Business Soul Interviews: Paula Leach, Chief People Officer FDM Group at FDM Group – former HR Executive at Ford and Home Office.

by | Dec 10, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Paula is Chief People Officer at FDM Group with extensive experience in multi-national blue-chip organisations, such as Ford Motor Company, in the public sector with the Home Office and with a range of smaller organisations in a freelance capacity.

“The organization, in my experience while I was there never shied away from telling the employee base what was really going on so that we all felt part of making it right.”

What does the word soul mean to you?

It makes me think about the inside, the heart. Ultimately, I think our soul is the essence of how we feel. The inner, ethereal, intangible essence. It’s a mixture of our purpose and how we feel, our emotions, all together. I don’t think your soul is just your emotions, I think it should be linked with purpose in some way.  Because soul, to some extent for me, has dynamic, forward motion to it.

How does it relate to business?

I always think the soul surely is related to the reason why we are motivated to be together in some form of shared endeavour. Then that probably comes back to a similar definition of what I think the soul is, which is a mixture of feeling and purpose. It is a bit like a heartbeat, isn’t it? You mix those things together, a heartbeat is a mixture of knowing the point, the purpose, and how we feel about that, together. In an organization, if you have a strong sense of those things, the organization has a character, it has a feeling to it.  It has a mission beyond someone saying, “Oh well, in a business you need to have a mission, and you need to have a strategy.”  The soul, to me, joins that up with the feeling of why we’re doing it together. A key practice is whether we fundamentally ask ourselves those questions often enough.

Is driving business forward with soul, becoming more important or less important in the future?

I think it’s becoming more important. Especially as we emerge from COVID. We’ve got side-tracked a little bit in how we run organisations.  We’ve been overtaken by the ‘thinking brain’ rather than the ‘feeling brain’. In society, logic prevails in most situations and organizations are constructed, and have been constructed based on data, systems etc.  There’s nothing wrong with those things but there’s no equal balance. You’ll often find in organizations these, whether they’re the water cooler moments or they’re the little conversations that are had at the side, they’re the feeling conversations that count. They’re the people who come out of a meeting going, “We’ve just agreed that but why don’t we just do that, because really we should be doing this?”

By not creating the space for the feeling to be able to be expressed without the data to support it… It’s almost like if you go into corporate decision making, logic is the only thing. You can’t go in and say, “Do you know what, I’ve just been looking around and I’ve been talking to people, I’ve been thinking this and this is what I feel we need to do.” There’s just no place for that in most businesses and most organizations today.  We’re missing a whole lot of intuition, insight, and opportunities as a result.

When I look at the last 100, 150 years, we’ve gone through a process of dehumanizing work into processes. But by going through that process of production lines into automation, then into knowledge work, then into Artificial Intelligence, we are now ending up with what’s left, which is the human work.  Human to human work, human to machine work. It does matter. Feelings and purpose do matter, because that’s what we’re doing. We’re not sitting in a cubicle, data processing something, because there is often something else that can do that much better than us.

The world has just collectively been through a real crisis with COVID, and is going through a forced moment of reflection, which is encouraging everybody in different and their own way to ask the question, what is the point? The organizations that are coming through are the ones that are saying, “The most important thing right now actually is humanity, is very human.” And it’s the economic ability to support humanity, where economy and finance is important, but it’s the lubricant of humanity. As a globe we’re going through a recognition of that, and the countries that are coming through, very systemically, very large scale, are the countries that have put the humanity first as they develop the economic response. I think both of those two things together create an impetus where we’re almost allowing ourselves to fall back into the arms of our feelings and purpose to hold us.

Can you give us an example of a business with soul?

I am going to go back to a company like Ford. I have worked in various places. I spent a long time with Ford. when I look at the purpose, it’s providing transportation for the masses. One key question is around the mission statement of the organization; is it intuitive to people? It doesn’t really matter what’s written down anywhere, the central questions are: “Is it intuitive that we understand why this organization exists? What problem is it trying to solve in the world?”

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Ford is a huge organization, but communication was generally exceptionally good. People understood the business. I remember there being a huge programme way back in the day to help everyone across the business understand the key business metrics so that we understood the purpose and practice behind the metrics and measures. It meant that we could all watch and see, take equal responsibility, and feel real ownership. Knowing about what’s going on and open and transparent communication. The organization, in my experience while I was there never shied away from telling the employee base what was really going on so that we all felt part of making it right.

The key is communication, investment around the essence, or proposition of the product.  When I worked with Ford, many people would say, “You could cut me in half, and I would bleed blue.” Blue being the colour of the company because they’re just so ingrained in it. Multiple generations of people having worked under the care of that organization or structure.

This interview is one of 60 I’ve completed this year with a mix of past customers and other leading industry figures.  Do connect with me on Linked In or get in touch via our website if you’d like to know more about the research findings and/or explore how to drive your business forward…with soul.

You can book me to speak personally at an event or meeting, online or (circumstances allowing) face to face.