4. October 2023

‘Fail your way to the correct answer’: Steven Bartlett at HUG

Steven Bartlett at HUG by Personio

Today in London, hundreds of HR leaders and other inspirational speakers gathered for HUG 2023, our biggest HR event of the year. Joining us for our first guest keynote of the day was The Diary of a CEO’s Steven Bartlett, who spoke about his learnings from his impressive career as an entrepreneur, investor, speaker and author.

Here are four of the biggest insights he had to share with the hundreds of HR professionals at HUG:

1. Build your culture with four questions

As the founder of not one but four highly successful businesses, Steven knows a thing or two about building the culture of a business. In fact, he shared that not one of the 30 or so members of his podcast team, The Diary of a CEO, has ever left. "People are definitely the biggest challenge in business. I see every company as a recruitment company and within that, culture is the single most important thing."

So, how do you build that culture? It should come from your vision. For this, he advises asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the opportunity that we are trying to achieve in the world?

  • What are the behaviours that will help achieve that?

  • What are the philosophies and values we need to achieve that?

  • What are the systems, processes and people we have to put in place to have achieve that? 

2. Fail your way to the correct answer

Next, Steven spoke about the undeniable value of experimentation for organisations. For example, small tweaks on social media posts to promote The Diary of a CEO have helped to raise engagement by 300%. They conduct about 90 tests before an episode is even released. "The highest yielding returns are from the unbeaten path. If we want to find the correct answers before everyone, we need to experiment at a faster rate than anyone."

He explains: "Most successful companies will be the ones with the highest experimentation and failure rate. The biggest cost in business is time wasted not experimenting." He urges leaders to view these experiments as intellectual capital, measuring the learnings and not the outcomes, as otherwise it can create fear for employees around experimenting.

Steven Bartlett at HUG by Personio, in interview

3. Use the progress principle to drive retention

Some of the world's leading companies such as Spotify and Airbnb are run like startups, says Steven, meaning that people at the bottom of the organisation feel empowered. He explains how companies such as Toyota have employed the Japanese 'Kaizen' approach to invite people throughout the company to give feedback and then 'own' the solution.

"The psychological impact of giving people an idea of progress is not to be underestimated. Businesses can use the Progress Principle make people feel like they’re going somewhere." That is to say, the idea of small wins can be very powerful for keeping people engaged in their work. “When a team of people feel like they’re going somewhere, motivation levels go up."

4. Pre-empt common reasons for attrition

As mentioned, the 30 people who work on the podcast team for The Diary of a CEO have never left. Most work five days a week in the office, work and conduct meetings synchronously and pulse data has found that most describe their current job as the favourite job they've ever had.

He calls it 'the Underlying Principles of Loving the Work You Do', something he uses to grow and retain great teams at ThirdWeb, Flight Story, Flight Fund and The Diary of a CEO:

  1. You have to feel challenged. After all, video games increase in difficulty to keep you motivated.

  2. Use the progress principle that people need to move forward.

  3. You must be given a high degree of control and autonomy.

  4. You need to get subjective meaning from your work (this will be different for everyone).

  5. Most importantly: You need to be working in a supportive group of people that you like.

He explains: "Pre-empt when your employees aren’t challenged and give them a new challenge. Keep your employees out of their comfort zone – get them to level 2."

Stay tuned as we report live from HUG throughout the day. Still to come – read insights from diversity experts Naomi Sesay, Timothy Armoo, and Dr. Paul Redmond, the world’s greatest living explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, award-winning CEO Karen Blackett OBE and technology experts Tom Cheesewright and Dan Sodergren.

Hannah Popham

Hannah Popham

Hannah is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Personio. She loves writing about the ever-changing ways that we work and how they intersect with our lives outside work.

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