Employees disillusioned with company purpose

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This isn’t the place for a discussion on the differences between purpose, vision, values, principles, concepts etc., but employees know the difference when a company declares – for example – that ...


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Employers must ensure external marketing matches the internal reality to avoid demoralised, distrustful and unproductive staff

Employees feel disillusioned with a mismatch between their companies' stated purpose and how this plays out internally, according to research from purpose and values consultancy Kin&Co.

In its survey of 1,000 workers, almost half (42%) said their company does not act in line with its purpose and values, and more than half (53%) said their company’s purpose marketing does not reflect reality.

Almost half (49%) said that this perceived hypocrisy makes them want to leave, and 68% said their company talking purpose but not living it would have a negative impact on their work, causing distrust in leaders and reduced productivity.

Additionally, more than two-thirds (65%) of workers said having a purpose that was properly embedded into their culture would have a positive impact on their work; including being more productive, more efficient and more likely to contribute to the company culture. And 72% said they’d be more likely to stay at their company if they were more emotionally connected to their work.

“Essentially purpose is about connection,” Amy Martin, head of people at veterinary practice group The Vet, told HR magazine. “When you feel truly connected to something it has the ability to make you feel and behave in certain ways. This is so important when it comes to employees, as the more connected and motivated they feel by purpose, the more likely they are to join in, try hard, and stick around longer.”

She added: “Purpose has a really important role in guiding how people make decisions. Especially in customer-facing environments, a strong belief in and connection with the purpose ensures that employees are making the right choices, that feel good, and are in line with the overall business strategy.

"The result is better quality and faster decision-making because the people on the frontline with more complete information are making the calls.”

“With businesses having to respond to change at an ever-increasing rate, a purpose that acts as a North Star for employees is incredibly powerful,” agreed Bill Eyres, sustainability and corporate responsibility director at O2. “However, this has to be a purpose that springs from the DNA of the organisation and is future-focused.”

Eyres advised that organsiations involve employees in shaping this purpose. “At O2 by developing the purpose with people from across the organisation we ensured that it was genuine and motivating because it expressed what they felt and thought our purpose was,” he said.

“Ensure that the purpose comes from the employees – people are much more likely to have ownership for something they have helped create it,” agreed Martin. “Involve your biggest ‘nay-sayers’. Tuning in and listening to what they have to say provides some valuable insight into potential barriers and stumbling blocks that you probably haven’t even thought of.”

Martin added the advice of talking “about purpose when times are hard and decisions are tough, as well as in the good times”, and ensuring senior individuals embody these values. “Leaders need to demonstrate in their language and in their actions that purpose is more than just a set of words,” she said.

She added that employers shouldn’t assume purpose is less important for certain parts of the workforce: “This is something that is often discussed within customer service businesses… does the four-hour Saturday person feel that our purpose is important? Does it really matter to them?

“But how people connect with purpose is an individual experience… people have to find their own story, and this can change and evolve over time.”

Eyres added the importance of HR here: “HR's role is critical, especially in demonstrating that purpose isn't a 'brand' exercise,” he said. “For us leadership from HR demonstrated a commitment that this was going to be built with our people.”

Comments

This isn’t the place for a discussion on the differences between purpose, vision, values, principles, concepts etc., but employees know the difference when a company declares – for example – that ‘Quality First’, is their watchword, but that deeds support ‘Delivery First’. And in another breath it will be ‘Safety First’ …when employees know full well the whole purpose of the business (if it is a business) is to make a profit. There may appear to be contradictions – especially when leaders are unclear on priorities and seem to shift from day-to-day – so employees are naturally unwilling to give their all in pursuit of an ephemeral objective and become disillusioned. Top leadership needs to be clear in their own minds on the actual purpose of the business, and their strategy to achieve that. If it’s to be first to market in pursuit of high margins with uncertain qualiuty, that’s fine. Maybe it’s to make a comfortable living in a mature market through rock solid quality and well-managed costs; maybe to be ‘cheap and cheerful, that’s fine too. But please don’t pretend to be all things because customers and employees will soon realise the truth. A colleague once visited a US beefburger manufacturer, and was astonished to see that their motto was (I paraphrase) ‘We Make Crap!’ He was somewhat taken aback, but it was explained to him that there was a massive market, and that they operated at the cheap end of the scale: their customers might be prisons and the low-waged. They didn’t want their employees removing the fat, gristle, ears and bits of skin etc. before it all went into the mincer. They were very good at what they did and their customers kept coming back for more, and they wanted everyone to be clear on that.


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