Employees Are Looking for Purpose. Are You Helping Them Find It?
By Frank Devine
Survey after survey reveals employees wanting their work to provide more than just a wage or a career. Employees want their values to be reflected in their work and to have a purpose beyond organisational success.
The increased yearning for purpose among employees can be seen as a powerful desire to ‘do the right thing’ at work. This in turn provides a source of energy and commitment which, provided organisations engage with authenticity, enables those organisations to meet that yearning for purpose.
The question is how to do this in practice.
Based on 20+ years of implementing a Higher Purpose led mass engagement process called Rapid Mass Engagement (RME), here is some advice.
UNDERSTAND HOW CULTURES CAN CHANGE QUICKLY
Culture change through deep and wide (hence ‘Mass’) employee engagement cannot happen in a vacuum and cannot be mandated from above. Each individual employee decides how much discretionary effort they are willing to give to the organisation. Employees must be convinced by a cumulative series of senior management actions, quickly following on from each other, (hence ‘Rapid’) that ‘this is different’ and ‘these guys are serious this time’. Trust is earned in actions all cumulatively moving in the same direction. Curiosity is key here, by doing things cynics loudly proclaim to be impossible, employees notice and wonder what is going to happen next, they wonder ‘maybe this will work’ and gradually but quickly, one employee at a time, the culture changes.
NOT JUST PURPOSE, HIGHER PURPOSE
It is necessary but not sufficient to ‘start with why’.
The type of why matters also.
Purpose needs to reach parts not normally reached by organisational culture change initiatives; it needs to reach an emotional level where employees see the authentic causal relationship between the culture change process they are in and the tangible impact on employees’ families and communities; the usual corporate purpose, articulated in managerial language, is simply not strong enough to achieve this.
Purpose Before Profit Not Purpose Without Profit
In the private sector, without profit, we die. Idealism that does not deliver better products and services damages credibility and amplifies cynicism among employees and investors alike.
NUANCE OR ABANDON CSR/ESG AND ‘SCORECARDS’ IN GENERAL
Try telling a Ukrainian mother as she waits for an advancing army to attack her village, that the manufacture of the rocket-launcher on her shoulder was somehow ‘unethical’. In our organisations, we need to provide the sought for purpose in a way that creates consensus not divisiveness and ensures a commercial realism, authenticity, cognitive diversity, and respect for differences often lacking in well-intentioned CSR and ESG initiatives. Don’t ‘teach to the test’ especially when those setting the questions are activists with zero expertise in culture change.
RESIST BOREDOM AND FASHION
Boredom and lack of passion will kill your culture. Culture change involves aligned individual, group and organisational learning. We can’t learn if we are told that everything that is fun in life is too dangerous to discuss at work! Stories, vivid language and humour aid retention of concepts and learning. Be brave and do what is ethically right not what is fashionable or safe. Defend well-intentioned errors by assuming positive intent. Employees notice and the culture grows.
About the author
Frank Devine is the author of RAPID MASS ENGAGEMENT: Driving Continuous Improvement Through Employee Culture Creation. He is also the founder of Accelerated Improvement, Ltd. and specialises in creating a High-Performance continuous improvement culture from the bottom-up. This deepens and accelerates employee engagement, removes barriers to enablement, systematically develops continuous improvement capability at all levels and rapidly overcomes resistance to change. In this process, employees create and own their High-Performance culture; they are not “persuaded” to adopt a prescribed culture.
Frank has trained senior leaders and internal change champions in organisations such as Depuy, Johnson & Johnson (Shingo Prize 2014), Rolls Royce, Coca Cola, Boston Scientific, GKN, CarnaudMetalbox, Lake Region (Shingo Bronze 2012 and 2015), Vale (Shingo Silver 2014), GE (their high potentials), Delphi and Bacardi.