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Insight 14 April 2023

Understanding the collective people dynamic of your organisation

The cost-of-living crisis, out of control energy bills, scarily high inflation and soaring rents and mortgages are the latest challenges facing a UK workforce already suffering from the after effects of two years of covid.  set against a global background of an ongoing climate crisis and war in Ukraine it’s no wonder the workforce is struggling with motivation, morale and engagement. Indeed, a recent study by champion health found that the shift to home and hybrid working is impacting productivity. 81% of respondents said they feel tired and over 60% of employees report that this affects their performance at work.

So, what can HR do to help re-energise the workforce?  It’s conventional wisdom that The Great Resignation was triggered by employees thinking about their life’s purpose during lockdown, questioning the purpose of the organisations they worked for and wondering if these aligned.  People increasingly want to be part of something meaningful that is larger than themselves, and many changed jobs and careers in search of that sense of purpose.  That is one of the reasons that last year at Insights we embarked on a journey into the investigation of personal and organisational purpose.

Purpose is powerful.  As Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian says ‘Our people can do their very best when they have leadership support and feel connected to the organisation’s purpose’. How can HR tap into purpose to motivate employees, to turn purpose from an unconscious driver to a key tool to achieve engagement, and increase productivity?

An organisation’s purpose must be clear, must be visible and must be available for leaders, employees and customers to connect to.  It cannot be simply written on a website, it must be lived. Key to achieving this is to activate awareness.

Awareness helps people evaluate the current state, envision a desired future state, and build a plan to get there. Consider your organisation’s purpose through the four lenses of awareness: self-awareness, awareness of other people, situational awareness, and awareness of future potential opportunities. Answering the questions in each section activates that awareness, which helps you to build an organisational purpose that will motivate people to pull in the same direction as they face the challenges ahead.

Self awareness – Individual self-awareness is alignment between how well a person knows their strengths, weaknesses, values, hopes, and dreams; and how they are perceived by others. Applied to an organisation, consider these questions:

  • What do we claim as this organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, values, and hopes?
  • How do others perceive this organisation? Employees, customers, and competitors can all contribute here

Leveraging organisational self-awareness will ensure that your purpose statement is authentic and realistic.

Awareness of other people – An organisation’s purpose becomes powerful when people connect with it and align their own personal purposes with it.  Seek to build an organisational purpose that is easy for many individuals to align with by listening to customers, employees and other stakeholders

  • Ask your employees to share their personal purposes; what common themes emerge?
  • Observe and listen to customers’ words and behaviours to discern what is important to them in the brands and products they choose to use
  • Share a draft of your organisation purpose with employees and customers and ask them whether it is easy for them to align with it

Situational awareness – People want to be part of something larger than themselves; it is situational awareness that will help you identify what that ‘larger thing’ could be for your organisation

  • What is the broader context that the organisation operates in, or could operate in, right now?
  • What needs exist in the world that this organisation is well placed to address?
  • What is the situation in your industry; is it growing, declining, transforming?
  • How can you integrate these situational opportunities into your purpose statement?

Awareness of potential future opportunities – Plan for the probable but be aware of the potential. A strong organisational purpose statement has the unique characteristic of being both relevant in the present and connecting to the future in a way that draws your employees along with you. Because none of us can predict the future, it is important to build a purpose statement that plans for what is known, but is flexible enough to adjust to a changing future.

  • What do you think the future of your organisation will look like in 2-3 years?
  • Now consider at least 3 other alternate futures.
  • What core thread cuts across all of these that you could include in your purpose statement?

Use the awareness activated through these questions and reflections to build an inspirational organisational purpose statement. The true power then comes from the integration of people’s personal purposes with the organisation’s purpose, and that needs to start with leadership.

  • Invite all organisational leaders to craft a personal purpose statement, if they don’t have one already.
  • Ask leaders to share the connections they see between their personal purposes and the organisation’s purpose.
  • Cascade this approach so that leaders and managers invite their team members to create their own personal purpose statements and make the links between these and the organisation’s purpose.

Simply having these conversations will have brought the purpose question to the surface, and that awareness can open the door for powerful, authentic dialogue that engages and energises employees even in the midst of life challenges they are facing.

Fiona Logan

By Fiona Logan, Insights Chief Executive

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