6 questions to our new partner, Adriano Bruno

An interview with Adriano Bruno about building purpose-driven organizations

In this interview, we sit down with Adriano Bruno, our new partner at KennedyFitch. With a passion for HR, technology, and data, Adriano shares how his experiences in various roles and industries have shaped him both professionally and personally.

Adriano sheds light on the increasing relevance of building purpose-driven companies, especially in the face of societal shifts and economic challenges. He addresses the common hurdles organizations face in embracing this path, such as the risk of ‘purpose-washing’ and the perceived paradox of prioritizing purpose over profitability. Adriano advocates for a holistic approach, emphasizing the need for a genuine, deeply rooted purpose. Based on his experience, he makes a compelling case for the long-term benefits of purpose-driven growth, challenging organizations to rethink their priorities and embrace a more humanized approach.

Hello Adriano, can you tell us a bit about your journey, and how it has shaped your path to where you are today?

With pleasure! The first part of my journey revolved around IT – more specifically designing Executive Information Systems (EIS). Today, this area is broadly named ‘data analytics’. That was my first passion, which never really left me.

Then, about 23 years ago, I stepped into the world of HR, right at the time when the whole profession became – well – more adult and business-focused. This was the time when the Ulrich model was introduced, and I had the good fortune to be there at the right time and the right place. Hence, while at Unilever, I fell in love with HR and discovered my second vocational passion.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to steadily grow my expertise and business acumen by stepping into roles with increased responsibilities in various companies and industries. I feel blessed because I had the opportunity to follow my passions for human development, technology and data. All while experiencing and learning about new cultures and industries, working with smart and thought-provoking people with strong moral compasses, who guided and supported me along the way. Throughout this time, I experienced transformation and change, which has become my expertise, too. Inevitably, my journey to date shaped me as a professional and even more as a human being.

Before joining KennedyFitch, I took the liberty to take a career break and reflect on this journey and shape my future. It occurred to me that being led by a clear purpose, or a cause, and acting by established values, while building deep expertise with passion, are core to an inspiring career. And even more, I realised that this is not only true for individuals but also for teams, functions and companies.

Why do you say it is also true for companies? Can you share an example?

I have experienced the power of re-connecting to the company’s purpose and values during change and transformations several times. For example, one of my personal experiences in building purpose-led organizations was as CHRO of Erste Group. During the time of COVID and the start of the Ukrainian war, we decided to reconnect with the 200-year-old purpose and translate it into our times. Together with the top leadership team, we discussed how the bank can honor its original cause while remaining attractive to the investors as well as having an impact on the wider society and with our people. It’s this multi-stakeholder approach that led to an inspiring new vision, to renewed engagement levels in the organization and a spur of new ideas for innovation and collaboration. Clearly, important and difficult trade-offs had to be addressed constantly, balancing the short-term needs vs the long-term impact. However, this built-in tension triggered constructive debates and led to bold decisions and focus. Purpose and values can be a strong and positive source of energy and inspiration. It gives you clarity of direction when faced with difficult decisions and provides the self-confidence that lets others follow you and make things happen.

In all my experiences, the anker has always been the company’s main reason to exist and its values are aligned with my own. This alignment makes the difference.

That’s why now I have decided to join a like-minded team like KennedyFitch to help and enable other companies and individuals like Chief People Officers, to discover, build and pursue such a purpose-led journey.

The notion of building purpose-driven organizations is not new. Why do you think it is more relevant now?

Since the pandemic and the worsening economic outlook, two forces are affecting organizations: One, employees looking for more meaning and a sense of belonging at work, while expecting a more human work environment with less bureaucracy, more flexibility, more clarity or autonomy. Second, the increased cost of capital and overall inflation put companies under economic pressure to become more efficient and prioritize real-added value for customers. All of this while societies demand that organizations take care of the environment and well-being of others. A move to multi-stakeholder appreciation beyond financial profits only.

Research (1) has shown that companies that are purpose-driven outperform peers, especially in competitive times like we are facing. That’s why this notion of purpose-driven and more humanized growth is becoming more relevant now.

I also like this analogy to express why being purpose-led was, is, and will remain relevant: if a company only exists to make money, it is like a human being living his life to breathe, eat, drink and sleep. You will survive, certainly, but it is a sad and boring existence, lacking meaning and impact. There is simply more to life than just surviving. And likewise, there is more to a company than just being profitable.

Why then are not more organizations embracing this path?

There is one cynicism to tackle and an apparent paradox to debunk. The issue is “purpose-washing” and the paradox is that focus on purpose comes at the expense of revenue or profitability.

“Purpose-washing” is what happens when you read a purpose without meaning or soul, is very generic and not authentic. When purpose is just a statement and nothing more. Simply, it doesn’t capture your imagination and has no inspiration. It just doesn’t touch you or anybody else. These are the often-seen purpose statements on the wall or brochures, which are not lived. Produced because it is “good to have one” and not as guidance for further action and decisions. It is similar to the term “green-washing” in the area of ESG.  When you work to honor a purpose, then it is a force, otherwise, it is a farce.

That’s why Harvard professor Ranjy Gulati talks about “Deep Purpose” and not just about a purpose statement.

Focus on purpose at the expense of profitability or revenue is a known paradox. However, I believe this is more about short-term vs long-term goals. It’s difficult because being purpose-led is more long-term, is hard to measure (but not impossible) and quite intangible. In fact, purpose doesn’t sell any products or services, right? Actually, on the contrary. Because if people buy WHY you offer something, not only WHAT you offer, they are more likely to do so when they understand and recognise the alignment of purpose, behavior and action. Customer not only feel good about their decision, but they want to help you succeed! Hence, they continue to buy, build your brand reputation and increase sales and repeat sales. In fact, the share of wallet increases. So investing in becoming a purpose-led organization will increase your revenue and financial success over time!

Alex Edmans, professor of Finance at London Business School, has researched this fact and has captured his findings very nicely in his book “Grow the Pie”.

So I guess the big question is how do you intend to enable organizations on this path?

On the one hand, it is not rocket science, as they say. On the other, it is truly difficult and hard work to achieve this level of alignment across an organization. It takes courage, time and continuous adjustments to get there. However, the success of purpose-driven organizations proves that it is worth the effort and even more, it is essential for sustained success over time.

So first, the “Why”. I propose to dig deep into the organizations past and origin, and re-discover the essence and reason for being of the organization. Defining the “Why” and the “How” of an organization, to quote Simon Sinek’s approach. The “Why” gives you a sense of direction, inspiration, relations to build strong partnerships and eco-systems, and ultimately a strong customer reputation and brand image.

Once the purpose is understood and embraced, then the next step is to focus on the “How”, which has two inter-connected steps: one is to define the values and principles describing how the company wants to be perceived and act. Then it is about building a brand identity reflecting these values and principles (external consistency), followed by cultivating the human capabilities and working environment aligned with the above (internal consistency). Both elements should be constantly informed by data and analytics so that the right intervention can be designed to continuously improve and adapt over time.

As you can see, aligning purpose, values and principles consistently so that they are recognized externally and nurtured internally, requires hard work, courage, perseverance, in other words “grit”, to get there. That’s why it is not easy, and it is not the norm. And for the same reason, doing it right gives a competitive advantage!

Ok, let’s focus on cultivating human capabilities. Can you be more specific?

By cultivating “Human Capabilities”, at KennedyFitch we think about 3 pillars, which are all part of a People & Culture agenda:

Cultivating a company culture aligned with the values and principles of an organization. Defining the ways of working, structures, collaborations, internal and external connections, as well as rituals and artifacts to reinforce the desired culture.

People practices are designed to create positive experiences for employees (EX), considering the different needs and working patterns of an organization. We believe that positive employee experiences have a direct positive correlation to customer experience. Applying continuous employee listening, through people analytics (PA), in order to enhance these people practices in the moments that matter. This will create human-centric environments.

And finally, leadership and team development to ensure that the expected behaviors and principles are recognized and rewarded, with leaders acting as role models with deep self-awareness and humility.

Of course, the Chief People Officer’s main duty also remains to define the relevant strategic people agenda, enabling the organization to deliver against their short- and medium-term business priorities. This means applying business acumen with strategic workforce management to maintain, build or buy the skills and competencies required for now and in the future.

I’m convinced that if you cultivate “Human capabilities” in service of the purpose and values of the company, you will build an organization and eco-system which delivers both, business success and an inspired workforce loved by customers and stakeholders alike. It’s this alignment and consistency between purpose and human capabilities that makes all the difference – truly a humanized growth engine!

Thank you Adriano, any closing thoughts?

I know this can feel like a broad approach. But I’m a system-thinker and in the past, I realised that it is the small things that make a big difference. So, I’m in favour of starting small and scale, always keeping in mind that we do this with a higher purpose in mind.

I’m keen to help organizations and individuals become purpose-led and thrive.

Reach out to Adriano for a more in-depth exploration of purpose-driven strategies and the human-centric approach to organizational success.

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