My grandmother used to save old pieces of aluminum foil and reuse them. Her depression era generation had a sense of purpose: make ends meet and create a better future for your children.
This desire to create wealth and security evolved into the profit-driven culture we know today. But times are changing and values are shifting. Millennials want a higher sense of purpose than just making money.
A survey conducted by WeSpire, an employee engagement platform provider, shows that although only 33% of employees over 60 and only 44% of employees over 50 say they'd like to get more involved in their organizations' volunteer, sustainability, well-being or social responsibility initiatives, a whopping 71% of employees under 30 say they do.
So here's the thing: businesses of the future will thrive if they have a clear sense of purpose, if their leaders are driven by purposes that go beyond profits, and if their employees go to work every morning feeling engaged in a purposeful life.
The Beacon Institute, a new think tank created by EY (formerly Ernst & Young), studied companies that are best in class in terms of "embedding and exploiting organizational purpose." EY's definition of purpose: "an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization and its partners and stakeholders, and provides benefit to local and global society."
EY found in a survey that 64% of companies deemed to be such best in class cases have seen 10 to 30 per cent revenue growth over the past three years. 81% of them give top scores to their customer satisfaction levels, and 67% of them give the highest rating to employee satisfaction. Companies considered laggards in embedding and exploiting organizational purpose, on the other hand, report lower levels of customer satisfaction and employee engagement.
What steps should you take, as a leader of your company?
First, define your company's purpose. The more its purpose is tied to solving a societal problem, the more engaged employees and consumers will feel.
Second, communicate that purpose clearly. Spell it out. It is at a higher level than your company's mission and vision, both of which must be aligned with it.
Third, activate the company's purpose. As the Beacon Institute says, that purpose should inform strategy development, and it should be deployed broadly across business areas.
Fourth, roll out a program for employee engagement. This won't work easily if your company's purpose is narrow and personal for you, not easily shared by a wider population. It also won't work if you impose a rigid employee engagement program from the top down, without listening to your employees.
Fifth, get creative about how to engage your customers. Empower them to join the cause. You might offer them the chance to use a rebate program to donate to charity, or you might offer a purpose-based contest, or you might simply do a great job of explaining to them how purchasing your product or service is, in itself, a small way to make the world a better place (really).
If you are over 50 and think all this is for tree huggers, wake up and smell the organically farmed, fair trade coffee: millennials are about to change everything. Surveys show they want their money invested for impact, their enterprises to be social, their bosses to be enlightened, and their products to be labelled.
Welcome to a more socially just, more sustainable world.