How Accenture will lead Australia out of despair

Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Bob Easton, the new managing director of Accenture in Australia and New Zealand, is also finishing a PhD on human flourishing.

This is all about something which, at first glance, appears to have nothing to do with the world of consulting — happiness, caring and empathy. It’s the pursuit of a high state of well-being and being the best a person can be.

Easton explains how this fits in with a local business pulling in about $1.5 billion in annual revenue.

“It’s feeling good and it’s doing good,” he told Business Insider.

“A flourishing organisation is one that feels good and one that functions well. It is one where everybody is inspired to bring their whole selves to work each and every day.

“It is when innovation is arriving from everywhere both inside and outside of the organisation and it’s where remarkable value is created with external stakeholders be it customers, consumers, suppliers, investors, the community.

“That’s a flourishing organisation and that is the state that all organisations should be striving for.”

Simply put, that’s what he wants to do in Australia — to help companies achieve the status of flourishing.

But Easton, who has been with the global management consulting group for 18 years, isn’t a happyologist.

“Negativity is important,” he says.

“A certain amount of negativity keeps us upright. It is a biological mechanism and what the science tells us is that we need to use negativity in proportion.

“There is a place for negativity but there is not a place for it to dominate our dialogue and to dominate the way we think.”

Better managers

He is wary of recent research showing that Australian managers generally lack soft skills such as empathy, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, innovation.

“I would argue that many of our leaders that are today operate the way they do because of what they have been taught and the expectations that are being set on them,” he says.

He says the discussion in Australia about business and communities has to change.

“We have to move the dialogue away from what I call depths of despair and move it to one of hope, one of seeing the possibilities of the future that we can help individuals, groups, teams, organisations move towards.

“People get inspired by hope. They get moved.

“If organisations want to really unlock the potential of their people, unlock the potential of their capabilities they need to think with abundance and they need to think in an appreciative way which is looking to how they can elevate the strengths of their organisation and not worry about the negative.”

Culture

He finds that managers want to do the right thing when they come to work each day but something happens when they walk through the office door.

The organisation’s culture takes over.

“We have amazing leaders in Australia who have amazing strengths and all we need to do is work to elevate those strengths and help train them and help them learn about what really brings out the best in human beings,” he says.

The focus, he says, should be on how to create a leadership and management in Australia that creates the highest levels of flourishing in the people we get the opportunity to lead every day.

“The opportunity to lead people every single day is a gift that we are given,” he says. “We have to treat that with the highest level of respect.

“If you bring that back to Accenture … we are a very large organisation, 380 odd thousand people around the world.

“We have touched almost every community in the world and our core purpose is to innovate to improve the way the world works.

“We recognised a long time ago that to improve the way the world works we have to improve the way our people work and live.”

Language is fateful

Easton believes that organisations move in the direction of the language they use.

“Language is fateful,” he says. “Therefore topics sentences and questions that we ask are fateful.”

Bob Easton. Image: Supplied

Destiny, or a path, is created the minute a question is formed.

“So a hundred studies on what’s wrong with Australian management will tell you only what is wrong with leaders and management,” he says. “What about a study which is how do we create the best management and leaders in the world?”

Easton says he sees good managers every day.

“I am very biased but we in Accenture have an amazing group of leaders and managers and we are very proud of them,” he says.

“They do care and they do have empathy and they do get inspired by flourishing and they are representative of a lot of leaders and managers in Australia.

“I think that we have this amazing opportunity at a time in our history to elevate the whole dialogue of leadership in Australia.”

Disruption

Easton sees disruption in industries from new technology and new players occurring now.

“Some people are awake to it and some people are not awake to it,” he says.

“We are making various moves both in the market and inside Accenture to help prepare our client’s for that change.”

Accenture has five businesses areas: strategy; consulting; technology; operations business and digital business.

“That enables us to have the capabilities to guide all companies through this reinvention from this disruption which is occurring to them,” he says.

Performance reviews

While developing talent is a priority, performance reviews don’t exist at Accenture in a recognisable form.

“We don’t have them in the traditional sense; in fact, we move from the word performance management to performance achievement,” he says.

The old performance reviews were a look into the past, trying to find failure.

“You find fault and you tell someone about it,” Easton says. “You have a review and you say ‘Nice year but here is all the things you did wrong’.”

Again, Easton says the language is important.

“Performance achievement is about achievements,” he says.

“It is about the future and we believe that when we have people working at the intersection of their strengths — what they are great at and what they are passionate about — we get outstanding performance.

“When we connect that with what we call ‘meaningful conversations’ we get extraordinary performance.

“If we can also connect that performance achievement with helping our employees achieve high status of well-being or flourishing we get sustained human flourishing and that is when you are going to get the highest levels of productivity and the highest levels of effectiveness.

“Therefore we don’t have performance reviews, we have talent reviews.

“A talent review is about thinking about their strengths and how we can elevate those strengths in the future.”

Dress code

There is a dress code written down somewhere at Accenture but no-one has looked at it for some time.

Some wear jeans to work at Accenture. Others wear a suit.

“We have high levels of trust and I don’t think anyone actually ever looks at the dress code,” Easton says.

“What we like to say to our people is adopt the dress code of your client because we try and merge with our client’s culture. Bring our culture but also respect our client’s culture.

“We are a pretty relaxed sort of culture and we trust people to dress how they want to dress and that is appropriate.”

Easton succeeds Jack Percy, who will continue as head of Accenture’s business in South Korea. Percy joined Accenture in 1983 and began leading Accenture’s business in Australia and New Zealand in 2010.

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