Skip to content Request a Demo

Is Purpose Working? Episode 5 Transcript: Featuring Dan Pontefract, Author, Business Consultant, & Former Chief Learning Officer

Chris Pirie:
We’re about halfway through our season and there’s lots going on in the world relating to the topic of talent and purpose. So we have a two part episode for you this time in the second half of the hour Stacia and I will discuss a couple of recently released reports and some public statements that have a material bearing on our topic, but we’re going to start the episode with a conversation that Dani and I had with Dan Pontefract. Dan is a leadership strategist author keynote speaker, and his bestsellers include lead care when how to become a leader who matters open to think the purpose effect and flat army great title for a book. Dan was Chief Envisioner and chief learning officer at Telus, a Canadian telecommunications company with revenues in excess of $14 billion. And over 50,000 worldwide employees, he launched the transformation office, the Telus MBA program and the Telus leadership philosophy, all initiatives that drastically helped to increase the company’s employee engagement. We started as usual with our set of questions designed to help sketch out Dan’s work and career

Dan Pontefract:
Dan Pontefract founder of the Pontefract group – author speaker leadership strategist based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. And today is the 19th of October, 2020 vision. Well, I’m in the capital city of one of Canada’s 10 provinces British Columbia, that city Victoria named yes, after the queen moved here about eight years ago from Vancouver, where I spent 17 years of Vancouver. And prior to that, I grew up a bit in Ontario and Quebec in Canada, born in England, Blackburn Lancashire.

I am a Leadership strategist. I like to refer to myself as which is someone who’s trying to help people. Teams, organizations become better versions of themselves, which revolves around a three legged stool. one of those legs is purpose. Another leg is culture. Another leg is how we think and what unites at all the seat is this thing called leadership. I thought it was going to be a doctor. And then I realized that it didn’t like blood, so that was bad. UHey,uI dropped out or I guess I switched out of pre-med,uat McGill university in Montreal and switched into the bachelor’s of education and bachelor’s of arts program. So I thought I was going to be a teacher. I lasted two years teaching high school of which then I morphed my way into higher ed spent about six years at the Institute of British Columbia. and then the corporate world beckoned and between 2000 to 2018, between SAP and Telus. So high-tech company and a telecom. I was both a chief learning officer and something we call the chief envisioner, which was a totally made up word to freak the press.

Chris Pirie:
You have written four books. Is there a sort of core underlying theme that ties these ideas together?

Dan Pontefract:
But yeah, indeed the way I looked at it and there’s a fifth one in the works incidentally is that book one was taking a look at culture, like, what is corporate culture? What is organizational culture? How does it manifest? How’s it suck? What’s the link to employee engagement, if you will. And then I recognize there was no plan really to write another book, but I thought, well, there’s something missing to culture. And that was the into the yang. And that’s where I stumbled upon back in 2014, this notion of purpose. And so I wrote a book based on kind of an investigation into some organizations that just my own thoughts, really about what we were doing at Telus at the time, which is a $50,014 billion telecom about how we might serve others. Basically it was the premise. So book two was the end of the yang with culture.

So flat army being in the book was a culture. The purpose effect was about purpose, but then the epiphany also rang true such that I recognized, well, we’re not doing a very good job on culture change and certainly no one’s, you know, deploying a sense of purpose or higher meaning what’s wrong. And so effectively I narrowed it down to one of several ailments and that was the way in which we think and open to think the third book was me waxing lyrical, if you will, on how we’ve lost sight of marinading in the moment, Chris and Dani, how we don’t creatively or critically think and how we’re just addicted to busy-ness and distraction and social media and, you know, overburden calendars. So that became a bit of a antidote and recipe for, well, if we want culture change to happen, if we want purpose to happen, maybe we need to take a look at our thinking.

And so, so that happened, that came out in 2018 and then I immediately went into work on book four, as soon as open, I think, published incidentally because I wanted to create, if you will, a book that was a field guide about leadership and the first three books were traditional hard cover, you know, 85,000 word books with tons of interviews, tons of research and, you know, thick cerebral even. But I wanted something to be paperback 35,000 words, and just sort of chock full of techniques and lessons on how to become what I call a leader who matters, which does pay homage to culture and does pay on matters of purpose and does pay on much thinking. But there’s some other bits in there that ultimately help the user and the learner and the reader become a better leader.

Chris Pirie:
What kid of work are you doing today? Dan?

Dan Pontefract:
I left Telus the offer mentioned telecom full-time on January 1st, 2019, and went out on my own. I I went on my own and started the for group, which is in Paul Jarvis’s language, a company of one, but I’m, I’m out there helping organizations and or individuals whom are interested in, you know, how their organization operates, if they want it to be a little more transparent, open collaborative. If they’re thinking about, you know, this fad, Chris and Dani called purpose, what do we do here? And again, so based on the books, I’ll do talks, I’ll do consulting, you know, I’ve done organizational redesign, you know, typical CHR CLO, you know, experience officer type stuff to help others.

Dani Johnson:
So I’m super interested in was purpose affect your first book or your second book was book number two, I’m fascinated with it. Well, we are fascinated with the idea of purpose and I really interested in what prompted you to write that.

Dan Pontefract: That really as a kind of began to, you know, dig into the work of Roger L. Martin and the work of Charles handy and the work of Clayton Christianson and just like greats before us, it really struck me as a practitioner inside an organization of how culture is supposed to be working, that we were missing out on something. I tell us, and don’t forget as its chief learning officer, I was helping to create back in 2008, 2009, 2010, this something called the Telus a leadership philosophy. And the TLP as we affectionately called it was our North star. It wasn’t just, you know, values on a wall. It was a working operating behavior guide for how we were supposed to interact with each other. But the first thing that we did was we defined our target audience, who are we leading? And after, you know, it took about a year and a bit to put the TLP together and to launch it into the organization in the summer of 2010.

But one of the things which we weren’t calling it purpose at the time, incidentally which, which we’ve now gone back and refine it as social purpose. But nonetheless, we were very clear from the get-go in the TLP that we would affect our leadership toward four key audiences and the four audiences that we ended up defining as part of the TLP, whereas follows, I mean, obviously customers. So our customers, we serve our team members the business. So that would be those do a fair return from a financial means perspective. So shareholders, investors, et cetera, and community that became the, the launchpad for me, because as an organization, we said, no community is the word we’re going to use, and that’s how we’re going to serve. And what landed on me was, well, actually, that’s the who, that’s, who we’re serving. How do we do it? The how was where the word purpose came in? And so then I started trying to figure out, well, what is purpose? And that’s where I then found that there’s actually three types of purpose, which if you want to go into that, I’m happy to.

Dani Johnson:
How did you guys land on purpose? I mean, in a world where everybody really is focused on, you know, shareholder, shareholder value and profits, how did you sort of wrap your, your, your organization around the idea of purpose

Dan Pontefract:
Shareholder return and to a degree, EBITDA are actually outcomes of what you stand for and how you operate as an organization. We know that on a global basis, we’re still stuck at 87 ish percent of the world disengaged or not engaged at work, but there’s a correlation as well. When you kind of dig down to the next layer of the causal relationship between culture or engagement and purpose. When the organization feels as though it’s, it’s intent it’s belief, its actions are indeed working for a higher purpose. I E community I E others, not just EBITDA, shareholder return, et cetera. Then what happens is it triggers a sense of engagement and community itself in the organization? I don’t know if we, Dani actually knew what we were doing back in 2010 through 2014, but we knew enough to say back then, there’s, there’s more to us than just shareholder return.

Chris Pirie:
The nature of the work that Telus does, connecting people. Do you think that had anything to do with, with how you got to like community in particular, but purpose? I think that’s a fair

Dan Pontefract:
Air query Chris to be, to be honest, it was the organization, sorry, was a public crown Corp up until 1999 and very unionized shop. But I, at the end of the day, tell us itself circa 2001 became a publicly traded organization. And the machinations that go along with becoming publicly traded where you served any sort of, you know, crown Corp ethos was originally is lingering if you will, because it’s the notion of an organization’s singular mandate for many, if not all publicly traded organizations, other than maybe Unilever back in 2010 was what it’s it’s, it’s short-termism it’s to serve the stock market and the analysts every quarter, I have an example and it it’s a, it’s a large company that everybody knows and most people use. And the situation is circa middle of April, 2020. And there are some whistleblowers at everyone’s favorite online shopping mall, Amazon that are discussing work conditions in the factories, in the, in the, in the the warehouses.

And there’s a VP of cloud computing. His name is Tim Bray and temporary I’ll be at Canadian. Working out of Vancouver goes through the regular channels inside of Amazon, right? To highlight his disdain for how these whistleblowers are being fired for complaining about the lack of safety in the warehouse. And so, because he’s a VP and he says this on a public blog post, he said, I wanted to follow the right protocol and the right chain of command by being then and subsequently ignored and sh you know, shushed Tim was left with a decision. He looked at his sense of self meaning purpose. This kind of goes back to anyway, we’re going to chat about hopefully the kind of three types of purpose. He looked at himself and said, what do I stand for? What does the organization stand for? And what’s role in all of this, which is just very simply the three types of purpose that I believe are found in all of us and must intersect.

And when they’re not in lock step, you know, either we have to make a decision or you have to live with it. And Tim Bray made a decision. He, he quit publicly in a blog, post outing, you know, the situation that just had unfolded and saying, look, this is not my values. This is not essentially my purpose. And so I’m out. And I think that’s, you know, encapsulates for, for many, just as a microcosmic story, what goes on it’s that organizations might say, and again, this is not Amazon example now, but organizations might say they operate with a great sense of purpose. That’s the what, but the, how the behaviors do they actually serve community? Do they actually serve all stakeholders and not just shareholders? That’s what gets frightening.

Dani Johnson:
Let’s let’s talk about those three things. You’ve mentioned them a couple of times. Now. I’d love to understand in your book, you discuss three types of purpose, personal purpose, which I think we just got a really good view of with Tim Bray. The second one is a role purpose and an organizational purpose. You talk about him in sort of three separate chunks, critical relationship between the three. So talk about why, why three, and then what’s the relationship between them.

Dan Pontefract:
I think what some authors or researchers and writers and others have done a really fantastic job of is, is that sense of personal purpose? You know, who am I, what do I stand for? And what I like to cheekily say, as part of your personal purpose, how do we, how do I want to be known when I leave a room? But what dawned on me Dani, was that if the individual who wakes up in the morning and is Dan or Dani or Chris, as a sense of personal purpose, has to go to work. And doesn’t recognize that there’s actually two other types of purpose that they’re getting in the car or the subway and going into work for, then they’re in deep trouble. Because if they’re not aware that a, they should be feeling a sense of purpose in their role at work, does their work give them a sense of meaning and value?

Do they feel valued by their team, by their organization, by their boss and so forth? So role purpose, as I call it also has a nice to employee engagement. Do you feel engaged in what you do, but then of course, there’s this, the elephant in the room, and that is the organization. If the organization’s purpose is one in which it’s only focused and fixated on profit or the environment, or not caring about giving to the community, you know, if that runs like nails on a chalkboard to you, do you think you’re going to kind of be in a sweet spot, Dani, do you think that it’s all going to connect? Now we have decisions to make just like Tim Bray, did

Dani Johnson:
Whose responsibility is it for alignment of those three things? It feels three things are sort of necessary in order to give somebody a sense of purpose.

Dan Pontefract:
What a great question. Yeah. it’s actually twofold. So again, I believe, and I’ve seen this where there’s a principled stance that the organization has to take to ensure that their employees, their team members, uh, feel and can actualize purpose in the role. And because it’s an ecosystem because we’re all in this together, I do truly believe that that organization also must extend its hand to help the team member with their own sense of personal purpose, but then flip it around whether it’s temporary or otherwise, we must always be curating, developing, questioning who we are in our own life or your personal purpose cause, but we also have to recognize that there’s a development path in our career, and we’re going to have to learn that role purpose is actually a journey as well. It’s not instantaneous, but again, if we think that there’s things in our role over time, let’s say that are really contradictory to our sense of purpose of self or the organizations that we, we got to do something about it. And it was the wrong role. Maybe it’s the wrong organization, Denny. So there’s two, the organization has a responsibility. I believe whether you’re CEO, C-suite CHRs CFOs, but also you are coming into the organization, you got some, you got some muscle building to do as well.

Dani Johnson:
Do you think that’s a fairly, a relatively new construct, this idea of organizations having some responsibility in helping people find their purpose, or do you think that’s always existed?

Dan Pontefract:
There are some great examples of their Danon yogurt. Uh, you know, those folks back in, I think it was 1970, 1968, somewhere around there. Um, you know, there’s an example of an organization that says right from the get-go, this is how we’re going to operate. This is our craze on dirt. If you will, they call it responsible capitalism. And they said from there that they would support community they’d support their employees. They would support the environment. This is like 1970. When, you know, uncle Milt, Friedman put out his famous new Yorker report or article or essay that said shareholder capitalism, shareholder primacy is how we should be operating our organizations. And Reaganomics and Thachernomics took, took hold and, you know, that’s what we’ve been stuck in ever since.

Chris Pirie:
What advice would you give to talent leaders and CLS in terms of how they approach this topic of, of purpose?

Dan Pontefract:
I’d say first and foremost, make sure that you’ve you know, developed it, declared it, defined it, and you’re communicated it so that you can point to it. And it’s examples. So whether it’s videos or, you know, stories that that’s kind of important first and foremost, secondly, on the, on the attraction point itself, if you’re not having a conversation, let’s say, you know, in the interview stage or in the submission stage about a, what is our purpose, but B how do you see our purpose meshing with yours? Because we want to be hiring the right type of people who are going to enact and continue on, you know, in the sense of hopefully operating with a higher sense of meaning. I think that’s really important to have it upfront out in the open end, in the conversations of, you know, the interview stage even, and then when you’re a CLO or CFO and you’re in the organization, again, back to that earlier point, when, when Dani and I were chatting about, you know, the two types of responsibility that organization, I do believe has a fiduciary responsibility to inculcate purpose into the pedagogy and curriculum of the organization.

So whether that’s in the onboarding piece, for example, right, just sort of getting your feet wet if you will, but then having either a purpose workshops that are ones about, you know, your own personal sense of purpose having leaders in a webcast series, you know, its purpose month in February. So we’re gonna chat with five or 10 VPs, et cetera, about what it is that their sense of purpose, personal purposes, not even thinking about whatever your company name is, just them as people, when we’re weaving it into our curriculum and pedagogy, our career pathing actually becomes systemic.

Chris Pirie:
There is a sort of maybe a danger to all this. And that is, I know Dani feels strongly about sort of like mono-cultures in organizations and you end up with a lack of diversity if you’re just hiring people for sort of culture fit. Do you think that’s a possible downside of this

Dan Pontefract:
That I, I do believe that you can use purpose and your culture and your values to make good decisions and better decisions that revolve around your ethos, you know, your way of being, but I wouldn’t hire folks as, as sort of a group thing higher, Oh, we better all think this way. Then we end up with a very, you know, stayed Placid, not very differentiating type of organization

Chris Pirie:
Got it. Perhaps we can talk a little bit Dan, about the dreaded COVID 2020, how has it changed how you think about purpose and secondly, what do you think is the job to be done next? As we start to hopefully put work back together?

Dan Pontefract:
I don’t think purpose and this, you know, operating with a sense of higher meaning is as foreign a concept as it was back in 2015, 2016. I think we’re, we’re actually inching our way to it being part of the vernacular and lexicon of how we operate. And we can thank several organizations, sat in Adela as he came on as CEO at Microsoft, clearly a wax lyrical five years ago, ish. When he came on about how we need to operate, not just for a sense of EBITDA, but for others. I think Paul Pullman, a great example of Unilever starting in 2010 and continue now with joke it’s it’s CEO as well. And then the work of Larry Fink at BlackRock and his annual January letter in January of 2019. He said, look, if we’re not operating with a sense of purpose, why are we here?

And then follow that up with the January letter of 2020 with we better all become environmentalist’s it’s open when you’re trading $7 trillion, Chris as they are kind of the world’s largest shadow bank Fink has is, is helping us see the light. If you will, there are some examples and, you know, there’s, there’s some shining stars that are starting to shine a little brighter. Now the pandemic hits, you know, and what I’m noticing is a couple of things. First of all, there are still a bunch of morons out there that think they can hierarchically pound their way into increasing or at least sustaining their revenues or their profit levels by not caring either for their people or with a sense of purpose when community just so asinine, whether it’s an Amazon example or otherwise there are a ton that I’ve been observing. I mean, a ton, I keep I’ve kept track of them on a spreadsheet because I keep coming into them.

But that said as horrible as this pandemic has been somewhat, obviously it’s a tragedy, it’s a human tragedy. It is also I think, awakened many C-suites from where they were to where they ought to go and, and let us not, you know, discount the civil unrest from, from Brianna to George Floyd, et cetera, right? There is a palpable, I believe pent up global frustration with how many organizations had been operating. And so, you know, what it comes down to. I certainly truly believe Chris and Dani is empathy. There is such a relationship between empathy and purpose that our organizational leaders that are CEOs and CFOs need to start teaching about empathy and its relationship to purpose and empathy. Very quickly to me, there’s three types that I’ve kind of observed. And I call it head heart and hands. The head empathy, if you will, which is known as psychologist called cognitive empathy, is how we intellectualize, how someone else is thinking about something.

So you think about how they’re thinking you use your head to get inside their head. What’s known as a emotional empathy is the feelings part. How is someone feeling about a particular situation? And then the last one is known as sympathetic empathy, and that’s what I call the hands. Are you willing to do something about it because you now understood how they’re thinking and feeling so back to purpose, if we’re teaching as CLS and CHRs in the organization about purpose, you know, purpose of self, purpose of role, purpose of org, I think we need to also fill the gap of empathy by teaching the relationship of purpose to empathy and how, when we think and feel and do we can then understand that we’re not in this I E life just for ourselves or just for our own organizational needs. We empathize of how others are thinking in the community about the environment, how our employees are thinking about how we’re treating the environment or the community. If we’re turning a blind eye, you know, not doing enough that serve those in need. I think that that relationship is going to be key for CLS going forward.

Chris Pirie:
What do you think are the main things that we’ve got to get done as we sort of move into hopefully the next phase and we sort of put work back together again. And how can purpose kind of help us think about that?

Dan Pontefract:
I’ve I can’t stand to be honest you to the notion of the new normal I’ve been yapping away calling it the great reset. So this is, we had we had the great recession. We’ve had the great depression. I think this is such a wonderful opportunity for us to inculcate a great reset. How are we defining ourselves in our work and use this time, you know, to, to come back to this, the reset of how work ought to occur when we’ll be in, I hope hybrid models. I hope in achieving a different way of, of, of operating our business, our organizations. So if we can reset a few things in this time that we’ve got till the vaccine comes and look at our, our behaviors, look at our way in which that we might be developing or not developing our people in the organization with purpose, look at how we’re hiring or not hiring people with a sense of purpose, look at how our organization has, or doesn’t have a declaration of purpose, a purpose statement that says, this is what we stand for and how we operate in our community and in the world.

There’s all kinds of chances as people are planning for 2021 right now, as we know at the time of this recording, and mid-October, it’s a chance to reset so that when we do have the vaccine it’s never going to go back to the, the old normal, because that assumes it actually was normal.

Dani Johnson:
The question that we always ask our guests particularly for this podcast, because we think it’s fairly poignant is about your own personal purpose. And especially as you went over your, your career would love to ask you, why did you choose the line of work that you chose? How did you end up where you are and who hired you to do the work you do?

Dan Pontefract:
When, when SAP, the company that I did work for the reason I ended up working for SAP was because it acquired the company I was CLO for, which was a company called business objects based in Paris, but locations around the world had about 10,000 employees, just under a billion in revenue. And it was a business intelligence software company at the time. My life SAP came in in 2007 and acquired the company. And for about a year, I tried in earnest to sell them. I SAP that is in Germany on what our culture was. I mean, the business objects culture was one of family just to put it bluntly. And we were already back in that day, we had a community investment team and that was about 10 people. And we did, you talked about philanthropy. I think this company, business objects defined what it meant to be a philanthropic kind of purpose-driven company, any who during the time in which SAP acquired us.

And I was making way too many trips to Frankfurt to convince them of our culture. I also living in Vancouver started climbing something known as gross mountain, which is in North end. It’s just 1.8 kilometer up a hike. And then I was doing that like two or three times a week, and I got it down to about 42 minutes straight up, but I kept swirling around these words, like what, you know, why what’s struggling with me? Why can’t I, why can’t this fit? Why is SAP feeling like this? It just nails on a chalkboard. It’s just not cool. So after, I don’t know, a bunch of times I say, you know what I need, I call it a mission statement at the time Dani I need, I need my personal mission statement. Like I’m, something’s wrong here. And so I ended up landing on the following. We’re not here to see through each other, we’re here to see each other through and that line or the kind of two, two line, a pithy statement there got me thinking about how I need to help SAPC through the fact that they’re, they, they don’t get it. I had to find a home for my 120 odd team members. Cause I had decided to leave because I was not in a state of a sweet spot with SAP. So I had to see these folks through, I had to find, make sure they all had jobs and make sure they’re all taken care of. And so once that done, once I sort of made peace with myself, I announced my departure. And then use that kind of purpose statement from 2008 onwards

Dani Johnson:
Just to wrap up for you to just tell us where people can learn more about how they can connect with you.

Dan Pontefract:
Maybe we’ll just go to the latest book it’s called Lead, Care, Win, and you just go to www.leadcarewind.com and you’ll find the book and all the rest of them there, including the purpose of it.

Chris Pirie:
Thanks for, thanks for sharing your wisdom around this Dan and your personal story as well.

Download Transcript



Discover other episodes in the series