Yesterday I had the honour and pleasure to be invited to the second Harvard Business Review Brasil Forum on Corporate Education by my friends at Infinity and Hiria who were hosting and organising this one-day event. Maria was there too, and she both facilitated a Think Tank style workshop as well as hosting two panel sessions in the afternoon.
This event was extremely interesting, as the focus was on looking at both current and future trends, challenges and opportunities in corporate learning, as well as discussing the transformation of organisations in the coming years. The full agenda included a number of talks from CEOs, Presidents and Directors such as Tania Cosentino, President of Schneider Eelectic in Latin America, Armando Lournenzo, Director of Learning at EY for Latin America, Carlos Netto, Director of People Management at Banco do Brasil and Samir Lásbeck de Oliveira, CEO and Founder of Qranio, an award-winning mobile application for e-learning.
One of the most uplifting as well as thought-provoking talks for me came from Marcio Fernandes, President of Elektro, who was discussing the vision of CEOs for future learning, together with Tania Cosentino and Leni Hidalgo, a lecturer on corporative education at INSPER, a leading centre of education and research in the fields of Business, Economics, Law and Engineering, with a base in São Paulo.
The title slide for Marcio’s talk was A New Philosophy of Management: The Happiness of Profit and throughout he spoke about humility many times. As many of you will have seen, I recently wrote an article on the return on investment on humility for business leaders. Marcio told us that there was an open door policy at the regular meetings of directors, whereby anyone could come an speak, and suggest ideas for improvements, cost savings, or any other issue.
The results of this policy speak for themselves. In total, Elektro made cost savings of R$ 100 million (around £25 million) which accounted for around 22% of the cost base. Now I know that people read my blog from pretty much every country in the world, and this may not seem so remarkable. I myself have worked in FTSE100 companies where I had the ability to email the CEO and at O2, based in an award-winning building in Slough, the potential for informal interactions was huge, leading to many rich conversations with directors throughout the day.
But Brazil has an extremely pronounced hierarchical societal structure, and only around 30% of companies operate any kind of meritocracy, meaning that this type of idea is not at all common. I have seen many senior directors in leadership positions fail to recognise and acknowledge even staff who are quite senior, but in lower positions than themselves, and this is costing them dearly, both in terms of savings, and also the sustainability of their organisations, in terms of both ecological innovations and the sustainability of the organisation as a network of valued and happy employees.
A related point about the word humility is that it translates into Portuguese as humildade – very similar. However, the sense of the word in Brazil can be quite different, in that perhaps because societal position is so important, the word is often associated with – and potentially gives the sense of – poverty. This is of course the very opposite of what is seen as a quality of leadership, position and status here. So there is a lot of work to be done to help leaders develop humility in the English sense of the word, and before this behavioural aspect can be adopted, maybe we will need to find a new word or concept which is more palatable here to work with.
Overall it was an excellent event, and I would like to thank HBR Brasil, Infinity and Hiria for my invitation. There were wide-ranging discussions as well as presentations, with a great deal of input from the audience as well. Gamification was mentioned and discussed in various presentations, and it is great to see that here in Brazil corporate education and the need for transformation is being placed at the top of many large organisations’ agendas.
I think Maria will also be writing about this event, happiness and transformation from her Brazilian perspective, so look out for that article which I’ll translate into English. Maria too discussed humility in her list of key leadership trends: sensemaking, story telling, mindfulness and human values, and so it was also great to see a number of other speakers mentioning values too, with Armando explicitly stating that “my focus and what I think about a lot is the management of values”.
At the end of the day, what we need is leaders who understand values. Marcio cited Dee Hock (who Maria and I wrote about in Holonomics), and mentioned that at Elektro there are pretty much no rules. When you value others, and others know they are valued, it is amazing what can be achieved. This is transformation. This is sustainability. This is authentic leadership.