Leeatt Rothschild is founder and CEO of Packed with Purpose, a corporate gifting company that creates deep societal impact through the everyday act of gift-giving, from empowering under-resourced women with job skills to supporting sustainability efforts. Views are the author's own.
If we’re honest with ourselves as corporate leaders, we have to admit we should have better anticipated the workforce challenges of the COVID-19 recovery. Lives and livelihoods have been shaken, and shutdowns have frayed workplace trust. Business goals and employee goals are at odds. Competitive wages alone won’t fix this. Employees crave deeper meaning, not "just a job."
To produce a more loyal and productive workforce, a company culture should reflect a shared purpose. Gallup finds that employee attitudes consistently predict important business outcomes, from absenteeism and turnover to customer loyalty and profitability. An engaged employee base is more collaborative, building a reserve of trust that helps resolve conflict. Workers can air differing points of view, yet rally around a single set of solutions.
Many entrepreneurs understand this. It’s second nature for them to bring their whole selves and passion into the workplace. Even large shareholder firms have origin stories about a founder’s drive to do things the right way. This is a time for leaders to deepen and communicate their founding focus — to give employees, external partners and customers the same drive to do good and do well.
Build culture around purpose
There are several workforce development strategies that can put a business and its workforce at the service of a greater purpose.
First, define the mission. It isn’t easy to reconnect with a founders’ original vision. Every business has goals and values that will evolve over time. Mission (what we do in a company) puts the vision in practical terms, while purpose (why we do it) explains the passion driving that vision. Employees and other stakeholders can make mission and passion the benchmarks for their behavior. A clear mission is the first step to strategy; it keeps the company's service offerings and employee values aligned. It’s hard enough for workers to follow a mission that hasn’t been clearly stated. It’s harder to mount a successful strategy without it.
Second, recruit allies, not employees. A company’s purpose investment starts with hiring people who live and breathe the mission day after day. A candidate with all the right functional skills should be aligned on purpose as well. Job descriptions should be explicit about the skills and traits candidates must bring to the table to uphold the organization’s mission. Hiring managers should work from an interview discussion guide that asks specific questions related to the mission or to a core value around doing good. Executives must make a deliberate decision to hire for dedication to the mission and to stand firm in that choice.
Marry message to mission
Managers should seize every opportunity to state the company’s purpose and reward individuals for upholding its values. The more the mission is honored, the more it will become ingrained in company culture.
My workplace has a Slack channel called "shout outs," in which anyone in the company is welcome to share accolades or kudos to team members. When people can recognize efforts and accomplishments related to the mission, they show their mission is just as important as any other business objective.
One size does not fit all
Team members need opportunities to participate, but not everyone is built that way. During employee reviews, a manager asked about a worker who loved their job function, but not all of the outside projects. That's fine by me. I reassured her that this individual was 100% mission aligned, with a specific connection to the mission that made sense.
Everyone is doing the most they can; it just looks different from person to person.
Purpose can turn a job into a profound, impactful opportunity for new and existing employees alike. Give them the chance to further connect with your mission by keeping them engaged and emotionally invested.
Make employees part of the solution. Giving employees a voice in the product makes them vested in its success. Philanthropy and community engagement provide opportunities to involve employees, and expand your company’s involvement in the community. Employees might have an affinity with emerging local vendors or diverse-owned businesses. It’s a small step to bring teams onto an introductory call to interact with purpose-driven vendors to learn how they support the company's mission.
Foster empathetic connections
Employee resource groups, the affinity groups representing workplace interests, can be a powerful workforce development tool to give teams a greater understanding of their co-workers and their world.
Many businesses give them a role in programming company meetings. The discussion leader could be an employee who feels confident and comfortable as an advocate. In our workplace, for example, one person discussed what the world looks like for someone with a disability. Meetings can also explore challenges and best practices elsewhere. In our case, an employee shared learnings from the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, the largest gathering of LGBTQ professionals. New perspectives help make company culture more inclusive, equitable and resilient. If employees are not engaged in bigger problems, it’s hard to tackle them and grow.
Everyone should feel like leadership
Live your mission. Mission should always be the North Star of an organization; a purpose that’s not connected to the heart of the business is doomed. No one should feel they’re working on a random side project; everyone should feel like leadership, that they’re part of building a successful business. A workplace with purpose gives meaning to employees’ livelihoods and improves their career experiences. A purpose-driven organization pushes them to support their business goals in sales, client retention or whatever outcome is at stake. Revisit the mission to ensure it still speaks to your original intent, and reassess whether the organization’s direction reflects the needs of clients, employees and society.
The more engagement company leaders can create around their mission, the more employees will stay for the long run. They will see their co-workers as people who push them and help them grow. Purpose makes coming to work more enjoyable, challenging and fun. And a profound connection to mission will drive workers to set higher standards for what the company stands for and what it can achieve.