I had the pleasure of attending the Barefoot Coaching Winter Conference on 25th November at a fabulous venue, Prestwood Hall, near Loughborough.

We were treated to an insightful talk by Professor Roger Steare, Corporate Philosopher and ‘Empathic Provocateur’! This description of Professor Steare alone creates stimulating thought.

I have written some of the insightful moments I would like to share with you. The normal text are extracts from Professor Steare’s keynote, not all literally word for word, and the words in italics are my thoughts and comments.

I regularly work with people and organisations where we explore the culture and identify what the business is about, i.e. purpose, values, and vision. Roger took my thinking to another level.

He stated that in his research there is strong evidence to show that a ‘Fear-driven culture is prevalent.  “some people on our planet work for large corporations and private institutions where a growth-addicted, command and control, fear driven culture suppresses our love and humanity”. E.g. you must meet your monthly targets (or else).  There are of course exceptions. If we are continuously directed and told what to do, we lose the ability and desire to think for ourselves. Yet, outside the work environment, we are responsible for our families, we make decisions and are capable of achieving great things; when we come in to work that has a strong KPI, target driven ethos, that ability to think for ourselves is diluted.

An organisation’s culture is created not by the senior team but by ‘in the moment’ meetings where two or more people meet in a social or meeting environment. We create a culture within in a culture.

If you were to look up the definition of culture it will read – culture is the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next.

 There is a quote purported to be from Peter Drucker, famous Management Consultant, that states “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.”

 If we continue to focus a majority of our efforts on tasks and process, important as they are, and achieving targets in a fear driven culture, then people relationships are squeezed out, stress related illnesses increase, and at some point something will blow. It cannot be sustained. Working relationships and the positive interaction with people in work and clients is essential for success. Open and honest relationships in work builds trust, enables people to be themselves rather than having to pretend, and creates a great environment to work in.

When assessing what the culture is of the organisation Professor Steare shared with us a statistic that in –

–      1970 75% of the work we did was tangible (we could touch it) and 25% was intangible (e.g. software);

–      2015 85% of the work we do is intangible and 15% is tangible.

So how do we in today’s predominantly intangible work environment assess and measure the intangibles? My thought is that the problem is not so much the difficulty of measuring the intangible, but more that we lose the ability to talk to each other and develop working relationships because we are spending so much time on computers. When I and my colleagues ask people in Team Development Workshops what percentage of time is spent on Tasks, Processes, and Relationships a majority of people respond with a low percentage on Relationships. It is relationships that nurture and develop the business both internally and externally.

 It is not easy to create this culture and environment; everyone one from the Board to team members have to work at it. Isn’t that the same within the family and personal relationships? We have to continually work at it.

One pro-active way of influencing the work culture is focusing on the micro-culture and creating better meetings. This has a positive impact on people’s feelings.

When Professor Steare meets with Boards of an organisation one of his first questions is ‘What is the purpose of your business?’

He illustrated a four-part model for us to consider –

  •  Why do we exist? (What is the purpose of the business?)
  • Who are we? (what are our values?)
  • How do we decide what is right? (Making decisions)
  • What will we do? (Our actions)

 WHY (Purpose)

He asked us some very philosophical questions – What is our purpose in life? Why do we exist? What is our legacy? ‘We survive and grow because others love and care for us and we love and care for them right back’.

This challenged me to evaluate the purpose of my business, what I am about, and how I come across. I am now looking at reviewing my website and my purpose.

 WHO ARE WE (Values)

Where do our moral values fit into the work place? How do we decide what is right and what impact that has on the organisation and its reputation? E.g. VW 2015, Banks in the 2000s?


In the army during the First World War, the leading/managing of men was by ‘command and control’. It is recognised in today’s army that this does not work. The most productive ‘unit’ is where they make their own decisions, and this is the most productive. They don’t have to wait for a command when they have been isolated and communication has been broken. How do we in organisations influence the ability for people to make their own decisions?

When we get into a car why do we decide to put on our safety belt? It is the right thing for us to do for people that care about us and for other road users. In the work environment how do rules and processes match up against –

–      law

–      logic

–      love?

Wearing your seat-belt is the Law, it is logical, and it is because we love other people.

These three questions were challenging when you relate them to rules and processes at work. The most challenging question being ‘are we doing it out of love’?

A definition of love is ‘a strong affection of something, a strong feeling of affection.’

 I love my job, although I do not consider it to be a job, it is a way of life. I am fortunate to be in a situation of being self-employed and I am able to make my own choices about how I operate and the decisions I make. Being self-employed also produces its own challenges, e.g. do I feel part of something, a bigger team? I am fortunate to have some great and very supportive Associates and clients who welcome me as part of the team. I know for some self-employed people it can feel quite lonely. That then comes back to the question what is your purpose and what do you want to be part of?


 A thought here could be ‘having considered all of the above how can we influence upholding our and the organisation’s values and make the right decisions?’ How many times have we encountered situations when people have either cut corners or covered something up so as not to be found out in their short comings? Do we work in an environment where we can be open and honest and feel we are able to admit to our mistakes without retribution as an outcome?

 Yes, we do need to learn from our mistakes and then move on. I am guilty as charged on making mistakes regularly both in my personal life and work life but I do feel that I am able to discuss it with the people concerned.

We sustain our communities through emotions, behaviour, social learning and social decisions. We, homo sapiens, are the weakest of primates, but we work well together, collectively, and this makes us stronger than other primates, and this has evolved over 175,000 years.

This reminded me of an African quote “If you want to go faster, go alone, if you want to go far go together”. We are by nature, tribal, and want to be part of something both at home and at work. If we are responsible for people in the work place, or when we work alongside others, how do we positively influence that environment where we create that culture of feeling part of something?

We were introduced to an in depth piece of on-going research by Professor Steare call the MoralDNA™ that measured 10 moral values and 3 decision making ethical perspectives. This subject deserves a completely separate article. I believe there have been over 130,000 entries from over 19 countries. There is more information about this on Professor Steare’s website – www.corporatephilospher.com

This summary is only an extract from Professor Roger Steare’s keynote speech. There is plenty for me to reflect and work on over the coming months. It also endorses the comments I hear from 100s of people I have had the privilege to coach and 1000s of people who have been part of Workshops I have Facilitated. I hope it has also enabled you to reflect on your experiences and to consider your purpose and your situation.

Jon Webb, Webb Development