Corporate Purpose Engages Employees, and Tech Can Help

Amid this ‘great resignation’, workers are evaluating employers more critically, and searching for roles where they feel a deeper connection to purpose. The shift to purpose-driven work must start at the top.

With employers struggling to fill more than 10 million jobs currently in the U.S. alone and rising rates of employee burnout, it’s imperative now more than ever for organizations to keep their workforces engaged and connected to their company’s purpose. More than ever, employees are reflecting on their quality of life and often deciding not to return to the workforce.  Amid this ‘great resignation’ and the ongoing burnout epidemic in today’s workforce, workers are evaluating employers more critically, and increasingly searching for new roles where they feel a deeper connection to a company’s purpose.

In fact, according to recent research by McKinsey, nearly two-thirds of American workers say the pandemic has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And while 70 percent of the workforce defines their purpose largely through their work, only one-third currently believe their organization strongly connects action to purpose.

To help address this disparity, as well as the ongoing shift from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism, it’s important for organizations to take a fresh look at their purpose and how their people connect to it. It is critical for companies to ensure they’re implementing a connection to purpose in a way that helps drive concrete action, particularly as more and more companies shift to a fully- or partially-digital workplace.

Here are key steps companies can take to integrate purpose into execution:

Integrate purpose into strategy

As with all meaningful change, the shift to purpose-driven work must start at the top. Without leadership, employees will be unlikely to think differently. To truly integrate purpose into the fiber of their organization, leaders must integrate strategy and purpose. Purpose has often been treated as a side initiative – “soft stuff” – and historically, has been something that couldn’t be measured or managed. In order to attract and retain talent, and build an organization of the future, it is critical for companies to make purpose concrete and connect it to work, as opposed to theoretical. This becomes even more important with hybrid and global workforces delivering new challenges for leaders who must find new ways to engage their people.

Connect purpose to daily work

Given that purpose is an abstract concept, it’s important for organizations to find a more concrete application for purpose at work.  By leveraging new technology, organizations can engage people around purpose – quickly, continuously, and at scale. Given the significant difference technology can make, companies should consider implementing cutting edge digital solutions to facilitate and measure this connection – and ultimately, drive purpose-driven results more effectively.

I am co-founder of a company called Indiggo whose core purpose is to unleash purposeful leadership. We have an AI-driven platform that can help every manager across an organization identify what’s most meaningful to them about their organization’s purpose, and connect it to their daily work. The technology provides a framework for leaders to articulate what is most meaningful to them about their organization’s purpose and keeps this front and center as they work. It also methodically brings the organization’s purpose into the picture for them as they decide what priorities to focus on, connecting their work to purpose in a more concrete manner. Lastly, the platform provides leadership metrics that include a unique core purpose metric and related AI-driven nudges to give individuals and the organization ongoing insight and data that can be leveraged to improve connection to purpose.     

This is particularly important since this connection to purpose in daily work is one of the biggest drivers of motivation and job satisfaction. According to LinkedIn’s Purpose at Work Global Report, more than 7 in 10 professionals in the workforce who identify as purpose-driven are satisfied with their jobs.

Leveraging purpose will drive strong financial results

Organizations that integrate purpose into their business strategies not only foster a more engaged workforce, but they are also more likely to outperform on their financial goals. In fact, recent research has shown that companies’ progress toward achieving stakeholder capitalism often aligns with higher revenue and profit growth.

It’s clear that embracing the key values of stakeholder capitalism – including connection to purpose – can help organizations to better align their people and keep them engaged, connected and on track, all while driving strong financial results. And as we look for new ways to work with a largely digital workforce it is imperative for companies to leverage technology to ensure their strategies are purpose-driven and create meaningful and concrete results for all of their stakeholders.

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Robin’s Rules of Order: New Models for the Workplace

Right now, companies are fumbling. It’s time to apply a new set of metrics to how work is measured, how it’s compensated, and how much of it can be done remotely.

Now that we’ve bitten into the forbidden fruit of the work-from-home apple we have, as the biblical tale goes, seen each other naked.  And once you’ve seen the makeupless faces, the shoddy t-shirts, the adorable/annoying pets and kids, and that big reveal–the inside of a co-workers home–there’s no going back. Plucking people out of their natural habitat, gussying them up, and sticking them in a context-less office chair seems downright abnormal.

As we wrestle with how to return some sense of normalcy to the workplace, we’re not likely to forget all we’ve learned from our year and a half of working from anywhere. It’s time to apply a new set of metrics to how work is measured, how it’s compensated, and how much of it can be done remotely. And it’s also time to put a new set of metrics in place to allow workers to grow their careers while balancing their lives.

Historians will look back on this post-pandemic reconstruction as something as monumental as the Industrial Revolution.  That historic shift demanded that we leave our homes and head to factories and offices. The post-pandemic era will similarly demand a reassessment of work and how and where it’s done. Dawn Pratt, who runs Tech Up for Women and does corporate human resources training, told me that HR folks are pulling their hair out trying to come up with equitable, out-of-the-box solutions that make sense of work.

It’s time for new bold models. The major impetus for the change stems from technology.  Cloud-based applications, video conferencing, shared documents, and whiteboards are just a few of the technologies rendering those old gatherings in conference rooms as anachronistic as a two-martini lunch. (Though granted, plenty of big deals were signed during two-martini lunches.)

Right now, companies are fumbling. They give lip service to the concept of valuing what workers accomplish, not where they accomplish it. But they are struggling to make those words functional. Facebook and Google are both allowing employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Facebook is even encouraging workers to consider working from remote places, even other countries. In May, Google announced that some 60 percent of Googlers will spend a few days per week in the office, 20 percent will work in new office locations and another 20 percent will work from home under an expected future hybrid-work model.

Amazon has one of the most specific return to work policies, spelling out a hybrid arrangement even once workers come back in January 2022:

“Our new baseline will be three days a week in the office (with the specific days being determined by your leadership team), leaving you flexibility to work remotely up to two days a week.If you would like to work in the office less than three days a week and are still able to commute into your assigned office as needed, you can apply for an exception from your VP. If the exception is approved, you will be considered primarily a remote worker, and will have an agile workspace (not a dedicated one) that provides space to collaborate with your team. Separately, corporate employees (for whom working away from the office is an effective option) will have the choice to work up to four weeks per year fully remote from a domestic location (without the expectation that you will commute into an office during that time).”

Some companies like Virbela in the US and Chargebee in India have never had a physical office. According to Global Workplace Analytics, just 3.6% of the US workforce worked from home in 2018. Now, they report, “Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”  The data is followed by a list of companies that are touting “remote-first,” including Quora, Dropbox, Hubspot and Pinterest, along with quotes from their management on reasoning behind those decisions.

How do you get started on the re-invention? I’ve created a blueprint — let’s call it Robin’s Rules of Order.

Step 1:  Task analysis

Dissect your team’s workflow and responsibilities, identifying which tasks are best done alone, and which ones rely on group think.  And which group think activities will be more successful in person rather than virtually?

Step 2: Identify the Office’s Uniqueness.

If you’re going to ask an employee to leave home and come to the office,  what will they want to see in the office?  A gym?  A 3D printer?  A recording studio producing high-end audio and video? A daycare area? Maybe even a token foosball table?  The office needs to have benefits beyond the water cooler and the Keurig.

Step 3:  Step up your virtual meeting strategy. 

We’ve had nearly two years of remote meetings, but they can become more effective.  Engage the more silent members of the group with direct engagement.  “I haven’t heard much from Susan but I know when she speaks it’s important.”  “Sally, you’re the youngest member of the team, attuned to what’s happening with a new generation, what do you think we should do?”  And make meetings shorter — way shorter.

Step 4:  Identify talents you learned about your team members during pandemic

“John, did you paint that photo that hangs in your Zoom background?  Maybe we should think about putting those artistic skills to work for the team.”

Step 5: Set deliverable metrics.  

More than ever before work is more than just showing up. Specific tasks and timetables need to be established.

Step 6: Break down the silos.

For too long marketing, sales, engineering, and HR each had their own hierarchical fiefdoms, often unresponsive to group goals at large. Think less about having a meeting and more about who are the right people from across the organization to be there.

Step 7: Set the Stage

A good manager will cultivate a knack for involving the whole group and demanding attention. Cameras on with mobile phones out of reach are two basic rules that help. Articulate standards for other distractions like private chat channels, too. A meeting leader needs to have the same skills as a classroom teacher–a bit of showmanship and a talent for engaging the students.

Step 8: Assign New Roles.

Identify new talents and roles to meet the occasion–running spotlight features, Googling for more information about a topic you’re discussing, operating the whiteboard, monitoring chats, even providing a fun interlude. The rise of virtual work will mean new jobs and job functions. 

Step 9: Create a Path Forward.

Your teams need to keep their skills sharpened. Each employee should have an individual education plan as part of their job. Learning is part of the job description now, whether it’s attending a seminar, getting a degree, or getting micro-credentialed…

Step 9: Create a Scout Team.

It should investigate new technologies that your work-from-anywhere team can use, as they arise.  Innovation in remote work technology is rife. Don’t just rely on your IT department to innovate (but do consult with them). Streaming solutions, shared white boards, transcription, and analytics tools — all of these belong in the arsenal for work-from-anywhere productivity.

The brass tacks of the transition will be complicated. Benefits, tax implications, empty real-estate (I’ve written about this for Techonomy before) will all need to be reckoned with. It will fall to product managers and team leaders to write rules of engagement for their teams. And workers will generally choose where they want to work based on the culture that best suits their workstyles, at least in progressive and aware companies. Job titles, salaries, home-office stipends, performance tracking, and methods of managing will all require major overhauls. But the workplace that we all end up with is likely to be far more satisfying, and even more productive, than the one we left behind back in March 2020.

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