Julia Rebholz is co-founder of Performance Purpose Group, a consultancy that helps people grow stronger, better performing businesses. We first met Julia during her time at Centrica, where she held leadership roles in the US and UK. During ten years of fruitful collaboration we’ve created several campaigns together, an undoubted highlight being the launch of Ignite, Centrica’s energy impact fund. Julia never fails to bring fresh ideas and insights to the Belong team, so we naturally wanted to put her in the interview hot seat…
When we talk about purpose at work, we’re talking about creating emotional triggers. What will make people want to lean in and support your business venture? At Performance Purpose Group, we believe it’s about showing people what your business is about, what you’re passionate about, giving them something they can connect to.
If you can be clear about what your purpose is, you take stress out of the system. Say you have an employee who spends 50% of their time worrying about whether their boss likes them, or whether they’re doing a good job – it takes up so much brain space. But if you create conditions where people know what the purpose of their work is, and what goals they are moving towards, there’s a massive improvement in productivity. It’s about moving away from employee engagement surveys to actually talking to employees and engaging them as human beings. It gives everybody the opportunity and the desire to contribute.
Internal communications play a huge role in shaping the culture of an organisation. We find that when we examine a company’s messaging, there are huge clues in the language about the culture of that business. For example, if ‘to’ and ‘for’ is the dominant language (i.e., there’s lots of talk about things being done ‘for you’ rather than ‘we’re going to work on this together’), that’s a big indicator of a ‘command and control’ type of organisation. Employees may not feel much sense of collective venture.
Good comms people often play a coaching role in their organisation. A lot of the time, leaders want to outsource their thinking and messaging to someone else, and I don’t think that’s very healthy. A brilliant comms person will help those leaders think about what they’re going to convey and how they’re going to do it.
People create stories all the time. They’re making meaning from what’s going on around them, and there’s a separate reality going on for everyone. As communications people and leaders, it’s important to remember that. It may be frustrating for you, to keep repeating the message – but you’d be surprised by how many times some people have to hear it before they truly understand it.
We think of mentors as the people we look up to. But the people I have been mentored by have been with and alongside me. I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside some really impressive successful people, but the more I do that the more I see that everyone is human. Even the most senior CEOs have vulnerabilities and concerns. The one thing they all agree on is the relationships they have are the most important things to them.
A good leader really understands the atmosphere in all parts of the organisation. They say the air in first class is much cleaner and fresher than it is in coach. Do you really understand what the air is like for everyone in your business?
The old thinking about business is changing. A lot of what we’ve been taught about business is based on economic theory, and in that we like to have predictable results – we think we can only predict human behaviour if we assume everyone is self-interested. That’s a rather narrow view of human beings. Yes we’re self-interested, but we also seek meaning and we want relationships with others. So, if you can appeal to a wider basis of humanity then you tend to have a more sustainable business.