How to make the world a better place, through business- Part One


Recently, together with students, alumni and guests at Nyenrode Business University, the oldest private university in the Netherlands, I was challenged to think about, and given hope, in how we can make the world a better place through business. We heard from Bob Chapman, Chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, a global manufacturing, engineering and consulting business and  Nick van Dam, Professor of Corporate Learning & Development at Nyenrode and Partner at McKinsey & Company. In part one of this post, I share the inspiration from Bob and part two the interactive session with Nick.

Both Bob and Nick revealed some startling statistics in relation to how people feel at work and the impact this has on their health, well-being and level of contentment. In the US it is reported, 7 out of 8 people feel they work for an organisation that doesn’t care for them, there has been a 20% increase in Monday morning heart attacks and 74% increase in stress related illnesses. Globally, the number one reason why people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their boss. 87% of employees are unhappy at work and lack motivation and 1 out of 5 people suffer from stress. Stress is the health epidemic in the 21st Century!

Supporting these statistics, from Gallup’s world poll in 2016, it revealed only 8% of UK employees feel engaged at work and it’s getting worse, down from 17% in 2012.

And so what does this mean? It means that our organisations are hurting people! It is no longer an option to simply be a passive observer. Rather, to think afresh at what we can do as organisations, and as leaders to create a better world through business. And so over two days, I connected with other like minded individuals who came to connect, listen and to learn.

As the statistics were revealed, I observed the audience. I could see that many, if not all, related in some way to this information and could identify with the problems created at work through our organisational structures, working practices and mis-leadership of our teams. They were eager to hear more, as was I. What can organisations do to stop the hurting? What can organisations do to create a better world through business? What changes do organisations and leaders need to make?

First, we heard from Bob who inspired the audience with his personal journey sharing the defining moments that led to his developing an organisational culture defined as Truly Human Leadership with the focus on people, purpose and performance, deliberately in that order. It is a people-centric culture. One that provides a compelling vision embodied within a sustainable business model which fosters personal growth. One that creates a dynamic environment based on trust, brings out and celebrates the best in each individual and treats people superbly and compensates them fairly.

Following Bob’s personal revelations where he reflected:
  • when people had fun at work, they perform better
  • leaders have a profound impact on the health and well-being of those in their span of care, by the way they are treated
  • everyone within an organisation is someone’s precious child and should be treated accordingly, to be given the opportunity to find and nurture their talents

He shared with the audience the transformational effect of turning these revelations into practice which became the company’s Guiding Principles of Leadership beginning with their purpose ‘We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people’.

Bob concluded by sharing the valuable lessons they had learned, of which there were many. Barry-Wehmiller is an organisation with 12,000 team members in 120 locations with 90+ acquisitions. He offered:
  • The key difference between management and leadership. He described management as being the ‘manipulation of others for your success’ as opposed to leadership being ‘the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you’
  • Leadership is like parenting. They have similarly profound responsibilities.
  • People want to know that who they are and what they do matter.
  • Listening is a critical leadership skill and the most powerful act of caring.
  • How we lead has a profound impact on how those entrusted to us live and on their health.

The Barry-Wehmiller story is remarkable and the quantifiable results speak for themselves with a 18% CAGR since 1987 and a $3bn revenue. But the most profound results are the lasting, positive impact the organisation has had on the lives, the careers and the families of those they touch.

Just over 2 years ago the Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute (BWLI) was formed with its purpose to illuminate the potential and ignite connection so that people have the opportunity to thrive. Today, the Institute serves external clients who want to discover how to create a Truly Human Leadership culture, how to develop key leadership behaviours and what organisational systems and processes to improve to sustain long term growth, have a positive impact on the lives of those under their stewardship and make the world a better place through business.

In part two, I share the interactive session from Nick van Dam where he encouraged us to think about our own leadership and how we might focus on the positive leadership practices and develop our strengths.

Thank you for reading! If you can relate to anything I share here or want to find out more in relation to developing a culture of Truly Human Leadershipconsider joining me and my colleagues from BWLI for our inaugural event ‘Think Like a Leader’ in Central London, April 2018.  Alternatively, connect with me here and I’ll be delighted to get back in touch.

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