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Sustainability & Organizations Institute

Mirroring HEC’s Research on Inaugural Purpose Day

Philanthro-Lab was the appropriate setting for HEC Paris’ first-ever Purpose Day. The five-hour event was devoted to the research projects conducted by the S&O Purpose Center and Purposeful Leadership Chair Professor Rodolphe Durand. More than 100 people attended the March 14 event featuring presentations by some of the school’s leading PhD students and S&O’s Academic Director. The evening was capped by a keynote speech by Denis Machuel, CEO of Adecco Group.

Purpose day 2023

Watch the replay of the conference

 

In its 700 years of existence, the word “purpose” has known plenty of mutations before arriving to its contemporary definition of “intention, aim, goal”. From its Latin root of propositum, it moved to “theme of a discourse” and even became a verb in Old French to design “to suggest” or “to design”. This dynamic definition has been somewhat resuscitated by HEC’s Purpose Center which designs “purpose” as “a statement that expresses a firm’s raison d’être and its maintenance in the long run.”

Redefining purpose in the context of the research that the Society & Organization (S&O) Institute has orchestrated since 2018 (when it launched the Joly Family Chair in Purposeful Leadership) was at the heart of the inaugural Purpose Day. The event took place in central Paris’ Philanthro-Lab, the world’s first location entirely devoted to philanthropy and engagement. 
 


The event was co-organized with professionalism by the new Executive Director of the Purpose Center, Romain Briat who divided it into two parts. The afternoon saw PhD students and academics expose five purpose ideas through parallel research workshops. In lightning presentations, they described the following issues:

  • how autonomy and trust combine to stimulate innovation team culture (but only when leaders relate team work to organizational purpose);
  • leaders’ purpose-based communication and how it enhances their team’s commitment.
  • how the moral dimension of purpose can tamper down the attractiveness of a company;
  • how the combination of purpose and greater autonomy for manager enhances firm performance;
  • and how relevant purpose communication can neutralize age and gender dissimilarities between a team and its leader.

 

 

 

“This Purpose Day is the actualization of all the potential that we’ve invested since the creation of the Chair” Rodolphe Durand, holder of the chair

“This is the first time we showcase the research that our Center has produced, sharing its framework and objectives to fellow academics, students, and practitioners. And it won’t be the last.”


 

Dialogue between Adecco CEO Denis Machuel and HEC graduate Mariana Arnaut (H22)

 

Commitment by Business Leaders

Besides the students and research faculty members were about fifty practitioners and business executives, many of whom have supported the Center and Chair from its inception. These included top personalities Antoine Frérot and Bertrand Badré. However, it was the newly-appointed CEO of Adecco, Denis Machuel who was invited to share his personal experiences of purposeful leadership in the business community. Machuel heads the world’s leading talent advisory and solutions firm, a company employing over 32,000 people to help find jobs in 60 countries on the five continents. His passionate keynote speech addressed several topical and delicate questions like the one pitting purpose against profit and the links between purpose and ESG objectives. 

Machuel’s vision was set in the context of his challenging experiences at Sodexo where he was CEO between 2018-2021 during the Covid crisis. He told the audience gathered under the 14th century arches of a historical monument that had served as a pole for the French resistance in World War II. “Purpose is part of the struggle to humanize the workplace and at Adecco we try to instil it at all levels. Purpose is what drove us to find work last year for 5,000 people who had been marginalized as ex-convicts, refugees or people with disabilities. But purpose needs to be in constant evolution, reworked and put into perspectives of a changing society, as one of the core objectives of our company.” 

 

Purposeful Leadership Chair Rodolphe Durand

Purposeful Leadership Chair Professor Rodolphe Durand

Raison d’être in the Workplace

Machuel’s presence has special significance for Durand: “He has been with us from the beginning, part of the launch of our programs in 2019. So, his presence here is a show of loyalty reflecting his commitment to our research and outreach.” After the exchange, Machuel confided what was behind his commitment to the school’s research on purposeful leadership: “HEC has been one of the trailblazers in this field. We need this convergence between the academic and the business worlds to move the cursor faster. Their work is inspiring companies and business leaders, so it’s great to have this Purpose Day to embark more companies on the journey.” 

 

 

Another major figure amongst the program’s business supporters was also present in the figure of Veolia Chairman and former CEO Antoine Frérot. He co-wrote “A Broader Vision of Business” with Rodolphe Durand, out last year. He agreed with Machuel that employee support at all levels for a purpose-driven agenda was crucial: “At Veolia, I see that the employees adhere to this notion of raison d’être in the workplace. It has been really important to have them back our purpose initiatives.

For those who could not make this school first, a Best Of video of the event is to be available in the coming months.

 

Read also the HEC Stories article [FR]