Since Brandpie came into existence in 2008 we’ve been working on numerous projects aimed at achieving that holiest of grails: ‘employee engagement’ (whatever that really means – and that’s another article in itself).
Rather than jumping straight to an answer grounded in communications, we’ve taken the time to listen and understand what the challenge really is ……and it’s not always what’s in the brief.
During that time we’ve listened to more than 15,000 employees through real-time, anonymous online focus groups. What we’ve heard has been illuminating. But what’s also struck us has been the common themes cutting across sectors, geographies and size of organisation.
One of the most striking things has been the lack of pride that many of today’s employees feel.
It exists on an individual level. “I’m just a”….[insert pretty much any job title you like, from accountant or auditor to programme manager or quantity surveyor].
And it exists on an organisational level. “I’m not really sure what our company vision is or why we exist”.
In our view, the two are intrinsically connected.
Pride in your organisation
What makes you proud to work for an organisation? Historically, it often came down to business performance. Growth, sales, what the media were saying, where the business stood in the latest brand table, market share and so on.
And all of those remain true today. And why shouldn’t they? Businesses should be measured on those performance indicators. Organisations exist to make money, to grow and to deliver returns to shareholders. But is that really enough to drive deeper levels of pride and a long-term emotional connection to the business? Well, for some people, yes. But increasingly, for lots of people it’s ‘yes and what else?’
Why does the company you work for exist? What role does it play in the world, beyond profit? What impact does it have on all of its stakeholders, from clients and investors to employees and the community?
Fundamental questions that, in the minds of today’s employees, must be answered.
And a quick note, these questions are being asked by employees in law firms, in professional services firms, in financial institutions. In fact, one partner from a professional services firm remarked to me that ‘we’re being asked questions by our people that weren’t being asked even five years ago’ (in this instance, it was part of a conversation around the firm’s stance on how to tackle societal divisions).
In those organisations who have successfully defined why they exist (their purpose), the difference we see in employee sentiment is clear.
Belief in the business they work for. A clear sense of direction and greater confidence about the future. An understanding of decisions that are made (even if you don’t necessarily agree with them). And pride – that the business is commercially successful while having a positive impact on the wider world.
The extent to which purpose is embedded dictates its impact on your people. Through our conversations with CEOs we’ve mapped out five different ways businesses use purpose. And while there’s no right or wrong, the more a business is able to embed purpose as its central organising idea, the greater its impact on employee performance and levels of engagement.
If your purpose guides everything you do, your employees see and hear a joined-up story, driven by a core belief. In times of unprecedented change and disruption, that’s a powerful tool to have.
Making a big idea relevant in the day to day
There is a watch-out. Over the last ten years, and even more so in the last 18-24 months, purpose has gained traction as an idea (and a driver of business performance).
However, it can quickly become stuck, unable to work its way through the organisation in a meaningful way for people. The most common piece of employee feedback we hear is: our purpose is just words on a page.
When that big idea fails to connect with people in their day to day, their job becomes just that, a job. There’s a lack of connection to the bigger picture, to what the business stands for. The ‘I’m just a’ comment becomes the standard employee response because they can’t see the impact their work has.
We see and hear this again and again, especially for those roles that are one step removed from the client. What’s the role of Finance, HR, Procurement? How are the people in those business areas contributing to the bigger picture?
There is always a link, you just need to make the connection.
One of my favourite stories comes from our client, AstraZeneca. Their organisational purpose is to ‘push the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines’.
But how does that very science and patient focused message translate if you’re not a scientist? Well, for a member of the Talent Acquisition team, it was about thinking differently, creatively and innovatively about how they went about recruiting external talent. Because if they did that, they were likely to get the very best scientific talent. And that meant AstraZeneca would have brilliant people in their labs working tirelessly to find the break-throughs that could impact millions of patients around the world.
Suddenly, Talent Acquisition is about more than recruitment. It’s about how you can personally contribute to a bigger cause.
For manufacturing colleagues it’s about focusing on efficiency to ensure that medicines reach patients as quickly as possible. Your role, as an operator, is a link in the chain to helping improve people’s lives.
Those connections need to be made, and told, across the company. Purpose has become ‘fashionable’ to have, but when it’s defined and embedded in the right way, it’s an incredibly powerful driver of personal pride and business performance.
Easy to say, harder to do
We know what it takes. We’ve partnered with the world’s leading organisations over the last ten years to help them define and embed their purpose. It takes time and effort. But we’ve seen its power, both in terms of business growth and employee engagement levels.
At Brandpie, our expertise is in helping organisations build their purpose and strengthen connections with their people. To do this we use VYTALS, a business solution that incorporates real-time online crowdsourcing, enabling us to gain valuable insights into what employees are thinking. These deep insights help make positive changes that will drive your organisation's purpose forward.
Managing Partner, Employee ExperienceLinkedIn