Engaging with Purpose

If you ask a CEO to make a list of their top 10 drivers of sustainable success, you can bet the phrase “engaging our employees” will be increasingly near the top. As more and more companies seek to unlock the possibilities of an engaged workforce, we held a breakfast session with leading brand and communications directors from a number of blue-chip brands, to explore how different organisations are rising to the challenge. We explored what works, what doesn’t and by doing so uncovered seven areas that you should consider if your aim is to enhance employee engagement and drive performance - whatever sector you are in.
1. The Power of Purpose

“Purpose is increasingly what we are selling internally… a big question is ‘how we compete and appeal to the best and brightest to stay with us rather than moving to the tech giants and third sector businesses?’ We believe purpose can unlock this.”

People are motivated by a cause, a movement or a unifying idea Tweet this. With more and more leaders embracing the power of a clearly defined organisational purpose (in simple terms, the reason you exist), there’s a great opportunity to provide a ‘why’ for employees and show the difference they are making – not only to the company, its shareholders and customers – but also to society.

Purpose is increasingly important to attract, retain and inspire the best and brightest millennials – a group characterised by their desire to look for more than just a paycheck; they want to make their mark on the world.

The key to success lies in a providing a clear line of sight. You need to think about how your purpose applies to each individual employee within your organisation. After all, they are much more likely to engage when they can see the impact of their work in helping to make the purpose become a reality.

Get it right, and it’s a much more compelling engagement tool than the more traditional – and often generic – set of organisational values.

“Considering how you build your purpose from the bottom up – starting with regions and functions – can help lay great foundations for engagement” Tweet this

2. Leadership and the art of authenticity

‘There’s no substitute for an inspiring leader standing up in front of employees and telling a personal story about what their purpose means to them – especially if it’s done without PowerPoint slides”

Employees today expect a level of honesty and transparency from their leaders. In our more connected world, the days of leaders trying to be something they are not is well and truly over Tweet this. This means that leaders need to become comfortable sharing their views openly, and telling the corporate story in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. The best leaders are looking to connect their corporate story with their personal brand, developing stories of their experiences with customers, employees and partners that reflect their purpose and values.

However – it’s not just about the people at the top. Authentic leadership needs to permeate every layer of the organisation. Success and sustainable engagement depends on an ability to inspire and equip your line managers to engage their teams in a meaningful dialogue Tweet this.

3. Putting your people at the heart of the story

“The power of people stories is very underrated”

It is important to show your employees how the work they are doing is helping to deliver the company’s purpose, ambition and strategy Tweet this. Most organisations appreciate the value of a strong corporate narrative – but they can also forget a key ingredient of a great story – the hero. Showcasing the work people are doing, how it epitomises your organisational values and how it’s helping you deliver your purpose feels authentic, compelling and inspiring.

However, it’s important to treat these stories as the start of a conversation. They are at their most effective when they stimulate a two-way dialogue within teams around what the strategy and purpose means for them – either face-to-face or through the use of digital channels such as Slack, Yammer, Facebook and Chatter.

“Creating an environment where you can have the conversation, this is why we’re doing it digitally and across the organisation”

4. Change as an opportunity

“Change is a great opportunity to engage staff - there’s a thirst for content and news”

Whether responding to a challenge or an opportunity, organisational change seems to be have become the “new normal”. Managing change is one of the biggest drivers of employee engagement – get it wrong and you are faced with a distracted and potentially disillusioned workforce Tweet this. Get it right and you not only have the chance to build understanding and belief in your strategy but also embed a stronger, deeper connection with your organisation’s purpose.

The key to success lies in the basics of good communications. This includes sticking to the core elements of your corporate story, addressing the rumour mill head-on through regular communications (even if there’s nothing new to say) and ensuring you find the time and opportunity to listen to what’s on the mind of your employees.

5. Working Together

“The question of who owns Employee Engagement should be avoided – if you demonstrate the impact on business it will be owned by the CEO and the leadership team” Tweet this

Employee engagement programmes often fail to make the desired impact when they happen in isolation. Allowing the HR team and the communications teams to work in silos can cause confusion, mistrust and frustration amongst employees.

Impactful employee engagement activities tend to be those that ignore organisational boundaries. This often happens at a local or team level where the focus is on the individual. However, it can also happen at the organisational level where HR, Internal Comms and Brand come together. It can be a challenge, but finding a common language by avoiding words that are “too HR” or “too marketing” and focusing on what really matters - the experience you want to create for your people – can deliver a big impact.

6. Experience counts

‘It goes beyond communications - the appraisal process, the recognition process, everything was baked into our overall vision of being the best’

A compelling story, delivered by an inspiring leader and reinforced by impactful, multi-channel communications is a vital element in employee engagement Tweet this. However, to really make employee engagement sustainable, organisations need to put the day to day experiences they create for their employee under the microscope.

Working with HR to review key processes such as the annual appraisal, reward and recognition and induction programmes through the lens of your purpose and values can be enlightening. Tailoring these processes to drive greater alignment at the key “moments of truth” can demonstrate to employees that your purpose and values are more than words on a page – they guide the way you work and inform the decision you take.

“A simple approach to recognition aligned to your values can make a big impression - but make it natural, don’t force it and don’t make it too corporate”

7. Measures that matter

“They talk about what makes us money, but the argument is, what’s costing us money?”

Companies are increasingly looking to correlate the levels of employee engagement with key performance indicators for the business. This helps place a monetary value on employee engagement and can be a useful way to focus the minds of the senior executives within the business.

Sharing the trend data from employee surveys and examining the link to attrition rates and recruitment improvement can be a good first step. However, being able to provide data to support the correlation between employee engagement, customer satisfaction and top line growth can be the most impactful Tweet this.

“Convincing leaders – we need to show a strong link to business performance and sales.”

“Data is important, but it’s not just employee surveys – it’s customer insight”

Final Thoughts

Today’s senior leaders are more committed to employee engagement than ever before. They are not doing this because it’s a nice thing to do, they are doing this because they can see a direct link between levels of engagement in their workforce and business performance at both the top and bottom line.

Having an inspiring leader deliver a powerful and meaningful message is a great start – but it’s no longer enough. Employees want to be involved in a conversation, they want to be asked their opinion and rewarded for their ideas Tweet this. Of course, there’s no point looking for that magical silver bullet that will magically engage your teams – as it doesn’t exist.

However, if you have authentic and accountable leaders operating at every level of your organisation, who want to listen as much as they talk and who passionately believe in your organisational purpose – then we think you are on the right track.