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The Power of Purpose in the Workplace

The secret to employee engagement and retention

*Originally published by Cornerstone On Demand: https://smb.cornerstoneondemand.com/resources/power-of-purpose

What is a purpose-driven culture? Is it a 30-word mission statement painted on the wall in your office? Or an annual community service day with your employees? Statistics are telling businesses that purpose matters. According to Cone Communications, 75% of millennials are willing to take a pay cut to work for a values-driven company. It’s a staggering number that tells us employees are looking for the “why” behind their work and the company that supports more than dollar signs. Companies and leaders that ignore cultivating clear purpose may find themselves in the talent export business, i.e. sending great talent off to the next career opportunity.

Wait, what?

That’s right. As the author of “The Millennial Myth”, I’ve found that ongoing corporate instability (think global recession and industry disruptions) has created a ripple effect on a generation of employees with the result being that getting a paycheck is no longer the top priority. Purpose in the workplace matters more today than it ever. And it’s not just millennials that are looking for it. While Millennials are more likely to leave companies that don’t cater to purpose, feeling clarity on their role as a part of a whole is universal to any generation. In short, your business can’t ignore the role of purpose in employee engagement and retention. Here’s what you need to know about purpose and how you can cultivate it in your company.

What Is Purpose?

According to the Harvard Business Review, purpose “explains how the people involved with an organization are making a difference, gives them a sense of meaning, and draws their support.” This statement is well crafted as it reflects how employees need to feel both with their work in the organization and outside of it.

The Alignment with The Work They Do: Employees want to know what their work contributes to. If you’re a manager, make sure your direct reports see the difference the tasks on their plate make to the bigger picture. Example, according to the Harvard Business Review, KPMG, an accounting cooperative, came up with a purpose phrase that said, “inspire confidence and empower change.” The company then asked its employees “what do you do at KPMG?” Each employee created a purpose-driven headline such as “I combat terrorism”. That headline was put on a poster with the employee’s photo and the company’s purpose statement. The result was hundreds of posters created with “I am Jane Smith, I combat terrorism.” “Inspire confidence and empower change.” That exercise connected each employee’s purpose to the company. Surveys after the exercise showed “employees’ pride in their work had increased, and engagement scores reached record levels.”

The Alignment with Their Internal Values: Every person has particular facets of work-life that give meaning to them. Aim to understand what these are. If the work they do contradicts their internal values, they are more likely to leave the organization.

The Passion for What The Company Does: Employees want to work for a company that supports the community and the world at large. They want to know that they are contributing to more than just profit for the stakeholders. This is especially true for Millennials, 55% of which were influenced by the knowledge of company cause-related work when accepting a job (source: The Millennial Myth). When thinking about how to build purpose for your company, try to understand what that might look like for your direct reports, both inside and outside of your organization.

Engage Your Employees In Crafting Purpose

Senior leadership probably has an idea of what their main products are and what strategic targets they would like to achieve. But purpose is personal, as we saw in the HBR definition. Purpose looks a little bit different depending on who you ask. That’s why it’s most powerful when organizations intentionally engage employees in crafting a purpose statement. Rather than senior leaders acting on the assumption that the way they frame purpose is the most meaningful, consider taking the following steps:

  • Conduct simple, organization-wide, open-ended survey to inquire what employees believe is the most important impact the company makes .
  • Once purpose and/or values are crafted, invite employees to offer their feedback if they are interested through forums like focus groups or more informal dialogue sessions.
  • Ask employees to share initiatives and contributions that are in line with the purpose regularly

Integrate Purpose Into Every Stage Of People Management

The key concept behind purpose is intentionality. Organizations that invest time to interweave purpose into every aspect of people management showcase their commitment to being consistently intentional in their values. Make sure to review any changes to recruitment, onboarding, learning, performance management, and career advancement align with and role model the purpose. Afterall, it’s been shown that 73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don’t? Investing in purpose is worth it to both company and employee.

Without Purpose There’s No Reason

Organizations that can articulate a clear, resonant purpose can articulate a reason for employees to choose and to stay. Incorporating just a few practices can make a big difference, especially in a time when people are struggling to navigate fast-paced change and ambiguity. Employees across generations find working for a paycheck to be a short-term strategy for success. Instead, both the company and the employee win when there is passion towards a mutual purpose.

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I am a two-time TEDx speaker, author, and organizational development consultant. I focus on helping leaders question the assumptions of the Industrial age and re-imagine their workplace culture for today’s Digital age. Whether it’s a particular challenge in learning, inclusion, productivity, engagement, retention, or otherwise, I am leading dialogue that makes us think about what’s really going on here, what do we want to see, and how will we make that happen. — Crystal Kadakia