Companies must create opportunities for employees to break down internal and social borders that try to dictate who they are and what they can achieve. By doing so, employees can think beyond their day-to-day role to grow as professionals and individuals, while also creating meaningful value for the company.
Since mid-2021, the US workforce has been experiencing what many are calling the “Great Resignation” — with people re-evaluating what it is they want out of their life and career, leaving their current roles for ones that better fit their needs, or people opting out of the workforce entirely. This trend has put power firmly in the hands of workers and reminded everyone that the most important stakeholder in the stakeholder capitalism model is the employee.
In this war for talent, it has become increasingly important to keep employees engaged. For purpose-driven organizations, this means helping them find their own purpose within the company’s overarching purpose.
Instilling a sense of purpose in employees not only benefits workplace culture but can have a broader impact on business and society. Today, workers are looking for companies that share their values. A recent Unily study found that 65 percent of workers are more likely to work for more sustainable employers — not just because of values, but because they believe that a sustainable employer will care about them more, offer more impactful work, and provide satisfaction and engagement.
Nevertheless, recent workplace trends are telling us that the concept of purpose needs to translate from words to action. Fostering purpose among employees first drives innovation and encourages new ways of thinking from all corners of the business. Kohler has embraced this notion and engages its associates to deliver on its promise of “Believing in Better.” Guided by this strategy, Kohler leverages the expertise of its associates to develop tangible solutions to build a better planet, better communities and better lives.
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Such a mindset is exemplified by Kohler’s Innovation for Good program, which has helped democratize innovation across the company through its annual I-Prize competition. With I-Prize, Kohler invites associates to form teams and develop products, technologies and business models that address a social need, and compete for incubation funding to bring these ideas to life. Since the first I-Prize competition in 2018, associates have developed over 80 ideas that address issues such as safe water and sanitation, water conservation and most recently, greenhouse gas emissions. Several ideas have already been transitioned to commercialization and others are in the pipeline.
However, beyond the business aspect is the impact this type of program has on employees. At the crux of I-Prize is the concept that innovation and new ideas can come from anywhere. Participants represent all corners of the business, from engineers to confidential assistants, from interns to tenured associates, who are located around the globe — from Kohler, WI to Jhagadia, India. Associates share their own unique skills and perspectives to solve the challenge at hand, making their work and role more meaningful.
I-Prize-winning associates Delia Mixon and Guarav Verma | Images credit: Kohler
I-Prize helped Gaurav Verma — an India-based design engineer whose water-regulating product idea received funding in the 2020 Clean and Hygiene-themed I-Prize competition — feel a sense of belonging at Kohler, especially as a newcomer to the company. By participating in the competition, Gaurav was able to exercise key skills such as project management that tapped into his natural leadership ability, which inspired seasoned New Product Development teams at the company.
“The collaborative culture and encouraging environment made me feel that all doors were open to me at Kohler,” Gaurav says. “Collaborating with head directors and engineers on a project intended to contribute to society and give back to the community were major motivators. What we are doing now is affecting generations and this project remains close to my heart.”
This sentiment is shared by Atlanta-based confidential assistant Delia Mixon, a 12-year associate at Kohler who thrives in a collaborative environment. Delia used her natural talent for creating connections to recruit a well-equipped team with a diversity of skills to develop a robust I-Prize pitch. Delia was inspired by seeing her teammates, ranging from an intern to an engineer, so invested in tackling climate issues.
“To be able to bring my strengths and lead something where I managed individuals with titles as high as director allowed me to develop and showcase my ability to run a project,” Delia says. “Not only did participating in I-Prize gave me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, but my team and I have given the company something to embrace and think about that could really make a difference.”
It is important that companies create opportunities that encourage employees to break down the internal and social borders that try to dictate who they are and what they can achieve. By doing so, employees can unlock their potential and think beyond their day-to-day role to grow as professionals and individuals, while also creating meaningful value for the company. Providing these opportunities for growth and redefinition, while putting purpose at the center, creates a positive ripple effect across the entire company. Empowering employees to see the value in themselves and each other optimizes innovation and generates solutions to pressing, real-world issues.