How to develop an engaged workforce

It all starts with understanding and enabling a personal sense of purpose across the organisation

How to develop an engaged workforce

At a recent exclusive HRD event, an HR leader from an international medical and travel security organisation mentioned that it’s not true that everyone’s only gunning for jobs at the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the world.

She said she never saw what their company did as particularly ‘sexy’ – unlike the cutting-edge tech firms – especially to digital natives. However, despite her worries about attracting the right people, made worse by industry-wide fears of an ongoing intense talent war, the organisation still managed to recruit who they needed.

Curious about why they joined the company, she spoke to a few new hires and found that employees joined the company because they ‘connected’ with what they did and what they stood for. In other words, they aligned with the organisation’s purpose.

Most stayed because the company embodies the values they preached and helps employees reach their own personal goals, even if it’s something as abstract as, ‘trying to save the world’.

The impact of ‘purpose’
The HR leader’s story is nothing out of the ordinary. But what’s the deal with ‘purpose’? It’s hardly a new concept and a quick search on our website turns up reports from 2016 calling ‘purpose’ a buzzword.

But it’s crept up in plenty of studies recently. As millennials currently make up about a third of the workforce, and the oldest Gen Zs starting to look for their first jobs, lots of studies have looked into how HR can attract this promising talent pool.

Deloitte, for one, found that a strong desire to make a difference, especially with things like climate change and the environment, has a great influence on who candidates choose as employers.

Unsurprisingly, more than half want to earn high salaries and be wealthy. But their priorities have evolved beyond traditional signals of adulthood ‘success markers’. Instead, they’d rather do things like see the world (57%) and help their communities (46%).

KPMG International even found that eight in 10 potential employees would not work for a company whose values did not align with their own. Another 92% said that in choosing their first employer, it is important for the organisation to have an ‘exciting’ vision.

Similarly, their study found that candidates still placed competitive pay and benefits as one of the top factors in choosing an employer – but 79% said working for an organisation with a strong sense of purpose was more important than earning the highest salary possible.

The dilemma about company values
Despite the increasingly vital role of values in employer branding, not enough attention may be going into it as companies work on developing a strong culture, in hopes of attracting and retaining the right talent.

READ MORE: Most employees clueless about company values

A recent report from Rungway found that 52% of employees can’t recite their organisation’s vision. Furthermore, 49% can’t recite their organisation’s values.

Two in five employees interviewed said they wish they could participate more in shaping their company’s vision. More than a quarter of workers said they think their company’s values contain superfluous amounts of jargon, with 18% adding that they simply don’t reflect the reality of day-to-day life in the organisation.

The most critical of corporate jargon seems to be the generation who are currently entering the workforce, with 31% believing their company goes over the top with unnecessary language. Additionally, older workers are the least likely demographic to be able to recite their company’s values.

The power of a purpose-driven organisation
In the book, The Lemming Dilemma, David Hutchens wrote that getting such a ‘passive reception’ to company statements should come as no surprise. He acknowledged that this happens to the best of organisations, where leaders invest a lot of ‘thoughtful time’ to establish a mission and purpose statement that aligns with individuals in the company.

“There is no magic in that framed document hanging in the lobby,” Hutchens wrote. “In fact, such jargon statements frequently fail to capture the essence of why the organisation exists. Moreover, they often fail to connect with the aspirations of employees.

“People are able to connect wholeheartedly to a higher organisational vision only when they can see how it aligned with the things they personally care about most deeply and passionately.”

He acknowledged, however, that many more leaders are striving for a deeper clarity on why a personal sense of purpose matters to their leadership, as well as the overall organisation.

READ MORE: How to improve your HR leadership in 2019

He believes that enabling the exploration of a personal purpose, and creating an environment that supports the practice of personal mastery, is key to strengthening alignment between the organisation’s purpose and that of individual employees.

“In an age where it is harder and harder to retain dedicated, skilled employees, companies that enable the development of personal mastery – and then seek to align people with a shared vision – have an unparalleled edge in the marketplace,” he wrote.

When these “mastery skills” are addressed across all levels, Hutchens believes the organisation will see a ‘magical’ change in engagement – and thereby performance.

He wrote that organisations can experience a shift from a workforce that is merely ‘compliant’ to one that is ‘enrolled’.

- Compliant employee: “I’ll do my job because the boss said so.”
- Enrolled employee: “I’m here because I believe in what I am doing and I care enough about it to make it happen.”

“As discussion of personal mastery has grown within the organisational arena, some people have responded with scepticism,” he wrote. “’All of this sound like one of those ‘soft skills’ or ‘touchy-feely’ things’, goes a common reaction. ‘Isn’t there more urgent (and measurable) work we could be doing in our organisation?’

“Those who hold this assumption might remind themselves that organisations are, after all, made up of individuals. Likewise, organisations that are highly capable are made up of highly capable individuals.”

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