Chief Wellbeing Officer

Businessman showing compassion holding red heart onto his chest in his suit - crm, service mind business concept.

By Steven MacGregor 

This month we include an excerpt from Steven MacGregor’s new book, Chief Wellbeing Officer: Leading in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, co-authored with Rory Simpson and published by LID.


 “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

– Klaus Schwaub, Founder, World Economic Forum


In a city that is both mar and muntanya (sea and mountain) Barcelona has no shortage of stairs. There is however a set that is less well-known. This secret stairway winds itself up from the upper part of the Sarrià neighbourhood, starting at the world-renowned Montserrat school and delivers you into the main square of the village of Valvidrerra. Now, if you were to climb these 477 steps you would surely be tired, but happy, and enjoy the best views of the city of Barcelona.

Let’s say you devise a strategy to make those 477 steps a little less daunting. Good practice in fields from learning to athletic training would advocate breaking a big goal down into bite-size chunks. Maybe taking 40 steps at a time then pausing for breath would seem a reasonable approach. So where do those 40 steps take you? A little less than 10% of the way to enjoying those fabulous views (and perhaps a well-deserved refreshment in the town square) right? What if we change the scale? Do you know where 40 steps would take you if we substitute the linear scale for an exponential one? The moon!

We present this vignette as a way of understanding the shift in mindset that is happening today in many areas of society, from technology advance to population increase. Many people believe we are at a tipping point in human history with an Artificial Intelligence driven near future ready to bring about unprecedented levels of change.

Arriving at the Moon is an appropriate image, with “moonshot thinking” being increasingly employed by ambitious, innovative and disruptive organisations worldwide. First coined by Google X in 2010 (now simply X after the group name change to Alphabet in 2015) moonshot thinking is inspired by the original moon landing in 1969 – an incredibly difficult thing to do with little actual understanding at the time of setting the goal, of how to actually do it. Aiming for the impossible and starting from scratch are therefore two of the defining factors of moonshot thinking. The combination of “a huge problem, a radical solution to that problem, and the breakthrough technology that just might make that solution possible” is, according to X, the essence of a moonshot.

We present this vignette as a way of understanding the shift in mindset that is happening today in many areas of society, from technology advance to population increase.

Though pioneered by a business much of the focus is on grand challenges that face society as a whole. Examples within the X portfolio include Waymo, the self-driving car and Project Loon which aims to bring the Internet to the most inaccessible parts of the world through hot-air balloons. Projects “graduate” when they are mature enough to be developed within another part of the business, such as the case with Waymo and others including Google Brain which is driving development in Artificial Intelligence.

The change in thinking where failure is celebrated (even encouraged) and short-term value is eschewed in favour of the deep learning that drives long-term leaps needs a supportive environment of course, together with people who have a deep passion for what they are doing on a day-to-day basis. Will we be able to create a critical mass of these passionate, supportive environments to truly realise a shift to exponential progress?

Chief Wellbeing Officer is for anyone who wants to create a more human workplace. It is a comprehensive and accessible guide for enterprises of all shapes and sizes to improve health, happiness and to achieve high-performance. In an age where everyone is focussed on digital transformation and artificial intelligence it is those organisations who increase their care for humans who will thrive. In fact the goal is a more human organisation.

Chief Wellbeing Officer is for anyone who wants to create a more human workplace.

Our vision is to help create environments that allow leadership to flourish from all levels and functions of a business, in order to make the best of the many opportunities in this exciting age. It will be of particular interest to Chief Human Resource Officers as they become more involved in the strategic direction of the company. Indeed, all managers in human resources and learning and development will gain value in an age where talent attraction and retention is a key differentiator and where learning is a lifelong on-demand process.

Yet we see great value in the book for those out-with, perhaps aspiring to, such managerial positions. We hope to be of particular use to those charged with wellbeing in an organisation at a relatively junior level, and that the discourse here may help them make the case for a louder voice. In a world where rapid change is the norm, leadership by example, and from all levels of the organisation is very much sought after. The holistic approach offered in Chief Wellbeing Officer will allow any workplace professional the means to think on their own life and how that fits with work. Being able to reflect on, and change behaviour, can reap tremendous benefits through significant improvements in wellbeing.

The book contains three parts, moving from presenting the big picture towards concrete action. Part 1 is “Chief” which highlights the top-level view of wellbeing, discussing the key organisational and societal issues for more humanity at work. Responsibility and purpose are key themes in discussing the role of business in society today, and into the future. This first part of the book will set the foundations by focussing on the “WHY” allowing us to address any cynicism over the presence of wellbeing at the top table of business. We establish the human foundations upon which a more enlightened approach to leadership may rest.

Part 2 of Chief Wellbeing Officer is “Wellbeing” with focus on the WHAT. We look more closely at our human nature which sets the template for what the future of work must look like. The main content blocks of holistic intelligence and the rhythms of our lives are presented.

The third and final part of the book is “Officer” and is the HOW of ownership and implementation. We aim to highlight good organisational practice and provide guidance for the reader on the myriad challenges and opportunities presented. It is the prescriptive part of our discourse but we try and detail the right questions for you as opposed to thinking we have all the answers.

Steps have been central to human progress throughout history. The Pyramids of Egypt, the ancient Incan City of Machu Picchu, the Pheoencian Steps in Capri, all have allowed human beings to climb ever higher or connect with previously inaccessible parts of their world. The next time you walk the 40 odd steps across one of your rooms at home, imagine for a second where those 40 exponential steps would take you. Our aim in Chief Wellbeing Officer is to accompany you on those steps as a means of changing your mindset to the world around you.

Rather than reserving such a mindset for a technology focussed context what is the moonshot you can aim for in your own life? We hope you enjoy the journey, and the steps you take through each of the chapters of this book. Our wish is that the impact these steps have on you, for both your personal and professional live, will result in your very own Moon landing. Let’s keep climbing.

About the Author

Dr. Steven MacGregor, founder of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona [LAB] and author of Sustaining Executive Performance (Pearson 2015) , has delivered over 1000 sessions the past 5 years in executive health and behaviour change for clients including Telefónica, Danone, IESE, IMD, and the BBC. He holds a PhD in Engineering Design Management and has been a Visiting Researcher at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon. His executive education teaching is informed by academic interest in sustainability and design and he is an article reviewer for, among others, Industry and Innovation, Journal of Engineering Design, and the International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation.


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