The Era of Purpose: 10 Highlights from BetterUp’s Shift 2018

I was fortunate enough to virtually attend part of BetterUp’s inaugural Shift Conference this week via YouTube livestream. BetterUp is a startup that provides coaching services for entire organizations, based on evidence that happier, more purposeful human beings lead to more loyal employees who stay.

As talent leaders struggle to crack the nut of engagement, retention, and flourishing while trying to make a profit, it’s important to consider what speaker Fred Kofman so eloquently stated at Shift:

The hardest problem in business has a soft solution. A spiritual solution.

Gone are the days of scoffing at soft skills and “fuzzy” science. Soft skills are in fact real skills, and we need to address the humanity of our employees in order for them to thrive at work. As BetterUp CEO Alexi Robichaux (AR) put it, “Design work so that I become a better human being and a better employee.” In that order.

I was very inspired by the speakers at Shift, especially by John Seely Brown (JSB), who spoke about how to lead in the context of exponential change, and Fred Kofman (FK) whose approach was at once humorous and deeply spiritual and profound.

Here, in no particular order, are my highlights from the talks I watched:

  1. Inner work – meditation, contemplation, reflection, taking breaks – is just as important as, if not more important than, outer work, because it leads to loyalty, which builds employee retention. (AR)
  2. In order to thrive as a leader in an era of continuous flux, which is like white water rafting or kayaking, one must have solid integrity and self-knowledge so one can take quick action confidently. (JSB)
  3. Context is more important than content in the era of continuous exponential change; gone are the days where deepening your expertise in a silo is useful in the workplace. (JSB)
  4. It is important not only to get out of your comfort zone, but to notice how you do it so you can reliably do it often. (JSB)
  5. We are now in the era of Homo Ludens with a focus on play and imagination, and we can integrate this with Homo Sapiens (knowing) and Homo Faber (making) to find the right balance of imagination and action. (JSB)
  6. Many of the tools of play are what we find in design thinking and improv workshops. (JSB)
  7. People often refrain from taking responsibility for their action, as exemplified by the common excuses given for lateness: “traffic,” or “the last meeting ran over.” This lack of accountability and tendency to play the victim is dangerous for business, as it disempowers employees and leaders alike. (FK)
  8. Organizations should be viewed as systems where each part of the system (each employee) works to achieve the mission and vision. We cannot optimize for any part to optimize for the whole. As an example, all players on a soccer team must focus on winning the game, even if a player is a defender. The good of the whole must always be front and center. (FK)
  9. Coaching is not necessarily about helping a person solve a problem. It can also be about using the problem to grow the person. (FK)
  10. The most reliable way to inspire people to purpose is to be that purpose, not to talk about it. Integrity is paramount in leadership. Meaningfulness arises from the inner work we do that allows us to transcend the ego and self in service of the greater cause. (FK)

I came away from this conference even more affirmed in my approach to leadership: integrity, purpose, meaning, wellness, and joy are so important. As human beings, we want to belong and to thrive – that’s when we will stay and do our best in our professions.

Share with me your strategies for helping your employees or colleagues be inspired, feel like they belong, and give their best.

The current workplace era is akin to white water rafting - continuous and exponential flux. To lead well, we must have integrity and do our inner work. Photo by Julie Thorton on Unsplash.

The current workplace era is akin to white water rafting – continuous and exponential flux. To lead well, we must have integrity and do our inner work. Photo by Julie Thorton on Unsplash.

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