Back to Insights

Imagine a Better Future of Work

Hosted by: Virgin Unite

ChapmanCG recently participated in a 100% Human at Work event in London, powered by Virgin Unite, a movement that is focused on shaping a better future of work. The initiative encourages companies to start thinking of people as human beings rather than resources, moving away from maximising profits and profitability to focus on how we can help people achieve their highest potential and purpose which will in turn positively impact the bottom line.

Human Beings, Not Human Resources

It was argued that, from an organisational perspective, the CSR strategy is outdated.

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. 

Nelson Henderson

This should be the mantra companies and their employees strive for, not a sub header in a business plan. It should incorporate kindness, and compassion, and every single supplier should be asked: “Are you contributing something useful and enduring to society?”. 

We need to remind leaders of the power they have to do something positive for society and move from a “do no harm” outlook to one of “is the world a better place because of what we do?” Putting sustainability in as a performance driver, linking social and environmental goals to compensation, could be a powerful incentive. It’s a tough reversal of capitalist-driven thinking, but if the people thrive, the business thrives, and the rest will follow. Leaders need to embody values and we need to think human-to-human and not leader-to-employee. Corporations need to start putting people first, then customers, then shareholders.

Going Back to Basics

Ajaz Ahmed, CEO at AKQA and James Rutter, Chief Creative Officer at COOK encouraged the audience to go back to basics, to focus on getting values and behaviours right and to think about how this would impact leaders and teams. If you get your genuine values in a healthy place, everything else follows. AKQA created a framework around four pillars: Employee, Reputation, Commercial, and Client, with a set of key indicators on each. They created a culture of analytics whereby each employee receives a quarterly report showcasing how they are doing against each metric. This has fuelled a culture of transparency and resulted in a 4.9 rating on Glassdoor with a 96% likelihood to recommend AKQA as a place to work. Creating a truly diverse leadership team was key in the case of AKQA, “if you can’t see it, it’s difficult to be it.”

Finding Your Personal Purpose

Throughout the day, the significance of finding your personal purpose and linking it to the company purpose came up several times in conversation. Holly Branson, Chief Purpose and Vision Officer at Virgin, spoke on their purpose as “changing businesses for the good”, and simultaneously echoed the importance of removing ambiguity as to what that actually means for employees, giving the team a “purpose filter” to make decisions through.

Companies should think about more of an umbrella model, a broad purpose and value-set that employees can buy into, that enables different expressions.

James Rutter put the emphasis on finding something that connects both designers and those in the kitchen, making them both see the positive impact of good business decisions. Through the community program Raw Talent, COOK employs homeless and former prisoners in their kitchens. They have noticed a ripple effect as teams become emotionally invested in their positive development. They’ve had 150 people come through the program so far with a 70% retention goal.

COOK have a focus on building individual relationships that matter. They focus on the framework of “unity, clarity and appreciation”. Where there has been a business problem, they have been able to trace this back to a relationship problem. It has been important to give the people a framework to analyse relationships and diagnose challenges. Unity is all around the shared goal, the bedrock of how to move forward. Clarity is about being clear on roles, structures, and the task at hand. James also talked about the need to overcommunicate relentlessly: 

Assume no one is listening and repeat repeat repeat.

Take the approach advertising does in repetition of messages so that everyone actually understands the communication, and reward with appreciation, affirming the positivity of what the team is doing. James went on to discuss the psychological side, emphasizing that our brain is a social brain—it wants relationships, and it responds to relationships. Unity, Clarity, and Appreciation links closely to the SCARF neuroscience model of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. 

Advancing Equity and Belonging 

The conversation then moved to how we move the dial on equity and belonging. Lord Dr. Michael Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE kicked off the discussion with Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO at The B Team by talking about the crisis of conformity we are facing at present. We haven’t been trained to cope with a time like this. The “rational economic man” isn’t fit to lead in the current climate. We now need to put humanity at the heart of the leadership compass and create workplaces that truly foster belonging. The issue is we are not willing to go through the pain of reverse engineering our society. 

The metric we still use to measure success by and large is consumerism – ‘have we “grown” the economy’, ‘have we consumed more?’ What we really should be thinking is how we “save” the economy. We live in a time where there is 52% food wastage in the UK – we don’t need to grow our economy, we need to share it more – reuse, reshare, recycle.

We still live in our comfort zones and seek out what we are used to. The makeup of the UK is still 92% white overall, while in London it is 41% non-white. We need to break things up and build new relationships with different people to open up to new ideas and new avenues of fearlessness. The reality is that when we feel at risk, we go with those with which we are most comfortable.

We have to spend more time meeting people “not like me”, embrace the different, find the person you feel least comfortable with and have a conversation with them.

Hire For Attitude and Brilliance, Not a Perfect CV

In business, this translates to too many systems and metrics that hinder us when it comes to talent. We should be moving away from the traditional CV—from job descriptions—and start hiring for character, attitude, and potential. Brilliance doesn’t fit into current HR paradigms. It is important to look to get the soul of the person out, and then trust them.

That’s what Greyston Bakery did with their ‘Open Hiring’ platform. Open Hiring creates meaningful employment opportunities for those who want to work but have faced barriers to employment. Likewise, Timpsons and more recently Iceland have initiated recruitment drives to hire former prisoners to work in its stores and warehouse. The grocer hired founder of Caring for Ex-Offenders Paul Cowley MBE as its director of rehabilitation. When companies make decisions like these, they can be transformational. 

Lord Dr. Michael Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE emphasised that we can change things—we can bring people in from the outside, from the shadows, bring them into the realm of business, turn things upside down.

We need to remove the “who we know” and “people like us” concept because that just creates “sameness”. Everyone becomes better when we have proximity to difference, when everyone in the room shares different perspectives.

It’s about being courageous and tackling the crisis of conformity. There are already some productive initiatives in this space such Boardroom 2030 which invites and equips businesses to explore what a 2030 future might look like and draws attention to the changes we must make to our boards today.

Halla Tómasdóttir argued that too many boards still look the same. It is important to change the “who,” to change the “how,” and also change the “you”. We need to create more ethnic representation and more balance between the global north-south divide. Halla referred to The B Team’s “100 woman of colour” project with the aim to drive more diversity on boards.

Connecting back to purpose, business decisions need to help the people at the end of the chain to be fully inclusive. We all need to aspire to be a citizen and build a commonality of purpose amongst people of difference. As 80% of the global workforce feel disconnected and disengaged, organisations have to action this to bridge the gap between what leaders think and how the workforce actually feel. If you look after your people, then your people will look after the business. We should strive for a workplace where employees go beyond the day to day and work together to inject passion and purpose into their working lives. 

100% Human – Imagine a Better Future of Work

At the beginning of the day Jean Oelwang, founding CEO and President of Virgin Unite had set the tone:

We are called to be architects of the future and not its victims.

Taking stock of the day, the onus is on us to change things at an individual level but also more powerfully as a collective. The push to hyper-individualism has disconnected us and we need to push back towards more collective co-operation, focussing on how to build connections, and how to have larger scale collaborations. The relationships we forge are key and the only way we can get fast and far is together, but we have to trust each other.

Use these links to learn more about the 100% Human InitiativeThe B Team or Virgin Unite.


Keep up with the latest HR insights and updates.
Sign up

Recent Posts