Purpose Drive Company: Getting Employees Connected to Your Purpose

Purpose Drive Company: Getting Employees Connected to Your Purpose

Purpose driven employees connect better with their work, increase productivity, and create better results.In order to create a purpose driven company, here are a few questions worth pondering:  How connected do the employees and team members in your company feel to the purpose of your company? Is your purpose a glue for those who already work for you and a magnet for new talent? Are your people unequivocal ambassadors for the value of your brand to society and your customers?

There are many good reasons to want to answer those three questions with a resounding yes. All over the world top talent are wanting to work for Purpose Driven companies and the benefits of having team members connected to your purpose have been demonstrated clearly by solid research. YET, most companies are still failing to truly connect their employees deeply to their purpose.

Why Connecting Employees to Purpose Matters

Let’s start with why purpose matters to your employees. Research suggests that 42% of employees globally say it matters to them to work for a company that is making a positive difference in society (jumps to 62% for millennials). Half of millennials say they would take a pay cut to work for companies that have a purpose they believe in. A full 82% say they’d rather take a pay cut than work for a company with unethical business practices. The same research shows that over 75% of employees feel their companies are mostly focused on their own agenda not on making the world or their customers lives better. This is a huge disconnect.

But the benefits of connecting your people to your purpose run much deeper than recruitment and retention. Research shows that employees who see their job as a calling (meaning they see a deep purpose to their job) work harder, are willing to put in more hours without pay and are more committed to the organization. In fact, an increase in pay had a small but insignificant edge over purpose in terms of driving commitment. So purpose is as motivating as increasing pay.

Then there is the issue of how your customers see you. Sustainable brands try very hard, and often spend lots of money, trying to convince consumers that they are solid citizens making the world a better place. But guess what? Research from the Reputation Institute  suggests that consumers only believe about 16% of what we tell them and are routinely confused about who is good and who is not. The one person they are most likely to believe about your story of good are the people who work for you so getting every team member deeply connected to your purpose pays huge dividends.

What Engages Employees to Your Company Purpose

But what makes a team member say your company is purpose driven? The Deloitte Culture of Purpose Study in 2014  asked that very question and employees had two main reasons for saying their company was purposeful. When asked what makes a company purpose driven, employees are most likely to cite positive impact products and services have on customers (87%) and on society (84%). So how you treat your customers is slightly more important than the impact you have on society. A smart company works hard to make sure you can tick off both of those boxes, not just one. Miss both and watch out.

VW showed a wholesale disregard for customers when they lied to them about the emissions of their cars. This is a great example of where a mistake ticked off both boxes in the negative direction in terms of working for a purpose driven company-customer and society (oh and then there is the research on 82% being willing to take a pay cut to work for an ethical company).

Turns out employees also are very concerned about alignment. That is, they are most likely to be committed when they feel that a company’s stated values and purpose are aligned with reality. So having a well-crafted purpose that does not stand the test of day to day reality in the workplace may actually be worse than no statement at all!

How do people know if it is real? My experience in working with hundreds of companies is that the amount that senior leaders focus on purpose may be one important measure of perceived alignment that employees look for.  Inge Thulin, the CEO of 3M, recently told me that as he goes around the company he makes it a point to ask leaders and employees what they are doing about sustainability in their area. If the CEO doesn’t ask you about something regularly, there is a pretty good chance people won’t see it as very important.

So below are a few ways to really connect your people to your purpose.

Dr. John Izzo delivers keynotes around the world on various topics like creating engaged employees.

     Purpose Driven Companies Feature Purpose at Every Opportunity

First, make sure purpose is featured at every single meeting that happens in your company and every major communication. This can be as simple as something we helped a major international bank implement whereby every branch meeting began with a story of how someone on the team had made a real difference for a client recently. Purpose driven companies hard wire purpose into every meeting to show people that it is central to the business.

The CEO and senior leaders are particularly important in this regard. A few years ago I coached the president of a major division of the Fortune 50 company. She had over 20,000 people reporting to her. People in the company kept saying “all this company cares about now are shareholders.” I coached her to simply talk about the mission and some specific example of how the division had really made a difference for customers before she talked about any profit or numbers message. Over a one-year period the whole sense of employee connection to purpose shifted because the leader was relentlessly communicating purpose.

     Get Them Hands on Purpose

One of the most interesting things about purpose at work is that your company can have a great purpose, and even be doing great things in the world, but if employees don’t actually feel part of it, the impact can be very minimal. In fact, Gallup found that when people felt that the mission of the organization made them feel that “their” job was important this was a great predictor of engagement. Note it was not just the purpose, but the connection with their job.

CN rail has been driving a carbon reduction program but the effort focuses on the people in the rail yards. Of course, the company has corporate wide initiatives but they also have asked each employee to look for ways to find ways to reduce energy and waste. Each yard has a voluntary sustainability Captain whose role is to inspire others to get involved.

3M just had their first Sustainability Week inviting employees from across the company to bring their ideas on how to solve the sustainability challenges that their customers face. Those whose ideas bubbled to the top got to present them to a gathered group that included the CEO and senior executives. Jean Sweeney, the Chief Sustainability officer told me “that you can’t make sustainability the job of one person or one department.” In fact, even if one person or department could solve all the problems it would have minimal impact on employee commitment. Yes, people like to be proud of your company but something shifts when people actually get their hands on your purpose activities.

TELUS, the large telecommunications company has been doing TELUS Day of Giving events for years where TELUS team members all volunteer on one day with colleagues and family. Corporate giving is nice, but feeling that you get to make a difference with your colleagues really cements the connection between purpose and team members. In fact, Jill Schnarr, who spearheads much of TELUS’ CSR efforts told me that while corporate matching of donations is down, employees reporting volunteer hours and taking advantage of TELUS’ volunteering opportunities is way up. The message, today’s employees don’t just want to give money, they want to get hands on. TELUS has also found that employees who are most aware of their efforts to do good are more engaged.

     Get People to Look at Their Own Values

One of the most fascinating pieces of research is that it turns out that clarity of organizational values is not nearly as important in driving employee commitment as is people knowing their own values and feeling they can live them within the company. Purpose driven people claim purpose for themselves and then connect it their jobs, that is often when magic happens.

A leader at Unilever recently told me that they are running a leadership program where every leader is writing their own mission statement about the legacy they want to leave in their part of the business. For years, we have helped companies get every person to identify the higher purpose of their job and connect that to the values of the company. Getting people to personalize purpose is critical and may help explain why Walmart put thousands of associates through a program to get them to make personal sustainability commitments.

Try to think about how you can get people to identify their own purpose as it connects to your corporate values and purpose. That is, how can I live my values here in this company?

The Bottom Line on Purpose Driven Companies

The bottom line on Purpose is simple. Employees want it, when they have it they are more engaged and committed, and companies must make efforts to connect employees to that purpose on a regular basis.

John Izzo, Ph.D. is the author of six books and has advised over 500 companies on employee engagement, social responsibility and sustainability.



Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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