Purpose-Driven Leadership in Technology

“In many ways purpose is all about ‘why’”. These leaders discussed purpose-driven leadership in technology and how this will impact the industry.

Organisations around the world have employed purpose-driven leadership and strategies to stay connected with both customers and employees. Technology leaders who adopt a purpose-driven approach gain trust from a savvier customer or client base, and therefore are more likely to ensure business success. In this debate, the speakers discussed the positive change being driven by purpose in their own organisations and how the industry is evolving, and shared examples of inspirational purpose-driven initiatives.

With Lea Sellers moderating this roundtable debate, the speakers include: 



Purpose-driven leadership: what does it mean?

Starting the debate, CDIO at London Business School, Danny Attias stated that to him, purpose is about the impact a business has on society. He argued that in addition to this, it’s about the technology leader’s role in addressing the impact. Danny asked the panellists: “Where do you fit into that really complex world of having a positive impact on society and the environment?”.

“The purpose of Johnson Matthey… was to make the world a cleaner and healthier place for today and for future generations”, stated Paul Coby. A former CIO at Johnson Matthey, Paul explained that he would always remind his colleagues of the company’s overall purpose; the reason why they are doing this. He later added that the company was in the process of producing hydrogen technology and fuel cells. 

“We provide a third of the world’s catalytic converters to clean the air”, he said. 

According to Freddie Quek, CTO at Times Higher Education, this seems like an obvious question. In an example, Freddie talked about the PCS, an organisation for technology professionals. He stated that their purpose is to make IT better for society. Freddie argued that all organisations need to have an established purpose.

“People, planet, profit”, according to IP Dividual’s CTO, Fergus Boyd, is a reused term that has been around for more than two decades. He recalled companies who have adopted the phrase such as Habitat and Body Shop. He later added that: “It’s always original entrepreneurs who produce things at low cost in a secure way to sell them at decent prices”.


Purpose over profit

Using Fergus’ previous point, moderator Lea Sellers pointed out that this type of purpose is not new but other companies are starting to catch onto this. She asked Phil whether it has now come down to “purpose over profit”. 

This statement would be ideal, according to CIO, Executive Partner & Senior Analyst at Forrester, Phil Brunkard. On the other hand, he argued that: “In many ways purpose is all about ‘why’”. 

One key question technology leaders should be asking themselves, in Phil’s view, is why does the organisation exist? If the answer to this doesn’t contain some element of your organisation’s impact on society and the planet, he argued that they would no longer exist to stakeholders, who are looking for a specific answer.  

There are two aspects technology leaders need to focus on when it comes to purpose, argued Abdul Baba, CTIO at Infrastructure South Africa. Firstly, they should look at the situation from a business perspective and be able to divulge what value this delivers to the organisation. “From a social perspective - what difference are you making?”, he said. 

This would prompt leaders to consider what is impactful in the organisation, and where necessary, allow them to make adjustments to add value in the appropriate fields. To conclude, he pointed out that it comes down to whether there is a “business social or impact going forward”. 


Positive change

When asked where purpose is driving positive change in the industry, Danny replied; “Charities are specifically set up with purpose in mind”. 

He argued that they exist to solve problems, which is something that society always needs. On the other hand, he pointed out that charities are difficult to sustain as they rely on individual donations. Paired with the cost of living crisis, this proves to be even more difficult. Moving on, he pointed out that more traditional corporations are recognising these trends and are balancing purpose against profit. In giving their profits away, these organisations strive to ensure that their supply chain is “clean and sustainable”. 


Industry examples

“The UK IT industry has got a real challenge in terms of numbers, capability and talent coming into it”, said Paul. 

He focused on the forecast of those people able to work in the cloud, cybersecurity and any of the other IT disciplines. He recalled an example for the speakers when he worked with The British Computer Society (BCS). They brought in sixth form students from “less favoured areas” who didn’t consider IT as a career option and asked them to work on data and analytics for four weeks over the summer. 

In another example he mentioned a company where they took on newer diverse individuals. Paul stated that they quite often have “real talent in the technology area”. They were placed in blended teams and given work experience in order to give them a proper introduction to the industry.

“If you look at the world we live in today, we are part of this digital economy”, said Freddie. 

He continued that, whether they like it or not, businesses need to drive in this environment and, additionally, address the issues that they have across the board. Brought connectivity into his discussion point. He recalled a quote from the Digital Poverty Alliance stating that 82 percent of jobs will require digital skills. Freddie argued that this percentage will only continue to grow. Alongside this, the percentage of people who aren’t part of this world is still high. 

“Unless we do something about understanding that challenge… we have a problem”, he explained.

This roundtable was recorded at The Studio and made in partnership with Cisco.

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