employee engagement purpose

What’s the matter? Pursuing purpose in all the right ways

jan

by Jan Nikken

When it comes to upping your employees’ engagement, the word “purpose” is increasing in both ubiquity and importance. Even sceptical leaders face pressure from board members, investors, employees, and other stakeholders to articulate a higher purpose — for themselves and for their organisations.

While seeking your employees’ purpose is typically a noble cause, doing so for the wrong reasons can fail to produce results, waste resources, or, in extreme cases, even be harmful.

Take the following example:

A CEO of a well-established company aspires to make her company more purposeful. To do so, she sets up a task force. This task force deliberates for three months and comes back with a thick report, filled with buzzwords. They’ve also articulated the company’s principles, its values and mission, as well as what supposedly drives employees. The problem? This task force has created this report without actually speaking one-on-one with those employees. The result? The task force has essentially wasted three months of the organisation’s time and money. When this report is presented to the rest of the company, employees respond with cynicism.

Look within, find value

The example above lacks credibility, because the task force’s report did not involve the people it was supposed to represent. Values and principles are only credible when they are founded in a common language understood and supported by the entire workforce. Those values and principles, then, must come directly from that workforce.

Achieving this is more complicated than it seems. It goes against 30 years of business school doctrine, which taught the business leaders of today the “principle-agent problem,” in which employees are self-interested actors, who are only able to be motivated in self-interested ways.

This is, of course, nonsense. Humans are social. Treating them as beings controlled solely by self-interest is selling them — and ourselves — short. In doing so, we lose focus, lose our humanity. And business declines.

As Simon Caulkin of the “Financial Times” puts it:

“What happens in most organisations that have no overriding purpose other than profit? In a subtle alchemical shift, the metrics fill the vacuum, muscling out any wider purpose with the imperative of hitting the numbers. This transposition of ends and means is often disastrous because methods, now geared to meeting the metric, are detached from customer purpose — so banks sell payment protection insurance to people who do not need it, or VW managers manipulate emissions readings to meet targets. Look no further for the reason why companies lose their customer focus.”

Open ears, open eyes

How, then, can you avoid selling your employees short? How do you pursue purpose in a meaningful, effective way?

Simple. By listening to your employees. By speaking with them. By spending quality time discovering what drives them, what makes them tick, what they, as humans, care about.

You pursue purpose by developing a clear employee value proposition.

If your values, principles, mission and purpose are to be broadly shared, your employees must have a clear understanding of what value the organisation offers them.

Your employees are hundreds, thousands, of individuals. Everyone is different. Spending time with your employees, hearing them out, will result in contradictions, questions, problems, solutions. There will be confusion before there is clarity. Dig far and deep enough, however, and a common thread will appear. That thread is key to authentically pursuing your company’s purpose.

So what if there was a platform that could streamline this process?

A platform that can guide you in your journey to discovering exactly what motivates and engages your employees.

A platform with purpose.

Boy, do we have good news for you.

Give us a call or send us an email!