Developing A Purpose-Driven Workplace

Ask any manager their purpose in the organization, and a common answer is, "Engage and empower my employees." Ask the same person, "How?" and it becomes abundantly clear there's no plan for converting a lofty goal into a well-defined action plan. The issue, says Kevin Cashman — Senior Client Partner, CEO & Executive Development, Korn Ferry — is that companies have let performance become the purpose, creating a very dry, cold, tough, and ruthless profit-seeking environment. Employees fear for their jobs as management exerts more control, issuing key performance indicators (KPIs), and more reporting requirements. The challenge, says Cashman, is moving from performance being our purpose to letting purpose drive our performance, transforming individuals, the organization, and how customers are served.

What Makes People Distinctive

Purpose makes people distinctive. It's a unique personal brand that drives achievement. Purpose is not skills, education, title, or job role. It's a person's essence. There's been a lot of discussion concerning the continuing stagnation of employee engagement levels despite efforts to improve the numbers. Could it be leaders are trying to engage and empower employees before they identify what makes them personally tick? They haven't defined their own clear purpose for engaging employees, yet it's purpose that drives the leader's involvement, commitment, communication strategy, and learning and development.

Motivating employees requires developing a positive purpose-driven culture in which the organization is "humanized." In a humanized workplace, employees are motivated, energized, resilient, and embrace their roles as contributors to success in a complex business environment. Leaders engage employees by holding conversations about what they see as their purpose in the organization. Conversations are flipped. In traditional leadership styles, managers tell employees how they can contribute to the business and what they need to accomplish to be considered performers. A purpose-driven leader's conversation with employees explores what employees see as their contributions when fulfilling their purpose.

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Care About Work

You will only get useful answers to what drives employee contributions if the employee cares about work. According to Gallup, only 33 percent of U.S. employees are engaged, a number that has changed very little since 2000. A consultant determined there are two main reasons. One is that your business leaders need the right tools and learning in order to consistently drive engagement from week to week. Second, many people in management positions were placed in their jobs because of longevity or job performance and not because they have displayed leadership qualities.

Some people have a natural leadership ability, but all leaders need to cultivate their skills. All of your managers need development and the knowledge necessary to inspire and motivate employees, foster teamwork and creativity, encourage each employee to look beyond a day-to-day focus and step out of the shadows of routine work, and identify their purpose in life and its connection to work. Purpose-driven leaders build relationships and develop a positive culture in which people get results because they know their effort makes a difference.

Beyond Metrics

Leadership training is crucial to creating a purpose-driven culture and positive employee relations. Many managers micromanage, especially in an age in which metrics seem to drive everything. Metrics aren't empowering, even to the digital generation. Millennials are currently changing jobs every 2-3 years because they are looking for companies where they can find fulfillment and empowerment.

Many millennials have identified their purpose and want jobs and projects that let them learn and improve while creating real value for their employer. A 2016 survey conducted by the National Society of High School Scholars found that 46.6 percent of millennials have a corporate social responsibility as a factor when selecting an employer. They see that factor as critical to fulfilling their purpose. Your mission and vision for the organization matters, but have your leaders identified their personal purpose? The better leaders are coaches who improve people by helping them fulfill their aspirations, and that will finally move the needle on engagement levels.

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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