PEOPLE

How a Sense of Purpose Boosts Engagement

Your company's purpose is important to employees, so you probably better let them know about it.
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Every company, at some level, has a purpose. How well you are able to communicate yours internally could have a major effect on your employees' engagement levels.

That's one of the more striking findings from a new survey from Deloitte. To put it in terms of numbers, 73 percent of employees who say they work at a "purpose-driven" company are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don't.

A purpose-driven company, as Deloitte defines it, is one that has "an important objective that creates meaningful impact for stakeholders"--those stakeholders being customers, employees, their communities, and investors.

Purpose and Awareness

The data on employee engagement is self-reported. That is, employees themselves were asked whether they consider their companies purpose-driven and themselves engaged.

From that spectrum, the correlation makes sense. After all, if an employee thinks their company has a purpose, of course they're more likely to say they're invested in their work.

In an interview with Inc., Deloitte chairman Punit Renjen agreed with that likelihood.

However, he said, what that really drives home is how essential it is for companies to make their purpose clear to their employees, and to establish systems within the organization that reflect that broader purpose.

That's because purpose on its own might not directly impact employee engagement so much as awareness of and exposure to that purpose might heighten employees' interest and commitment to their work.

It's not a layup that employees can identify with a corporate purpose. Consider the following, also found in the Deloitte study:

  • 47 percent of executives strongly agree that they can identify with their company's purpose, compared to just 30 percent of employees.
  • 44 percent of executives say leaders set an example of living that company's purpose. Only 25 percent of employees agree.
  • 41 percent of executives say the company's purpose plays a role in major business decisions, compared to 28 percent of employees.
  • 38 percent of leaders say their organization's purpose is clearly communicated, compared to 31 percent of employees.

In other words, even if you think you do a good job of bringing your company's purpose to the forefront, you might very well be wrong.

What is a purpose, anyway?

Punit says that articulating and communicating your purpose isn't as easy as it sounds. "You have to really understand the essence of why you exist," he says. In addition to crafting a mission statement, it also involves embedding the purpose into the entire organization (like through volunteer or employee development programs that reflect it) and through leadership buying in to that system as well.

But from a mission statement perspective, a couple of examples come to mind.

One involves Asana CEO Justin Rosenstein and involves one three-letter word: Why? An easy way to re-inforce your company's broader mission to employees who might be too caught up in their day-to-day to see it is to simply go up to them and ask them why they're doing whatever task they're doing. Their immediate answer might be because it's part of the project they're working on. Ask them why they're working on that project. When they give an answer, ask why again. Follow this chain long enough and you should eventually arrive at your company's mission statement.

The second example is an oft-cited but unconfirmed urban legend of employee engagement. It involves a janitor at NASA, being asked what he was doing, saying he was "helping to put a man on the moon."

Gallup has also created a seven-step plan for developing your company's mission statement, specifically for the purpose of leveraging employee engagement.

Beyond Engagement

Employee engagement isn't the only thing Deloitte found mission to impact. It also has wider-spread effect on corporate confidence.

For instance, 82 percent of leaders who say their companies have a strong sense of purpose expect to grow in 2014, compared to just 67 percent of leaders who didn't feel that sense.

Meanwhile, 91 percent of leaders at purpose-driven companies felt their companies would stengthen or maintain their brand in the next 5-10 years, compared to just 49 percent of their counterparts.

The common thread with the engagement data isn't necessarily that purpose drives performance (though that takeaway would also appear valid, based on Deloitte's data) as it is the sense of confidence generated by understanding that purpose across the entire organization--leaders and employees alike.

Last updated: Apr 18, 2014




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