Purpose, Meaning & Culture: Navigating Uncharted Waters


Foreword from Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, CEO, writer, and keynote speaker


We live in an age of complexity. Which means that, while we may perceive patterns, they don’t repeat themselves regularly. It also means that very small things can make disproportionate impacts, and that expertise often can’t keep up because the system keeps changing so fast. In other words, the world has become inherently more difficult to predict, and our capacity to forecast with any degree of accuracy has become alarmingly short. 

One response to this profound change is to become even more short-term: go gig economy, invest in nobody, perfect just-in-time production and hope for the best. The other response is to accept that the future is uncharted and decide that a core competence for any company must be developing deep capacity and talent for adaptation. That means becoming a place where everyone expects to keep learning, where re-training isn’t a one-time thing, a bit of a lark or a luxury perk for executives only. It has to become a lifetime commitment for everyone. Many organizations aren’t prepared for this; they still baulk at the idea that this is their job, insisting that it should be the government’s responsibility to deliver machine-ready workers to their front door. Those companies may well find themselves every employee’s last choice. The only way to keep up with change is to be good at every aspect of it.


“One response to profound change… means becoming a place where everyone expects to keep learning, where re-training isn’t a one-time thing”


But being able to reskill the workforce, routinely, may be the easy part. Most employees these days don’t just want to know how to do the work, they want to know why. In part this is a weary response to programmes that were badged as “transformation” but turned out to be cost-cutting in poor disguise. It is also a reflection that the working generations now feel vulnerable in every way. They aren’t confident their organizations will last, or that their bosses will survive, or even that the planet will endure. Time is precious and nobody wants to waste it on work or people that aren’t trustworthy and meaningful. The companies whose activity contributes to the wellbeing of the planet and of their people will be able to explain, credibly, why working there is a good use of life’s time. Sadly, many corporate purpose statements today are laughable, just CSR dressed up in new words. But the companies that serve society will find people eager to serve them. 


What else will organizations need to navigate such uncharted waters? I think they will need to accept that their resilience depends significantly on the loyalty and commitment their people feel to each other. They will stay through thick and thin, for their co-workers, even for their bosses. Having written recently about companies that survived existential crises, it’s clear to me that their endurance derived in no small part from the tight bonds of friendship, generosity and reciprocity, developed over years, between their people. That takes time and longevity – pretty much the opposite of the gig economy. It’s a paradox and a leadership challenge, that the more temporary the world feels, the more resilience derives from what is permanent: people’s care for each other.


September 2019

What our speakers have said about Future Talent…


“This is a conference that delivers what every conference should but rarely does: Proper food for thought and a lot of entertainment of the best kind. You get to learn, but in the most painless and most beguiling way.”

Alain de Botton, Author and Philosopher

“Discussing, listening and learning at the same time was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the variety of speakers from different backgrounds. I certainly came away with a lot to think about.”

Dame Katherine Grainger, Olympic & World Champion Athlete

“The best thing about Changeboard’s Future Talent Conference is the energy in the room. The questions were flowing, people were very engaged and it was all hugely insightful.”

Dame Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive Officer, easyJet Airline Company Ltd.

“Very imaginative and stimulating in getting people to think in different ways.”

Margaret Heffernan, Author

“It’s a time to think about more than your typical HR issues, somebody is always provoking you.”

David Reay, senior VP of HR, Sony Music

“The content has been really rich and I was delighted to bring some of my team along with me today”

Sally Austin, group HR director, Costain

“With this fantastic audience, there’s nothing the collective power in the room can’t achieve. It’s so exciting.”

Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive, Business in the Community

“It’s THE day in the year for personal development, insights, inspiration and networking. I’ve been all five times, and I’ll be here next year.”

Rachel Humphrey, Human Resources Director, Legal & General

“Future Talent conference provides so many insights. The ambition to challenge paradigms is hugely inspiring.”

Helmut Schuster, group HR director, BP

“There’s a lot of energy in the room and a great set of speakers.”

Sarah Morris, group chief people officer, Aviva

“Recruiting the right talent into your teams / organisations is always going to important but for me this is the starting point not the finish point. What I’m looking for is how can we coach that talent once people have been recruited in order to make them better at what they do.”

Sir Clive Woodward, England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup Winning Head Coach

About Changeboard

Changeboard is a privately owned media business co-founded in 2004 by CEO Jim Carrick-Birtwell. It focuses upon providing insights about the changing world of work for a global community of senior human resource decision-makers. 

Changeboard ‘Future Talent’ events include conferences and roundtables, as well as a regular series of debates and panel discussions for CHROs, HRDs and Heads of people functions who are members of the ‘Future Talent Leaders Club.’ The community is supported by a range of award-winning content products, in print and digital formats, that enable individuals and organisations to future-proof themselves.

Changeboard also produces world-class content, communications and event solutions for organisations that want to tell their talent story more effectively to internal employees, clients, and other stakeholders.