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17 May 2021

Finding a higher purpose for HR

“We’re gaining some deep insights into a pathway that is different to traditional leadership and HR practices.” - Wendy Paul, Director of People Experience at Fonterra

Ahead of her Tech Fest talk, What it Means to be “Human Around Here” - Living Our Purpose “On Purpose”, Wendy Paul from Fonterra speaks to us about instilling a new mindset to unify diverse groups of people. She believes that connecting with higher purpose is crucial to the longevity of both individuals and organisations.

 

Wendy Paul

Your title is Director of People Experience at Fonterra. So, who are the people?

Wendy Paul: That’s an interesting question because people generally think of this in terms of employee experience. But, when I took on the role, I was very clear that I wanted the work to be much broader than that – for me, this means our farmers (as owners in a co-operative model) as well as our employees, customers, vendors, community stakeholders, and government. The ‘people’ in my job title pretty much refers to all the people in the Fonterra value chain.  

With such a diverse group of people, is it possible to deliver a unified experience? How important is it?

It is very very important. There has to be a common grounding of belief in who we are and what we stand for and that what we're doing in the world is valuable. Without that belief, we’re steering a rudderless ship, so it's not just important, it’s critical.

How do you go about achieving that?

The key simply is being curious and listening to what's important to people and what they believe to be true. Truly understanding these perspectives helps to ensure that when you act, you are working on what will be meaningful to your audience group.

Is this related to the “purpose” work you have been doing at Fonterra that you will be speaking about to the Tech Fest community this June?

Yes – this is the evolution of the Purpose work. Our Purpose conversation began in 2018 to understand questions like why we come to work, and why our farmers get up every morning. Beyond that, we want to consider what kind of culture we need to drive the performance to deliver on outcomes for the long term - and not just outcomes of a dollar value, but the value you want to create in the world. For Fonterra, it’s the start of a very intentional cultural journey to ensure that we are here for generations to come and as a result, we’re gaining some deep insights into a pathway that is different to traditional leadership and HR practices.

You’re talking about a new mindset?

In a strange way, what we're going through is innovation of the mind, as opposed to innovation at a tech level. Even though, this is part of a tech conversation, what I’m looking forward to talking about is the cultural shift in the world we live in at the moment. It's a move away from structure and hierarchy and jobs. It’s an open conversation; an innovative, new way of thinking as opposed to a traditional HR conversation on employee experience.

Before you shifted your career focus onto “all things people”, is it true you were a marine captain?

I trained to be one, although I didn't actually go to sea and do sea time.  I guess that indicative of my disruptor adventurous spirit because at that time - in South Africa - there were not a lot of females doing that work. In fact, I was the first of three who went through the training that I did. I love the sea; I love being on the ocean and I chose that career pathway because it felt pioneering - feminists going into a man's world - and it was an opportunity to be in an environment every day that I loved.

Speaking of which, you’re a graduate of the Global Women's Leadership Program. Can you tell us about that?

In 2015 I was elected to go through that 12-month program – two to three women were being invited to go through every year as a commitment to leadership in diversity and change. That was my very first exposure to understanding this concept of purpose at a very deep level from a personal point of view.

As opposed to asking, ‘what's my job - what do I do?’ the question should be ‘why am I here?’ It’s a big question at an individual level. I went through a very profound, personal development. The way the program was set up, we discovered our purpose, who we want to BE in the world for the difference we want to make in the world as opposed to what do we want to DO in the world?

And in a way that has been part of my motivation for wanting everybody to go through discovering their own higher purpose. It’s helped guide me down this pathway for my organisation.

Hear more from Wendy as she speaks in greater detail about Fonterra’s journey of discovery to find its higher ground purpose beyond the monetary aspect at the HR + L&D Tech Fest, 8-9 June 2021, Cordis, Auckland.

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