The Business of Purpose-Led Leadership (episode 2)

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In this episode, we explore what it takes to lead with purpose – from identifying what personal contribution you want to make to the world through your career, to purpose-driven business models

Today’s business leaders, both established and aspiring, are striving to do well and do good in the world and purpose-led leadership is a topic gaining much traction.

In this episode, we explore what it takes to lead with purpose - from identifying the personal contribution you want to make to the world through your career, to purpose-driven business models.

Host Emma Lo Russo is joined by Victoria Momsen, Strategic Planning Manager at Lendlease Digital. Victoria speaks to what is to be a purpose-led organisation which starts with an assessment of the triple bottom line: the financial, social and environmental performance of your business.

Our second guest is Alison Harrington, CEO & Founder of Moove & Groove. Alison shares how her purpose-led startup is changing the lives of Australia’s older citizens through modern, digital technologies.

Finally, we’ll hear from Leisa Sargent, Senior Deputy Dean and Co-Deputy Vice Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UNSW Business School. Leisa shares how her personal values align with her work and the role of inclusivity and diversity in purpose-driven leadership.


  • Emma Lo Russo, (AGSM MBA Executive 2013), CEO and Co-founder of Digivizer
  • Victoria Momsen, Strategic Planning Manager at Lendlease Digital
  • Alison Harrington, (AGSM Graduate Certificate in Social Impact 2016), CEO & Founder of Moove & Groove
  • Leisa Sargent, Senior Deputy Dean and Co-Deputy Vice Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UNSW Business School.


Emma Lo Russo: I’m your host Emma Lo Russo, and this leadership podcast is brought to you by the Australian Graduate School of Management at UNSW Business School.

In this episode, we explore what it takes to lead with purpose - from identifying what personal contribution you want to make to the world through your career, to purpose-driven business models.

Joining me is Victoria Momsen, Strategic Planning Manager at Lendlease Digital, who shares her thoughts on what purpose-led leadership looks like in practice.

I also speak to Alison Harrington, CEO & Founder of Moove & Groove, an innovative organisation that provides immersive musical and movement experiences for senior citizens. Alison shares the ‘energising’ effect of a well-defined purpose on her employees.

Finally, I speak to Professor Leisa Sargent, Senior Deputy Dean and Co-Deputy Vice Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UNSW Business School. Lisa shares her insights on the important role diversity and inclusivity plays in purpose-led leadership.

First, let’s hear from Victoria.

Victoria, welcome to The Business Of.

Victoria Momsen: Great. Nice to be here.

Emma Lo Russo: I’d love to hear about your career to date and this exciting venture with Lendlease Digital.

Victoria Momsen: Yeah, sure. My career today, I studied law and commerce and then decided against the law side of things and went down into commerce. I’ve worked at an insolvency liquidator company first, before moving into Macquarie Bank, where I worked in treasury, so modelling out there liquidity position and future funding requirements. And then I moved into football. I was looking to work in an industry that I had some passion in because a few people had said to me, “Oh Victoria, you should work in something that you have a passion for. Because you should do it while you’re young.

So I actually just went out and cold called people. I ended up in football. Where I went from Macquarie with their billion dollar balance sheet to West Tigers with every dollar and cent counts, but a very different field. And then I made the switch to come and do the MBA at AGSM, where I moved my focus more onto strategy, and looking at the corporate strategy of a company. I was lucky enough to work at Strategy& to formalise my learning there. And then I ended up with Lendlease Digital, in a strategic role. Looking high level at the digital strategy within the group strategy, but then also how to operationalise the business.

Because it’s a new venture, what we’re attempting to do, we also need to stand up a business which is a technology digital focus, within the construct of construction and property. So, yeah, quite an interesting path to get where I am now.

Emma Lo Russo: Do you feel you’re still connecting your passion and purpose where you are now? How does that come to life?

Victoria Momsen: Yeah. I think I’ve landed somewhere which does connect that. I have to think back to when I was at school. My second choice for uni was actually to become an architect. I’ve always really enjoyed the built environment and think it has a really big impact on how we live, how we work, and our general wellbeing. I think even though it might be subconsciously I think it does have a big impact.

Coming to Lendlease obviously satisfies that sort of I guess principle or ethos that I have. And then being in the digital part of the business is really about bringing new technologies into that, and so That sort of satisfies my need for thinking about the strategy of a business and how we can evolve it and change it and take it to the next level. I think it’s quite coming together, and Lendlease is a good place to land for that.

Emma Lo Russo: I mean, a great organisation. But as you said, construction and digital hasn’t always gone hand-in-hand. How do you bring that to life, are you helping their businesses or the clients businesses go digital? What’s your mandate?

Victoria Momsen: Lendlease Digital itself, it’s a business unit part of Lendlease and our objective is to help support the three major areas of Lendlease. Development, construction, and investments in digitising what they do, and building a digital capability for the business. And as part of that, we’re also bringing to life new products, which is under the banner of Podium.

That’s really about building new products for the construction industry or the property industry, that will be used by Lendlease and then hopefully a broader market after that. That’s our mandate in a nutshell.

Emma Lo Russo: What do you think purpose led leadership looks like? And why is that important to lead success?

Victoria Momsen: I think when we’re talking about what purpose led is, I was thinking about what the definition of that actually is and how I would think about it today. I guess if you track back, traditionally I guess an organisational corporation is there, with a profit mindset or a profit objective, which could be set as a purpose, right? Economic benefit to the shareholders. And then it’s evolved from that to be the triple bottom line concept where we’re thinking about environmental and social impact, as well.

What we’re seeing then as the next step, which is where I think we land with purpose led, is that organisations are aligning the way they do things, their goals, their objectives, around not just profit but around a purpose that’s bigger than that. I think today, we actually even want that purpose something that’s good for society.

For me, I think that’s what I would call purpose led leadership now, is that the organisation is aligned around that set of goals, set of outcomes, that is for not just their shareholder benefit or their employee benefit, but for the benefit of the community that they sit within and operate within. The second part of your question around why it’s important now, I think ... This comes back to one of the reasons why I joined Lendlease. It’s had that core around it, that organisations sit within the community.

They sit within society and they can actually have enormous impact, rather than just a collective set of individuals trying to step a course forward. If organisations turn their own skills and their own capabilities to solving these problems, there’s so much resource and knowledge and skillsets that can be tapped into in order to actually achieve these societal goals. I think that’s why I would say that organisations, it is important and it is important to start thinking that way, and for leaders to start recognising the influence that they actually can have in the communities that they operate.

Emma Lo Russo: How do you learn I guess to be driven by your own sense of purpose and alignment, passion, and that outcome and that impact? How do you lead that across an organisation and build a culture that delivers to that?

Victoria Momsen: Yeah, so I think companies that started that way have a little bit of a headstart on those who are trying to transform themselves into that. You look at new ventures or new startups now and they have in their mission statement something more around purpose. They get a bit of a headstart. In terms of if I was talking about how larger companies might want to embrace this a bit more, I think the main thing for me is authenticity. Leaders really have to authentically, actually want to do this.

Because people can sense when it’s not really authentic or it’s just tokenism, or it’s just something that they’ve just put on the edge of an existing statement. I think that’s the number one thing I would say, in terms of the how, and then the flow-on part of that is that, “Okay, you’re not going to be able to really make people believe you want to do it if they don’t feel comfortable where they are.”

So, building on a good foundation or a solid employee base, and so that they feel trusted within the organisation, that you’re going to do the right thing by your people, and so therefore together, we can go off and embark on this broader, wider vision or goal. And then I think the third thing for me is that when it really starts to become real, is when it’s not just a separate venture. They start to align a skillset of their people with the purpose and that’s when ... People really start to feel empowered by that, when the skillset they have is actually being used for that purpose, that the leader’s kind of pointing them towards.

Emma Lo Russo: I love that you talked about moving it from just the numbers game, this kind of doing well and doing good. That the two can coexist. How is ... Whether you can use some examples, like from Lendlease or some of the other, but where this perfectly aligns, where you’re in that optimum state of they can connect but it is also doing good.

Victoria Momsen: I think it’s probably hard to be perfectly aligned all the time because society’s changing, and especially now it’s changing so fast. You probably won’t be able to keep up with everything, but I think some good examples from my experience is I was lucky enough when I was at PwC, or Strategy&, which is part of PwC, was a while back PwC Australia moved to a purpose of addressing Australia’s societal issues.

Of course, being a consulting assurance firm, they’re working for clients who are trying to solve Australia’s problems. Professionally, you’re connecting to that as a vision. But then also they really put their money is where their mouth is without a better phrase to put it, but really actually invested in identifying those problems. They had five or six key societal issues that they were looking to address, and then they really invested in it. So, one example is mental health, mental wealth was a societal agenda that PwC Australia wanted to address or put their skillset towards.

They invested with a joint venture with the University of Sydney and PwC to form a company called InnoWell, which was to build a mental health technology platform. And there was many staff from PwC who went on secondment there, so it was bringing together the business knowledge and skillset with the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre to actually form something tangible and long lasting, hopefully, addressing that issue of mental wealth. I think that tangibility and that really actually putting investment in, is one way that I’ve seen it done successfully.

Emma Lo Russo: And I think probably even more important in that investment say with COVID, right? Mental health even become a bigger thing. But how does COVID impact a purpose driven organisation?

Lendlease would have had some retail challenges in terms of some of your investments and places. The mission is there, the world is different, like you said, people are working from home, but even for your customers, how is this all coming together in a way that stays true to that? I imagine lots of innovation.

Victoria Momsen: Yeah. I think so. I mean, I think that because ... Property and construction, you have to start planning a very long time before you actually get in the ground of the building being built, so I think what now the teams will be looking at is, “Where do we think the societal trends will be going and what type of community or building or residential or retail centre will be needed?” And then adding a layer of, “How do we do this sustainably and with the right purpose?” It’s marrying those trends together, as in what we think our customers might want that’s new, with we think we need to do this for society and we need to do this for the environment. Just bringing those three together to develop what we build in the future.

Emma Lo Russo: Where does digital play in this, looking to the future and seeing where society might go, what are you thinking about when you’re thinking of digital in that plane, delighting customers or doing good?

Victoria Momsen: I think there’s probably three areas that digital I think can really do good. The first part is really around the digital products we’re building connect from the visioning, master planning side, and the detailed design, right through to supply chain, right through the construction process. The first thing I think the digital products enable is upfront in the design phase, you can look through into the supply chain. We get much better visibility of provenance of goods.

I mean, can track the actual material’s progress. In terms of trying to achieve sustainability goals, just that visibility upfront in the planning phase and then detailed design phase, is amazing. And then also if you’ve got all that detailed information, there’s much less wastage in the process. We can simulate how we actually build something before we need to build it. Less wastage onsite. But also better safety, because if you can simulate the building and construction, you can simulate a really difficult frame lift, for example, should generate a much safer workplace.

And then the second part is really around, “Okay, we’re connecting suppliers with design, with consultants, with engineers.” And so that really should enable us to unlock innovation and unlock the design and materials, which building materials and concrete, for example, are large carbon polluters. So, if we can bring these disparate parties together and unlock, get them together to design better, and design better materials, get access to more sustainable materials, in a way that’s also efficient. Because there’s a lot of cost barriers in bringing together traditionally. That will hopefully unlock a lot of benefits in terms of sustainability and then benefits in terms of operating the asset for longer and getting more out of its life cycle in the future.

Emma Lo Russo: So when you look at that and you’re leading those thoughts or that future, what do you look for in leaders who report to you, or employees who you’re looking to grow into those people that can see those opportunities and deliver to them?

Victoria Momsen: Yeah. That’s a good question, actually. It’s definitely back to that authenticity, so I really want leaders to really believe in this, to really believe that we can build a building more sustainably, that we can operate it better. And then the second part is that they’re willing to actually support individuals, so to support the individuals to connect within the organisation, to other individuals, and then support initiatives that are aligned to those goals. And so it’s kind of a little bit in terms of showing that they believe in it, showing that they’re willing to get behind it, but then also allowing individuals to take on that torch, if you will, and allowing them the space to connect with others and to bring those initiatives to life, and to support that. I think that was probably what I’d like for, yeah.

Emma Lo Russo: What would you say to someone in the way that they need to think about investing in understanding their own goals or ethics or purpose, and trying to align that with an organisation?

Victoria Momsen: I think it’s a journey. Some people that come straight out of uni or they’re at school and they know exactly what they want to do. Others, it takes a while to weave through that path. But I think what my advice would be is to tap into your individual needs, or your individual kind of compass.

Emma Lo Russo: Does courage come into play? What’s the role of courage in finding that sense of purpose and pursuing it?

Victoria Momsen: Yeah, I think it’s a bit of risk taking. I think back now when I left Macquarie and I left with no job and I was like, “I want to work in sports because I’m passionate about sports.” I still am, I still love sports, and I still think it completely hits a cross-section of the community and provides so many benefits. But now looking back I’m like, “You were crazy. You left your job with no other job lined up, to try and work in a tiny little niche industry.”

I’d done some trial work, working for a weekend for a sports club, and I knew myself, I knew after the second day of my little testers that I did, that that was the most satisfying day of work that I’d done in a while. I knew in myself that that’s what I really wanted to do, and that was what was really going to make me happy. So, I don’t know. I think it’s a bit like calculated risk taking, which maybe is courage.

Emma Lo Russo: By the way, I also worked at Macquarie Bank and left what would have been a great career there, too, to do my own thing. And then went corporate again, and then left to start my own business. So I get that whole risk taking aspect, but I think you’re right. It’s still you want to drive to where you’re going to have that biggest impact. That’s like the ultimate measure of alignment, isn’t it?

Victoria Momsen: Yeah.

Emma Lo Russo: That you’re learning along the way but you want to see how far you can push, what you can bring to the table to make a contribution, as well.

Victoria Momsen: Yeah. I think along the way, so when I left, when I was in sport, obviously you felt the difference in the organisation, in the people who worked there and how passionate they were around what they did. And then I worked also for a not-for-profit over in the UK, a social housing organisation. You could also feel the organisation there and how connected people were to their purpose.

I think once you feel that in an organisation, it’s ... How can I put it? It’s not something that’s tangible that’s written down on a piece of paper. You’re like, “Yes, people really believe in this and so do I.”

Emma Lo Russo: We’ve touched on leadership a little bit, but how do you feel you yourself has changed as a leader, as your mind’s been thinking further and further of the impact? Have you seen yourself evolve and adapt to different styles, How would you describe your leadership journey?

Victoria Momsen: I think the biggest change is being more comfortable in speaking up on issues that you think is important, and believing that your opinions are valid. I think that’s probably one of the biggest learning curves I’ve had over my career. Now I’ll feel a lot more comfortable, for example, doing this podcast, and being like, “Actually, I do have a point of view on this. I have had some experience. I’ve worked different places, different industries.” Yeah, just becoming more comfortable in the validity of my opinion, based on the experience I’ve had and the learnings that I’ve had through university and working with different people.

And then also just connecting the dots between what you do as an individual and how that influences those around you, and that what you do does have an impact on others. So, as a leader, you should be mindful about that, and be aware of what you’re ... Even if subconsciously you don’t really think that you have much influence, you actually do. So, just to be mindful of that.

Emma Lo Russo: Finally, Victoria, what’s next for you? You started with a how you got to where you are today. What do you think you’ll do as your next 5-10 years or beyond?

Victoria Momsen: Yeah, sure. I don’t know, feels like how can you plan so far away? so I am looking forward to the journey with Lendlease Digital and with Podium, and over the next couple of years, building up our products and helping Lendlease transform the way they do, and using some of these digital tools. And just I think that’s the next ... I’m not really thinking any further in advance than that. I’m enjoying the journey where we are, I’m enjoying bringing something new to life, and I’m enjoying getting to know the property and construction industry, as well.

Emma Lo Russo: I mean, I think at least from what I can learn from you today, Victoria, you’ll change and keep evolving because you sound pretty good at being able to adapt to what’s there and to lead change, and bring that sense of purpose and alignment to what you’re looking to do, which is a great role model for others.

Thank you for joining us today on The Business Of.

Victoria Momsen: Thank you so much. It was really nice to meet you.

Emma Lo Russo: It’s clear that organisations have an opportunity to align their profit objectives with making a positive social impact. As Victoria said, leading with purpose starts with an honest assessment of the triple bottom line: the financial, social and environmental performance of your business. And making a decision about that balance is something leaders need to consider.

My next guest speaks from the unique perspective of realising - in the third act of her career - how she wanted to try her hand at a new venture, this time with purpose at its core. Moove & Groove is an innovative digital business dedicated to improving the lives of Australia’s senior population.

Let’s go to my conversation with Alison Harrington, CEO & Founder of Moove & Groove.

Alison, welcome to The Business Of. Tell me about Moove & Groove and your reasons for starting the business?

Alison Harrington: Well, Moove & Groove has been a bit of a journey for me. In its current state, let me just tell you what the business is today. It’s a entertainment and kind of edutainment technology solution for age care facilities. We deliver that solution via software, we have a platform that has about a 1,000 podcasts, playlists, and videos in it. And then we have a hardware solution and that’s all silent disco technology.

And then we have a fabulous training team, and we deliver all of this to the facilities to help their residents remotely. It provides amazing engagement and connection for the residents, and particularly those with dementia. We’re finding amazing results for those living with dementia with this kind of application.

I guess the story of how we got to where we are today, that’s my third career act. My first was a lawyer, my second was in technology, and the start of this third section of my career I guess was when I sold my last technology business and just decided, “You know what, I actually want to do something different.” I’d been helping a lot of not-for-profits on the side, and I guess I realised I wanted to have a third career that enabled me to make purpose at the intersection ... The centre of my career. So I went back to university, I studied social impact for two years at UNSW. It was there I saw the crazy silent disco technology and just decided, “You know what, this is really fun.” I started a little side gig dancing, a business that I had doing silent disco for charities on the side.

I had an assignment at university, and then we had to study how you increase physical and mental health for seniors. I thought, “Well, why not? I should just make up a fake assignment to do this.” I guess that’s where the idea started of putting these two very different things together, which was silent disco technology and seniors. It pretty much went from there in the journey, and that was about five years ago. And then we did a dementia study and that’s when I realised it had massive application for those living with dementia.

I guess the third iteration of the business was, for many years we were just doing kind of a dance programme that we obviously sending trainers into facilities. It was frustrating for me because I realised that model couldn’t scale well, that I had so many people calling me and saying, “Can you come to Perth and Darwin?” It was just, I couldn’t train enough people and I couldn’t get the gear to enough people. So I realised I needed a model to scale, because my whole deal was about reaching as many people as possible. So that’s when I came up with the most recent idea, which I started last year, which was actually to develop kits and to train all the staff and to get the kits to people in aged care facilities and to train them how to deliver a very broad programme.

Emma Lo Russo: How’s that gone for you? Like five years, that growth story, and then a way to scale since last year? Talk me through that.

Alison Harrington: Last year when I made the decision to really build a technology business properly, we’ve gone from probably 15 to 20 facilities to now 100 in a very short period of time.

It’s been a pretty rapid trajectory, and I never would have dreamed of coming up with this idea and then having a pandemic in the middle of it, just launching it. I know it’s a weird thing, but it’s for me creating the impact. I’ve got a product that’s just literally come to market at absolutely the most dire time of need. At least I feel I’m really doing something that is genuinely helping people.

Emma Lo Russo: I can imagine, particularly with the age care homes being shut even to their loved ones, so isolation and not being able to have that connectivity. You talk about, and quite passionately about reinventing ageing. What do you mean by that and what have you seen when people have engaged with your platform?

Alison Harrington: I didn’t spend a lot of time in age care facilities before this business. But I always remember going up to Byron Bay and we’ve done a lot of trials up there and they’ll kind of, there was two facilities in particular at Farrell’s care, they were kind of early adopters of some of our crazy ideas. And there was one lady in particular, I think she was about 99. And I remember going in and these people traditionally it’d be bingo or, like it’s a very traditional group of activities. And I was on the floor that day and this is the first time she’d experienced it. And she put the headphones on and she actually got up to dance and she was actually quite good for 99 at dancing. And afterwards she was just ... Seeing that beaming smile and seeing her face lighten up.

And I sat down with her afterwards and we had a beautiful discussion about how when she was 16, she used to go into the city and dance and how ... She really opened up to me about her life story. And I guess in that moment I realised that everybody was 16 once and then inside all of those seniors is that spirit and that heart of a young person. And oftentimes we just say, “Oh, well, they’re old. They don’t really want to have fun or they’re not into it.” And I guess that’s not been what I’ve experienced when we’ve actually given that cohort a programme or an experience that really brings that youthfulness alive.

I think I read one statistic somewhere where they interviewed 75-year-olds, and 35 per cent of them said they actually felt old, but 65 per cent of them said they didn’t feel old at 75. So I think we’re in this weird paradigm where we’re actually designing products for people who are feeling old, whereas there’s a lot of people out there who actually don’t feel old. And I think we’re going to find with the baby boomers coming through that people are just not going to want to do old age in the way that it’s previously been done, certainly like for my parents’ generation.

I think there’s a massive opportunity to really design products for a new way of ageing. I think we’ve seen that in the pandemic just with technology. And I mean, I think the old paradigm of, oh, people who are really old can’t use technology. In the last six months, oh my goodness, at every level they’ve just had to. I am literally now FaceTiming my 80-year-old mother every day. And the thought of that happening a year ago, just would not have ... I would have thought, “Oh no, there’s no way she’s going to do it.”

So in a funny way this pandemic has rapidly transformed that old thinking, specifically about seniors and technology. And I think there’s a lot of other areas in which we’re making judgements about how people are when they’re old. So I think the market is there and we’ll respond to innovative products that are thinking in a different way about ageing.

Emma Lo Russo: I’m curious, because you touched on it before, but I’d love to hear how you’ve seen that play out. But the making music accessible to those with dementia, you said that connection’s been made. Can you share a little bit more there?

Alison Harrington: I think there is so many studies and I mean, I’ve not come into this space from a health background and often it’s the people who don’t know anything about the category they come into, going, “Oh why can’t we do this?” And I’d read a lot about music therapy for dementia, and there’s many programmes. The UK in particular is so much more advanced than we are in Australia. They actually prescribe it in doctor’s offices. So I realised there was a massive potential here. And we know that music for those with dementia actually works in a really kind of, for want of a better word, a magical way with the brain that it reconnects to these old memories. And it’s got to be very personalised music. So, that dance, it brings back that memory, that first dance, all those special moments.

So if you could tie the memory to the music, then those people will go back to those states what they felt like when they experienced that music. And we all have those top 10 songs that make us remember things and put a smile on our face. So that’s basically what our programme is trying to do every single day for people. And in facilities it’s really hard to do that, because traditionally you can get a music therapist in, on a one on one or one on one small group situation, but that is often difficult and costly, and it just is not practically working at scale in facilities.

So what we’ve done with our platform is we have an onboarding form that when you come onto our system we actually fill out your music preferences. So we know, do you like classical, do you like jazz? What is it that you like? And then basically we can, with our playlist, that staff are trained to actually pick out the right playlists for people so they can actually listen. And then over time we can actually develop custom playlists for people. So in those moments, people can be listening to that music. So in that way, it really becomes a fantastic tool to help if people are anxious or agitated with dementia, which is often the case and a really big challenge in facilities and also people living at home.

We are just getting phenomenal responses from people in the field. With a very simple application of a pair of headphones and their favourite song, which is different to giving them a drug, or really having those people in distress for a long time.

So one of the stories a lovely lady was in the class and she used to bring her husband in with her and he’d sit at the back of the class and he had quite moderate dementia. And just to sit there, not moving at the back of the class. And one day we said, “Why don’t you just put the headphones on him?” And we said, “Oh no.” And I think it was even something like Taylor Swift. I can’t remember the song. I know, I think what he really came alive to sorry, was the Frank Sinatra song. But that being said, he does now dance to Taylor Swift, but it was just, and I remember, and he just completely lit up. From that moment on, he would come to that class with his wife, was Ray and Kay and they would come together. And I always remember Kay coming up to me at the end of the class going, “Alison, this is just the most amazing thing because every week I come, this is the one hour I have my husband back and we can do something together.”

What you find with the music, this therapy for dementia is that they’re then usually quite lucid and happy after the experience, because they actually come alive. And then they can have these beautiful, it might be for an hour or two, a couple of hours afterwards where they can actually spend time together. So I think that was the real turning point when I said, “There’s actually application here for dementia with what I’m doing.” And from that moment on, I just thought it was fascinating to explore what we could do with this technology, which was not a one to one headphone technology a bit. Wow, there could be like a 100 people with dementia listening to things at the same time. And how could we do that?

Emma Lo Russo: So Alison, you talked about your third act, connecting your desire to have social impact and having more meaning and purpose and seeing if you could build your career around that, how has that translated to building your team?

Alison Harrington: I’ve run a not-for-profit previously, I ran 10x10, I was the CEO of that. And I actually think I saw the power of purpose within that organisation, because I was CEO of that organisation. Essentially it was me and one other person. And I literally had a 100 volunteer leaders around the world, or fabulous millennials who were literally coming onboard and building their own teams and working as pure volunteers because they believed in the purpose.

So I completely saw with that organisation the power of the purpose-driven model. And I guess when I built my own business, that was a lot of the ... The journey of building that team was what I based Move & Groove around. So when I recruited, it was always a very funny story. When I recruited at the beginning of the year, I thought I need an admin person. So I put a tiny little ad in somewhere, and I just got so many people applying from everywhere for this $25 an hour admin job, and I’m just going, “This is amazing, like marketing executives, technology executives,” and everybody, the first thing they’d say is, “I just love what you’re doing.” And the funny thing about that job ad, I think I’ve subsequently employed three people who actually applied for the $25 ad, but in completely different variations, people were coming to me because they were kind of driven by the purpose.

And I was very open to their skill sets as well. I’m going, “You know what? I don’t think you’re the right person for the $25 an hour admin role but,” and in fact that’s where I found my fabulous training manager, who just said, “I want to come and work with your organisation, because I believe in what you want to do. And I have a dream of working for you full time.” So it was funny that I just went, “You know what? Why don’t you just start doing something five hours a week?”

So this is how, when you’re really clear about purpose, that starts to happen. And I think the team are very energised around purpose..

Emma Lo Russo: Well now you have a scalable platform to reach so many and also something that helps those in this COVID period where, when isolation was even harder to find breakthrough and wonderful moments for those in age care or at home, I’m sure you’ll be very successful. Purposes is it, right?

Purpose that drives that innovation that can impact so many. Thank you for your time today, Alison.

Alison Harrington: Thank you.

Emma Lo Russo: What a wonderful and positively impacting business. There’s plenty we can learn from Alison’s experience of founding a business based on a clearly-defined social impact mission. I agree with her belief that when leaders are clear on purpose, that purpose drives all areas of the business - from staff performance and culture, to attracting the right people during the recruitment process.

My final guest for this episode is Professor Leisa Sargent, Senior Deputy Dean and Co-DVC Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UNSW Business School. Let’s listen to her insights on the power of purpose, in engaging and empowering your workforce.

Leisa, welcome to the Business Of.

Leisa Sargent: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Emma Lo Russo: And I’m very much looking forward to talking to you about purpose-led leadership. What does this mean to you?

Leisa Sargent: Fundamentally, for me, it’s about making sure that my values align with what I do, how I do it, the decisions I make. And that’s linked carefully and closely to the organisation or business I’m in. For me, it puts a spring in my step and it gets me out of bed every day.

Emma Lo Russo: It’s connecting to that purpose. Where does diversity and inclusivity play with those that are working towards that purpose-led leadership?

Leisa Sargent: For me, they’re core leader behaviours, I guess. I also see them as principles around how I operate. For me, diversity is around who is in the group. And so there’s a range of different identities in groups we can talk about. I think for me inclusion is about then how we work collaboratively and collectively together to deliver great outcomes. There’s the who and the how in terms of diversity and inclusion.

Emma Lo Russo: Back to this, what gives you the spring in the step with this view, these aspects you’re talking about, we’re in a period of, using words that other people use, unprecedented change and disruption. How do we as leaders use this to bring about positive change?

Leisa Sargent: I think as we think about how we went out and how we come back from COVID-19, upper most in our minds needs to be that idea of how do we come back better. How do we make sure that we bring everybody back in a safe way, in a way that accelerates what we want to achieve. And so if sustainability is one of those really purpose pieces, and for me it is, then what does that mean for our business? So what does that mean at UNSW? For me, that means we know that 50 per cent of our staff live within 10 kilometres of the university. So can we think about bike lanes, bike access, alternative ways to get to work. So working with government and working also with perhaps salary sacrificing for an e-bike.

Are there new things that we need to be doing so that we are creating the future that we want to see in our organisation? I think there are really positive opportunities that come from this absolutely unprecedented experience that we’ve been in. I think it’s also been incredibly challenging for people, and it’s made us also think very carefully about our policies and procedures. In fact, most of them are probably at the door because everyone is working remotely, very flexibly. And also, in very challenging circumstances for some people. So if you think about domestic violence or you think about people who might have a home life, they’re a young person, LGBTQI plus, living in a homophobic family, in quarantine or in lockdown, this is a very challenging environment to be in.

So how do we as an organisation respond to that, what does that look like and how do we support people through that process? I think it’s stretched us in all kinds of ways, and that’s for staff. And then for us at UNSW, it’s also about students. So how do we support our most vulnerable students through this time? And what are the new things that we need to do to be supporting them.

Emma Lo Russo: I like how you’re using this as the moment to pause. How do we do things differently? Who would this be impacting? If we think about this as the opportunity to define a purpose, before we talk about the benefits of purpose-led leadership, how does a leader go about asking themselves those questions? How do they find their purpose? How do you advise people to do that in the first instance?

Leisa Sargent: I think it gets to, what were some pivotal moments in your life? Why did they matter? What were the things that gave you joy right from dot? So when you were very young, what were the things that really excited you and pleased you? So I think it goes back to that. I think purpose is there, it’s been there for a long time, and it’s probably through your prior experiences that you can really hone it and define it. Your family values. I think all of those things link into why we do what we do. And so I think it’s about thinking about those things. What gave you great joy in childhood? What were some of the pivotal experiences that you’ve had to date, and how have they shifted the way in which you think about yourself and how you lead?

Then you can combine that into a statement or just something that you can keep close by that keeps you focused. I think particularly during turbulent times. Because I think if you can stay focused on that purpose, it really helps pair everything back. It helps to give that kind of very clear vision about what it is that you’re wanting to achieve in your business. And that crystal vision is really helpful in terms of reprioritizing, de-prioritising or indeed that real acceleration. What’s the things that we really need to focus on here.

Emma Lo Russo: How do you make that live as a leader, and how does that then flow on and benefit and impact or influence those in your organisation?

Leisa Sargent: I think the benefits for others are that they understand what the priorities are. That means, immediately there’s that kind of shared understanding, you’ve got to also have an ear to what their purpose is and make sure that there’s good alignment of some kind. That they understand why it is we’re wanting to do what we want to do in the business. And I think that creates that shared understanding. It also means that they can contribute more fully. And so I think that’s really, really important. That contribution piece, that fostering a sense of belonging, and I think valuing the uniqueness of what everyone brings to the table is really important. A big part of I think being an inclusive leader and also a purpose-led leader is listening. Listening deeply to people. And you might not catch it the first time.

I think oftentimes it’s about checking in and making sure you’ve understood what really are motivators for people. And getting a good alignment to what we’re trying to achieve in the organisation.

Emma Lo Russo: You talked about how we need to check in, in these times of volatility and maybe use different ways of having those conversations. And to get that alignment. How does purpose help organisations perform in times of volatility?

Leisa Sargent: I think it’s impact. So purpose to impact. And so if you have purpose, you have a more empowered workforce, a more engaged workforce. They’re more likely to go the extra mile. They’re more likely to be innovative and problem solving and in wrestling with issues within the business. So I think that alignment really helps the business and helps the business to think through, okay, are there different ways that we could be doing this? Is there different markets that we could be tapping into? Is there a quicker way to do this?

Harnessing the diversity of views within that group is going to be far more powerful for you than you thinking that you’ve got all the solutions. I never think I’ve got the solutions, I often think I have absolutely an incomplete understanding of the situation. I’m always putting up a hypothesis and seeing what people think about it. Because I think at the end of the day,, we need to be challenged, be open to going, okay, well, that’s not going to work, is there another way we can do it? How do we communicate this in a way that’s going to be meaningful, that’s going to get reach? I think it’s been really helpful to also reach out to those people, consult with many people so that you have a broader understanding of perhaps what the impacts might be. Even when you’re thinking about, how do we support our students, the students have to be part of that conversation. I think that’s also really important.

Emma Lo Russo: Do you think also, Leisa, and I’ve had this anecdotally said back to me, that this type of period of things had a different, it was unknown, change had to happen very quickly. It was also a bit of a moment of truth. It was a test point. How true was the purpose of that organisation? What’s the way to build trust and credibility so that this is actually what drives that positive force for change and engagement you’re talking about?

Leisa Sargent: I think you just have to call it out. You have to say, what are the priorities here? How do we have some guidelines around those decisions or sense checks around those decisions? For me, equity and diversity is really important. How do we make sure that the decisions we’re making aren’t disproportionately affecting groups in our organisations? Whether that’s women, whether that’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people living with a disability, LGBTIQ plus. You can think about that range of people and say, okay, is there something that we’re doing here that may disproportionately affect those individuals? And if so, how do we mitigate that? So I think in terms of our decision making, that really matters. But I think as a leader, what also is really critical is that what you say and what you do has to align. If diversity matters, then you need to make sure that any changes that you’re making in the organisation doesn’t bring us back to a more homogeneous group. It needs to be a diverse group.

Emma Lo Russo: What are the advantages of investing in thinking about your purpose and being a purpose-led leader, and thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion? What do you know is the outcome? Why invest?

Leisa Sargent: I think it makes it much easier to lead. I think, from a development perspective, it just makes it so much easier to lead. If you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and that you can communicate that well to your peers, to your colleagues and staff, and to your constituents, I think it means that you can wrestle with difficult issues. We’ve all had really challenging issues that we’ve had to manage, and we know that we’ve done the best that we can given the value base that we stand upon. So I think it helps to wrestle with the difficult times, it also helps us to celebrate when things have gone really well.

I think that’s also really, really important. That people do invest in it, that they take the time to think about it. And you can’t do it on your own. I actually think you have to talk to people. I think you need to talk to people who know you and help get that mirror back to you about, what are the drivers for you? What does that look like? Do that reality check or test with them. I think it’s something that’s a collaborative effort as well. It’s not something that you can do at home alone.

Emma Lo Russo: I love it. And I guess that’s part of the values piece. Again, if you’re going to be a leader that wants to make this live, it’s ensuring that it is alive and everyone is part of that journey and aligned to it.

Leisa Sargent: And I also think it helps you to deepen and understand where you’re going to put your efforts, and I think that’s really important for a leader. That it helps you to think carefully about, where’s the time effort and energy going, and what are my practises and routines. And that really helps, I think, to then again, have that focus. The intrinsic motivation’s great, and it does mean that you can also bring people along. And so if you’re really wanting to create change in an organisation around those core purposes, then it can unleash people. People will go, that is something I buy into. That’s something that really puts a spring in my step as well. That’s something that I do ... can think I can do these three things today that will make a difference. And if it’s sustainability, then there can be really small things that can make a difference. And then there are the systems level changes that we can make. That’s obviously more at the strategic apex, but I think that cascading effect of that purpose is really, really critical as well.

Emma Lo Russo: Leisa, thank you so much for sharing the benefits and the how-tos and the why-tos. it’s been great. thank you very much for joining us on the Business Of.

Leisa Sargent: Thanks Emma, it was fabulous.

Emma Lo Russo: It’s been a fascinating dive into defining personal and organisational purpose, and how to lead with a clear mission in mind. I hope you enjoyed the conversations as much as I did.

I believe that business leaders, both established and aspiring should lead with purpose and strive to do well and do good in the world through our work.

As Professor Sargent said, purpose in practise is imagining the ideal future of your organisation and the wider society – and making changes now to help make that future a reality.

For more information please read BusinessThink's Moove & Groove’s founder on how to lead a business with purpose.


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