Involve employees in building the company's purpose so they can understand and own it.
The past two-plus years have been an impetus for workers to step back and define or redefine work's purpose in their lives. And while many companies have a mission and vision—incorporating aspects such as corporate responsibility and diversity, equity, and inclusion—employees may not feel part of that purpose or engaged in it. Harnessing purpose can be a significant challenge, especially when it's not one size fits all.
According to WGU North Carolina, part of Western Governors University, a purpose statement is the reason a company exists. It sets internal and external expectations.
McKinsey adds that "Purpose should be systemic and rational, but also emotional; it should resonate with members of your organization and inform their decision making."
There are also different types of purpose, which the Harvard Business Review article "What Is the Purpose of Your Purpose?" describes: cause-based purpose, such as around social change; competence-based purpose, such as how organizations provide a value proposition to customers and employees who deliver on it; and culture-based purpose, which "can create internal alignment and collaboration with key partners."
Given all that, the concept can be murky. Further, different business units within an organization can have varying ideas about what's important. One may want greater customer loyalty, while another wants talent attraction and another finance, risk management, and resource allocation.
"Companies spend millions trying to convince consumers that they have a purpose. So why do they spend so little convincing their employees?" writes Max Lenderman in "For Purpose Marketing to Work, Start With Invertising." He adds, "Applying the principles of consumer advertising to internal communications is a great way to get companies to deliver on their purpose promises and brand positioning."
Diane Primo, author of ADAPT: Scaling Purpose in a Divisive World and CEO of Purpose Brand Agency, explains that purpose "is an integral part of a corporation's story, and as such requires more than marketing strategy; it requires leadership prowess and commitment from the top."
Opportunities for purpose
It is critical for organizations to have conversations about their purpose and mission, with the CEO leading those discussions. To live out the purpose and mission, they can also offer paid volunteer hours, awards for sustainability practices with winners highlighted in employee newsletters, and mentoring dollars to assist disadvantaged populations. And they can implement feedback loops to uncover roadblocks and gauge progress.
"For your purpose to be successful, it must be lived. And for your purpose to be lived, it must be understood, owned and used by everyone. The most effective way of achieving this is by asking the people you want to own it to help you build it," writes Ben Hayman in an article for Sustainable Brands.
To keep employees engaged, Chaitali Mukherjee and Julia Lamm write in their strategy+business article that employers "can work harder to be truly flexible, emphasize the connection between work and societal purpose, and expand the conversation surrounding career paths. These efforts will ensure that employees feel they are valued. They all point to thinking of employees not as workers but as whole human beings, with their own individual purpose that the business itself needs to reflect and support."
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