building a purpose led organisation

The key to building a purpose led organisation

Much more than a buzzword, a sense of “purpose” is seen to play an important role in driving performance and delivering competitive advantage. But purpose in an organisation is a multi-layered concept and it’s vitally important to ensure that valued employees feel their work is meaningful.

Is your organisation purpose-led?  And do your people have purpose?

These are important questions.

Thanks in no small part to the efforts of leadership guru and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, the concept of identifying and promoting corporate “purpose” has gained traction in recent years. In Sinek’s view, the most successful companies are those that can articulate their “why” to employees and stakeholders. In parallel, we’ve also seen the rise of “profit and purpose” companies – essentially organisations that have put the delivery of beneficial social or environmental goals at the heart of their business plans.  

So in that retrospect, “purpose” is mainstream. It has become part of the way organisations think about themselves and it can be articulated in annual reports. More importantly, clearly defined purpose is seen as playing a hugely important role in defining strategy and conferring competitive advantage. But what can be forgotten is that purpose within the structure of a company is about more than the business plan as defined by those at the top. Employees also want – or to put it more urgently, require – a sense that their own jobs are meaningful.  

So any company seeking to create a culture of purpose must consider its workforce, individually and collectively. Are they fulfilled in their work? Do they feel their careers have a direction?

Why Purpose Matters

Why is this important?  Well, if you look at the issue purely from the perspective of the bottom line, a clear correlation can be drawn between purpose and performance.

In a 2021 report titled “Help your workers find purpose or watch them leave”, consultants argued that people who have “purpose” at work are much more productive than those who feel they don’t. What’s more, they are much more likely to stay with the organisation conferring that purpose. To put it another way, they are high performing people, and they stick around.  

But there is a more existential reason for considering the importance of purpose. The same report cited figures suggesting that two-thirds of US workers were reevaluating their lives in the wake of the pandemic and half of those were assessing their work. Millennials were particularly prone to this kind of reflection. The underlying implication is that many valued staff may simply choose to quit if they don’t feel their organisations are providing them with what they need to live rounded and satisfying lives.

Changing the Paradigm – The Great Retention

But here’s the thing. Go the extra mile to ensure that work is meaningful, and businesses have a chance to change the paradigm. Instead of worrying if workers will vote with their feet, employers can instead provide every incentive to keep them on board. It’s what we call ‘the great retention’. 

So assuming that employers should be addressing the question of employee purpose, what can actually be done? 

The answer is layered. In a working context, the sense of purpose felt by the employee might come, in part, from an alignment with the company’s own mission. For instance, if a company is addressing environmental problems, it is likely to have no problem recruiting talented staff with similar concerns.

Then there are external factors. For instance, does the job, and the way it is structured and rewarded, align with personal ambitions such as the desire to raise a family or spend time with a hobby? 

It’s in that layer that organisations can go the extra mile to ensure that staff remain motivated. Not all organisations have a higher purpose, but what they can do is make working meaningful whilst also ensuring their values are attractive to existing and potential employees.

There is a lot that can be done. In terms of values, what perhaps differentiates the Millennial and Generation Z workforce cohorts is a personal commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. Of course, that is a generalisation, but young employees expect to enter organisations which not only recruit from diverse backgrounds, but also create an environment where people can equally develop their careers and flourish. Nothing drains a sense of purpose more than the perception that there is a glass ceiling for some team members.

Life-Long Learning

Verizon believes that as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, companies must provide opportunities for life-long learning. This is essential for businesses. Technology is moving rapidly, and as new opportunities and business models present themselves, it doesn’t make sense to be constantly hiring and firing. 

One Verizon solution is the establishment of a global learning and development team, as part of the HR operation. By linking learning strategy to the broader process of business planning, we can establish what skills are needed and provide training and educational opportunities accordingly. 

The benefits for the company are obvious, but what we are also doing is ensuring that our teams will benefit from technological change. Yes, old roles will go but the new ones will be more interesting for those with the skills. Digital transformation will, we believe, improve working life and make it more purposeful.

All of us spend a significant amount of time at work, and we need to feel that work has meaning. Ultimately, the onus is on us as human leaders to ensure that this happens.