The past few years have taught businesses many hard lessons. Among them, leaders must expect the unexpected, and no issue is off-limits for an organizational response. Consumers have become increasingly skeptical of green and purpose claims, while employees have found their voice — and aren’t afraid to use it. So much has changed during this time, but one thing has remained constant: the power of purpose.
It’s 2022. Do you know what your employees want? Over the course of a lifetime, we spend around 81,000 hours working. Together, that’s about one-third of the average person’s entire life, and it translates to approximately 10,000 days spent at work.
Now, consider the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard, who said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If we want to spend our lives meaningfully, we must endeavor to find purpose in our daily work.
Corporate purpose is defined as an organization’s reason for being, beyond profits, grounded in humanity. I have the great privilege of being the founder and CEO of one of the first social purpose agencies, so I live the power of purpose every day — through my work, leadership, and clients.
Purpose Under Pressure, a new report we jointly released with the Harris Poll and Allison + Partners, proves that the influence of purpose is more vital than ever — especially among employees — and reveals that an original and activated purpose is a powerful magnet for talent. But unfortunately, many companies have an inconsistent commitment to their purpose, substantially lessening its impact and value.
I find the “Great Resignation” to be a misnomer. I prefer the better refined “Great Contemplation” —because the events of recent years have given us all a lot to think about. For employees, this has led to a rearrangement of priorities and pursuit of higher meaning in their work that places more demands on their employers.
You can take a few specific data-supported steps to ensure your purpose is working as hard as it can for you in these turbulent times and making your company resilient in the face of ongoing business and societal challenges.
1. Purpose is everyone’s job. Johanna Jobin, global head of corporate reputation and responsibility at Biogen and executive director of Biogen Foundation, says, “I don’t think organizations make up their purpose. They reveal their purpose. And it’s up to the people in the organization to reveal that purpose and bring it to life.” It’s up to us to help our employees understand that purpose is central to their roles. Build it into job descriptions, KPIs, reviews, compensation, ongoing mentoring conversations, company meetings, and all internal communications.
2. Align your employees’ values with organizational values. More than ever, employees seek roles at organizations that have values that match their own. So, we must put those values front and center in the employee experience. Balaji Ganapathy is chief of social responsibility at Tata Consultancy and says, “As an employer, you need to enable your workforce to fulfill their broader purpose. It does not stop with providing volunteering opportunities. It is about driving a culture.”
3. Your actions speak louder than words: Bob Jiminez, senior vice president corporate affairs at Cox Enterprises, illustrates this point nicely, saying, “A purpose without action is just some great words that folks can feel good about. We use purpose as the lens through which we make all of our decisions. We want a ripple effect that elevates other individuals and communities, particularly those in need, and raises them in the process.”
4. Engage purpose ambassadors in every function: Employee-fueled communication and programs will be the key to enterprise-wide purpose adoption. Identify ambassadors in each department who champion your purpose and ensure it’s well aligned and activated. Deb O’Connor, director of global corporate reputation and community relations at Whirlpool Corporation, says, “Employees are your ambassadors in the community. They want to be involved and are your primary stakeholder in corporate social responsibility. Your colleagues are the ones who help you get the work done.”
We know that when purpose is well defined and embedded in an organization, the result is long-term success. Companies that get it right “…make more money, have more engaged employees, more loyal customers, and are better at innovation and transformational change,” according to a Harvard Business Review report, “The Business Case for Purpose.”
As business leaders, it’s up to us to be courageous and clear that our organizations will be human-centered and staunchly focused on lifting our stakeholders, beginning with our most valuable: employees. When we identify and live our true purpose, we create meaningful workplaces. We are rewarded with better recruitment and retention, increased performance and impact, and a future-proofed organization for today and tomorrow.
Employees want authentic, vibrant, and actionable purpose embedded throughout their work:
- 84% of respondents said they would only work at a purpose-driven company.
- 66% of employees cite their employers’ positive impact as more important than before the pandemic — identical to the increase in the importance of salary and compensation.
- 35% of employees say a company’s positive impact is among the top two most important attributes when deciding to stay or leave a job.