Sarah Gillard and the role of business to shape our future

What is the role of business in society?

How can people’s perception of that then impact their experience at work?

How does it then impact how a business shows up when it relates to all of its stakeholders and its long-term success?

Today we do a deep dive into all of this with Sarah Gillard, using examples from her 27-year career in fast-paced commercial environments at some of the UK’s largest retail companies.

In this milestone episode, Sarah Gillard talks about her time as Director of Purpose and Special Projects at the John Lewis Partnership where she was responsible for rearticulating and embedding the purpose of John Lewis so that it continues to be a source of inspiration, innovation, and strategic differentiation.

Sarah compares her time working with the Arcadia group, a UK retail network with a very intense focus on short-term shareholder profit, against her time with the John Lewis Partnership, which is the UK’s largest co-owned business. John Lewis has 70,000 people working for the company, and everyone are co-owners.

We talk about how these different approaches to doing business then impact the experience inside an organisation and what that does to people, strategy and relationships with supplies and customers.

We hear how John Lewis was a massive social experiment to see what happens when a business sees its role in society differently.

And we hear about the partnership’s journey over the past 100 years.

We then talk about Sarah’s current role as CEO of Blueprint for Better Business, a charity that helps businesses to be inspired and guided by a purpose that benefits society and respects people and planet.

How does an organisation move from thinking of itself as a profit-maximizing machine to thinking of itself as a human system in service of society?

And how does that transition happen?

Knowing that this is such a decisive decade, and that the role that business needs to play now is more important than ever to shape our future, we hear about how she is working with businesses to be a part of the solution.

Sarah leaves us with two beautiful quotes which sum up this episode:

Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”.

Arthur Ashe:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

If you want to better understand the return on being more human, this episode is a must listen. So throw on those running shoes, or grab that favorite beverage, and enjoy this conversation with Sarah.

And please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

00:00:03:15 – 00:00:32:07
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we expose new perspectives on our ever evolving world through the lenses of various industries, cultures and backgrounds. Our guests are disruptors united by a common goal to bring their purpose to life, whether they’re from the commercial world or third sector, from the Global North or the Global South. Expect an inspirational journey that will transform your perspective on just what is possible.

00:00:32:18 – 00:01:09:09
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed. Today you’re going to hear from someone who not only gets what I’m talking about when I say there is a return on businesses being more human. She’s been living and breathing this for over 20 years. Hello and welcome to episode 80 of TIE Unearthed with Sarah Gillard. Sarah is the CEO of Blueprint for Better Business, a charity that helps businesses to be inspired and guided by a purpose that benefits society and respects people and planet.

00:01:09:24 – 00:01:52:09
Philippa White
She’s a passionate advocate for making business more human places where people flourish, communities that prosper, and long term sustainability being the driving force. And she has over 25 years experience leading in fast paced commercial environments, as some of the UK’s largest retail companies. Sarah joined Blueprint in May 2022 from her role as director of Purpose and special projects at John Lewis Partnership, where she was responsible for articulating and embedding the purpose of John Lewis so that it continues to be a source of inspiration and innovation and strategic differentiation.

00:01:52:24 – 00:02:26:12
Philippa White
Prior to this role, she held senior positions across a number of different areas, including commercial strategy trading and people strategy. Today we talk about how Sarah’s career in the retail industry evolved and how, over time sparked her interest in the role of business in society. We hear about the unique structure and philosophy of John Lewis, the importance of having a clear organizational purpose, and the need for businesses to shift towards a more socially responsible model.

00:02:27:04 – 00:03:01:05
Philippa White
And she lets us in on her new role with Blueprint for Better Business and talks about how she’s working with big business in the UK to consider different forms of value creation and to expand the definition of business success beyond just financial metrics. This conversation will leave you feeling hopeful for the future and realize that what we are talking about is possible, that it has been done before and it can certainly be done again.

00:03:01:17 – 00:03:12:07
Philippa White
So throw in those running shoes or grab that favorite beverage and enjoy this conversation with Sarah. Sarah, it is.

00:03:12:07 – 00:03:16:13
Philippa White
So wonderful to have you with us today. Thank you for joining us on today on Earth.

00:03:16:20 – 00:03:18:12
Sarah Gillard
Thanks to the invite me here.

00:03:18:19 – 00:03:35:22
Philippa White
Yeah. So I am so happy. This is sort of the second time that we’ve spoken. I’ve heard your name so many times, but it’s just it’s really wonderful to have the second opportunity to. Yeah. Just hear your story and hear about you because it’s really, really interesting and really inspiring.

00:03:36:11 – 00:03:40:23
Sarah Gillard
Oh, it’s a lovely, lovely to be here. And thanks for asking. It’s a delight to speak to you again.

00:03:41:07 – 00:03:51:00
Philippa White
I always like to do this. This is how I start every podcast because I do talk to people from all corners of the world. Where are you right now?

00:03:51:03 – 00:04:04:20
Sarah Gillard
Well, right now I’m in a client’s office in Canary Wharf in London, and I’m very proud of myself because normally it takes me about 40 minutes of panic trying to navigate Canary Wharf to get to this office. And I did it in eight. So that’s a personal.

00:04:07:03 – 00:04:07:10
Philippa White
Day.

00:04:07:11 – 00:04:08:01
Sarah Gillard
Last year.

00:04:08:02 – 00:04:17:01
Philippa White
Yeah, I and it’s so nice to know I’m not the only one because the other thing that’s so hard is Google Maps, because the buildings are so high, you don’t have any.

00:04:17:05 – 00:04:33:17
Sarah Gillard
You know exactly that. I’m so glad that you have the focus because I was just it was user error on my phone. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know where I was. It was like freezing and everywhere there’s water so I can navigate using any padlocks either. Anyway, I made it more by luck. I think that it feels good.

00:04:34:02 – 00:04:41:09
Philippa White
So tell us your story and a little bit about you before where you are now. Use the human you as the person.

00:04:42:06 – 00:05:01:04
Sarah Gillard
Thank you all us. So ages ago. Decades ago, I did a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, not thinking that it was going to be vocational. I definitely don’t want to be a politician or an economist, and I didn’t think being a philosopher was choice open to me that. So I forgot about that after I graduated and frankly got a temp job.

00:05:01:05 – 00:05:08:15
Sarah Gillard
Not a particularly strategic decision, but I just got a job in the first place that I could find, which happened to be a retail. And then I spent 27 years in the retail industry.

00:05:08:15 – 00:05:12:05
Philippa White
So that was a lucky holder.

00:05:12:17 – 00:05:33:11
Sarah Gillard
Well, I don’t know. I just I, I don’t know if it was just a lack of applying myself and thinking about what I was best suited to. But it turned out that it was an extremely interesting place to spend. 27 years of my career is in an industry that’s been very disruptive with the Internet and changes in consumer habits.

00:05:33:11 – 00:06:11:13
Sarah Gillard
But I also, again, sort of by mistake, spent the beginning of my retail career and the end of my retail career in two very different organizations. So the first was the Arcadia, which owned Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, and then I was brands that had been bought by Philip Green when I joined. So I experienced in a very real sense what a sort of very intense focus on shareholder profits, short term shareholder profits, and well, that’s like inside an organization that has a focus and what it does to people and strategy and relationships and suppliers and customers and all that.

00:06:11:22 – 00:06:33:24
Sarah Gillard
And then the last part of my retail careers and the John Lewis Partnership, which is the UK’s largest current business, it’s got about 70,000. Anybody who works for it, basically some 2000 people owners of this organization since going to some shareholders and it is also in retail but has a very different understanding of what it’s trying to do as a business, what its goals are, how it thinks about people.

00:06:33:24 – 00:06:58:19
Sarah Gillard
So the politics, philosophy and economics degree kicked in belatedly 27 years after I finished a degree, and I suddenly became super fascinated about the role of business in society and how the perception of that can really shape people’s experience of work, how the business shows up, how it relates to the stakeholders and its long term success and ability survive crises, Muslims, things.

00:06:59:06 – 00:07:03:07
Sarah Gillard
So it all makes sense in retrospect. But yeah, 20 some years ago.

00:07:04:11 – 00:07:17:22
Philippa White
Yeah, and it’s fascinating and I’m sure this will come up throughout the conversation and my next question is to help everyone understand more about your work at John Lewis and what that look like and why did you get working into that space? What did that look like?

00:07:17:22 – 00:07:46:24
Sarah Gillard
It’s such an interesting organization. It’s the UK’s largest current business and I think the third largest business in the world. It currently has about 300 Waitrose stores, which are sort of premium grocery stores and about 40 department stores. So selling everything from childrenswear to fashion to beauty to tech furniture and I some folks and like I said, anybody who works in that business is called a partner because they literally own the business.

00:07:47:08 – 00:08:11:09
Sarah Gillard
And this happened 100 years ago. So the original John Lewis was a pedestrian shop on London’s Oxford Street, run by a traditional Victorian capitalist. So he was very interested in customer service, but only because he believed that it would maximize his financial gains from the from the business. And he said, you know, in Victorian times, you know, workers were not well treated and he didn’t see any problem with that.

00:08:11:09 – 00:08:38:05
Sarah Gillard
So it was a son, John Speed Nurse, who created the organization which exists today. So when he inherited the business, he’d done a lot of thinking. I mean, it is a fascinating story. You got thrown off his horse in about 1989 or something and spent two years lying in bed. So lot of time to think about stuff. And he was a natural scientist by training and he was observing a very turbulent world so he could see political extremism.

00:08:38:05 – 00:09:00:20
Sarah Gillard
And so the rise of communism, the rise of fascism in Europe. And he he was also seeing huge inequality in society. And he was linking these two things. So the the massive inequality that capitalism’s industrial revolution was creating very rich people, but still people living in slums. He thought that that was the cause of the political extremism that was beginning to kind of bubble up in Europe.

00:09:00:20 – 00:09:19:04
Sarah Gillard
And he, as a natural scientist thought, well, this situation is just not sustainable. It can’t continue like this. There was going to be revolution or war or whatever. And he also thought, just as a human, it was kind of unjust, as he said, that the 300 people who worked in the John Lewis business at the time took home less from the business in a year than he, his brother and his father did.

00:09:19:23 – 00:09:40:17
Sarah Gillard
So he thought, not only is this unjust, but it’s not sustainable. It wouldn’t happen to nature. So he began thinking, when is on his recovery that I wonder what would happen if you could get business to act like a natural system. So if it was in harmony with its stakeholders. So you can call them stakeholders, but it’s workers, it’s customers, it’s investors, it’s suppliers, society in general.

00:09:40:20 – 00:10:07:18
Sarah Gillard
All of these stakeholders were wanting the business to succeed because it was kind of in their interest. Their mutual interest would do so. Would that make it a stronger business? Would it become a sort of adapting organism full of people who are genuinely interested in the long term survival of the organization? I mean, as a scientist, he wanted to run an experiment from his point of view, aligning the interests of labor and capsule was the experiment he wants to create is giving the business away to the labor force.

00:10:08:06 – 00:10:32:09
Sarah Gillard
Would that help the organizations think about this kind of position in society and how to improve or create value for everybody? So we had to wait for his policies before he was able to do that because, you know, Victorian companies weren’t well known for giving that right. That’s an unusual and in fact just you can Portland had to do it there had to be an act of parliament in the UK to create the structure of the organization because it hadn’t been done before.

00:10:32:09 – 00:10:53:20
Sarah Gillard
So the company is held in trust for the workers of that organization. So it is a really interesting, unique organization and he thought hard about how to make sure it continues to is a democratic structure in place. There’s free journalism. So there’s a weekly magazine. The oldest, I think, is the oldest magazine in sort of industrial history. So this is what first bits do anything about.

00:10:53:20 – 00:11:10:11
Sarah Gillard
It was the 1920s. So he started to run Peter Jones, which was one of the two shows at the time with the with these principles and it wasn’t until 1950 that he was able to complete the Act of Parliament and give the thing away. But it meant that he had a lot of time thinking about, well, how should this work?

00:11:10:11 – 00:11:33:22
Sarah Gillard
And how does the voice of the people for whom this business is run full, i.e. the workers, get through to management? How do you create channels of communication? So for instance, he set up the magazine where any I mean, this is extraordinary today, but even more so than any employee, any partner could write in anonymously to the magazine and a director would have to respond within seven days in public in writing.

00:11:33:23 – 00:11:55:10
Sarah Gillard
So and that is still true today. So, you know, really and of yes. And hundreds of letters every week anonymously assent and the directors have to respond. The council meet regularly. They are democratically elected and they hold the executive to account so that the structures that you put in place to try and resist the kind of normal way of doing things is still thriving today, is it?

00:11:55:10 – 00:12:12:14
Sarah Gillard
I mean, it is a properly fascinating business. It meant that it was a it was like a big experiment, a big petri dish to see what happens inside an organization. And for its long term success, if it thinks about its role different, it thinks about people differently. If it thinks about how it’s creating value, not just through a financial lens.

00:12:12:17 – 00:12:34:01
Sarah Gillard
So for instance, EY saw the business very differently. The the John Lewis partnership offered health services to its workforce before the NHS existed because it saw the in its responsibility to create a healthy environment and to support the health of the humans who worked for it, not just so they be productive workers, but because it was an end in itself.

00:12:34:11 – 00:12:51:12
Sarah Gillard
Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, it was a very he was a very progressive, forward thinking visionary. And it really helps the organization, I think, to be resilient. Adapting attracts people who are interested in business being a force for good in the world.

00:12:51:13 – 00:13:16:01
Philippa White
It’s just really interesting. As an aside, I grew up always hearing about how important John Lewis was to our family because my grandmother worked at John Lewis. She so my mum was born in 51 and my grandmother had her really, really young. She’s the eldest. Anyway, she was a not a very nice my grandmother was a not a very nice marriage.

00:13:16:09 – 00:13:36:03
Philippa White
And so she had my my mum and her sister and she kind of escaped this horrible man and she got a job at John Lewis and she had food tokens. And that kept the family going because she was on her own with two young children. She ended up getting polio. She was in hospital for three years, I think.

00:13:36:03 – 00:14:02:11
Philippa White
Wow. And John Lewis was this token part of their life for a really big part of their life. And I mean, my mum might be listening to this at some point and she’d be like, Well, this didn’t happen and this happened and I don’t know those people, but still, you know, never knowingly undersold. You know, I grew up in Canada, but whenever my mum would come back, she would always go to John Lewis, always go to John Lewis.

00:14:02:11 – 00:14:05:13
Philippa White
It’s extraordinary because it was much more than just a job.

00:14:05:19 – 00:14:30:23
Sarah Gillard
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And that really was what the and the founder intended. I mean, again, he was very kind of progressive. So, you know, in the 1920s, he allowed married women to work. And that was just not the done thing at the time. So supporting women, supporting families was really sort of central to his thinking. And and he said he wanted the partnership to be something that people want.

00:14:30:24 – 00:14:49:20
Sarah Gillard
They gave them something to live for, on just something to live. But yeah. So it was always more than a job. It was it was meant to be as if you were joining a family to support each other. That sense of, you know, human connectivity, that kind of the trust, the relationships, it really informed what the organization was.

00:14:49:24 – 00:14:58:01
Sarah Gillard
How it thought about is culture. Was that interesting? Is it is it some sort of a been invented recently? Is it the starting thing is yeah, yeah.

00:14:58:02 – 00:15:08:22
Philippa White
I mean, it’s just fascinating. Maybe you can talk about what you did there and then just to help us understand where you are now. So what was that? What was that transition?

00:15:08:22 – 00:15:31:20
Sarah Gillard
Well, so I joined in a commercial. My background had been merchandizing. So I mean, I loved the job. I was selling stations in the buying department. But then the more interest that I got in terms of the organization, why it was different, how I was able to resist a purely financially driven competitive growth at all costs model, that every other reason I was looking at the time was going to go, you know, what was the magic sauce?

00:15:31:20 – 00:15:55:20
Sarah Gillard
So I began kind of wandering around the company, talking my way into jobs, and frankly, I had no qualifications for. But I liked it because I was worried that the disruption that was happening in the industry was meaning that all that had made the organization successful in the past was being not deliberately ignored. It was not driving its strategy in the future.

00:15:56:09 – 00:16:18:24
Sarah Gillard
And I and I thought that was dangerous. If, for instance, if you try and compete with Amazon on their own terms, you will definitely. And so and we were in retail like the Germans partners in retail. So I felt like it had to get a sense of who it was in order to inform its future. So I told my way into a dressing room and had a great time doing that and you know, working with consultants and business models and all that kind of stuff.

00:16:18:24 – 00:16:45:13
Sarah Gillard
And I thought, well, strategy is important, but actually, as we all know, culture eats it for breakfast. So I thought, well, culture really is the secret sauce here. So that I taught myself into people, directors role and did some stuff on culture and leadership and operating model and all that stuff. And I had an absolute bull and loads and I thought, well, actually strategy and culture are both symptoms of the sense of identity or purpose of the organization.

00:16:45:17 – 00:17:02:13
Sarah Gillard
And what I was diagnosing at the time was that everybody believes the organization to be purpose driven, but there were like 70,000 different versions of what the purpose was. That’s when I probably geeks out on the history of the organization thought, Well, I can I can try and begin this conversation about what’s our purpose, what’s what the 21st century is.

00:17:02:13 – 00:17:07:02
Philippa White
For people who know about John Lewis. Oh, it’s not like how long ago our dinner.

00:17:07:03 – 00:17:36:19
Sarah Gillard
So so I started poking at this probably in about 2014 2015. Honestly, I was rapidly educating myself because I didn’t know anything about purpose organizations or so. I did a lot of reading and I went to a lot of conferences and listened to a lot TED talks and basically tried to understand this topic because there aren’t at the time, certainly there weren’t purpose professionals in businesses or consultancies that I was aware of at least, so I didn’t know where to look.

00:17:36:19 – 00:17:59:07
Sarah Gillard
So I was just kind of reading anything that I could and using experimental things. And then I started sort of knocking on the door to say, This conversation needs to happen, but timing is everything and weirdly enough, the chairman change and those partly a new executive team. Six weeks after they all joined, we were in lockdown. So March 20, 20.

00:17:59:07 – 00:18:20:22
Sarah Gillard
And that was a very challenging time to be anywhere, of course. But in the partnership, the John Lewis stores will shut, which has huge implications, as you can imagine, in supply chain and in Waitrose they were trying to manage two or three hour queues outside the building and work out how to do so. They had security guards on the toilet roll aisles because if you remember that.

00:18:20:22 – 00:18:33:16
Sarah Gillard
Oh yeah. I mean, the amount of operational challenges we were dealing with at that time and I was wandering around the organization saying now is the perfect moment to talk about why are we here? And I was.

00:18:33:16 – 00:18:35:04
Philippa White
Thinking this is perhaps.

00:18:35:11 – 00:19:00:04
Sarah Gillard
This is not going to go down well. But you know what? It was exactly the right moment to talk about. Why? Because when people are totally operating from a place of extreme kind of pressure and intensity and crisis, and there aren’t any guidelines and they’re having to rely on judgment and making it up as they go along. And really at the edge of taking people wanted to talk about what it was all encompassing.

00:19:00:04 – 00:19:18:16
Sarah Gillard
So why would they why were they doing it? Why were they working 15 hour shifts? Why weren’t the thousands of John Lewis partners who were on furlough could have chosen to sit in their garden in the sunshine on full pay? Why were they showing up at the Waitrose, the local Waitrose, to help them with the just I mean, literally 12,000 partners every day.

00:19:18:20 – 00:19:45:16
Sarah Gillard
No one told them to do it. They went bonus to those functions function sometimes. They just showed up every day because they felt so strongly. The purpose of this organization is to help communities, to help customers, to support your colleagues, to, you know, now that wasn’t captured in any of the ways that we were talking about in terms of the business at the time and I was so I was like by if we were able to capture what is going on here, what’s driving people not in now, but in their own 100 years that we’ve been here?

00:19:46:06 – 00:20:01:05
Philippa White
I think my grandmother, who was in a proper crisis and it was John Lewis that was that solid structure that saw them through. And I just think when that world is falling to pieces, everyone just looks for some kind of beacon.

00:20:01:16 – 00:20:38:09
Sarah Gillard
Absolutely. That relies on having built trust and connections and relationships. And you’re never going to see that on a spreadsheet. It’s very hard to quantify in any kind of, you know, value metrics that we use to talk about companies and their success and what they’re achieving and all the rest of it. But that sense of of meaning, of finding meaning and feeling like you’re contributing something, that you’re serving the common good in some way, it’s really tangible when you see it, but because it wasn’t written down anywhere in a way that people could relate to, everyone was interpreting it in different ways, which is fine in a crisis, but in general, business as usual operations.

00:20:38:18 – 00:21:02:23
Sarah Gillard
If you’re not clear on what your purpose is, an organization, that it doesn’t define success, it can’t change your strategy, it can’t guide decisions, it can’t inform your culture. So that’s why, having worked in the commercial with the strategy bit, the culture meant I was like, Right, if we could. If it could be really clear why this organization exists, how is it serving the world, not just in the products and services or whatever that it’s selling, but was it actually trying to achieve the world?

00:21:03:02 – 00:21:09:04
Sarah Gillard
Maybe that would help it evolve in a in a very disrupted landscape with a clear sense of purpose.

00:21:09:09 – 00:21:22:17
Philippa White
So where did you get to I mean, I’m curious to know other questions, because we need to move to where you’re at. But I am just here. Is there a way to kind of sum up where you kind of got to I mean, it’s still a journey that they are on because you’re not there, but.

00:21:22:23 – 00:21:43:22
Sarah Gillard
It certainly is. I mean, so the first thing we did is we did a giant misting exercise because there’s no way you can just lock yourself in a room with a few people and go by the steps of this organization. In an organization that is owned by 17,000 people. And actually now the work that we do, even if you’re not a current business, is so critical to listen to the people.

00:21:43:22 – 00:21:44:07
Philippa White
Who.

00:21:44:23 – 00:22:12:17
Sarah Gillard
Are impacted by the business. What is what makes you proud to work for this business? Why do you work with this business? If you’re a supply, why you invest in this business? Why do you stop them or whatever? So it’s with this huge missing exercise for customers, for partners and employees, for suppliers. And we luckily we already had a written constitution that again, some originated in 1925 and have been various iterations of it since the last iteration of it written in 1999.

00:22:12:18 – 00:22:40:08
Sarah Gillard
So what we were focused on, there was a working group creation across across the organization we were focused on was can we get to a set of words that could update the Constitution in a way that described what the purpose of the organization was that was relevant to the 21st century? And then from that, that would give us a document that we could then say, Okay, what does this mean for strategy for the brand, for the employee value proposition, for how we source, for things about procurement, for supply chain, you know, the whole works.

00:22:40:20 – 00:22:59:22
Sarah Gillard
So that of course is a constant iteration because the size and expectations from is changing and the organization is changing. So that, I expect, will continue forever. But yeah, the Constitution was updated and the purpose was discovered again, a new you know, we didn’t invent it because the guide wanted it introduced again. We just updated it with with language.

00:22:59:22 – 00:23:01:01
Sarah Gillard
That was an excellent what.

00:23:01:01 – 00:23:03:08
Philippa White
An amazing journey to have been a part of.

00:23:03:10 – 00:23:04:11
Sarah Gillard
It’s such a privilege.

00:23:05:09 – 00:23:11:17
Philippa White
Jordan there. So talk to us about where you are now, blueprint for a better business and how did you get there.

00:23:11:20 – 00:23:31:04
Sarah Gillard
So having had this epiphany that my politics was unique science degree and the kind of interaction of business in the real world, the way that business thinks about itself, the people inside that business is business. It’s just a group of people coming together. The way that they think about what they’re trying to do together will fundamentally impact their own lives.

00:23:31:08 – 00:23:59:15
Sarah Gillard
The success of the organization and society as a whole, this kind of epiphany, I thought, Well, I’ve seen what I can do in terms of positive impact. And if you look ahead to the next decisive decade, the role that business can play needs to play in shaping our future in a more positive direction is so critical. There is no one answer to these challenges and facing environmental challenges, you know, of biodiversity loss, social inequality, that these are huge, huge challenges.

00:23:59:15 – 00:24:24:18
Sarah Gillard
And no one action them, whether it’s government or regulators or whatever, is going to fix it. Business absolutely has to be part of the solution. And imagine if the power of business, which is frankly the best organizing system that we have. So harnessing resources and achieving things and solving problems and innovating. Imagine if that to be focused on society and creating value for society and long term flourishing.

00:24:24:18 – 00:24:45:20
Sarah Gillard
So for all people and planet, wouldn’t that be awesome? So I thought, yeah, well yes, that would be awesome. But it has to be. That’s quite a different paradigm from the one that we’re currently in with. Businesses so often is a profit maximizing machine with humans sort of instrumentalize and service that so I was wondering around thinking, well, how do I share my lived experience?

00:24:45:20 – 00:25:12:16
Sarah Gillard
But also how do I elevate this conversation or help catalyze conversation on a broader platform than just going into one of a company and talking about it and so forth? And it made Blueprint for a better business, which this fantastic charity set up about 12 years ago. So the purpose of the charity is to create a better society through better business they were looking for and because the brilliant founder CEO tells me he was stepping down, retiring, although he’s a very active trustee, I should say.

00:25:12:17 – 00:25:46:01
Sarah Gillard
Most supportive. So you don’t want to retire? I joined this charity about eight months ago and it couldn’t have been a more joyful choice for Johnson because this charity was created to try and initiate this conversation. And what’s the role of business in society and how do we think about it differently? And actually, if you bring some more expansive ideas to the framing of business and how to think about business, how to think about people within business, what becomes possible, what does it unlock in terms of potential for individuals, for companies, for society more generally?

00:25:46:01 – 00:26:22:09
Sarah Gillard
And because the charity was started as a conversation between some very high powered CEOs, including Paul Polman and others at the time, you know, the access that this charity has had over the years to executive teams and boards and investors is, you know, 50, 50 companies. I mean, the access to conversations, the potential impact is really significant. So we were a very small charity, but the what do we do is basically to share these ideas with senior leaders of big companies and help them explore it and ask questions around what becomes possible, what are some not?

00:26:22:24 – 00:26:26:14
Sarah Gillard
So it’s just a such a challenge to to be in the shop like this.

00:26:26:22 – 00:26:55:15
Philippa White
As we talked about the last time that we spoke, I was in the process still of writing my book called Return on Humanity, which now it’s now available for preorder. And we’ve made the top of the charts categories on Amazon. It’s still there thing, which is really exciting. So yeah, you know, obviously I’ve written a book around this and so everything that you’re talking about obviously is something that I just get equally enthusiastic about.

00:26:55:24 – 00:27:19:22
Philippa White
And I just I’d be curious to know just from these conversations that you’ve had over the last 18 months and obviously Charles I’ve met as well. And yeah, it’s super I mean, it’s just amazing meeting these individuals who also feel very passionate about this. And, you know, obviously talking to the CEOs that you’ve all been talking to, what would you say, the return on humanity is in business?

00:27:19:23 – 00:27:52:14
Sarah Gillard
Well, you know, it’s so interesting because I think business in general has for a long time, 50 years or so, operates in a context where it tries to quantify everything, music, financial metrics. And that’s pretty understandable, right? Because it’s simple and relatable and clear. You can make decisions based on that. And if your goal is to maximize the financial return, then, you know, if you’re making progress, you can create bonus schemes and some structures and comparison tables and all the rest of it based on based on that.

00:27:52:24 – 00:28:27:16
Sarah Gillard
But it is a very narrow definition of a return and it’s a very narrow definition of what business is capable of. And if funny that it can create and I think opening up to, well, what is the value that we are creating as a group of individuals coming together, which is what a business is opening up the discussion to use, you know, to, to consider different forms of ideas so critical and actually, you know, before sort of the 1970s and the famous Milton Friedman this thing about what’s the role of businesses societies maximize shareholder returns.

00:28:27:16 – 00:28:48:20
Sarah Gillard
You know, this was quite a common conversation. Business, of course, was seen as really integrated in society. You know, film speaking. Louis was thinking, well, here is my business. We employ people in the local area. We buy things from suppliers, we serve customers. You know, we we are part of this society and how do we contribute value towards it?

00:28:48:20 – 00:29:16:03
Sarah Gillard
So it’s taking off. The sort of financial sole focus enlarges the scope of what an organization and people within it become interested in how they make decisions and where they see opportunities to create value. And that might be how do you help people flourish? How do you help communities thrive? How do you help people connect? How do you protect and restore the natural environment?

00:29:16:05 – 00:29:36:14
Sarah Gillard
How do you build trust within society? How do you help reduce inequality? Basically, how do you how do you sense as a business that’s your role. What is it that you’re providing services that are truly good and service the truly sense? Because if you’re doing that well, then profit is a necessary outcome of that. But it’s not the goal.

00:29:36:14 – 00:29:44:21
Sarah Gillard
The goal is to serve and that just that framing alone creates a very different sense of if what you’re trying to achieve. And therefore one of the returns.

00:29:44:21 – 00:30:01:23
Philippa White
And you know, it’s so interesting because also kind of in the same way that John Lewis, you were sort of on this campaign to kind of just talk to a whole lot of different people into the strategy and and the culture and just sort of the more you researched, the more you realized what was there. And I kind of feel the same journey I’ve been on when I’ve been doing this book.

00:30:02:07 – 00:30:30:18
Philippa White
But what has been fascinating is everything that you’ve just talked about, companies, if they do actually focus on these things, they’re more competitive, they are better, it’s more sustainable. And you actually do end up being able to do more. But like you say, it comes down to the reframing and the old school way of doing things. And again, back to that first retail experience that you had, it’s fascinating when you look at the two different models, if you like.

00:30:30:18 – 00:30:41:13
Philippa White
One is still very much there and still going. And there’s a reason for that because it’s been a part of so much more than just people’s bank statements.

00:30:41:19 – 00:31:06:20
Sarah Gillard
I think that’s exactly right. And if you think about, you know, the last 50 years, of course, have had huge challenges. But in general, socially, environmentally, economically, politically, in the Western world in particular, it has been relatively stable. If you think of the next 50 years, environmentally, socially, politically, it is unlikely that we are going to experience that level of stability.

00:31:07:06 – 00:31:33:02
Sarah Gillard
So if we know that the sort of policy crisis is, we now have an unfortunate time frame is going to be the norm. What are the organizations going to look like that are thriving in that environment? How, you know, what are the organizations going to be like that are attracting investment and talent and customers? The rest of it is the ones who have got a clear articulation of how they are contributing positively, and that is actually lived out and what they say, what they do, how they act, you know, everything.

00:31:33:06 – 00:31:57:09
Sarah Gillard
It’s not a kind of PR thing. It genuinely is who they are. So if you are inside an organization now that hasn’t started this journey, it is likely that you will quickly become irrelevant. And so resilience and relevance to me that the reasons why purpose and being clear on that will make you a better business. Now that might be measured in financial terms, but it might also be measured in how do you help people live well.

00:31:57:21 – 00:32:02:02
Sarah Gillard
And so those are the organizations that I think are going to survive in the future and thrive.

00:32:02:13 – 00:32:04:05
Philippa White
It’s out behaving the competition.

00:32:05:15 – 00:32:24:09
Sarah Gillard
And then I see some of organizations that we work with that are most advanced in this journey are thinking also, well, how do we raise the whole section, how we sharing what we are learning as a as a business with others? So the entire sector, the entire industry can lift itself up. So often. It starts with, hey, how do we gain competitive advantage in this?

00:32:24:21 – 00:32:30:13
Sarah Gillard
But actually as the thinking progresses and then extends to how do we share what we’re learning so that others can join us?

00:32:30:13 – 00:32:45:15
Philippa White
So that’s really interesting and I love that. What does the future look like then for Blueprint? Because I feel like you are drivers in this. I mean, you you have an interesting view and voice, I think, you know, where are you going? Well.

00:32:45:24 – 00:33:05:02
Sarah Gillard
That’s a good question. I mean, we’re a small charity and I think when we first started there, the key presenting problem was how do you get this conversation talks about in boardrooms and that now is happening, which is great. And all credit to Charles and the team, the trustees who who helps that conversation become sort of more mainstream.

00:33:05:02 – 00:33:26:15
Sarah Gillard
The presenting problem now is more, well, how does an organization move from thinking of itself as a profit maximizing machine to thinking of itself as a human system in service of society? How do you go through that transition? So we continue to work with businesses in what we call social contracts. We walk alongside the executive and the board as they go on this journey.

00:33:26:15 – 00:33:46:10
Sarah Gillard
But increasingly, we’ve sort of seen that having an executive team that is keen for this is necessary but not sufficient. You also need the functional heads of all directors with their hands on the operational levers of the business to know how to move this to, you know, head of Treasury, head of culture, head of ESG and in finance, whatever, that kind of functional and expertize.

00:33:46:10 – 00:34:05:11
Sarah Gillard
And so we have within NatWest and medical separates from imagine it creates a community of practice practitioners cross-sector who are on this journey and I wanted to come together and learn from each other about how to do it. So we started this community about a year ago. We thought it would be great to get ten organizations signed up.

00:34:05:11 – 00:34:26:15
Sarah Gillard
We’ve got eight signed up for that outside. Well, I think it’s just totally a reflection of the appetite that’s out there. So many people for so many reasons. I think the pandemic really accelerated this as well. People thinking, well, I want my organization to be part of the solution. I want to feel like we are contributing positively. How do we make sure that that’s true?

00:34:26:16 – 00:34:54:19
Sarah Gillard
So I think many, many people are trying to work that out. And so bringing them together and and holding space and a forum for them to to share love from each other is part of how we’re trying to enhance our impact. And then one of the other things we’re doing, we recognize a lot of consultancies are also operating in the space and they may have come from a background in sustainability or strategy or cultural leadership, but now increasingly as in purpose, is being relevant to to the expert area.

00:34:54:19 – 00:35:14:13
Sarah Gillard
And so we’re working with a few to share our thinking to see if we can help them with their work so that the work that they do with clients informed by the blueprint, perspective and purpose that’s been developed over the years. So how to sort of maximize impact without radically tripling the size of charity because that’s just a funding difficulty.

00:35:14:15 – 00:35:35:04
Philippa White
Yes, right. I think what would be really interesting, just, you know, we spoke recently about the need to develop more human centric abilities for leaders in business. And just reflecting on what you’ve just said, it’s not just about having a really senior individual kind of bringing you guys on board. It needs to filter through, doesn’t it? And everyone needs to understand what this even means.

00:35:35:04 – 00:35:40:08
Philippa White
So, you know, why is that important? And what do you think is needed for that to happen?

00:35:40:10 – 00:36:08:03
Sarah Gillard
Well, so the reason it’s important, I think, again, if you think business for a while has put itself into the box of being a machine devoted to financial maximization, that’s a bit of a generalization, but in general, and it’s also put humans into a box of being rational, self-interested economically motivated actions, and that’s quite useful for economic models, but it doesn’t actually align with what we know about human nature from any of the study anthropology, sociology, psychology, anything else.

00:36:08:20 – 00:36:31:03
Sarah Gillard
So I think the first step is recognizing that humans are, of course extrinsic motivators by money, status and power, but are also intrinsically motivated by a desire for meaning and connection and belonging and feeling like you’re contributing to something greater than yourself and that you’re learning new things. All of these intrinsic motivators are very powerful and they’re much more human.

00:36:31:03 – 00:36:54:09
Sarah Gillard
And I think businesses creating an environment for all of that intrinsic motivation can find a place inside business and that people can show up with so richness as humanity, that’s more likely to lead to an environment where people feel able to collaborate, to innovate, to create, to imagine new ways of doing things that are going to be so necessary for the future.

00:36:54:09 – 00:37:21:00
Sarah Gillard
So I think I hope actually that businesses are going to naturally become more human places because we need the full spectrum of human capabilities to navigate a way forward. So I think what happens so often, we find that individuals, if you speak to them once, a lot of them will say, well, I am motivated by a sense of purpose and creating something positive.

00:37:21:00 – 00:37:46:08
Sarah Gillard
A lot of others are motivated purely by money. And then everyone says that kind of go, Right, guys, everybody, you all individually motivated by this kind of strong sense. And it’s because the environment that typically is created business means that nobody says this stuff because they think they’re going to get laughed out of the thinking. They’re going to be told that naive or foolish or weak or sentimental or emotional or some other kind of pejorative word.

00:37:46:08 – 00:38:14:22
Sarah Gillard
Actually, this is about strength and being a full human and sharing dreams and, you know, building something exactly this is what allows extraordinary stuff to happen is when humans connect and imagine what might be possible. So I think the very kind of rational, logical, data driven environment that often is the case business restricts people and their ability to do this kind of stuff.

00:38:14:22 – 00:38:17:19
Sarah Gillard
So I think in itself unlocks huge potential.

00:38:17:20 – 00:38:44:09
Philippa White
We’ve just launched a program, you know, it’s a scalable program that now touches on 500 people from a company, and it’s all really rooted on what we’ve done. It’s always been rooted in human competencies, but this is very much focused on self-awareness and interconnectedness and interdependence. And suddenly we’re blowing open these opportunities for people to have conversations about things that are talked about in business.

00:38:44:09 – 00:39:03:02
Philippa White
And it’s yeah, fascinating. It’s absolutely fascinating. And giving people that permission to to reflect on things and have these conversations. And you’re right, once you start opening up, but once you actually have these conversations, then it does it changes that we are we are coming to the end. But I just I often ask people if there’s a quote, some people love them, some people don’t.

00:39:03:02 – 00:39:14:07
Philippa White
But I, I love them. And I just think sometimes there’s ones that really just capture what we’ve talked about. And I just wonder, do you have a quote perhaps summarizes today’s conversation?

00:39:14:07 – 00:39:15:05
Sarah Gillard
Well, I have to.

00:39:15:17 – 00:39:19:17
Philippa White
Oh, okay. My lucky day.

00:39:21:15 – 00:39:48:08
Sarah Gillard
Sorry. And I’m going to get by somebody else. So the first one, so often in this sort of territory, there is a sense of, I don’t know, responsibility or a trade off between purpose and profit, or we have to do this because you know as well as being a kind of a heaviness to it. And so the quote that I love, if you’re wanting to build a boat, you don’t give people a manual and tell them how to cut the word investment.

00:39:48:09 – 00:39:57:08
Sarah Gillard
You give them an endless yearning for the sea. I think that it really speaks to, you know, humans are capable of extraordinary things, extraordinary things.

00:39:57:22 – 00:39:58:20
Philippa White
But these folks.

00:39:59:02 – 00:40:07:12
Sarah Gillard
That missed the internal drive, the desire, the motivation has to come from within and then incredible things become possible. So I love that.

00:40:07:15 – 00:40:09:07
Philippa White
I love that.

00:40:09:09 – 00:40:32:05
Sarah Gillard
Quote. And the other one, which I find particularly kind of useful. So use the fact that my kids will tell you it’s written on my wall, the kitchen, because when you think about this stuff, it can’t be that overwhelming. And you think, Oh my God, we’re going to try and trying to change the entire economic, financial, political, social system here into something that is about human and planetary well-being rather than about financial crisis.

00:40:32:05 – 00:40:50:11
Sarah Gillard
Where the how do you stop? I can become a bit kind of alone. So the quote that my excellent mentor, Margaret Heffernan, said to me about 15 years ago and I was thinking as well, and she said, Start when you all use what you have, do what you can. And I just the kind of human scale of that.

00:40:50:19 – 00:40:53:10
Philippa White
So I love that. Oh.

00:40:54:03 – 00:40:57:03
Sarah Gillard
So think those my two little ones.

00:40:57:17 – 00:41:02:13
Philippa White
Are so great. Listen, is there anything that I haven’t asked you that like to tell our listeners?

00:41:02:16 – 00:41:27:08
Sarah Gillard
It’s really easy to be cynical about this, and it’s really easy to to think that it’s too hard. And I suppose if you imagine the world that you want to live in in 25 years time or 50 years time or whatever the time frame is, the one that you want to live in or your friends, your lunch, you know, the contribution that you will make to creating that world will be significant no matter what it is that you do or don’t do.

00:41:27:09 – 00:41:39:18
Sarah Gillard
So take hope that you can make a and think long term and start. We will use what you have do we can but remain joyful. That’s I guess my my top.

00:41:39:18 – 00:41:47:13
Philippa White
Ten there are I have absolutely adored this conversation. Thank you for giving us an hour. That is just amazing.

Philippa White
Thank you so much. And until the next time.

00:41:52:20 – 00:41:54:05
Sarah Gillard
Great. Bye.

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