by Ralf Specht, author of “Building Corporate Soul: Powering Culture & Success with the Soul System™“
Expectations towards the “ideal employer” have never been higher. According to McKinsey, “millennials are three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work”. What they are really re-evaluating is their workplace. And too often, they come to the conclusion that it does not fit their ambitions anymore. But what is next? Finding a new workplace seems to be the hardest thing – at the top of the list of criteria is the company’s purpose and whether there is potential to sign up to it.
Very recently, one of my readers who has bought into the concept of a company with soul asked, “Ralf, how do I find a company with soul?” This is a question with, until recently, a very elusive answer. After an especially challenging couple of years, the time for soul-searching in business has never been more important.
When employees or job-seekers want an answer, employers need to really understand the question
Often, I hear cynical comments from leaders when they complain about those questions that focus on the company’s purpose and their attitude towards current situations in society. “We pay a competitive salary and have great offices, what else do they want?” is the most politically correct way to describe those comments. What those leaders are missing is what is behind those questions. It is the desire to devote a major part of their lifetime (work) to something they can identify with in their private life, too.
Question #1: Is your firm’s purpose really a purpose? Is it grounded in an everyday reality and at the same time able to stretch to an improbable goal?
Too often, candidates in job interviews are meeting managers who are not able to answer that first question. Either, they are not aware of their firm’s purpose or they believe it does not have an impact on the daily business: EY´s Business Case for Purpose study reveals that only 46% of the respondents feel that “My organization has a strong sense of purpose”. More than half apparently don’t. It’s a simple equation – the likelihood to meet a manager in an interview who is not convinced about the sense of purpose in their firm is higher than to meet one who feels strong about it. And of course, there are those that aren’t even aware of their firm’s purpose.
Question #2: Is the management team aligned on that purpose? Too often, purpose is treated as feelgood placebo that has no impact on everything a firm does?
Same thing, different impact. According to EY, only 37% of the respondents agree to this statement: “Our business model and operations are well aligned with our purpose”. Just over one third! If you want to succeed in the talent market, you better make sure that your purpose is really a shared purpose – which according to my definition is a purpose that is known in the company and is fully embedded in the corporate strategy and connects to the desired behaviors of the firm.
Question #3: Is this purpose relevant to customers and employees? The simple way to check is to ask and see whether a) it is known and b) whether it matters?
Again, the results of the EY study can only make you wonder about the reality in many businesses: only 38% confirm that “Our staff have clear understanding of organizational purpose and commitment to core values/ beliefs”. This is very poor – and not only does it provoke the questions what the other 62% believe what the company is about, it also raises the point of how create alignment in the corporation at each level.
Commitment is a powerful resource. Compared to many other resources in business, it does not come with a cost.
But only if you can create it. It’s not that difficult – we all know the saying “Walk the Talk”. But too often, that is not happening. Promises are made and not kept. If it happens once, people consider it in good faith a mistake or a “one-off”. If it happens again, trust begins to erode. If it happens more often than not, commitment becomes a story of the past and people look at their worklife as an eight to five arrangement to earn the money to pay the rent and buy food for the family. They lose the sense of belonging to the firm and begin to quit emotionally before one day they hand the resignation letter in.
What a wasted opportunity. Leaders need to learn that they wasted a resource that has been there by their very actions. Perhaps, understanding the difference an opposite behavior makes, helps to see what they could have had in a thriving culture. According to the O.C.Tanner Culture Index, such a culture is 13 times more likely to have highly engaged employees and an 8 times higher incidence of great work and double likelihood to have increased revenues. At the same time, employees in thriving cultures are experiencing 3 times less burn-out situations. And the companies are 3 times less likely to face lay-offs.
Let’s get to work. Let’s get to work with meaning.
EY´s Business Case for Purpose study reveals that 80+% of leaders believe that:
- An organization with shared purpose will have employee satisfaction (89%)
- I´m more likely to recommend a company with strong purpose (85%)
- Our business transformation efforts will have greater success if integrated with purpose (84%)
- Purpose-driven firms deliver higher-quality products/ services (81%)
- An organization with higher purpose will have greater customer loyalty (80)
The term shared purpose is at the heart of the Soul System™. And shared is the key term for the other two components of that methodology: the shared understanding and the shared behaviors. The first defines the strategic direction of the company, the second the desired way the company needs to act with all stakeholders. If these three are in “sync”, greatness will follow.
One of the best examples I have seen is LinkedIn. A clear purpose (Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce), a straight vision (To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful) with an easy-to-understand mission (To facilitate professional networking) plus a set of values that everyone gets: 1. members first, 2. relationships matter, 3. be open, 4. Be honest and constructive, 5. demand excellence, 6. take intelligent risks and 7. act like an owner. Sounds simple? Yes, it does, but it has been quite some work to get to that level of simplicity. But that’s what it takes. That level of clarity is critical. As is the commitment of leaders at every level to ensure that it is lived everyday everywhere. The success of LinkedIn speaks volumes – actually sharing (the clarity of the underlying strategic direction) is caring (for the business and all of its stakeholders
The to-do-list for employers and job-seekers is similar
Don’t ignore the facts. Do some fact-finding on portals like www.glassdoor.com and www.greatplacetowork.com – and read very carefully which feedback both previous employees have given or job-seekers shared about their interviews. Take it seriously, really. If you’re a job seeker and you come across negative mentions, ask again and again in your interviews and find out whether things have changed or not. If you are an employer, confront your leadership teams with those moments of truth that individuals have shared. Don’t ignore them. They usually are a reflection of what is happening inside your firm that you might not be aware of because you think “we got our purpose and behaviors sorted”. Well, you might not. But it is never too later, take the first step. It might be the most important to make your firm future-ready.
Ralf Specht is a visionary business leader and creator of the Soul System™, a framework that aligns value-creating employee action with broader corporate strategy through shared understanding & shared purpose. He is the author of “Building Corporate Soul: Powering Culture & Success with the Soul System™“.