Our founder and principal Gilmar Wendt was a guest on We Got This podcast, hosted by workplace culture designer Lech Guzowski. Their conversation about business transformation and wider change got pretty deep. Here are some of Gilmar’s best bits.

On tackling the big questions

I’m a terrible small talker, I always go into the deep questions. Some people are quite uncomfortable with that, but it’s what drives the work. It has driven me from being a designer into a strategic consultant into a culture consultant, and into the work that we do today. This has an element of design but in a much broader sense. We sometimes call it business design.

On GW+Co’s proprietary Business Propeller

A propeller usually has three blades, and if you look at a business as a propeller, one of your blades is your strategy: where do you want to go, what’s your plan, how do you build the operations around that? Another propeller is the culture: what is the lived experience what is the ethos, what are the values, what, what attracts people to be here? The third blade on the propeller is your brand: your communications what you represent to the outside world.

And if you want to make that business fly, quite literally, you need to turn the propeller on all three, because if you only do it on one, you might break it. And it’s the intersection of your strategy with your culture and your brand that interests me. When people work in silos, they all work on one blade of the propeller and the bit that makes it move doesn’t really happen.

On the death of ‘purpose’

I’ve actually gone away from using the word purpose in our work, which is sad because I love the word in its true meaning. But it’s being used as a way of saying ‘hey, we can sell more’. For a lot of organisations sadly still, it seems easier to carry on and to paint new colours on the outside. That is something that I deeply dislike and that I don’t want to be part of.

On true intentions

When engaged [with a client] we say, ‘what are your true intentions?’ And it’s okay to want to make money, and it’s okay to want to be rich, but I think we need to get to this place where we’re honest about that, because that will come to the surface. I really work towards helping people be true about what they really want, whatever you want to call that, and that is what drives the work that we do.

On avoiding purpose-washing

It’s the difficult work that starts now. We’ve gone through the branding era in the 90s, you know: ‘we’re all about one word, one big idea, and it’s not our logo, it’s a big thing, it’s an ideology’. And we’re still at the same level in some ways by saying that’s now purpose. A lot of it comes down to: how do we go about it? A lot of the language and sentiment is along the lines of ‘how do we get our people along?’ and that implies that somebody sits at the levers of power and tries to steer and influence the little minions who are walking around – ‘and now I need to try and get into their heads so that they really want it!’ And there’s something very manipulative about that. What doesn’t change is that sense of somebody sitting there, the top and in control. I think that is an outdated model.

I appreciate it’s very hard if you run a 150,000-people organisation, somehow you have to have some control. but it’s the ethos of how you approach that. How do you want people to participate? Not everyone wants to be in control, but people have an innate desire to be part of something. So now you have a choice, you can tell them ‘this is what you are part of – isn’t that great?’ Or you can say ‘this is what I believe in – how does this relate to what you believe in?

But this comes back to intention. Are we willing to engage in a way where other people have space to come to the table? There’s still a hierarchy, there still needs to be some decision making. I’m not talking about sort of basic democracy, and everyone has an equal say, I don’t think that works. But there’s a big difference between caring about the people and trying to control each thing.

On AI and the future

I’m fascinated by AI and technology. I’m surrounded by it and I use it, so I’m all for it. But the thing that drives me is the connections between people. And coming back to the workplace, I don’t think there’s anything more fascinating and amazing than a group of people coming together and turning their intentions and hands to a common goal. That is so powerful. Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, said “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

On embracing uncertainty

It’s hard to live with uncertainty if it comes at you left, right and centre. But if you can embrace it and listen to yourself, you can weather it quite well. And that gives you huge opportunities to change yourself, to change the way you work, to change the way you have your team work, to change things. But it requires openness.

You need an element of control; you need to be clear as to what you want to achieve in order to evaluate whether you are on the right target. But there is a level of openness that you allow in this process to react to things as they happen. And that principle of openness and not tying things down all the time – embracing the uncertainty, and the potential that lies within – that, I wish we could do more of. Who knows that the future is, but if we embrace that part, it could be quite exciting.

You can listen to the full episode of the We Got This podcast here.