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The Inside Job – an organisational reality, interview with Marcelo Cardoso

Previously posted on Linkedin

The purposeful organisation

In my last post, I shared my takeaways from the Wisdom 2.0 conference held this year in San Francisco, and promised a follow up on ‘connection as first and foremost an inside job’. The proposition, which is emerging again, as been around since Aristotle. An organisation’s purpose is embedded in everything it touches, including how it allows individuals to live their own purpose and develop as part of the system or independently from it.

In order to explore the reality, I contacted Marcelo Cardoso, who was keynote speaker at Wisdom 2.0. Marcelo presented on ‘Purposeful Living’ with his guest of honor and partner in crime Eileen Fisher, the owner of Eileen Fisher fashion, a BCorp, and the LearningLab. Marcelo kindly agreed to be interviewed and took time in his busy schedule to meet virtually, it was Sydney to Sao Paolo.

Marcelo Cardoso is the CEO of Metaintegral Associates, a consultancy whose mission is to build thriving corporate ecosystems where the parts are as important as the whole, and where performance and wellbeing form a virtuous cycle. Prior, he was SVP HR, Strategy Management and Sustainability of Natura, the Brazilian cosmetic giant who own majority shares of Aesop. His approach to business performance is about building connection to a higher sense of purpose at all levels of the organisation.

What do you do?

‘We work with global companies like IBM, Accenture, Natura and other purpose/value driven organisation to help them transform to be more impactful in the world. We support organisations working on their identity, a higher identity that transcends the products and services and is more perennial. From this point on, the organisation can deploy a strategy and management model that really speaks to its values and identity, delivers and create traction of levers strategy.’

How do you do it?

‘Through people’s transformation as teams become container of trust. First it is more on the organisational transformation and then we do it in a way so teams really dive deep into a journey of transformation. How do they transform themselves and create bond and trust? They make decisions and build what the organisation needs. We just finished working with Eileen Fisher and organic farms. It took us a year because I’m very focused on a concept called vertical development/learning.

Vertical development is how people evolve consciously to grasp higher level of complexity, how they are more emotionally mature, how they develop existential or ethical planetary perspective for what they do. Research in developmental psychology shows that usually it takes 4-5 years for an individual to maybe evolve to the next level up. With those experimental journeys at least 70% of individuals move 1 level up over a year.

What is very interesting about Ken Wilbers’s Quadrants is the idea of evolution of individual based on you take, seek and coordinate perspective. People tend to see reality from where they are in their mind and perspective. One way of using Quadrants is to show people that there are different realities going on at the same time. Taking perspective is really important and holding them together at the same time is a critical skill in complex organisation.’

Research by Robert Keagan shows that the level of consciousness and complexity an individual can hold and grasp is linked to is ability to successfully handle high level responsibilities in an organisation. Our everyday work life allow for some growth but working on purpose in organisation can shift more individuals to the next level up and though create a more resilient and performing system.

What is very interesting about Ken Wilbers’s Quadrants is the idea of evolution of individuals based on their ability to take, seek and coordinate different perspectives. People tend to see reality from where they are grounded in their mind and perspective. One way of using Quadrants is to show people that there are different realities going on at the same time. Adopting different perspectives is really important and holding them together at the same time is a critical skill in complex organisation.’

My observations - Research by Robert Kegan shows that the level of consciousness and complexity an individual can hold and grasp is linked to her ability to successfully handle high level responsibilities in an organisation. (taken from ‘An Everyone Culture’). Our everyday work life allows for some growth but working on purpose in organisation can shift more individuals to the next level up, and in doing so, create a more resilient and high performance system.

What do you think about Frederic Laloux’s opinion that if the CEO is not on board with the process ‘“it is not worthwhile for anyone to put his time and effort in the project.” Do you see possibilities to start something with the top not being on board at first?

‘I always see possibilities. IBM in Latin America had to transform to adapt to a digital mindset. With the CHRO for Latin America we designed a program for their trainees, the young people joining the company, with this idea of vertical learning. In hiring people with high potential in this area we created what we called an ‘inflammation’ in the system. It created bottom-up entropy into the system to help the system transform. So this is possible but ideally to transform the whole organisation you need commitment from the top.’

How does the idea of purpose link with the individual’s contract with the organisation?

‘This psychological contract concept comes from Chris Argyris, MIT in the 60s, and people like Edgar Schein who later influenced Peter Senge in learning organisations.

We psychologically contract because as individuals we have an important dimensional identity that relates to work and we create values in principle on how we connect and relate to the work and how we realize ourselves and transform with it. It is interesting to see Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, also researching and finding that what motivates people is autonomy, meaning (purpose) and learning (mastery).

We have this challenge: the psychological contract that people have with organisations evolved from long-term commitment to very short-term transactional exchange of energy. Gallup research says 87% of employees are not engaged. It is because companies are not able to create the context for people to engage with. It is not problems of millennial, diversity or individualities. It is because those companies are very bureaucratic and limited places. I strongly believe that when you frame the context where individual and companies contract from a higher level then you really have the best of people that serve what the company needs to accomplish.

This framework for contracting from a higher level starts with how the identity of the individual relates to the identity of the organisation.

Can I serve part of my purpose to serve the purpose of the organisation?

Starting the relationship from this meaning creates space and autonomy, a sense of possibilities (learning). And from this point I understand where my roles and my interest in life relate to the strategy of the organisation. Otherwise it creates suffering. If you are in a wrong place it is going to be difficult.

For example, personally I can share my purpose with Eileen Fisher but also I have different roles in my life and at the moment I need to live in Brazil. How about I make personal decision to be part of this adventure, make it work while I decide to live in Brazil and serve my client.

When you understand where a company is going and you want to be a part of it, part of its strategy, then you have to learn to serve the strategy from your level of competence, then to the next. Companies are facing challenges they never faced before, so my competence now is just my entry point to be part of the game.

  • As a consultant or an employee, I need to understand what I need to learn to help the company build her own capacity.

  • As a company, I need to articulate what assets need to be built up in order to serve the strategy.

Then as an employee, I can commit from my own level of performance to participate to achieve results.

There is a difference between performance and results. Individuals don’t deliver results. Only the collective creates results, individuals deliver performance.

So with Natura and other organisations we work with to up to 12,000 people, to create a system in which people go through workshops, enter in contact with their own purpose, interest and life story, build their career plan with the company strategy and create their development plan. This is the entry point to all the learning and development aspects of the organisation.’

You worked in many different countries, what happens culturally at an environmental level?

Marcelo spoke about the cultural aspects of past implementations and how they offer tremendous opportunities to see ‘from another reality’.

‘As an anecdote, when we went to France, as we worked globally, at first the French teams were very hesitant but at the end they went very deep into it and it was really successful.’

What happens at the individual level? If there is commitment from the top you make it seems quite easy! What is the reality at the individual level?

‘It is not an easy transformation, because we are speaking about changing the mindset from which people operate. It requires a change approach. But more and more change is less based on traditional change management and more on a ‘viral change approach’ that reaches a tipping point.

When you say you need commitment from the top I agree. For example, instead of announcing big changes in the organisation and create lots of resistant, you start prototyping and let people embody it (live and experience physically). So themselves, one by one change the center of gravity through time and then one moment you reach a tipping point where you can create the shift (at an organisational level).

Interestingly, as a consultant, a leader, you have to deal with you own level of anxiety. Traditionally we want everything to be fixed from the first moment on. I think this is a very common mistake we consultants and organisational change agents do - the reality is, it takes time.

To address the challenge around individuals, first people transform a lot, they change a lot, they evolve. Second, accepting, and letting know, that people will make decisions to be part of what will come or not is important. Releasing repressed energy is healing for the system, for some organisations it will mean people moving out.

There is this major responsibility from corporate organisations that don’t create the context to unlock people’s potential. But lots of people just project their dislikes, blaming the company for all their own inabilities to step-up into the place of owning their evolution process and learning. I like to see the polarity of a company creating the context and people stepping up in the system and being open to learn.’

When you said earlier you have to manage your own anxiety what do you mean?

‘We have this mindset of being fixers, and then we traditionally develop from school a Cartesian thinking and mechanistic view of the world. We see the world as a problem to be fixed so when you enter a company we see gaps and have to fix it.

But if it doesn’t work well or we can’t fix it, it starts to create anxiety. To deal with a complex system you have to enter the system first, be part of the system and really navigate by sensing, enacting and prototyping. Because the system informs the individual mental models and at the same time create shifts in mental levels, reshaping the system is delicate. The system is always fine as it is, you have to understand where it is at and start prototyping, and see how those prototypes work or not, and once they work you really leverage and scale them, knowing that it will be transforming you as well. As a consultant you are not an outsider. There is this paradox of transforming and being transformed and being ok with whatever emerges, everything is right moment to moment.

It is a bit like the brain with neurons and connections, some connections have not been made, the whole is the whole?

‘Yes, exactly.’

What about the biggest challenges and opportunities you see and feel at the moment?

‘There are opportunities because organisation are facing such a level of complexity they are more open to this approach. Also it is no longer New Age, it is science with evidence-based data. That gives new answers to support this level of complexity.

Blockages come from the mindset of mainstream to always do the same in the same way harder and faster. More and more I see people willing to have this conversation.’

How do you use wholeness in your conversation?

‘Talking about wholeness there is a new book from Robert Kegan from Harvard University, on the same line as Frederic Laloux‘s ‘Reinventing Organisation’. He is a psychologist from Harvard and he speaks exactly about that, wholeness. He explains how we can create context for people to completely show up as individual to share their full potential. As a species we are not even close to use the full potential of our humanity. Organisations can build this place of realization. Beyond the perfect mask we wear there is so much possibilities. You need to invite people to show up with their full potential, their wholeness.’

It is quite an evolutionary perspective, if you don’t evolve or use your full DNA potential, you disappear. So how do you do it, could you share a very practical example?

‘First and foremost, ask people about their life story, show an interest in who they are. As I said above, it can take time for people to get used to it, start as a prototype, and enact a story.

There are some amazing success stories about people in very corporate settings, showing up. For example, IBM did a worldwide project where they invited people to provide ideas into a platform, and people voted for a $10 million seed fund by IBM. All those amazing ideas were hiding in the system. It was really about unlocking them.’

What about momentum, this example was very successful but how do you ensure you create a rhythm?

‘In the complex domain, the work from Dave Snowden (Cognitive Edge) is on granularity. In order to prototype across the organisation, you need granularity across the board. You have what he calls a place where it is ‘safe to fail’. If you fail it’s ok - you learn. You need to have granularity to learn and tap into the collective intelligence of the system. Create artifacts by using organic evolution of our world to prototype, trial and experience what works. Fast period of change are amazing opportunities to shade, purge and become leaner and stronger.’

I would like to thank Marcelo for his generosity, to share his insights and some of his experiences. I hope Marcelo will be able to travel to Australia soon and share his passion and knowledge with all of us. There are few people out there who are shaping the new organisation paradigm and Marcelo is one of them.

Now I would love to hear your own experiences about purpose and prototyping elements of it in your organisation as a consultant, leader or maybe member. Where are you on this journey? What are the opportunities you see?


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