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13 December 2018

Connecting People and Purpose


Image credit: PR Newswire

Among things that are easier said than done, achieving extraordinary employee engagement must be high on the list.

Speaking together with delegates at Osney Media’s recent CHRO Summit in London, there wasn’t any debate that a positive employee experience leads to higher overall engagement and better business results. And there was genuine nodding of heads when we described the growing relationship between employee engagement and Trust and Purpose. The challenge, most agreed, isn’t in saying these things. It’s in effectively doing them.

The doing starts well, in our view, by being clear about the definitions.  At Edelman, we try to help organisations define their purpose by posing the question: what would the world miss if they or their brands weren’t in it?  Purpose lies at the intersection between what a business does, the impact it has on people and planet and its ability to bring about transformative change. And if we agree on that, the question becomes, why is Purpose important to my organisation and how can we engage our employees around it?  The recent Edelman Earned Brand Study lent some insight into the first question. Key insights included:

  • Nearly 2 in 3 people are now Belief-Driven Buyers – they choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues.
  • Belief-driven buying is now a mainstream mindset across countries, ages and incomes.
  • Around half of respondents believe brands have better ideas for solving our country’s problems than government; and brands can do more to solve social
    ills than government.

Against this background, there appears to be a growing need for companies to take a stand, to signal to customers, employees and the wider public their contribution to society. Leading the way in this regard are small to medium companies around the world, but also large household names like REI Outdoor, Unilever and Microsoft.

In 2015, REI, the largest outdoor specialty retailer in the US, made the stunning decision to close all its stores on the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.  Given its purpose revolves around a dedication to natural spaces, REI’s ‘say-do’ was boldly reinforced by granting all its 12,000 employees a paid day-off to spend time outdoors with family and friends. And the risk, now repeated every year since, has paid off with huge customer support, higher employee engagement and a massive increase in job applications.

As Richard Edelman wrote in his recent tribute to outgoing Unilever CEO Paul Polman, he will be remembered for the way in which he has inspired other CEOs to look beyond financial results to address the world’s pressing issues.  In part because employees believe in that mission and are involved at every step along the way, Unilever has become the number three most popular place to work in the world, behind only Facebook and Google.

Similarly, at Microsoft, the company’s mission “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” is explicitly translated for employees. On the back of every employee’s security pass are the words, “Find a job you love, create the future you want, explore your unique passion, and empower billions.”  And, beyond the words are the repeated proof points.  The company reinforces its principle of volunteering, for example, by offering matching donations to any employee who volunteers a minimum of 10 hours to a charity.  Among the results is a participation rate that exceeds 75 per cent.

Inspired by these examples, following are five of the themes we often refer to when helping companies turn their words into actions and truly involve and engage their employees in the company purpose:

  1. Take a stance. Identify an issue that matters and on which your organisation and its employees have the credibility and coherence to act.
  2. Be the solution. Address the issue as a business and engage your employees at every step along the way.
  3. Integrate and interpret. Make sure the decided purpose is made relevant to employees in every way possible – including the company values — making the connections specific and tangible.
  4. Drive and celebrate the commercial returns. These may range from sales results to improved performance on employee engagement, loyalty and emotional commitment to your company and what you stand for.
  5. Give leaders and their teams the tools to advocate. Develop a conversation strategy and offer both platforms and shareable content to make it easier for employees to generate ideas and share their pride.

Each of these was as easy to write as they were intuitive.  But the challenge really does lie in their consistent, authentic implementation.  As the power of the employee voice and belief-driven buying grow in parallel, those organisations who effectively connect these themes are more likely to see powerful returns.

Written by Nigel Miller, Senior Advisor; and Andrew Wilson, Executive Director 

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