Courageous Leaders & Purpose: Increasing the momentum for change.

Last month Sir David Attenborough reached 1 million Instagram followers in only 4 hours and 44 minutes.

1 million. 4 hours 44 minutes. This social media ‘success’ really does make us reflect on the altering priority of consumers young and old as the legendary David continues to speak to entire generations and change the way we consider our physical environment.

Attenborough’s IG feed & instant following showcases that a huge proportion of consumers are totally tuned into conversations on sustainability, longevity, people, and the planet. Across all areas of global commerce, particularly Retail and FMCG, businesses continue to re-invent manufacturing processes & ways of working to ensure we are turning towards environmentally friendly products that reduce water consumption, include recycled materials, and make step changes towards sustainability.

We are truly now seeing the creation of purpose-led brands.

Business vison, goals and targets are no longer measured by revenue and year-on-year profit increases. All companies, large and small, whatever their ownership and financial backing, now seek sustainability and purpose.  

Board members are aligning with consumers to focus on a greater relationship at hand:

Our planet, our people, and their company purpose.

Some years ago, those we thought were ‘visionaries’ in this space targeted the rise of sustainable practice by developing reusable bottles, coffee cups, plastic waste shoes. These products then became integrated into the very being of company best-practise as they became part and parcel of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). The EVP now sits at the heart of every CHROs and indeed, most CEOs, strategic plans and every director must tie that into the broader societal agenda.

As my own children embark on University and career-choices I reflect a lot on how a career-starter’s mindset has changed since I entered the blue-chip multinational world of FMCG in the late ‘90s.  Without a doubt, sustainability is a key part of their generation’s DNA & it is a fundamental criterion for where and how they are prepared to work and make their mark. As these young people, full of potential enter the workforce the exposure to brands prioritising their Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) agendas will define the leading businesses for employment opportunities in years to come. Trending accessibility to young adults and career-starters is shaping mindful decisions at the core of business to attract those at the very outset of their professional careers.

Now from top down and bottom up the questions arise:

“What are we doing to create actionable and sustainable change?”

Strong leaders within industry for years will have recognised that consumers vote with their shopping baskets, but it is no longer about price, product, promotion. It is about Purpose and Planet and increasingly in Executive Search & senior hiring we see this play out with exceptional candidates targeting key companies, graduates wanting to join global businesses who ‘do the right thing’ & those of an entrepreneurial mindset wanting to be part of the start-up community that creates change from the ground up. This thinking reverts internally to the hiring process and feeds into the heart of each strategic decision within an organisation to ensure that ESG influences the direction of the business.

We see momentum to ensure that ESG sits on the agenda of the world’s leading blue chips including Unilever, Mars, Danone, and RB, with some moving quickly towards B-Corp certification and making fundamental shifts prioritising planet and people over profit. The Executive leadership teams of these organisations are prioritising skillsets necessary to drive change in their recruitment processes and the profiles of mid, senior, and executive teams are shifting.

Recognising the importance of creating a Sustainable and Purpose-Driven environment will aid the creation of robust hiring initiatives to develop a highly talented workforce geared towards driving change within the centre of organisational strategy. We are all consumers – whether we are Executive Board members, directors, employees, candidates or talent acquisition specialists – when we align our desire to see change through our eyes as consumers then we are able to align with the part we play in the business community. It is then that we begin to see increasingly positive step changes in hiring policies and challenges to the status quo…..previously the agenda sat at the Exec Board Level of organisations, but we see it now filtering through to VP & Director level and pushing up from the bottom in the generations rising through.

If nothing else, the pandemic has made us all think. The almost total shift to a WFH culture and the reduction in pollution has bought the environmental impact of business into even sharper focus. David Attenborough has the profile to highlight the impact we all have. We each now have a responsibility to drive change within our organisations, in our hiring decision of our best talent, in our selection of our Executive Leadership Teams and in our future strategic plans.

As Executives we must ask ourselves…

“What is Growth?  Is it about double-digit increases or incremental increases in revenue & EBITDA or about decreasing our impact on the environment, improving our gender and ethnic diversity and create change for future generations”?

At Walter James we see evidence that executive leaders have shifted wholeheartedly towards strategic planning for build back better as we climb out of the pandemic. Revenue targets reflect the challenges ahead and the impact of sustainable strategic plans and the long-term impact of Covid.

Whilst the economies and the markets of the world continue to re-calibrate to our new normal of operating in the medium term with the ongoing backdrop of the pandemic we see shifts in the types of Exec Leadership Profiles being asked for by our clients. Hiring senior leaders who can implement change and create a culture of resilience means we need to drive towards a changing pipeline of talent. Decision-making capability in the face of adversity, resilience, tenacity and the ability to deal with ambiguity have become key criteria for hiring in 2020 and way beyond. This generation of leaders needs immense courage of conviction, purpose and strong values to navigate successfully and inspire the next generation of leaders around them.

Walter James are proud to take this agenda seriously and we recruit Executive Leaders who are happy to champion and challenge for growth within the framework of a positive ESG agenda. We are looking at new ways to solve talent pipelining & recruitment challenges in the mid-market level and we work very closely with Executive Boards to Search, Assess and Select the very best leaders for future-fit organisations.

I would love to hear your comments either as a candidate, an employee, Executive Board Member, a CHRO, Diversity & Inclusion leader or an investor – we all have a part to play.

Feel free to get in touch on with Annabel Weeden on

By Annabel Weeden

Partner - Commercial Practice Co-Chair D&I Board

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