blocker identified by the report is the persistent undervaluing of ‘intangibles’. It’s in the nature of purposeful companies to invest in know-how, R&D and skills, yet these assets are consistently and systematically underestimated by financial markets.

It is hoped that the report will act as a stepping stone to change, and that  a new, progressive culture of business is possible.  The task force is  currently gathering feedback on 20 different policy options – ranging from changes to corporate law and governance, to shareholder engagement and taxation – and the results will inform their Final Report, scheduled to be released in autumn 2016.

Fingers crossed that with big players like the Bank of England and London Business School backing purposeful business visionary corporate purpose has well and truly entered the mainstream.

What we can learn about purpose from Elon Musk

There is always something interesting to read on the MindGym site, and we really enjoyed this article on business purpose, entrepreneurship and Elon Musk.

Entrepreneurial leaders like Musk tend to have a sense of purpose that works on three levels: by seeing the outcome of their work (in this case Tesla’s first electric car for a mainstream audience), by contributing towards something they couldn’t achieve alone (Musk is a tech entrepreneur, not an automotive engineer) and by making the world a better place (Musk’s ambition for a sustainable global energy future).

58% of US workers would take a 15% pay cut to do work which is aligned with their personal values, but only 24% of US workers think their work is meaningful, and a further 17% aren’t sure. If people don’t think their work makes a difference to themselves or anyone else, how can we expect them to be motivated to lean in and to always give their best?  One way to help people find meaning in what they do is to connect them with the person, initiative or community they positively impact:

Task purpose: I can see the fruits of my labor. My efforts lead to progress, and no work is futile.

Collective purposeI’m contributing towards something I couldn’t achieve alone. Having a strong sense of contributing to a team effort motivates me to dig deeper and perform better.

Social purpose: My work has a wider impact and it matters beyond my immediate workplace.

The opportunity to have a meaningful job is open to us all.  For our thoughts on purpose in business you might want to read our latest article on how purpose can help boost productivity.

You can read the full article here.

Growing your business on purpose

A great article from Steve Fuller, creative head and co-founder of The House, that shows how purpose can help you grow any business, not just the Unilevers of this world.  You can read the full article here or there is a summary of the main points below.

Purpose is a powerful lens for innovation

[pullquote]purpose lets you widen your horizons while still keeping your focus[/pullquote]

Purpose doesn’t just open up more possibilities, it also narrows your innovation strategy into a laser-like focus, giving you permission to ask: is this new opportunity really in line with what our business is ultimately about?

Purpose drives investment (and makes you more investible)

The evidence* shows that having a clearly communicated sense of purpose builds business confidence, drives business investment and can attract new investors.

*Deloitte’s 2014 Culture of Purpose Report

Purpose puts the wind behind your sails (and sales)

[pullquote]72% of global consumers would recommend a company with purpose to others, a 39% increase from 2008 (Edelman 2012[/pullquote]

Purpose is a purchase trigger. A 2012 Edelman survey revealed that over half of consumers will pick the purposeful brand when price and quality are the same. And, customers don’t just buy from purposeful companies: they become advocates.