5 things we learned at Future Talent conference 2020

By Mary Appleton

The 2020 Future Talent virtual conference on purpose, meaning and culture was an insight-packed two days, with outstanding performances from our sensational line up of speakers. Here are five things we learned:

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Philosophers Robert Rowland Smith and Dr Mark Vernon sought to uncover what creates meaning at work, and how we can bring this to life within our organisations.


For author and entrepreneur Dr Margaret Heffernan, purpose thrives where leaders create cultures that foster relationships and amplify personal resilience. Organisations’ success, and their ability to implement effective structural change, depend on the loyalty and commitment our people feel to each other.

To connect, we must first feel comfortable bringing our whole selves to work, pointed out Rev Lucy Winkett. Her Thought for the Day explored what knowledge – about ourselves and others – comes to the fore in the workplace.

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The need for organisations to understand the values and drivers of their employees, customers – and wider society – was a theme running through the conference.

Adam Kingl argued for more ‘human-centric’ leadership, urging each of us to develop behaviours that provide clarity and inspiration to our people, and enable creativity. However, leaders must not shy away from challenging or uncomfortable conversations in order to pursue purpose and effect change, added Saïd Business School’s Andrew White.

Actor and director Kwame Kwei-Armah made the case for theatre as an agent for cultural change: in the arts, the leader’s role is to listen, to hear, and to act in accordance with what they are hearing and feeling in their soul. 

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Lip service to diversity must be replaced with measurable efforts to address racial discrimination and fuel inclusion, concluded members of our Black Lives Matter-themed panel discussion.

Entrepreneur Tim Campbell, D&I consultant Claudia Iton, actor and director Kwame Kwei-Armah and the RSA’s Matthew Taylor discussed practical ways in which organisations can move dial on race and equity, highlighting the need for leaders to show humility and courage, and to remain undaunted in the face of slow progress. They explored what we can learn from each other by having substantive and honest conversations about inclusion.

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COVID-19 restrictions have accelerated much-needed change in the way work is designed and executed, including mass working from home. For business, the challenge now is to reach and include those who have lost their confidence, traction and networks during the pandemic, argued writer and adviser Christine Armstrong. This will enable them to contribute productively in this hybrid world of work. 

Our related panel discussion featured Simon Fanshawe, co-founder of Diversity by Design, Saatchi & Saatchi’s Sarah Jenkins, Heidrick & Struggles’ Jenni Hibbert, Deloitte’s Emma Codd and Finsbury’s Louisa Moreton, who considered why inclusion is the lever of success when it comes to innovation. The business case for creating truly inclusive cultures, that nurture belonging, is proven and clear.

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As life expectancy increases, ongoing education is central to getting the best out of our extra years. British astronaut Major Tim Peake described how his time in space altered his perspective on life back on earth, shedding light on his sense of purpose and meaning. He also explained why resilience, self-awareness, a positive mindset and interpersonal skills are crucial for us all as we navigate today’s disruptive landscape.

Adventurer and BecomingX co-founder Bear Grylls recalled his key learnings from his life; how he has overcome adversity and bounced back from failure. Like Peake, he believes that resilience, courage and determination are key to realising our potential, underpinned by lifelong learning.

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Tags: leadership, Self awareness, Future of learning, Transformational leadership, Managing change

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