05 Sep Employee Engagement is Driven by Purpose
Purpose at work has become a hot topic in leadership circles these days. Although employees are clearly rating purpose more highly as something they want from work, the reality is that employee engagement and commitment have always been connected to purpose. When I wrote my book Awakening Corporate Soul in 1994 we asked 3,000 people about their most engaged times at work. Many people talked about times when they felt they were being of service. By the time we wrote Values Shift (2000), having a noble purpose had emerged as one of the six top emerging expectations of workers.
What Leaders Need to Know about Engaged Employees
The real question leaders need to think about is how engaged employees define and connect to purpose. Saying that people want purpose is one thing but understanding how to help them find it day in and day out is what matters. What we have discovered through years of research on purpose and experience advising hundreds of companies, is that purpose really comes down to three simple questions:
1. Do I believe in the product or service?
The first driver of purpose is whether your people believe that the products and services your company provides truly help your clients and customers. Deloitte did a large study on how employees define purpose in 2014 and this was the #1 factor. Leaders often forget that the most basic driver of purpose is the work itself.
Are the cars we produce safe? Do we really care about our customers well being or just about making money? Do leaders regularly communicate the purpose of our services/products? For example, at Qantas Airlines, where we have worked extensively, their absolute commitment to safety gives a deep sense of purpose for their team members at all levels.
So how do leaders drive that purpose? Regularly talk about how your services make a difference for real people. Bring in customers and clients to talk about how your products make a difference. Focus on customer satisfaction metrics as an end itself, not just a business driver.
2. Can I live my values in this workplace?
Leaders often think that purpose comes from lofty company values and these do matter, but research shows that a more important driver of purpose is whether workers feel they can live their values in your workplace. That is why it is so important for companies to know what the values are of their workers.
When TELUS created their core company values over a decade ago they went out and asked thousands of employees about their values. The four core values came from the bottom up. At Ford Motor Company, they are currently asking thousands of team members to tell how they feel they are contributing to sustainability and making the world better in their job. That is, they are helping people to claim their own values at work. Our job as leaders is to unearth the purpose people already have.
3. Do I see purpose in my job?
One of the biggest mistakes leaders make in driving purpose is forgetting that people have to be connected to purpose in their daily job. Having a company with a lofty purpose is nice. But it is when people can feel personally connected to that purpose when the magic happens. I call this hands-on purpose.
Get people involved in your green and do good efforts. For example, TELUS has discovered that over the last decade employees getting excited by company donations has declined, while engagement from getting to volunteer has gone up. CN Rail found that employees really got interested in their sustainability efforts when the company asked people to sign up as a sustainability champion in each rail yard.
Another key is to get people to identify the higher purpose of their own job. Get people to write a purpose statement: here is how I find meaning in my job. Research shows that when people see a calling in their job they truly engage, and the best people to uncover that calling are the team members themselves.
Leading purpose requires leaders to pay attention to the things that truly drive a sense of purpose in teams. The more we focus on helping people get line of sight to answer these three questions, the more engagement will grow.