In 1961, President John F. Kennedy visited NASA headquarters for the first time. While touring the facility, he famously introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor. Kennedy asked the janitor what he did at NASA, to which he responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon”.
Understanding how each individual’s role contributes to the greater purpose of a business is the type of culture every business leader should aspire to. Last week, our CEO posed the question in his latest blog, ‘The Coronavirus Acceleration’: how do you build a strong work culture if you’re not at work?
It’s a game-changing question that has to be answered in very short order. Especially at a time when social distancing and telecommuting are influencing the normality of working, and in the absence of a physical office space, employers are having to work harder to create a sense of connection and unity among employees.
The individualism created by remote-working needs to be reflected in the collective action of an organisation. Leaders have to make a concerted effort to listen to their employees and bring them on the journey if they want the business to move in the same direction. The companies that will survive and thrive in this new normal are those that ensure their employees are not only aware of, aligned to, understand and are engaged with the company’s reason for being, their purpose, but also engage with their employees to help create it.
Businesses need to define their purpose in a simple, compelling and understandable way, but crucially make sure they act on their purpose in every element of their business strategy. This is how you unite employees in the absence of being together, create workforces that are interested, inspired and actively engaged with their work, as well as build loyalty and retain employees across all generations.
Here are three questions companies should consider when looking to engage their employees and build a strong, purpose-driven work culture:
- How can business leaders mobilise their employee’s around their company’s purpose?
For every business with a purpose, there is a beautifully articulated letter, report or graphic that outlines the business’s vision and objectives to make a positive impact on the world. These are informative, useful and evergreen pieces of content that show a company’s progress. However, this is a top-down approach to messaging, often accompanied by the belief from senior leadership that it sufficiently substantiates the business’ beliefs.
A company’s purpose can never be fully realised unless employees at every level are actively engaged with it. For a business to successfully intertwine its purpose with the actions of every individual within the organisation, there must be a ground-up approach and open dialogue between senior leadership and employees. The business purpose needs to be apparent in job descriptions, appraisals, day-to-day communications, business updates and most importantly, aligned within the management structure.
Empowering your employees to take their share of responsibility for the business delivers the most impactful and meaningful work. It helps them see the value of performing even the small and mundane tasks with enthusiasm if it helps contribute to society in a purposeful way.
- Why is it important to ensure the business’ purpose is understood by every employee?
Recent McKinsey research shows that employees overwhelmingly feel that purpose is important (82%), but less than half (42%) say their organisation’s purpose drives impact. Employees want honesty and deserve transparency. They want to know their company’s future goals and how exactly the business makes a positive impact on society.
They are also the best judge as to whether the purpose of a company is authentic, and whether it is truly aligned to how employees are treated. If every employee can explain the purpose of their company accurately and consistently, then its leaders will have succeeded in creating a cohesive culture.
Employees need to feel as valued as customers by their companies. To do this, employers have to ensure that the company’s values and purpose are equally embedded across internal communications as they are in external communications. This is also true when allocating budget for internal resources, it’s not simply a comms exercise when talking about your purpose. Investing in your employees shows them how the company’s actions have a positive impact on everyone. Only then is it possible to build an equal balance of loyalty, trust and commitment between employers and employees.
- How can you attract the next generation of talent?
A cohesive culture cannot be manufactured – there is no shortcut. There have been streams of discussions around the challenges of uniting an inter-generational workforce, but the speed of change enforced by coronavirus means that we’ve run out of time for talking – it’s time to act.
We know that up to two-thirds of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, and a recent LinkedIn survey found that people would rather have lower pay (65%) and forego a fancy title (26%) than work somewhere with a bad workplace environment. These are the deciding factors in this new era of change.
Employers that succeed in uniting their diverse, inter-generational workforces through a greater societal purpose will gain access to the powerful and influential voice of their employee network. Combined, this collective voice of employees presents a vast platform that can champion the work and culture of a business. Employers that take this seriously, and engage with their employees with courage and imagination will profit from far-reaching benefits.
In a post-COVID world, business leaders must create and develop strategies that go beyond their day-to-day operations. They need to demonstrate that their business purpose is a leading force for positive change. Evaluating employee engagement should be used as a benchmark to test the authenticity of this purpose and gauge how to bring it to life within the organisation.
So, consider this: Can everyone in your organisation define the purpose of the business? Does everyone understand their role in making it a reality? And what are the different ways they can engage with it?