Investors recommended that we close stores and fire people – as if people were the problem – Hubert Joly, author of Heart of Business and former Chairman and CEO, Best Buy Inc.
In the previous two blogs, we covered 4 areas that define the foundational pillars of building a purposeful people centric organization. This concluding blog of the series explores 2 more areas.
In June 2021, Effilor Consulting hosted Michael Levie of citizenM hotels to understand how their blue ocean idea became a roaring success despite the pandemic. Post his presentation, there were questions from the audience and some were tricky. Michael did not flinch at the questions. Rather, he absorbed each question and responded in the best way possible based on his own experience. He gained respect of everyone in the webinar because he chose to be himself instead of answering what could be the best answer.
Authenticity is a very virtuous cultural foundation that helps leaders present themselves the way they are. Examples of authentic leaders are many – Cricketer Rahul Dravid, Social activist Anna Hazare, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, “Padman” fame Arunachalam Muruganantham, Nobel Laureates Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai are all living examples of “authentic” leaders.
When we are authentic, we be ourselves, being fully aware of emotional self and living up to our personal values. Even when the people around us have a particular positional perspective, not falling to peer pressure and being the true self separates the authentic individual from the crowd. Despite being thrown out of Apple, Steve Jobs took the time and effort to understand his true self, reflected on his experiences and reframed his experience into what turned out to be the best second innings for any corporate CEO. What Steve did to Apple and to the world is now a classic fairy tale. Among other things, he was a shining example of authentic leadership.
When Jacinda Ardern walked into the Prime Ministers office with a baby in hand, she clearly did not put an armour in front of her. She knew what it takes to be a working mom. She overcame her fears and pressure of the job to do the right thing for her family and her country. Same with Padman. To talk about menstruation with women in rural Tamilnadu and overcoming the shame associated with a man dealing with such an issue, he showed he is authentic by being sensitive to women’s health.
Authentic individuals are not perfect and they do not try to be. Instead, they do not hesitate to say – “I don’t know”, “I need help”. They actively seek help from peers and others. They are committed to their values and in the pursuit of living their values, they are open to taking help from anyone as long as it helps them on their journey of living their values.
Authentic leaders being self-reflecting individuals themselves, always care for their people. They look at employees with empathy and help them grow. Satya Nadella is a classic example of such a leader.
When Zhang Ruimin, CEO of Haier, took over an ailing company, he took learnings from Peter Drucker that management is not just about models, but about people. His now famous RenDanHeyi model is all about connecting people and the customers they serve. By building an entrepreneurial culture, he gave decision making power to his employees which resulted in unprecedented growth over the years.
Likewise, Irizar, a loss making company in 1991, turned itself around by converting their organizational model from a hierarchical structure to a network of teams. Ditto for Semco through the efforts of their Maverick leader Ricardo Semler. The operative word in these companies was “autonomy”.
With the pandemic having reset how people look at life, the “great resignation” is pinching every business. What people want now is very different from what they were used to. Employees across the board bring radical new thinking to an organization. They always seek “platforms” to express themselves. If those thoughts are not heard or discarded, it only accentuates the “great resignation” further. When a good platform is provided to employees, organizations have been successful and serve their purpose well. That platform in this digital, hybrid world is “autonomy”.
Autonomy is more than just delegating or pushing down decision making closer to the field. It is about creating a “star team” rather than a team of stars, building a culture of ownership and tying individual values to organizational purpose, providing a psychologically safe environment for employees to thrive, creating an eco-system of collaboration, setting up OKRs or KPIs that are governed with purpose, management leaders moving away from task management to leaders as coaches, leaders engaging with employees to provide ongoing guidance and mentorship to prepare them for the future based on what their aspirations are.
If we take a biomimicry approach, a great way to learn about autonomy is to study how wild geese migrate in their “V” formation in a self directed manner. Building autonomy in teams is certainly not a wild goose chase !!
Summarising the three blogs in this series, I would like to once again quote Hubert Joly, “Most people now recognise that the excessive pursuit of profit and top-down management approaches are not working – we need a new model. Business needs a noble purpose and a human-centric approach – these core principles revived Best Buy”
To build a successful organization with long term sustainability, a purposeful people-centric approach is needed with the following foundation pillars :
2) Growth Mindset