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Background - 07.03.2023 - 13:19 

IGNITE Conference 2023: "Let’s humanize business!"

What are the characteristics of a human-centered leader? What impact does corporate culture have on employee engagement? These and other exciting questions about human-centered leadership were discussed in keynote speeches, workshops, a World Café, and a panel discussion at the IGNITE Conference 2023 on 3 and 4 March at SQUARE. By student reporter Victoria Lorenzen.
IGNITE Conference 2023

This year, IGNITE aims to spread knowledge and awareness around human-centered and purpose-driven businesses with a focus on personal purpose and employee well-being. The conference explored how human-centered leadership can be implemented in an organization and focused on the company culture and organizational structure of human-centered organizations. Therefore, this year's conference was themed "Let’s humanize business!" and addressed IGNITE’s three core pillars inspirational leadership, company culture, and corporate governance. The annual IGNITE Conference promotes the exchange between students and CEOs, founders, managers, and HSG alumni. Thirteen dedicated students organized this year's conference and brought speakers from different backgrounds to SQUARE.

The conference started on Friday evening with an interactive keynote speech on "Organisational Design" by Pascal Dulex, Co-Founder of Transformational Architects and former Culture Coach at FREITAG. Dulex particularly emphasized the importance of trust in companies and teams, which is why he conducted a 12-minute interactive exercise on how to build mutual trust with the audience during his keynote speech.

Daniela Landherr: «Trust is made of psychological safety and being able to depend on each other»

On Saturday morning, the IGNITE conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Daniela Landherr on the topic of trust, psychological safety, the fear of criticism, and dealing with mistakes in corporate culture. According to executive coach Landherr, psychological safety in teams consists of being able to talk about failures, sharing honest feedback without fear, and not having to be afraid of "colleagues stabbing you in the back to get ahead." In particular, Landherr highlighted the difference in the psychological safety perceived by the leader and the team. When talking to leaders and their teams, Landherr noticed that the rating of the psychological safety and trust within the team of the leader is much higher than the rating given by the team on average. She further explained that this is often caused by teams not telling their leader about what is not going well within the team, which Landherr also referred to as the “elephant in the room”, and therefore make the leader believe everything is fine because they are afraid of what happens when speaking up. Landherr's keynote was followed by the first round of workshops with Marie Emanuelsson from IKEA, Volker Schmidt-Sköries from BioKaiser, and Dr. Andreas Krafft from the IMP-HSG. While the workshops with IKEA and BioKaiser focused on culture, transformation, and human-centered leadership within these companies, Dr. Andreas Krafft shed light on an academic perspective on how to humanize corporate culture. The interactive workshops in small groups were followed by a speed dating session with the participating companies such as Roche, BioKaiser, LIVEsciences, and IKEA, where the participants talked to the company representatives for seven minutes each and moved on to the next company booth after the time expired.

The speed dating was followed by a lunch break, during which the participants were able to exchange ideas with each other as well as with the speakers before the conference continued with a panel discussion. There, Dr. Andreas Krafft, Timm Urschinger from LIVESciences, and Pascal Dulex from Transformation Architects discussed the topic of personal and organizational purpose, which the speakers also linked to the Japanese concept of "Ikigai" ("meaning of life"). The panel discussion was moderated by Nicolas Dietiker.

Meaningful work as the key driver for employee engagement

Next up was the research spotlight on the role of leaders’ work meaningfulness by Prof. Dr. Petra Kipfelsberger, assistant professor for leadership and organizational behavior at the IFPM-HSG. Prof. Dr. Kipfelsberger explained that meaningful work is the key driver for employee engagement. In addition, she explained how leaders might be “meaning killers” sometimes and highlighted the significance of leadership for the experience of meaning in a job, which is why the audience then participated in a World Café to generate ideas of characteristics and features that meaningful and human-centered leaders and company cultures need. During the World Café, participants gathered in groups of four and noted down features of their dream company culture and organizational structure of their dream company, which the groups then shared with the other teams.

Learning to listen and preventing leadership conflicts

The World Café was followed by further workshops with Jane Adshead Grant, ProMoveTM, and LIVEsciences. Listening coach Jane Adshead Grant hosted a virtual workshop on how to elevate your impact as a leader through listening to support your team in developing. Meanwhile, Timm Urschinger from LIVEsciences covered the topic of inspirational leadership during his workshop. Urschinger first asked the participants to visualize the concept of leadership on a whiteboard. The groups’ different visual interpretations ranged from a drawing of a group of people all connected by one leader putting the arms around the group to the drawing of a collection of elements such as a light bulb representing guidance, a heart representing empathy, and wings representing care. Furthermore, Urschinger also made the participants aware of leadership conflicts and gave advice on how to tackle these during team meetings, e.g., by having employees visualize their stress levels on red, green, or yellow sticky notes during the weekly team meeting or doing a round of praise where employees can point out actions of their colleagues they admired.

The conference concluded with a keynote speech by Roche about inspirational leadership, IGNITE’s third pillar, and another opportunity to network with participants and speakers at SQUARE.

Victoria Lorenzen is a sixth-semester business administration student at the University of St.Gallen.

Photo: Victoria Lorenzen

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