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Organizational Change
The Key to Authentic Engagement:
Purpose Metrics that Matter

This is the sixth in a series of articles examining how business leaders and companies can transform their corporate culture in order to succeed in the midst of the impending Purpose Revolution. Find links to the full series below.

This is the sixth in a series of articles examining how business leaders and companies can transform their corporate culture in order to succeed in the midst of the impending Purpose Revolution. Find links to the full series below.

A simple way to know your health is to look at the fitness numbers. In our new book, The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good, we have found that the best companies leading purpose do just that — they look at key health indicators to determine their current state of purpose.

While this seems simple enough, 80 percent of executives believe that purpose matters to the health of the organization, and that it drives transformation, engagement and customer loyalty, but only 46 percent believe that they are activating the full potential of purpose in their company. There is a gap between what we know is good for us and what we actually do. Purpose-centered organizations we have worked with search for gaps like these, seizing on them as opportunities for growth and improvement. A first step to measuring your state of purpose is to know where your leaders stand.

Do your top leaders believe in the power of purpose as much as profit?

Knowing where your leaders stand on purpose is a strategic indicator to direct your plans forward. If you have results like the EY study, knowing that 80 percent or more of your leaders believe in the power of purpose, it gives you confidence that leadership will drive purpose across your company.

Scoring low on this measure means your first work is to engage leaders to discover the positive impact of purpose, with the aim of building capacity across the company to lead for purpose. Leaders who do not believe in the power of purpose will not champion initiatives to embed purpose across the organization, and even worse, some may sabotage efforts to do so.

To build the capacity of your leaders to lead purpose, you should follow what Unilever does. All Unilever leaders at the VP level and above attend a weeklong session where they craft their own personal mission. This kind of exercise should be done in every organization, small and large, with leaders being encouraged to take time to ask, ‘What is my purpose? What is our company’s purpose and what difference do we make in the world? How can I help drive our purpose?’

Do employees feel that the company is living its purpose?

Another critical metric is knowing whether your employees believe your company has a compelling purpose beyond profit and whether they see the organization living that purpose on a regular basis. Our experience shows us that employees are your best purpose ambassadors. Research bears this out as well, for example, the Edelman Trust Barometer tell us that 52 percent of people believe what employees say about their company over the company’s official communications. Given that more than half of consumers believe that marketing products as ethical is just a way for companies to manipulate consumers and that customers only believe about 16 percent of what they hear from company communications and PR campaigns, knowing how your team members are communicating about your purpose is critical information.

Given that employees are your best ambassadors for brand and purpose, it is critical to know their sentiments about the company’s purpose and values. At Manulife Financial, they measure not only how team members perceive the company’s ethics, but also ask employees if they believe they would be supported if they reported unethical behavior up through the ranks. Former president and CEO Donald Guloien told us, “Even by asking the question, you are sending a message. Then your culture becomes the best policeman you can have for living your purpose.”

We agree with Guloien that by asking questions, we send a message about what is important to us, and in turn influence the growth of company culture. One approach we take is to have organizations conduct a simple purpose audit to learn if employees feel that the company is living its purpose and values, and if they see you “walk the talk.” The audit asks questions such as: Do you feel we are a purpose-focused company? Do you believe we live our values? Am I proud to work for this company because of the good it stands for? Do you believe that the best interests of our customers and society is our organization’s most important focus? Do our leaders focus on purpose as much as profits?

Are your employees finding meaning and higher purpose at work?

It is no secret that meaningful work is fast becoming a magnet for attracting and retaining top talent. 85 percent of employees say they “were likely to stay longer with an employer that showed a high level of social responsibility.” Globally, we found that 42 percent of employees say it matters to them to work for a company that is making a positive difference in society, and 44 percent think meaningful work that helps others is more important than a high salary. The number jumps to six in ten for millennials who say “a sense of purpose is part of the reason they choose to work for their company.”

Finding meaning and connecting work to a higher purpose also drives engagement. A Hewitt & Associates assessment of 230 workplaces with more than 100,000 employees found that the more a company actively pursues worthy environmental and social efforts, the more engaged its employees are. Gallup reports the two strongest factors for retaining Millennials, Generation Xers and Boomers are ensuring employees have opportunities to do what they do best every day and emphasizing mission and purpose.

There are several ways to measure if employees are finding meaning and purpose in their work. One of the best is for managers to have discussions about purpose during one-to-one meetings with employees. We encourage managers to ask questions such as: What is meaningful about the work you do? Do you have enough opportunities to live your values and feel that you are contributing to something important? What can I or the company do to connect you to work that fits your values and gives meaning? Are there programs, projects or roles that connect to your sense of purpose that you would like to be part of?

Similar questions can be asked in employee surveys or focus groups. Some that we use include: Do you find meaning and purpose in the work you do in this company? Do you feel that your job makes a difference; that through your work you contribute to something bigger than yourself? Do you feel that you can integrate your personal purpose into your everyday job?

Does your purpose align with what matters most to your customers?

The emerging global customer wants what we call AND. They want the product to meet their self-oriented needs at a fair value AND they want to purchase “without guilt,” leveraging a better world through their buying habits. A full 60 percent of customers today report making socially conscious buying decisions and an international study by Unilever UK reveals that one-third of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. However, a 2015 global survey of human aspirations by GlobeScan and BBMG reported that while more than half of global customers say it matters to them whether the companies they buy from are socially responsible, most customers say they are routinely confused about whether the brands they buy are “good.”

A key question you need to ask is, are our customers crystal clear that our company purpose is authentic? Do we really measure up in their eyes? A good way to find an answer is to do what TELUS does - reach out to your customers to see how your efforts make a difference to them, and ask, does the good we do influence your decision to buy from us? Another practice is to invite customers into your company or to forums to discuss how to address issues together and to show what efforts you have underway. Surveys and customer focus groups also provide valuable information about customers’ perceptions and experiences with your brand.

Measure the impact of the good you are doing

Finally, we found that companies leading the purpose revolution use measures to link the impact of the good they are doing to important employee, customer and business metrics. In The Purpose Revolution,we feature many companies that are measuring whether purpose is translating into engagement of employees and customers. At TELUS, one of its most successful efforts is the TELUS Day of Giving, an annual effort where the company sources out opportunities for team members to volunteer (and bring their families and friends along, too) in community programs that are building schools, improving parks and supporting local hospitals.

So, how does this purpose effort make an impact beyond the inherent benefits to the community? VP of Community Affairs Jill Schnarr told us, “We have measured it, and team members who participate in the Day of Giving are more engaged at work.” She told us that the company’s employee engagement scores are now in the high 80s and said “increasingly, we hear new team members say that one of the reasons they joined the company is because of the work we are doing in the community.”

TELUS also measures customers’ views of the company based on the good they are doing. “We use something called the Omni survey every six months,” Schnarr says. This survey asks if people know that TELUS is active in the community and if it influences their decision to continue to do business with them. Schnarr said “we used to be at, like, 15 percent; now it is at 50 percent.”

Another powerful example of this type of initiative happens at IBM. Each year, IBM enrolls approximately 500 leaders in its Service Corps program. The program selects top management prospects and then trains and dispatches these leaders-to-be to emerging markets around the world. Participants spend four weeks in groups of 10 to 15, helping solve economic and social problems in their selected community.

Jen Crozier, VP of Corporate Citizenship at IBM and the President of the IBM Foundation, told us that this program, and others like it at IBM, “are like helium for employees, lifting all the metrics such as engagement; it develops leadership skills, and 90 percent of those who have participated in the Service Corps call it one of the best development experiences of their lifetime.”

Another amazing metric: IBM reports that the turnover rate for team members who take part in the program is basically zero.

Creating Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good, the series:

  1. Purpose Differentiates in an Age of Disruption
  2. Winning Over the Purpose-Focused Employee
  3. Why Most Companies Are Failing at Purpose (And How You Can Succeed!)
  4. Employees Are Your Best Purpose Ambassadors
  5. How to Coach Employees on Purpose