As a follow on from our previous HR Leadership Think Tank (HRLTT) on ‘What is the Purpose of HR?’, this post delves into the topic of Engagement. More specifically we explore the role of a purpose-led culture and EVP in attracting talent and creating engagement, whilst also establishing any wider benefits to an organisation’s health and prosperity.
These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest HRLTT held on Tuesday 28th June, kindly hosted by CDC Group’s James Edgar (Group HR Director) and Katherine FitzGerald (OD & Change Manager).
The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
Employee Engagement and EVP have routinely had a transactional relationship with ‘purpose’:
The purpose of an organisation = the work employees do = the reward employees gain for their contributions (typically in the form of a paypacket and associated benefits)
Now, things are changing; Millennials are a critical proportion of our employee base (by 2020, 50% of the global workforce – PWC) and the broad cross section of employees are looking for something more, something that intrinsically fires them up, that roots them in something deeper and derives genuine value add.
Individuals are seeking inherent purpose in their daily lives like never before and purpose, as such, is being flipped on its head.
What is purpose?
- A motivator. No longer is this about money but ‘connectedness’ – to each other, the organisation and the wider world.
- A life choice. No longer working to live, or living to work but both are one and the same.
- A cyclical relationship. Away from top-down or bottom up approaches. If you want to make your brand the most exciting and loved brand in the world, your employees need to feel excited by, and love, the brand they work for, and for this they need to feel that the organisation is both excited by, and loves, them.
How can an organisation instill purpose in its employees to enhance engagement?
- First up – Is purpose owned by the business or its employees? Arguably for this to be successful, and genuine, it requires a commitment from everyone, with everyone’s voice listened to.
- Comms – workshops, interactive sessions, anything to get employees talking and steering away from a top-down leadership rhetoric.
- Empowerment for each function/business unit – evaluate how each are central to the organisation’s goals so each individual can feel their own purpose, and champion that of the wider organisation. This is particularly important for teams who aren’t on the ‘front line’ such as marketing, finance and HR.
- Be clear around the employee’s ‘contract’ with your organisation – what will and won’t be done. Having all cards on the table at the recruitment stage means employees can make an informed decision and have clear expectations from the outset around whether they see their purpose matching up with what the organisation can realistically provide.
- Core values – if these are well thought through and lived on a daily basis, everyone should be thinking and acting towards their purpose, and that of the wider organisation.
Challenges to a purpose-centric EVP:
- Does one size fit all? Purpose is becoming further internalised and is ‘lived and breathed’ differently by different individuals (some of this can be seen as a generational pattern – Millennials vs Gen X vs Baby Boomers – or actually are we all striving for further fulfilment?). Are different purposes and interventions applicable for different groups? Also at different stages of the employee lifecycle?
- Management rhetoric – How to shift habits of reverting to salary and more typical interventions when things get rocky? Instead instill purpose into the recruitment process and employee journey, and making management braver around this.
- Passive aggressive ‘engagement’ – “you should be engaged” – Vs shifting to an environment where employees are given the conditions required for them to be engaged and fulfilled.
What levers do you have?
- Flexibility as currency
- Learning as central – encourage employees to take ownership of their own learning e.g. provide them a number of flexible days per year for self-led development (anything from reading, to exhibitions, to coaching etc).
- Moving away from annual reviews to regular 1:1s around development
- Encourage managers to see their employees’ development as holistic – enable them to undertake rotations/move throughout the business and provide managers with suitable solutions so they feel confident in letting their great people grow and move on.
- CSR activity – days to actively participate in this
- Autonomy – giving the employee the tools to successfully perform a role in their own way, to achieve business needs whilst satisfying internal drive and ambition
- Reverse mentoring
- Graduate Boards – provide avenues for visibility, respect, recognition and having a true voice
What impact does a compelling Purpose-centered EVP have?
- Collaborative working
- Creative, broader thinking
Purpose and fulfilment is becoming increasingly central to businesses’ and HR’s agenda. Whilst it may seem particularly relevant for businesses with a clear purpose to the work they do i.e. charities, it is key for all to consider. Whether you have a millennial-heavy population, are an organisation shifting from small to mid-sized or are a global corporate; purpose is becoming more of a driver for employees at all levels. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to purpose for this very reason, and herein lies the power of it! It’s not universal, it is intrinsic and if employers can tap into their employee base and wider business purpose to create a strong EVP with purpose at the core, it should aid continual engagement for the long term.