Dan Pontefract on “The Purpose Effect”: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

PontefractDan Pontefract is Chief Envisioner at TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company, where he heads the Transformation Office, a future-of-work consulting group that helps organizations enhance their corporate cultures and collaboration practices. Previously as Head of Learning & Collaboration at TELUS, Dan introduced a new leadership framework–called the TELUS Leadership Philosophy–that dramatically helped to increase the company’s employee engagement to record levels of nearly 90%.

He is the author of recently published The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization as well as Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. A renowned speaker, Dan has presented at multiple TED events and also writes for Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today and The Huffington Post. Dan and his wife, Denise, have three young children (aka goats) and live in Victoria, Canada. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria.

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Before discussing The Purpose Effect, a few general questions. First, of all the feedback you have received since Flat Army was published, what has been most gratifying? Please explain.

Pontefract: There have been a few instances when an individual approaches me—via a particular medium—and provides the following, paraphrased feedback: “I wish our organization (or my leader) was operating like a Flat Army.” It has happened enough that I’ve noticed it as a trend. As you know, I wrote Flat Army for leaders, employees and the organization at large to transition into more collaborative, transparent and harmonious entities. When someone lets me know that the Flat Army framework is a) appreciated and b) needed, it puts a spring in my Canadian step. My only regret is that there are not as yet more people aware of Flat Army. Perhaps after the revised edition that I’m likely to release in 2019.

Morris: What was TELUS Transformation Office’s original mission? To what (extent (if any) has that mission changed significantly since then? Please explain.

Pontefract: When we first launched TELUS Transformation Office (TTO) in early 2014, we thought there would be a long lineup of corporate and public sector clients wishing to have their organization assessed. Our assessments are 100-hour investigations into culture behaviours, technologies, learning, leadership and so on. At the end of the assessment, a thorough ‘report card’ is produced for the client. We originally thought this would be the primary source of time spent with clients.

Two and a half years later, the assessment part of TTO is roughly 25 percent of our time. The other 75 percent revolves around more hands-on coaching and facilitation, seminars and keynotes, change management strategies, and adoption practices. We’re more about being organizational culture change Sherpas than we are assessors. Assessments are still important, and are still being done, but it’s just not how we spend most of our time.

Morris: In your opinion, what is the TTO’s most exciting new opportunity to serve its purpose between now and the end of this calendar year?

Pontefract: Actually, I think for the foreseeable future, TTO is going to spend more time as Sherpas of both organizational culture and purpose. What has donned on us is that it’s hard to disentangle culture from purpose, and vice versa. Our clients (and potential clients we are in discussions with) have begun to see (like I have) the unique relationship of culture and purpose to employee engagement. I suspect TTO continues to refine the relationship, spending our time well past 2017—not just 2016—with this important formula.

Morris: These are some of my personal favorites from among the quotations I have accumulated over the years. Please respond to those of interest and value to you. First, from Herb Kelleher. When he was its chairman and CEO and asked to explain Southwest Airlines’ great success, he replied, “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers then take great care of our shareholders.”

Pontefract: Mr. Kelleher was well ahead of the “purpose with profit” mantra many moons ago. Notice I did not state “profit with purpose.” Southwest among a few other organizations and senior leaders understand that when a harmonious internal corporate culture is interwoven with a higher sense of purpose, the employee becomes engaged, the customer becomes more than satisfied, and thus the shareholder is rewarded with a just return. There is no simpler formula than that.

Morris: From Eleanor Roosevelt: “No One Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Consent.”

Pontefract: When the cheetah is outrun by the gazelle, does it feel inferior? No, it goes on hunting. It thinks nothing of it. Maybe we ought to be both the gazelle and the cheetah.

Morris: From Abraham Lincoln: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

While Lincoln was a brilliant thinker and visionary, I’m not convinced he actually said this.

Morris: From Eugène Delacroix: ”What drives men of genius is their obsession with the idea that what has already been done is not good enough.”

Pontefract: Such was the discovery that the world is not flat.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solution.”

Pontefract: Einstein’s quote is something I have been investigating recently, in preparation for my third book. We are slowly but surely losing the ability to think clearly. At a minimum, we are expediting action over preparation, critical analysis and thoughtful consideration. We act before we contemplate. We do before we can. We are before we might be.

Morris: And finally, from (of all people) Ann Landers: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Pontefract: Darren Entwistle, CEO of TELUS, often says, “There is tuition value in mistakes.” If we choose not to experience, to discover, to challenge, to try, to innovate—allowing mistakes along the way—we are not only as ignorant as Landers claims, we are foolish. Pity the fool who ignores the value of trying.

Morris: As you reflect on all of the influences – on your personal growth and professional development — in your life thus far, is there any one that is greater than the others? Please explain.

Pontefract: It’s my country, Canada. Canada is an idea but it’s also an ideal. From the towering mountains in the West, the golden flats of the Prairies, the ice huts of the North, and the lobster traps in the East, Canada is not solely a melting pot, it’s a cauldron of acceptance. As I travel this country of mine for work and pleasure, I learn more about myself and the forces of Canadian congruence.

I liken Canada to being a giant maple tree. With roots that stretch three oceans and countless lakes and rivers, we are united and hardened by the dark of winter. We seek nourishment from one another to fight against disease, and wind, and scorching temperatures. We create shade by spring’s growth, but we let go when it’s necessary in the fall. We don’t impede; we work together. Canada is an ideal. And that maple tree is constantly getting bigger, and better.

If you were asked to speak at an elementary school graduation ceremony, what would be your advice to the 8th graders?

Pontefract: Our first-born, Claire, graduates in 2017 from Grade 8…perhaps they will invite me to speak. In all seriousness, it would be this: “Apathy, selfishness and narcissism are the root causes of an unfulfilled life. Take ownership, be selfless, and for God’s sake, stop taking photos of yourself.”

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Dan cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

The Purpose Effect TED Talk link

The Purpose Effect website link

Please click here to check out my review of The Purpose Effect.

And here to check out my review of Flat Army

Link to Michael Bungay Stanier’s interview of Dan

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