Purpose in action: Lessons for organisational change
Guest contributor Graham Abbey is the Chief Purpose Officer for Tate & Lyle Plc, responsible for making it easy for everyone to live the organisation’s purpose of Improving Lives for Generations, and challenging its leaders to grow, while having a positive impact in the world.
Tate & Lyle is a global provider of solutions and ingredients for food, beverage and industrial markets, including sweeteners, texturants, fibres and stabilising ingredient blends. One of the few remaining founding members of the FTSE, this 160 year old business has been through a complete transformation over the past decades, including the sale of its iconic UK sugar brand in 2010.
I have been Chief Purpose Officer at Tate & Lyle Plc for 6 months, following on from a consulting relationship over a 4 year period. Using Purpose to create change and impact has felt different from previous organisational transformations, and has turned some management conventions ‘on their head’.
‘Ensure senior leadership support’ has become act where there is interest and energy
We are still dominated in business by our commitment to hierarchy, which can often limit contributions and slow us down. A meaningful purpose inspires, even compels, people to act – bringing pace and enthusiasm from unlikely sources. Our shared service centre in Poland has become a beacon for employee health and well-being, thanks to a few committed individuals and a leader who has given them space to act.
‘Plan and execute’ has become experiment and learn.
I have avoided having a ‘Purpose Programme’, as we have more than enough projects already, and instead have encouraged experimentation – trying something quickly to see what we can find out. As a food ingredients business, we rely on our ability to innovate new products. We have one that is about to launch that began with a conversation that went, “If we are really serious about this Purpose then we need a product that…” A small group came together informally around the idea, ignored our New Product Development process, started talking to customers, and drastically cut the lead time to a having a viable product.
‘Deliver a consistent message’ has become encourage diversity of perspective and individual sense-making.
Organisational Purpose has a great unifying power, and truly living it means bringing together disciplines that too often remain separate (marketing, human resources, sustainability, strategy etc.). The paradox is that this appears to be best achieved by enabling everyone to connect to purpose through their own story, in a way that help create meaning that is deeply personal. It is from this difference that unity emerges. While our Commercial teams pursue new purposeful conversations with our customers, our manufacturing teams have deepened their commitments to our community work – both in service of Improving Lives for Generations.
These lessons and approaches may not be exclusive to Purpose, but I as people have become inspired by our cause, they have been liberated to act on what seems important to them, which has made transformation a ‘net creator of energy’, rather than the all too familiar draining, tiring experience. This movement is now raising challenging questions for our business, but ones that will lead us to both make a greater positive impact in the world, and profitably grow our business.
Graham Abbey, Chief Purpose Officer, Tate & Lyle Plc