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From ditching CSR to winning the talent war: What tomorrow’s innovators taught us at Forward

Pleo Forward

After months of planning, confirming over 30 speakers and creating a jam-packed agenda — we officially wrapped Pleo’s inaugural leadership summit, Forward, earlier this month. And what an inspiring day it was.

Kicking off the day, we announced the exciting news that Pleo has just raised $200m, making us the most-funded B2B spend management service in Europe, and even tripling our valuation to $4.7bn.

And it was only upwards from here too. We spent the day hearing from industry leaders and big thinkers from all over the globe on pressing topics that touch every aspect of the world of work. As we look forward to a promising 2022, here are some of the lessons and insights we’ll be taking into the new year.

The difference between ‘inclusion’ and ‘belonging’

In our “People” panel, which discussed how we can create belonging in an organisation, Charlotte Sweeney, author of Inclusive Leadership, began the session with a difficult question.

In recent years, we’re seeing more and more companies add “belonging” to diversity and inclusion roles. But what exactly is the difference between inclusion and belonging?

Answering the question was Marc Mckenna-Coles, Spotify’s diversity, inclusion and belonging lead. Here’s what he had to say:

“Inclusion is about creating an open environment, by bringing in different kinds of people and making sure they feel comfortable. The expansion of ‘belonging’ is really about how those individuals can thrive in themselves and how they can truly bring their uniqueness to the table.”

It’s time to ditch CSR for scalable impact

As we all know by now, the world of work is evolving — and so too should some workplace terminology. “Corporate social responsibility” is just one example for Alex Stephany, CEO and Founder of Beam, a UK-based charity helping homeless people off the streets and into work.

Defined as “a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders and the public”, Alex finds the term outdated despite its good intentions.

“I feel like tonally [CSR] comes from the 1980/’90s, a time when companies were just beginning to think about this idea that maybe they have obligations beyond just making money for their shareholders. I think we’ve moved well beyond that today so I prefer to think about ‘impact’ over CSR.”

For Alex, it’s no longer about companies “just doing something”, but rather thinking meaningfully about how they can ensure their impact – environmental, social or otherwise – grows as they grow.

“The way that we can really take impact to the next stage within companies is thinking about, actually, how does it scale with the business?”

Radical Candor is the secret to good management

One of our leading speakers was Kim Scott, CEO Coach and ​​author of the bestselling book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity and CEO. Like a lot of us, Scott once had a terrible boss, a person who thought humiliating people was a good way to motivate them. This experience is what prompted her to research what makes a “good boss”.

The result was her Radical Candor framework, which she talked us through in her Forward session. It’s built around the ability to ‘care personally’ and ‘challenge directly – which doesn’t sound so radical in theory, but doing both in practice is incredibly rare.

Pleo Forward
Kim Scott’s Radical Candor framework

“Sometimes we remember to challenge but we forget to show that we care, and that is what I call ‘obnoxious aggression,'” said Scott. “And the Radical Candor framework is not ‘obnoxious aggression’, it doesn’t give you the right to say whatever you want.”

Managing with this framework in mind allows you to challenge your co-workers efficiently, without running the risk of obnoxious aggression and unprofessional behaviour.

“A failing of many organisations is the lack of honest communication,” said Scott.

Taking inspiration from Arctic explorers

Pen Hadow, arctic explorer, ocean conservationist and another of our headline speakers, walked us through some of his impressive pioneering experiences including his exhibitions to the North Pole after a failed attempt in 1989.

It’s that first “failure” that helped Hadow to eventually succeed in travelling to the North Pole, multiple times.

“You can’t just apply lots of positive mental attitude and muscles and just assume you’re going to do it ‘because that’s the sort of person I am.’ It’s very important that that’s in the mix, but if you’re relying too heavily on that and not enough on competence and a real understanding of all the issues that need to be grasped and resolved, you’re only minimising your risk.”

Just like Hadow’s Arctic exhibitions, leadership requires more than just a positive mental attitude: it takes perseverance, experience and being prepared to fail.

Resilience before efficiency. Always.

The pandemic has taught us many things about the world of work – specifically, what is robust and what is fragile. Our Forward “Product” panel explained that now is the time to build for resilience and not just for efficiency.

Lidia Oshlyansky, chief product officer at Bought by Many, observed early on that our entire global distribution networks are incredibly fragile. Like we saw with Suez, let alone the pandemic, it only takes one barge to get stuck in a canal to delay shipments worldwide at a cost of $400m per hour. 

Robert Chokr, product director at Delivery Hero, added to this point about why resilience should always come before efficiency. “All companies have been focusing on efficiency, and that doesn’t allow you to build redundancy or resilience within the system because building redundancy is not efficient.”

For Robert, it comes down to one thing: “We have a pandemic and we weren’t resilient enough. So I think it’s a matter of what we’re going to learn as companies and as a society and how we’re going to reinvest our energy, our money, our capital, our everything, our human talent, our people – and how we’re going to rebuild in maybe a better way.”

Mental health at work should be treated like physical health

Geoff McDonald, co-founder of [email protected], was one of our top speakers at Forward, leading a session about how we can elevate wellbeing to a strategic priority in workplaces.

More often than not, you’ll probably think twice before taking a mental health day off at work. But would you do the same if you were suffering from a physical illness, like the flu? Or a migraine? In fact, sometimes mental health days are almost viewed as a company perk — which Geoff was keen to point out shouldn’t be the case:

“How can that be in the twenty-first century? How can that be when we’re all mental, all physical, all emotional? Yet we live in a world where as I speak to you right now, there are billions and billions of people all over the world suffering in silence.”

Culture will win you the talent war

The way we work is changing. The way we look for work is also changing. In our “People” panel discussing how we can truly measure business success, Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse said there’s an extreme war for talent happening.

So what is the key to retaining your talent?

Daniel explained: “Culture is a huge driver of success. What else have you got? It’s certainly not compensation. Everybody knows that your best employee can always get a 10% raise at a new job. So why would they choose to stay at your company? It’s a combination of financial reward, their career growth, the community and that they connect with your mission — those are the things that really matter.”

Rewind to Forward

All in all, Forward was a fantastic day filled with inspiring stories, business insight and optimism as we look to carve out what the future looks like — in work and in wider society. If you want to experience the event for yourself, all of Forward’s sessions are available herePlo to rewatch as you please.

Until next year…

This article about Forward is in partnership with Pleo, a spending solution to help save time and money on expenses, invoices, reimbursements.