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Leading with purpose is messy

CMS DigitalBytes

22 January 2019

A hashtag is a wonderful thing because it allows you to come across bang up-to-date content that you may not otherwise have discovered.

By browsing #WEF19, I’ve stumbled across a live feed discussion at Davos on “Leading with Purpose"". On stage are Teresa Carlson (vice president for Amazon Web Services' worldwide public sector business), Janet Foutty (chairman and chief executive officer of Deloitte Consulting) interviewed by Amy Bernstein of the Harvard Business Review.

Behind them is a giant backdrop emblazoned with phrases like “Business of equality”, “Make a difference”, “Activate solutions for change”, “Empower solutions”.

Some of you might roll your eyes.


Social purpose is a crucial topic to discuss, and it’s magnificent to see household names like Amazon and Deloitte taking a stance in a very public and established forum. Having a sense of purpose is a way to power you past incrementalism, but it’s not going to be easy or without burdens, summarised Amy Bernstein.

There was an awful lot packed into the discussion, but four things stood out for me.

What does our customer really need that we can use to drive change?

Amazon are renowned for taking the approach of putting the customer first and then working backwards to develop solutions. Connectivity is a great equaliser across the world and AWS are actively seeking better ways to help underserved communities through their We Power Tech programme. “The future of tech is accessible, flexible, and inclusive. We all have a long way to go before realizing this future.” they state on the homepage, and Teresa made a great point during this panel discussion that “cloud is the new coinage” and a new form of currency that will help underserved communities. We all have a long way to go though.

There is definitely a significant risk that the best connected communities are going to be better and better served, whilst those without a digital identity will be left behind. One step forward and two steps back, so to speak.

How does being purpose driven affect who you hire?

Deloitte is a huge organisation.  Janet mentioned that they hire someone every 8 minutes! As such, having an “inclusive lens towards the people [they] hire” is a must, and not a nice-to-have.  We’re very much the same at CMS.

Janet also however made an excellent point that, it’s not just about hiring; it’s just as much about keeping teams, retaining the talent, and making sure the best ideas stay at the table. Having social purpose is also a social glue – people work for organisations they believe in, and ones which provide evidence of their commitment to inclusion and their corporate values.

My fellow millennials are known for chopping and changing jobs every few years. How can you keep the good ones? Practice what you preach.

Don’t be afraid to turn away business

I was pleased that both Janet and Teresa were bold enough to say that they have turned down clients or projects that aren’t consistent with their purpose or values. I think businesses are coming round to the idea that saying no is an option! Janet mentioned that the level of transparency around those decisions at Deloitte has increased over time.  Indeed, having a sense of purpose can be messy!

Be careful of innovation and disruption mode

I don’t think I can get through a single day without these words coming up in conversation, albeit on the weekend it’s usually because my dog has destroyed something expensive. We’re often told to think big and not in a box because sometimes the best opportunities can come from what initially seemed like the wildest of ideas. However, we should still take a lesson out of Amazon’s 6 page plan approach and really cement ideas.

Make sure that the best ideas really are full of passion AND business sense.

I’ll update this post with a link to the recording when I find it. Definitely worth a watch."

The content above was originally posted on CMS DigitalBytes - CMS lawyers sharing comment and commentary on all things tech.