Engage Your Employees

Business Purpose: Things to Do to Engage Your Employees

I’ve been thinking a lot about how people can tap into the “power of purpose.” When I discuss business purpose and mission with company leaders, most get excited, especially business founders and owners. That’s not always what happens throughout the organization, however.

How can you get front-line workers engaged and enthusiastic about their work for your company? First, they need to know what it is your company is there to do, how you want to make a difference in the world, or at least in the lives of customers. What key turning point or need in the marketplace sparked the founders to set up shop in the first place?

How you tell that story makes a difference. When you use emotional words rather than numbers or data, your story comes alive. When you speak of your company’s mission in terms of the benefits to the people you serve, rather than your own goals and ambitions, you connect on an emotional level. Find the common needs and desires of the customers you serve.

When I speak about this with my clients, there’s often confusion between mission, vision, values and purpose statements. To be sure, there’s a big difference in the ways strategy consultants advise businesses to formulate their mission statements.

Your company mission statement should answer the question, “What are we here to do, on a daily basis, and what is our day-to-day ‘raison d’être?'” I like to suggest that besides this, you add the element of purpose: how you intend to enhance your customers’ lives and experiences, not just sell them more stuff.

Consider this mission statement by a large grocery chain: “Our goal is to be the first choice for those customers who have the opportunity to shop locally in [our stores]. To achieve this goal [we] aim to be best at fresh, best at availability, best at customer service, best at product and price.”

It’s a long list of what the company will be best at, but nothing about customers, employees, communities or society. Compare that with another food chain’s mission statement:

To help consumers find foods that offer more nutrition for the calories as they make choices in each department of our stores, thereby helping food shoppers make healthier choices.

Which statement do you find more engaging? If your mission statement isn’t compelling and engaging to consumers, you can’t expect employees to care, can you?

Going into the details of what makes a good mission statement great, or how a vision statement differs from a business purpose statement is perhaps a good topic for another post. I think what would be most useful for now, however, is to review some tips for making mission and purose come alive with employees, managers, and even top executives as they go about their daily tasks.

Here are a few suggestions, and I’ll bet you also have some ideas on this. Feel free to comment and add to these tips.

  1. Know your company’s history, and share a compelling story of how and why it was started with every new employee; share it at employee orientation as part of onboarding each employee, at all events and milestone occasions.
  2. Have your mission, purpose, vision, and values displayed where ever appropriate.
  3. Condense the key elements into a meaningful tag line that can be displayed in marketing materials, as well as company banners, logos, stationery, mouse pads, pay checks, etc. Reminders work!
  4. Discuss purpose with employees in your contacts with them: What do they think the company’s purpose is? Their purpose in their job? How does their performance on the job impact the company’s outcomes? Which of their tasks are critical? How do even the mundane tasks contribute to results?
  5. Ask employees for their ideas of how they can do their job better, to achieve better results for the company’s goals.
  6. Incorporate the company’s values into the review process. PeopleSoft (acquired by Oracle in 2005), was founded by an extraordiary leader named Dave Duffield, he set in place core values around people, integrity, and fun. In the quarterly review process every employee was rated on how well they reflected each of the company values. This served to keep the values top of mind and more importantly, made it very clear to each of us how we contributed to the company’s value.The company Dave founded in 2005, Workday, continues with the same strong core values.

I believe you have to be explicit by connecting the dots for people. How do their jobs and tasks lead to making a real difference that counts? Connect the dots, and follow the thread from day-to-day tasks and deliverables to what really matters. Most people ultimately want to create meaning and fulfillment in the work they do. What can you do to help your peole do that?