Move beyond crises with a shared purpose

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021 highlighted that a company’s culture and its people are the heart and soul of the organization and matter more than ever. Moving forward, the understanding is that these relationships need to be nourished and how organizations address this cultural challenge will be fundamental to their future success.

The foundation for any healthy culture is a compelling purpose around which workers rally as a company. Such companies thrive because they create the sense of “we’re all in this together” that focuses on more than the bottom line. While making a profit is essential, the purpose is what drives commitment and passion, differentiates you from your customers and workforce, and attracts new employees. The businesses that will thrive will be those whose leaders recognize purpose drives profits and profits sustain purpose and go hand in hand. 

Purpose-driven business metrics can help you determine how much impact you are having on the society, community, or other challenges you are trying to impact and influence. Some purpose-driven metrics that truly differentiate you from the competition include:

  • Brand loyalty.

  • Quality job applicants from employee referrals.

  • Community involvement.

  • Retention of employees, particularly high performers.

  • Customer retention, repeat business, and customer referrals.

  • Product/service innovation.

Revisit and Reinforce Your Purpose

When everyone is physically together under the same roof, it’s much easier to instill a sense of shared purpose and build a team of like-minded individuals. With some effort and creativity, leaders can develop a virtual sense of camaraderie.

Leaders need to lead by example, reiterating the corporate purpose and living it in every action they take. A pre-pandemic Deloitte report, “Global Human Capital Trends”, revealed that employees desired purpose and meaning more than money and were more interested in their company’s contribution to the world than the bottom line. As the report says: “To strengthen the link between belonging and organizational performance, organizations need to do more than treat their workers fairly and respectfully; they must enable a deeper connection by drawing visible linkages as to how their contributions are making an impact on the organization and society as a whole.”

McKinsey research showed that survey respondents “living their purpose” at work had four times higher engagement and five times higher well-being. They found that the emergence of purpose as a driving force is particularly compelling, given its overarching impact on all aspects of work and business. A sense of purpose can help employees navigate high levels of uncertainty and change and ensure that their efforts are quickly aligned with the highest-value activities: “Purpose above all else enables forthright decision making at speed.” 

Here are four ways to create a shared purpose among your teams. 

Engage in frequent communications

Maintaining your corporate culture while managing a remote workforce is no small undertaking. As Tracy Brower, author of Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations, says, “A culture is significantly shaped by the worst behavior it will tolerate. What’s unique about the pandemic is it may be harder to see and be aware of employee choices and actions, which may make it harder to validate the behaviors you want.” 

It is time to ramp up the frequency and quality of your communication. One email will not get the job done. Change will continue to unfold at breakneck speed, meaning communication needs to be brief, frequent, and varied. Use a variety of methods to share information, such as email, chats, and so on. 

Emphasize positive change

Nothing drives desired behavior like positive reinforcement. Enable a way for employees to share success stories directly tied to your stated purpose and values. When employees see how their actions are related to the bigger picture, they connect the dots and focus their energy. Tap into customers for success stories as well. Such actions reinforce your commitment to your purpose and inspire loyalty from employees and customers alike. 

Reimagine the employee experience

As a result of the pandemic, many organizations had to quickly reinvent processes and workflows designed for a bricks-and-mortar environment with minimal thought to the design or the effectiveness of these “band-aided” solutions. 

Now is the time to get honest about what is working or not working. What obstacles exist to living your purpose? What workflows impede good service or a positive employee experience? Consider the entire employee life cycle- from recruiting and onboarding to career development and even employee exits. What are barriers to moving forward related to technology that is not conducive to new ways of doing business? Purposeful work is satisfying, and such satisfaction drives engagement and commitment. 

Create a positive working environment

Focus on inclusion that goes beyond work-life balance. Look for ways to create the sense that jobs do not feel “like work.” Challenge, flexibility, autonomy, and empowerment are fundamental. So is the ability to contribute to the organization’s purpose and be acknowledged for doing so. Such an environment creates an enduring culture. Consider, for example, the importance of key projects and how committees or task forces are put together. Managers need to make a clear connection between the project and the company’s purpose to help participants draw that important line of sight. They also need to be careful how they assign such tasks. Do they typically ask the same employees to take on such roles? How do they encourage a diverse mix of employees and perspectives? And finally, how are employees recognized and rewarded when assignments are completed? These questions serve as a critical opportunity to re-emphasize contributions to the company’s purpose or mission.  

The events of 2020 and 2021 (to date) stretched senior executives to an unimaginable extent. Still, real leaders can turn such unprecedented challenges into ways to stimulate and strengthen corporate culture and reignite employees’ belief in the business for an even brighter future. Articulating and communicating a shared purpose is a powerful way to inspire your teams and move your organization forward.