How purpose is vital for engaging remote-working employees

29 May 2020

Corona, purpose and employee experience

Today, it’s hardly possible to talk about purpose and employee experience without talking about Corona. For that reason, Herman has developed a kind of framework that will help us see how corona and purpose mingle. It will also help us figure out what exactly is going on today and what we can do about it.

The impact of Corona at 3 different levels

On a social level, obviously Corona has a huge impact on our social life. It also has impacted the world’s economy very deeply. And it has accelerated a system transition. One thing is for sure, all three levels have huge implications for employee experience.

Level 1: social life

There will be no such thing as a life before and a life after Corona. It is much more correct to think about life without Corona as opposed to life with Corona. Corona impacts our lives now and will remain doing so for at least the next few years.

Today, we’ve experienced the tipping point for online working. Work is no longer almost exclusively about commuting and being at work. It is just as much about working from home. And that most definitely impacts employee experience. As a company, you will have to deal with everything that comes with it: social solidarity, the physical and mental health of your employees, being a trusted voice for them and maintaining an ongoing dialogue.

But make no mistake: this is not purpose we are talking about. Neither is giving back to society. This still is merely common sense.

Level 2: economic life

We are looking at a recession. It is inevitably coming our way. From an employee perspective, in many cases this is earth-shattering. They are uncertain about how their company is doing. They are wondering whether they will still have a job or not.

As a company, it is paramount that you communicate:

  • Talk about how the company is doing.
  • Help your employees in staying financially healthy.
  • Educate them on how to spend their money.
  • Push decision power closer to your people who are also closer to the market.
  • Educate your people on how to support the local economy.

This is still not about purpose either. This is about reacting to a crisis.

Level 3: system transition

Here we’ve arrived at the heart of the purpose discussion. When you look around, it seems as everyone is talking about transition. About the fact that something needs to happen. More likely than not, Corona will accelerate system transitions.

Looking at the world from 2 different perspectives

The ‘ego perspective’ is where you look at the world with shareholders first in mind. The ‘eco perspective’ is where you look at the world in terms of general well-being.

Pursuing purpose on 2 different levels

You can have an eco-perspective in terms of products and solutions. But you can also have an eco-perspective in terms of your shareholder structure. These are 2 different levels.

E.g., while the products or solutions a company offers can very well be from an eco-perspective, the underlying structure not necessarily is.

Some people would argue that merely developing products and solutions from an eco-perspective, has nothing to do with purpose. For them, purpose only comes in play when the underlying structure has also been set up from that very same perspective.

There is an essential difference between the two levels. And it is important to keep that in mind.

So, the questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • What is your company doing on the first level (let’s call it level A)?
  • Where is your company on the second level (let’s call it level B)?
  • Is there a natural connection between the promises you make and what you actually are as a company?

Depending on the tension between level A and B, there are 5 kinds of companies:
  • Competition-driven companies (everything for profit): when they talk about purpose, it is ‘purpose washing’.
  • Doing well – doing good companies (which do well as long as there are no 2 consecutive bad quarters financially speaking): when they talk about purpose, it is about stakeholder value.
  • Purpose first entrepreneurs: purpose is the reason they became an entrepreneur in the first place.
  • Non-profit organizations (2.0): their purpose is a social purpose.
  • Pure non-profit organizations.

The energy of today is pushing companies to the eco-perspective.

The difference between millennials and generation Z

If your company is solely in it for the money, it will not be able to engage neither millennials nor people from generation Z. So companies that do not move into the direction of the eco-perspective, they are well on their way to lose the war for talent.

Millennials will tend to feel motivated to work for companies that have an eco-perspective on level A.
Generation Z is not satisfied with that. They will only be motivated to work for companies who also have an eco-perspective on level B.

Customer experience typically is about solutions and products (level A). While employee experience typically is about level B because they totally feel the company from within.

Your employees will only be your ambassadors if your stories are totally in line with the values.

The 3 requirements before you can start talking about purpose

• You have to be authentic about who you are. Tell it like it is. Do not oversell.
• Hire for values and train for skills.
• Walk the talk.

The transformational employee experience

The ideal situation is where your employees score high on two axes: the employee experience axis and the sustainable experience axis.

That would mean that by working for your company, your employees grow into a better version of themselves and help to contribute to a better world.

Today, disengagement can be explained by the disconnection between the company’s purpose and the employees’ individual purposes.

So, in the near future, increasingly the first step in recruitment will be to help someone craft a purpose statement. And when that’s done, the discussion will be about whether that is a fit or not. And only when the fit has been established, skills will be talked about. As a result, employee engagement will automatically be much better.