Executives Indicate Purpose Is Important But Most Stand Pat
More research suggests a gap between organizational and employee purpose.
Posted June 11, 2016
Since 2012, I have been studying, researching and writing about the concept of purpose. Purpose in one's life, purpose in one's role at work ... and purpose in the organization itself.
There is something fundamentally wrong in our society.
People yearn for a sense of purpose in their lives. Life is short. It matters to many of us--if not all of us--that we make the best of our short time on this planet. But many of us have to work in an organization to help fuel that sense of purpose. It takes money (our paychecks) in which to help achieve some of those purpose-driven, personal goals of ours.
Far too many organizations (led by senior leaders) are awash in purposeless thinking and leadership. Ironically, the organization admits that operating with a higher sense of organizational purpose is important, but not many do.
Consequently, in our roles at work, employees feel a lack of meaning ... which then ultimately spills over into our personal lives.
People remain disengaged or not engaged at work, in part, because the organization is rife with power-tripping leaders who possess ambitions of greed and wealth, while the organization continues to chart a course where it does anything to uphold levels of growth exhibiting an unscrupulous myopia towards its only mission: to increase profits in return for maximizing shareholder return.
Yet another survey has surfaced that points to this continued trend of profit over purpose, despite employees (and society) begging organizations to change its stance.
Advisory firm Korn Ferry recently released the results of an executive survey that asked questions specific to both personal and organizational purpose. Key results included:
- Is there a long-term financial benefit to companies that make strong commitment to purpose-driven leadership? 67 percent said to a great extent.
- Does understanding and embracing the mission/purpose of your organization increase employee productivity? 70 percent said to a great extent.
- What is your personal principal driver at work? 73 percent believe their work has purpose and meaning.
According to Korn Ferry, executives generally believe that purpose is important to the organization's long-term future, employee productivity ... and purpose provides a sense of meaning to their own roles.
But here's where things fall down rather quickly.
When asked what is rewarded by their organization, half of the executives said it is solely whether or not they create a profit.
A senior partner at the firm, Kevin Cashman, had this to say:
“Establishing a line of sight into organizational purpose is a leader’s job – not just once as part of a visioning exercise – but rather continually incorporating purpose into every moment and process of leadership. To optimally engage business performance, personal, team and organizational purpose must be aligned.”
Korn Ferry's data comes on the heels of several other firms who surfaced eerily similar and discouraging results. New York University and Imperative found only 28 percent of employees define their role at work as a source of personal fulfillment and a way to help others. Could the organization's quest for profit (without purpose) be aiding this?
Over at Deloitte, it discovered that organizations who do not act with a higher sense of purpose possess an average employee engagement score of 23 percent. Newsflash: high employee engagement can better such metrics as profitability, productivity, absenteeism, quality and customer ratings or loyalty. So, if a sense of purpose at work for employees is linked to higher employee engagement, and employee engagement is linked to better business results, what is the reason senior leaders are not immediately instituting a new formula or DNA at their organization, where profit is balanced with a higher sense of organizational purpose?
It goes on.
A joint research project between EY and Harvard was as damning as the Korn Ferry report. The report stated 89 percent of executives believed a strong sense of organizational purpose increases customer loyalty, aids the ability to transform the organization, while improving employee satisfaction. Only 46 percent of executives indicated their firm had a strong sense of purpose, while a paltry 50 percent said its strategy was reflective of its sense of purpose.
I fully expect to review similar data, research and findings in the near future. There is no reason to suggest organizations are actually going to change the way they operate.
Unless of course the organization decides to change the way it is prepared to function. There are indeed organizations that are beacons of hope (Unilever, Whole Foods, TELUS, Fairphone, Etsy and Patagonia, to name a few) but for these data points to become moot, it's my belief senior leaders need to enact what I refer to as the "Good DEEDS."
The purpose of an organization ought to be to "provide service to benefit all intended stakeholders." With a workforce that has discovered a sense of personal purpose in life—complimented by purpose in their role at work—the sweet spot for the organization can be achieved if Good DEEDS are exhibited. The Good DEEDS is a model for organizations to follow that ensures a higher organizational purpose:
- Delight your customers. An organization ought to commit to working with and for the customer—continuously dedicated to delighting them while improving value—always remembering why an organization exists in the first place.
- Engage your team members. To improve value and service with customers, team members must feel as though there is purpose in their work—that they are engaged and flourishing in their role as part of a team—while possessing the opportunity to imagine, incubate, initiate, innovate, interact and influence.
- Ethical within society. Ethics is an organization's integrity. It is the bridge of trust between customer and team member. How is the firm taking responsibility for publicly setting targets (looking out for the interests of all stakeholders in society) through financially, environmentally, socially, and educationally improved means?
- Deliver fair practices. An organization's results are reflected by significantly improved people practices. If team members are able to work in an environment devoid of the existing and systemic operational inanities that are prevalent in today's organization, it will deliver both fairer and markedly improved business results in a new purpose-first organizational mindset.
- Serve all stakeholders. Recognizing that no organization is an island unto itself, the firm or group will deliver its results to all relevant stakeholders, realizing its responsibility as an integral partner in society's ecosystem that affects customers, team members, the community and owners alike.
Does your organization exhibit organizational purpose through the Good DEEDS?