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Seven tips to align employees with your business purpose

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

Picture the scene…

We held a “kick-off” meeting for a project in a medium-sized business. The whole team was present and keen to hear what was in store. The first thing we talked about was the need for the team to be clear on and aligned with the purpose of the business.

“Oh…no need to go through all of that,” came a voice from the back of the room. It belonged to a member of the business owner’s leadership group.

He continued, “the team’s all over our purpose. I’ve told them all about it. Isn’t that right everyone?”

What was the response from the team?


Even though we felt a bit sorry for him, it did give us the platform to really hit home the fact that simply talking about purpose in a business isn’t enough to make it real.

It’s incredibly important to be deliberate about embedding purpose right throughout your business. That includes making sure your employees are fully on board.

Remember…evidence is strong that employees in purpose-driven businesses tend towards higher levels of engagement and are more productive than others.

Here’s seven things you can do in your business to ensure the “employee experience” is truly purpose-driven – three of them relate to prospective and new recruits, and four focus on existing employees.

1. Start with your Employee Value Proposition

The best way to think about your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is as a document that lets prospective employees know what makes yours a great business to work in.

Naturally, it needs to be clear about the tangible things offered by the business including:

  • Competitive salary arrangements;

  • A meaningful incentive program (where appropriate);

  • Training and development opportunities;

  • Career advancement opportunities; and

  • Flexible working arrangements.

Your EVP should also contain information about the intangibles. Here we’re talking about the culture within the business, maybe volunteering programs, social events and the like.

Your Employee Value Proposition is the perfect opportunity

to be explicit about your business purpose.

It’s the perfect way to let prospective employees know how they’ll be contributing to something more than a financial bottom line when they work with you. Again, there’s no shortage of research showing how important this is for most people.

In fact, if you’re not clear about purpose at this stage, plenty of potential employees – probably great ones – will sidestep your business for one that is even if it means a lower salary.

To put it rather grandly - but appropriately - your EVP should be a “manifesto” that spells out the opportunity for employees and prospective employees to make a difference by contributing their talents and skills to the pursuit of a shared purpose.

Your best employees will be those who believe in why your business exists and understand their contribution to the big picture.

The EVP is where that connection begins.

2. Think about your recruitment process

The opportunity to continue building that purpose-driven connection continues during the recruitment process.

First, think about the tone of any advertising you do for roles in your business. What do those advertisements focus on? Often, job ads dedicate a lot of space to what the job is (fair enough) and the education and skills requirements (also fair enough).

We also see plenty of factual information about the business and what it does.

What’s so often missing in job advertisements is any statement that clearly articulates the business purpose.

That’s a real shame because it’s what your best prospects want to hear about and it’s a perfect way to build on your reputation as a purpose-driven business.

Once you begin interviewing, don’t be shy about exploring how your purpose resonates with each candidate. Try to be as specific as possible in asking how the candidate thinks his or her skills, experience, values and beliefs will enhance the reputation of your business (while getting the job done of course). You’ll quickly be able to separate those who really get it and those who are simply telling you what they think you want to hear.

We also strongly recommend involving your existing “purpose champions” as interviewers - they’ll provide some really useful feedback on candidates.

Of course you need to make sure that prospective employees have all the skills, qualifications and expertise needed to do the job you’re hiring for. Sadly, sometimes that won’t be enough, because even the most talented employees won’t necessarily love you, your business or your customers if they don’t buy into your fundamental reason for existence – your purpose.

As we’ve already pointed out, your best employees will be those who believe in what they’re doing. They’ll become advocates for your business and bend over backwards for customers.

3. Make sure on-boarding is purpose-driven

On-boarding (call it employee induction if you’d prefer) is often a bit of a hit and miss affair.

Given it’s the point at which you’re really making your first impression as an employer, it pays to spend time doing it well. The first few days on the job can make or break a new recruit. Who hasn’t seen someone come on board only to head off for lunch on day one and never come back?!

Whatever you your on-boarding process currently involves, you should review it to ensure your purpose is all over it.

Naturally, new recruits need to understand the ins and outs of policy and procedures, who’s who in the business, how to access the resources needed for them to do their jobs and so forth – and all of this needs to be communicated in the context of purpose.

For example, when you’re providing information about your organisational structure, make sure it’s couched in terms of why each role exists and how it contributes to purpose. If new recruits are assigned “buddies” to help them transition into the business, make sure they're purpose champions who will reinforce the right messages.

This is the time when your new employees find out if all the great things they’ve learned about you, your business and its purpose during the recruitment process actually hold water.

So, with new employees taken care of, what about those you already have? What do you do with an existing team when you want to improve your positioning as a purpose-driven business?

4. Performance management systems must reflect purpose

“Performance” isn’t just about getting the job done. It also encompasses how and why the job is done - the behaviours individuals display at work, the values they hold and their commitment to purpose.

Just as you would discuss and agree expectations about activity-based and financial outcomes that need to be achieved, likewise there needs to be clear understanding about what is expected in terms of how team members achieve those outcomes and why they’re important.

In other words, key performance indicators (KPIs) should focus on the what, the how and the why. The best way to do this is collaboratively with employees themselves. If they’re part of the process of crafting their own KPIs (within reason of course) they’ll be more committed to achieving them.

A good KPI focuses attention on how a task contributes to the bigger organisational picture. So, rather than something like “build 25 widgets per month” and leave it at that, you might consider “build up to 25 widgets per month to documented quality standards to satisfy customer requirements”. You can see the difference immediately and imagine how someone might respond to each version of essentially the same KPI.

Once KPIs are in place and agreed, employees need to feel like they’re focused and on track so frequent, objective feedback is absolutely essential.

It’s natural to find the “what” discussions much easier than the “how” discussions - by definition it’s much simpler to be objective about the former. Reinforcing commitment to purpose is crucial though, if it’s to become truly embedded in the business. These discussions become much easier with practice and eventually become second nature.

5. Reward and recognise purpose-driven behaviours

A key component of reward and recognition systems must of course relate to the achievement of outcomes that contribute to business results. Care needs to be taken though, to ensure these measures do not become all-consuming in the minds (and actions) of team members.

The corporate world is littered with examples of reward structures focused on financial outcomes that have been shown to encourage pretty ordinary behaviour.

If you want your business to be - and be clearly seen to be - purpose driven, rewards and recognition must encourage behaviours supporting that purpose.

Rather than base reward and recognition programs solely on quantitative measures, consider how you can build in behavioural aspects as well. You might, for example, ask team members to rate each other on how well they “live the purpose” of the business. Maybe ask customers the same thing.

There’s a host of ways to do this, depending on the nature of your business…you just need to think creatively. Or perhaps enlist some external help in designing your reward and recognition program.

6. Use internal communications to reinforce purpose

Every business has established internal communication protocols. Team meetings of different sizes and frequency happen, sales meetings are held, groupwide emails and newsletters are sent, all sorts of communication goes on.

All of them should be used as an opportunity to reinforce purpose in situation-appropriate ways.

Too often for example, team updates and sales meetings become a rundown on activity. And let’s be honest…sometimes it feels like we’re meeting just for the sake of it. Who cares if Jeff had six client meetings last week? Or Jenny made 10 prospecting phone calls?

“Big deal” is my usual response to these kinds of updates. Of more relevance and importance is how and why those meetings and phone calls were conducted. And of most relevance and importance is how Jeff and Jenny used those meetings to reinforce the purpose message for the business.

If you’re not using every piece of communication in the business to reinforce purpose, those communications are only doing half their job.

7. Make the most of feedback from exiting employees

Let’s face it…people leave jobs from time to time for all sorts of reasons.

And when people do leave, you’d ideally like them to be advocates for your business and its purpose. Making their exit as positive an experience as possible increases the likelihood the departing employee will have good things to say about you, your business and its purpose.

And that’s important for a positive, purpose-driven profile in the market.

So, make sure you conduct a proper exit discussion with everyone leaving your business. Of course you’ll from time to time hear things you weren’t expecting and maybe don’t want to hear, but take them on board and deal with them appropriately.

Where you feel it’s right to do so, let your departing employee know you’re sorry to see them go and that they’d be welcome back if the opportunity arose.

In short, if you treat them with the same respect as you did when they joined the business, it’ll pay you back many times over.

The bottom line

Your employees - each and every one of them - are at the core of your ability to be a truly purpose-driven business.

Team members who believe in that purpose will be engaged and motivated to deliver discretionary effort. Everything you do from a people perspective must reinforce the right behaviours and be focused on delivering results “on purpose”.

Creating a meaningful purpose statement is the easy part. Truly embedding it within your business is the challenge - a challenge we can help you with. Through our network of providers we can also introduce you to specialist HR expertise if required.

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