Talent, leadership and purpose: Lessons from the Balanced Business Forum

Balanced business drives performance, and other lessons from the Balanced Business Forum

Balanced business drives performance. That was the message at the Balanced Business Forum, with speakers including EY talent partner Liz Bingham, Mars food, drinks & multisales global president Fiona Dawson and BT and Worldpay chair Mike Rake.

Here are some of the key lessons HR magazine took away from the event.

Diversity is everyone’s business, not just HR’s

Although the UK has hit Lord Davies’ target of 25% women on boards it feels premature to celebrate, said Balanced Business Forum founder and CEO of An Inspirational Journey, Heather Jackson. There are still 62 all-white boards in the FTSE 100, and only 5% of executives in the FTSE 250 are female.

“If we want to finish things off we have to get [this agenda] out of HR, out of D&I, even out of the CEO’s office,” Jackson said. “We all own it. We have to want to do it not because it looks right but because it feels right. This whole issue is about getting the best people to want to work for you. It’s about talent management and leadership; leadership will make all the difference.”

Listen to the young people in your organisation

“Go and listen to the young people in your organisation. Take them seriously and promote the bright ones.” Those are the words of Cavell Group chairman Pat Chapman-Pincher, who spoke on the impact of technology on leadership and talent, and warned that companies aren’t fully grasping the changes technology will bring to the workplace.

“Intelligent technology is very disruptive,” she said. “Think about the risks to your organisation. Look ahead at the technologies that are coming and could impact your business. What’s the Uber of your industry?” To better understand the impact of digital she advised leaders to engage with their younger employees, so-called digital natives.

One Young World co-founder Kate Robertson also urged businesses to think about their young talent and embrace purpose. “Young people are savvy,” she said. “They will challenge you, and they will leave if they don’t like [the organisation]. Purpose flows from the quality of the leadership.”

Understand your ‘corporate character’

In order to survive and thrive in an ever-changing world organisations need to understand their purpose, according to EY managing partner for talent Liz Bingham.

She cited EY research that found purpose-driven businesses performed 10 times better than non-purpose-driven businesses and had 1.4 times higher levels of engagement. The research also revealed employees are three times more likely to stay at a purpose-centric company.

“Those organisations that truly understand that their corporate character (‘what we believe and how we do it’) is as important as delivering new products and services will thrive and survive in a new world,” said Bingham.

She added businesses should understand the “what, how and why” of their existence, with the ‘why’ representing purpose. “Most organisations start and finish with the what. Some get the how; few get the why. Start with the why. Organisations that understand the why will be more successful than those that start with the what.”

Use data to level the playing field

Bias can undermine efforts to increase diversity, according to Clodagh O’Reilly, IBM workforce science and analytics practice leader, EMEA.

“Leaders must insist on better quality data when making critical decisions about people’s careers,” she said. “Better balanced decisions will be made about talent if we remove the subjectivity that comes with being human.”

McKinsey & Co principal Dennis Layton also advocated the use of hard data to get past the “diversity eye roll” with leaders. “Getting people to understand how diversity can help them make their numbers doesn’t hurt,” he said.

He also advised diversity leaders to understand and identify unconscious bias, and re-engineer HR and talent processes in light of them. “It’s easier to identify bias than to change it,” he said. “Redesign your key processes to take into account the fact that bias is real.”