Workplace dynamics are shifting. Although the uncertainty may feel scratchy at times, there is so much potential for people who are willing and excited by the prospect of changing their businesses for the better.
After a difficult 18+ months, employees are looking for more from the leaders and companies they work for. Staff members are examining what matters most to them, and they don’t want to compartmentalize the things they care about into their off-hours. They want purpose to inspire every aspect of their lives, including their jobs.
While the pandemic brought greater awareness of this desire, the idea of finding meaning at work is not new. We’ve heard for years that millennials and Gen Z consider a sense of purpose to be essential to feeling satisfied at a company. We’ve seen an uptick in B-corporations and other socially conscious enterprises in the past decade as people are increasingly committed to buying from organizations that are “doing good.” These individuals and companies deserve to be celebrated for advancing great work, and I’m excited that more people are following their lead and businesses are taking notice.
What’s different today than in the past is that The Great Resignation is causing companies from all industries and sectors to confront a reality where 25% to 40% of their workforce may be ready to walk out the door. When retention suffers so does the bottom line and that shift would cause even the most skeptical executive to perk up.
As employees and consumers prioritize companies that are putting good into the world, businesses need to respond by earnestly creating – or leaning into an existing – reason for being that goes beyond making money. Leaders need to give their people a compelling, meaningful purpose. And it needs to be real.
After all, employees are more motivated to contribute, to go the extra mile and perform to the best of their ability when they have a good reason to do so. And they can spot insincerity. If you’re ready to truly inspire your people to do great work and make a change in your operations, I encourage you to address the three questions below to bring your organization’s positive intentions into focus.
#1 – What are you striving to deliver to the world?
I do believe that most businesses were founded on an idea that was about more than extracting maximum value from their resources to drive profits for their owners. Honestly, who would want to join a company where that is the mission statement?
The challenge is that in the course of any business’ lifecycle so much focus is placed on the short-term, and profit can become the only outcome that matters. I encourage leaders to prioritize initiatives that allow the organization to flourish and continue providing brilliant products and services long into the future. For example, by focusing on initiatives like employee development, which ultimately drives innovation, or sustainability, which leads to cost containment and a healthier future, you will create a company that is “doing good” and is successful.
To build an environment where employees are willing to give their all, think back to the founding of the organization. What was its stated vision, mission and intentions? What were its values? Consider also how the company has evolved and its current objectives. Exploring these elements of the past and present can bring greater clarity to the positive outcomes and vision your organization is trying to realize.
#2 – How do those outcomes benefit more than just the owners?
To be a motivating leader, your work should focus on outcomes that are bigger than yourself. While you may set a vision or objectives, a purpose-driven business benefits more than its executives, board members and owners. It has a positive impact on your broader community.
Take time to think about who all is benefiting from your organization’s work today and who all you would like to benefit from it in the future. To answer this question, consider all of your stakeholders including your employees, customers, shareholders and community. You may also want to use a stakeholder mapping activity to understand the potential implications of a shift in your vision.
With an understanding of the possibilities that come from your business and all the people and systems that can benefit, you can frame or revise the company’s purpose statement in a way that demonstrates that your organization is focused on delivering a positive impact to a broad group of people.
#3 – How will you hold people accountable?
Defining a compelling reason for being can be challenging for some companies. In others, perhaps you already have a statement that you can easily affirm using the questions above. While anyone can create an engaging, meaningful vision, I find that the biggest obstacle comes from walking the talk, particularly if your culture has drifted from your greater purpose.
Actions speak much louder than words, so a vital part of leadership comes down to holding yourself and your people accountable. Start by examining your performance evaluation metrics as well as your career advancement practices. You will see more of the behaviors that you reward, so be mindful to set expectations that align to your intentions for the future – not just leaning on measures like hitting performance targets for revenue or cost containment.
Once you’ve defined performance standards, the work isn’t done. You still need to evaluate the process, assess how well it’s working and make sure that old metrics and methods of operating do not creep back in and displace the new standards. Only when your employees see that their leaders are working to achieve the company’s positive purpose will they feel committed to supporting it as well.
Don’t go it alone
As one more piece of advice, partner with a team to discuss the questions above. Often leaders feel like they have to have all of the answers when in reality, the best ideas come from a group with diverse perspectives. To make sure you’re not overlooking important perspectives or worthy alternatives, be collective in your approach. Before you get started, I invite you to put together a WEteam (or Whole Emergenetics team) made up of cognitively diverse group members, so that you can develop a statement that resonates from a holistic perspective.
Purpose-driven companies have the potential to change the face of business and their employees’ lives. It doesn’t come easily, however, and as my favorite poem Dream Big states, “great work seldom does”. When you can truly give your people something to aspire to achieve that is greater than any one person – and they believe that you are dedicated to that vision – you will find that their commitment, motivation and engagement increase. And with it so too will your organization’s success in every meaningful dimension.
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