Top Read Posts Today
the blog of dan pontefract | Blog Large Image Whole Post Wide
page-template,page-template-blog-large-image-whole-post-wide,page-template-blog-large-image-whole-post-wide-php,page,page-id-18959,page-child,parent-pageid-19834,do-etfw,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.0.1,vc_responsive

Blog Large Image Whole Post Wide

Fifteen Years After My MBA

Fifteen years ago in 2002 I graduated with my MBA from Royal Roads University.

The university recently caught up with me to conduct an interview. It gave me the chance to reflect and think about how the MBA has shaped my professional life.

MBA experience shapes alumnus’ teaching on leadership

Alumnus Dan Pontefract first decided the dominant form of leadership had to change when he was cut from a provincial soccer team at age 16.

“Three men went to the front of the stage, called out the names of the 16 boys that made the team and left the other ten in the audience weeping, and basically said, ‘Better luck next time,’” Pontefract says. “And I said to myself then and there I’ll never treat anyone that way.”

That early experience of the potentially damaging effects of certain leadership styles eventually compelled Pontefract to explore how people lead and learn to be leaders in business and life.

A Master of Business Administration (2002) alumnus originally from Stony Creek, Ontario, Pontefract is chief envisioner for TELUS, where his Transformation Office helps organizations and leaders to improve employee engagement, leadership development and organizational culture.  He has published two books on leadership and purpose, with his third, Open to Think: A Strategy for Better Thinking, to be released in 2018.

“I am trying to help both employees and leaders shine a light…that management, leadership culture, purpose—it can all be done in a different way,” he says.

In 2000, Pontefract was working for the B.C. Institute of Technology and decided to improve his education in order to be a better academic. Royal Roads’ MBA was exactly what he needed, he says, despite the youth of the university and the program.

“I wanted something that was practical and real and didn’t feel as if it was just coming out of a book,” Pontefract says. “So I looked into faculty. I looked into the way programs were set up. I looked into the fact that I somewhat obviously wanted to continue to work.

“And as I started whittling down my parameters, I kept coming back to RRU, even though, in fairness, it was fledgling (at the time.)”

Pontefract says his experience at Royal Roads, from the way the MBA was delivered in a blended learning format, to its focus on collaboration, was essential both for how he views leadership and how he teaches others to be engaged, collaborative leaders.

“I was so enamoured and enthralled with the program’s structure that effectively I stole it and used it as the basis for the TELUS MBA we started a couple of years ago,” he says with a laugh. The TELUS program teaches MBA-level skills to employees in a blended learning model with six residences. Employees work in pods and teams, similar to the cohort model at Royal Roads.

“I remember RRU really unleashing the behaviour of collaboration,” Pontefract says. “As you progress in your studies, you recognize that the sum is greater than its individual parts. So these teams you were concentrated with really disentangled the notion that you had to do everything on your own in life.”

Those lessons influenced Pontefract’s first book, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization.

“The connected part is not technology. It’s actually behaviour. It’s that notion of being collaborative and connecting with people to create results,” he says.

Pontefract stresses the top behavior for leaders is openness with their teams.

“I define openness as the act of engaging others to influence and execute a coordinated and harmonious conclusion,” he says.

“Employees aren’t looking for heaps of money. They just want to feel valued. So how you create value is you’re inclusive. You’re coordinating with them, you’re collaborating with them. That’s open.”

Pontefract’s vision for business transformation goes beyond more harmonious, engaged work teams. He says business done with openness and purpose has greater social value than making profit; it can improve the lives of its employees and the community.

“Profit is important but not the sole reason a company is in business in the first place,” he says. “The business of business is to improve society. And if one improves society the organization will be returned a healthy profit.”

~ Interview conducted by Cindy MacDougall and first appeared on the RRU website.

Why I Removed A Recent Post

On March 9, 2017, I wrote and published a post that outlined various missteps, difficulties and issues that had recently taken over a particular American company.

After seven days, I had a change of heart.

I removed the column from the three sites in which it was cross-posted to.

Some of you have asked “why?”

I will reiterate what I discussed with my three goats at the Sunday night dinner table.

I made a mistake.

But… “there is tuition value in mistakes.”

I started out the conversation on Sunday night retelling the story of my second book, The Purpose Effect, to the goats. The book almost never was. Actually, it almost was a much bigger mistake than the post I recently took down.

In its first iteration—days before it was about to go to the printers—The Purpose Effect was titled something entirely different. The tone was very dark and brooding. It was as though I had written an angry book, lashing out at all that was wrong in the world of purpose, people, organizations and the like.

I received some insightful feedback (and coaching) from a very wise man who recommended I push out the publish date by a year in order to clean up the manuscript. It led me to rethink the entire premise of the book, as well as my writing style. It led to (I believe) a much more hopeful, positive and useful book.

It is fair to say I learned far more about myself and my writing tendencies through that experience than ever before.

I am very proud of The Purpose Effect and its end result. It may not have won a book award, but the streams of people reaching out and thanking me for writing it is truly humbling. I hope other readers have found it—and continue to find it—useful.

The post that I recently “unpublished” felt a bit like that first version of The Purpose Effect. It was dark and brooding, and did not serve a true purpose. It attacked a company, its leader and several other individuals. In summary, it was not the type of writing that I want to be known for.

And so, as I discussed this with the three young kids on Sunday night over a delightful smoked sablefish, I share those same sentiments here in this space.

What I could have done is provided helpful recommendations and ideas on how to improve various facets of the company’s culture, leadership practices and organizational purpose instead of attacking it. After all, that is what I have been doing for the better part of my career. Instead of descending into an offensive assault, I simply could have helped.

And that is where I erred.

I may still write a more helpful post in the future that aims to assist the company, but for now, it’s simply another example of “mea culpa” in my personal journey of life.

If you were personally or professionally impacted, I am sorry, too.



Book Review: The Neo-Generalist

I’ve had several roles in multiple organizations over my career. All of them have been rewarding. When I look back I can distinguish one particular fork in the road of my livelihood. The moment I left the public education sector for the corporate world was the time at which I was introduced to the term HR Generalist.

Being in education, there was no such thing as an HR Generalist. I had never heard of the job title before. It not only sounded foreign, it made me laugh.

“What did an HR Generalist do?” I mused to myself. It sounded so goofy to me I thought the role was about having a very low-level of knowledge of Human Resources to translate to people like me. Maybe it was supposed to be like an interpreter. Given the company assigned me one that first week of employment in my new corporate world gig, I needed to figure out relatively quickly what it was she was actually going to help me with.

That “she” was named Diane. And she was fantastic.

As it turns out, an HR Generalist is a bit like what authors Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin expertly surface in their new book The Neo-Generalist: Where You Go Is Who You Are. They write that a neo-generalist “dislikes labels and categorization precisely because it has the effect of fragmenting and polarizing, creating artificial boundaries and divisions.” My new colleague, Diane, was not a specific HR payroll person, or a learning professional, or a recruitment agent, or a labor analyst, or an organizational design consultant. Diane was all of that. She could deftly move around the continuum of human resources, “in and out of different specialisms and responsibilities, working with an array of groups and communities,” as Mikkelsen and Martin depict.

Diane was indeed someone with that raw and uncanny ability to go wide and narrow. She was both deep and shallow in her knowledge of human resources. She was working in a state of perpetual beta.

The crux of The Neo-Generalist is that each of us possesses the potential to both specialize and generalize . Diane was a perfect example. She generalized the principles and policies of HR in order to specialize for me and the other executives she worked with. Neo-generalists bring their background, unique and oftentimes gifted knowledge as well as diversity of thought to their places of work.

“While the specialist aspires to membership of the guild, populated by experts in their field, and the generalist heads for the salon, which is polymathic in both membership and outlook, the neo-generalist is drawn to a café culture in the hope of combining the best of both worlds.”

As I read the book, I caught myself not only thinking about Diane, I began to think about my own situation. Maybe I’m a neo-generalist?

The author’s simple yet succinct observation is based on a wide range of interviews with athletes, scientists, professionals, artists, film makers and writers. Littered with historical references and pop culture reflections, I could not help thinking about my career and tendencies while reading.

As I approach problems at work or in life—as I tackle projects or ideate on new concepts—I realized I am tapping into a diverse background of personal and professional experiences, ultimately surfacing an answer, a thought, or a possibility by virtue of looking at things specifically and generally. I am like the capital letter T. Along the top of the T is my breadth and along the stem of the T is my depth. As necessary, I shift along the top of the stem to accommodate a given situation.

The authors describe it differently, and perhaps more astutely, by virtue of what they describe as “The Infinite Loop” found below.

The stories are rich and diverse. One minute you can be swept away to the Rugby World Cup and another to an anecdote about Picasso. But the real gold is mined from the personal neo-generalist narratives the authors surfaced with people from around the world. One of my favorites (and most enlightening) was with Susy Paisley-Day, an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kent.  While studying wild bears in concert with her PhD research, Paisley-Day became a detective, using sense-making and pattern recognition as part of her scientific analysis. But, she also blended this with the unknown—the mystery, uncertainty and ambiguity—of being in the wild and figuring out how to track these spectacled bears. It’s this specialization and generalization blend where the magic appears.

“Pattern recognition, therefore, requires a fine balancing act between perception and reality; an awareness that objective can be affected and distorted by the subjective.”

As I look back now at the time I spent with Diane, I know not only what an HR Generalist does, I fully appreciate how important her role was to me and my team’s success. She was not a generalist; she was a neo-generalist—a restless multi-disciplinarian who is forever learning and bringing people together through depth and breadth.

By the end of The Neo-Generalist, I was ready to classify myself as one, too.

On Being Human

“If you want to know what being Canadian is, it’s being part of the human race, allowing yourself to be vulnerable.” ~Gord Downie

Of everything I have learned from Gord over the years, it’s this quote that captures my attention the most. It hits me deep. I interpret it as follows:

When we accept our own impotence we can be that much greater.

When we acquiesce to our own susceptibility we can be that much more giving.

When we assume a position of defencelessness we can be even more helpful.

When we are humble, vulnerable and act with humility, we are a part of the human race.

For what it’s worth, my “money” is on Gord. Let us all be a part of humanity and the human race.

Tic Tac Oh Oh

In the game of Tic-Tac-Toe it has been estimated that if two players with intermediate level experience squared off against one another, the odds of it resulting in a tie (called a Cat’s Game) is 51 percent of the time.

When two experienced players set up shop for a match, the game will result in a tie 86 percent of the time.

And if two Tic-Tac-Toe experts were to get together, a tie would occur 100 percent of the time.

I like to think that each of us is an expert in being human. You, me, your neighbour, citizens alike…we are experts in being humane. I give each of us the benefit of the doubt. I hope you do, too.

We are the experts to uphold our decency, our morality, our values…our humanity.

If we use Tic-Tac-Toe as a metaphor for the current mode of operations in the new Trump administration, it feels as though there is no longer a chance for a tie. Life is no longer a zero sum game. Society has quickly moved to one where the bully has overtaken the board. Trump seems to hold power over our humanity. He is relishing the moment with hidden tones of fascism.

Society’s expert status seems to have eroded. There is no longer a chance for the tie.

We need to fight back. Whatever your nationality and wherever you live, it is time to become an open thinker. The current status quo–of a bully unilaterally in charge of the Tic-Tac-Toe board–must be squashed.

Our humanity depends on it.

It is time we got creative. The bully may be in charge of the board right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t think openly and creatively to outwit his rhetoric. It’s time to play off the board. It is time to rally.


I’m in need of being inspired.

If you want to win one of seven free (and signed) copies of my latest book, THE PURPOSE EFFECT, here’s what you have to do:

  • In the comment box below, jot down your “declaration of purpose.”


Here is what I wrote in THE PURPOSE EFFECT about the “declaration of purpose” to help you out:

If team members do not possess an understanding of their personal purpose, the first step is to create a personal purpose statement. But something stronger is required. It should not be a simple statement, rather a declaration. A necessary action, therefore, is to define a personal “declaration of purpose.”

To create a personal declaration of purpose, individuals can utilize the following techniques:

  • Incorporate how you decide to operate your life—how you will show up—each and every day.
  • Be succinct, specific and jargon-free, but ensure the declaration is equally expressive.
  • Make it personal, make it yours, and incorporate strengths, interests and/or core attributes.

Once an individual’s personal purpose has been declared, the next step is to ensure they take ownership of what has been crafted. If the declaration is the commitment to “define” one’s purpose, acting upon it is to “decide” how someone is going to carry out their purpose each and every day. 

When I created my own personal declaration in the late 1990s, I realized it had to be something that defined me, allowed me to continue developing, and forced me to decide how I would behave in any situation. How was I going to show up each and every day? My personal purpose declaration statement has been the following ever since:

We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through.

This declaration has guided me through life altering decisions, often acting as my personal compass. Of any action you plan to take to achieve the sweet spot, based on my research, interviews and personal experience, I cannot stress how important the personal declaration purpose statement can be to your long-term prosperity.

I’m looking to be inspired by your own “declaration of purpose.” I have no doubt that others who read your “declaration of purpose” will be inspired as well.

If you don’t have one, here’s a great chance to think about it, write it down, and maybe … just maybe … you’ll win a signed copy of my second book.

At a minimum, you will have created something that should help you for the months to come. (and likely others)

Good luck. Contest closes Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 6:00pm PT

PS. More information about the book is over here. There is a TED Talk, too.



Four Key Actions To Change Your Organization’s Purpose

Purpose is more than a cause. It is a wholesome way of being and operating for any organization. As I argue in my book, The Purpose Effect, purpose is truly the secret sauce between financial success, business longevity and ‘doing good’ in society. It even aids employee engagement.

When global giant Unilever, for example, shifted course in 2009 and decided to put purpose on par with the need for good profits through its ambitious Sustainable Living Plan, its employee engagement rose from the low 50s to the high 80s. But the company also witnessed its market capitalization rise from €63 billion to over €100 billion while its earnings per share grew from 1.16 to almost 2.00.

Purpose ought to become the reason a business is in business. Here’s why:

If an organization exhibits a high degree of purpose in its mission and objectives—taking a stand to benefit society—there is a very good likelihood that employees will more easily demonstrate purpose in their roles at work, become engaged, while adding to their own personal sense of purpose in life as well.

It is no coincidence that the organization, society and the employee greatly benefits when this occurs.

Another company that understands the purpose formula is Salesforce.

“When we started the company, we actually built giving back into the start-up process. We said from the very beginning we are going to create a company based on three things. Number one, software delivered over the Internet—basically unheard of in 1999. Number two, a new business model, which was buy software on a subscription basis— again, unheard of at that time. The third was a new philanthropic model—which is to bake it into your company as you begin your start-up process I started when the company was 50 people big and we’re now 20,000 employees globally. I think what we’ve learned is that it creates a great company of high performers.”

These were the words of Suzanne DiBianca, the Chief Philanthropy Officer and EVP of Corporate Relations at Salesforce, a company that has very high employee engagement, revenues exceeding $6 billion, and the no. 2 spot on Forbes’ “The World’s Most Innovative Companies” list.

marc-benioff-profileDefining a higher sense of purpose at Salesforce was very important to Marc Benioff, founder, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce. Purpose is something that allows Salesforce to function as a leader in the CRM space, but also in society on the whole. “Companies can do more than just make money, they can serve others,” says Benioff. “The business of business,” he continues, “is improving the state of the world.”

Salesforce solidified its organizational purpose by instituting what it refers to as the “1-1-1 Model.” The model utilizes Salesforce’s technology, people, and resources to help improve communities around the world. The model breaks down as follows:

  • 1% of Salesforce’s equity is set aside to deliver grants in the communities where Salesforce employees live and work;
  • 1% of Salesforce’s product is donated to non-profits and educational institutions;
  • 1% of Salesforce employees’ time is donated to communities around the world.

“We do it,” said DiBianca, “because we want to build a great company that serves all stakeholders, not just shareholders.”

An organization—as Salesforce and Unilever demonstrate—ought to be in business to serve society, not solely those looking for economic rents. That is why purpose is more than a cause. It should become the way to operate a business. As management expert and author Charles Handy once wrote, “Let us be clear, profits—and good profits—are always essential, and not just in business. But the myth dies hard, the myth that profit is the purpose.”

When I asked how Salesforce employees demonstrate a sense of purpose in their roles—for their organization and society at large—DiBianca beamed, almost anticipating the question.

“You have no idea how deeply embedded it is,” she began. “This morning, for example, I ran into a tour of fourth graders. A group in our finance team brought them in as part of the ‘Circles to Schools’ program. It was not a corporate initiative, just an example of a team coming together, rallying to support the community.”

When a new employee joins Salesforce, the 1-1-1 Model is the highlight of orientation. Once they receive their computer, company messages, and so on, Salesforce sends the new cohort of recruits into the community. On an employee’s very first day, they go out and spend time doing something useful as a volunteer. It is an example of the company’s intent to walk the talk of its higher purpose.

I believe that the enactment of purpose results in a higher calling for both individuals and the organization.

There are four key actions leaders could take to shift the organization’s purpose:

  • Serve all stakeholders, not simply profit seekers or shareholders. When an organization redefines who it ought to be serving (customers, employees, community and society) the profit seeker or shareholder will be rewarded as an outcome of its higher purpose.
  • Pledge a percentage of employee volunteer time, company profits and in-kind services and/or products to the community, one of your newly established stakeholders. As Salesforce demonstrates, when specific resources are dedicated to the community, all stakeholders end up benefiting.
  • Craft a transition plan. Shifting the culture and operating practices of an organization does not occur at the flick of a switch. The organization must be prepared to change many processes and existing habits, thus a proper and long-term transition plan is needed.
  • Write an organizational declaration of purpose. All team members—indeed all stakeholders—will benefit from a guiding statement that helps to define its stakeholders and “why” it is in business in the first place. This one or two-line statement becomes the new “North Star” of the organization.

When purpose becomes an organization’s DNA, purpose is no longer a cause, it simply becomes the way it has always done things. It’s the organization’s higher calling.

It’s also the right thing to do.