Publication Futures Project: The East Anglian dinner series

by Yolanda Villafuerte _______16th January 2016

Executive Summary

The approach we take to making companies successful affects everything we do and everything we value as a society. Too often we look to politicians for the answers to all our problems, when in reality it is companies that develop new products, provide employment and invest for the future.

Throughout 2015 Tomorrow’s Company conducted the Futures Project, a research programme bringing together leaders across business, government and NGOs to develop a positive and practical vision for how companies can be a force for good in the future. The project looked at progress towards a different business approach over the last 20 years in order to identify the key obstacles and drivers for change; and in this context present a renewed vision for business.

As part of this project, Adnams, Barclays and The University of East Anglia and Tomorrow’s Company held a three part series of dinner discussions to explore some of the themes of the project. The aim was to bring to light examples of best practice, explore the significant organisational and cultural changes since the original Tomorrow’s Company Inquiry and explore the initiatives that encourage companies to be a force for good. Participants ranged from leaders, managers and entrepreneurs in the private, public and third sector.

To achieve our aim, we invited experienced leaders with significant expertise in their field to share their knowledge and stimulate the follow on discussions which focused on experience sharing and finding practical solutions.

Each of the three discussions is captured in a summary paper and is introduced below. In addition to the summary, each paper includes a set of questions at the back of each paper to help leaders and individuals think about some of the issues around inclusive leadership, the use of social media, and the changing business challenges.


Inclusive leadership

Melanie Richards, Vice Chairman of KPMG UK, joined the first dinner discussion to discuss what it means to be an inclusive leader, how it can be developed at all levels of an organisation and why an inclusive leadership style will be essential to deliver future business success given the changing context within which business operates. The discussion dealt with the growing importance of motivating employees. For this, a sense of common identity and shared purpose needs to be achieved while allowing a diversity of viewpoints. Leaders need to embed a shared purpose and set of values, while at the same time encouraging a diversity of viewpoints.


Social media and its use by tomorrow’s leaders

This dinner discussion highlighted some of the opportunities and challenges facing leaders as they seek to embrace the use of social media. We were joined by Tom Edmonds, who is Co-founder of Edmonds Elder and was Director of the Conservative Party’s Digital and Creative operation at the 2015 General Election. It is important to understand audiences and targeting them with the right message and through the right medium. The discussion reinforced the importance of clear purpose and values as the basis for successful communication with stakeholders and ensuring that all employees have a clear understanding of how and what to communicate on social media.


Future challenges and the new companies that will meet them

At our final dinner discussion we were joined by Charles Handy, who was the initial inspiration of Tomorrow’s Company, to present his latest book The Second Curve – thoughts on reinventing society. Across many aspects of life there is a consistent cycle that starts with upfront investment. This creates the conditions for success, but without a process of renewal and reinvention there is inevitable decline. The discussion emphasised the need for companies to embrace disruption while ensuring that human contact is not lost and recognising the interdependence between employees and consumers. In addition, the increase in technological disruption and the next generations’ desire for purpose and autonomy were highlighted as challenges and opportunities for companies. Companies will need to place greater trust in colleagues to provide them with greater autonomy and avoid the need for distorting incentives.

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