How to improve team engagement on purpose...

May 1, 2018



Leading and managing teams stands out as the top response when business owners and leaders are asked to nominate the toughest part of their job.


Which is no surprise given the workplace is made up of a number of individuals who each respond differently given similar sets of circumstances.


It’s those differences in people that makes achieving and maintaining high levels of engagement a real challenge.


One of our favourite things to do is to help businesses with employee engagement. The benefits of an engaged workforce are - dare we say - “bleeding obvious” yet it’s an issue that remains ignored in some businesses. 


And regular readers of our blog will know we speak a lot about the importance of businesses being clear on their purpose.


Does purpose help drive engagement?


You bet.


It’s clear that the two are joined at the hip. There’s no shortage of evidence around the world that shows employees are more engaged and productive when they understand the bigger picture in a business and how their role contributes to the achievement of the business purpose.


Of course there’s plenty of more tangible things that positively impact engagement - things like appropriate rewards, professional development opportunities, flexible working conditions and all the other usual suspects. 


But as far as we’re concerned clarity of, and buy-in to, business purpose is the hands-down winner in terms of overall contribution to employee engagement. Indeed, research suggests that a large chunk of millennials would take a pay cut for a role in a truly purpose-led business - not that we’re advocating purpose as a means to reduce your salary bill of course. 


So how can you make the magic happen in your business? 


The simple answer?


Your business purpose needs to drive everything forming part of the employee experience. Here's what we mean.


Does your structure reflect your business purpose and strategy?


Often, workflows tend to be the dominant factor in creating business structure.


However, a clear business purpose (along with the vision and strategy that flow from that) is what should really drive structure. And the way your business structure facilitates interaction between individual roles should enable, rather than hinder, the team in working together in the pursuit of the business purpose.


Workflows should be designed around this principle, rather than the reverse.


The links between functional roles need to be clear to team members in the context of purpose. If not, the “silo” mentality will thrive and individuals (and perhaps functional teams) will work in isolation from one another. 


That’s a sure way to damage engagement levels.


Is your recruitment process "on purpose"?


Structure built around business purpose and strategy enables greater clarity in recruitment. Putting together the right team, members of which buy into that purpose is an excellent way to boost overall engagement. 


Those you recruit into your business need to have the skills, experience and qualifications required to do the job they’re hired to do. That goes without saying. But there’s more.


Here’s a challenge…


Think about your very best recruiting outcomes. The people who’ve joined your business and surprised by consistently going above and beyond expectations. 


Now think about those that didn’t go so well. Those who looked brilliant on paper, interviewed well but still didn’t shine.


In the end, the difference comes down to that magical thing called “fit”. And a large part of that comes down to clarity of purpose in the business.


If you can have a meaningful conversation with potential recruits about why your business exists over and above financial outcomes you’ll be able to more readily identify those who “get it” and assess their buy-in. Equally, it’ll allow others to make up their own mind and most likely self-select out of the recruitment process.


The recruitment process, by the way, should involve other team members having the opportunity to meet with short listed candidates to bring a further layer of thinking to the table. It’s just another way of ensuring new recruits are “fit for purpose”, to put it rather bluntly.


A team that “fits” together creates a great culture which forms a strong base for high engagement.


Have you built employee orientation around your business purpose?


Does anyone else dislike the term “Onboarding”? Sounds like you ought to be pointing out the emergency exits and where the life-rafts are….


Anyhow, I’ll move on.


This is the time to reinforce your business purpose with new hires. The meetings they have, the documents they receive, hand-books, policies and the like should all contain a big dose of purpose related material.


For example, your orientation program should, and probably does, include meetings between new hires and existing team members. These meetings ought to provide new hires an understanding of “who’s who” (if they haven’t already learned that through the recruitment process).


More than that, the existing team members need to clearly articulate how what they do in the business contribute to its purpose. And how they see themselves working together with the new hire in the context of that purpose.


It's all about creating the common view, reinforcing culture and facilitating engagement.


Talking about your business purpose early and often with new hires brings it to life.


How closely linked to your business purpose are performance measures and rewards?


There seems to be more businesses doing away with formal and highly structured performance management systems in favour of ongoing and less structured performance feedback. Either way, team members need to be clear about the expectations the business has of them and how those expectations can be met.


Whether you prefer formal or informal approaches to performance management and measurement, team member contribution to your business purpose should feature prominently. Every discussion with every team member ought to be framed in terms of that purpose. 


The link to engagement?


Think about a really sales focused business (wealth management springs immediately to mind right now…).


It’s great to reach financial targets but if your business purpose goes out the window in the process, that’s potentially not such a great result (wealth management is still top of mind…). 


In this kind of environment, rewards will be largely or entirely driven by achievement of targets with little regard for other factors. And individuals will become conditioned to that with the result that engagement will be high when targets are being met and low when they’re not.


Clearly one can’t ignore financial results. 


Here’s the thing though…purpose-driven organisations around the world have been shown to outperform those that aren’t. And a big part of that comes from the engagement of people who work for them. Indeed, one piece of research we’ve seen recently show that a large proportion of millennials would accept a pay cut to work for a purpose-led business.


And do people leave your business "on purpose"?


It’s inevitable. People leave.


It doesn’t matter how invested in your business purpose or how engaged they are. Sometimes, it just happens.


Regardless of the reasons for leaving, you want that departure on good terms (for the most part…if they’ve been misbehaving in someway or other, that could be a different story).


If you can achieve that, there’s every possibility that the person leaving can be a continuing advocate for your business - we’ve seen plenty of cases where that happens. 


Even the most faithful follower of your business purpose won’t be your friend post-employment if the departure process is handled badly. Again, we’ve seen plenty of cases where that’s happened.


Think about it this want your people to be “highly engaged” even when they stop being your employees. And you want them to continue to be advocates of your business purpose.


What can you do to create a “happy ex-employee”?


First, don’t take it personally. This isn’t about you (even if it is…) so take a deep breath and avoid creating any impression you’re upset about the individual’s decision. Of course you should make it clear you’re sorry to see them go, but not through clenched teeth. 


Likewise, make sure they know they’d be welcome back in future if the opportunity arose.


Hold a proper exit discussion. They’ll welcome the opportunity to provide any relevant feedback and you should welcome the opportunity to receive that feedback as the “gift” it is. Again, it’s worth going back to the first point and take care not to treat anything personally.


Last, let them know they made a valuable contribution to your business purpose. It’s a great way to reinforce that purpose and its importance one more time.


Your remaining employees get wind of how you treat those leaving, of that there’s no doubt. Doing it right will have a big impact on engagement in the business.


Purpose and engagement are joined at the hip.


As we said earlier in this post, there’s plenty of other, more visible ways to boost and maintain engagement. 


But real, enduring engagement goes much further and is tightly linked with your ability to articulate and give life to a meaningful business purpose.


Engagement really needs to be an “always on” ideal in business. All the evidence suggests it’s a contributing factor in outperformance relative to business peers. As is being a purposeful business. 


So it makes absolute sense to bring both to life in your business.


Want to improve engagement "on purpose" in your business?


We'd be happy to help, of course. We can't think of a good reason not to give us a call or drop us a line to start a conversation. 


Join the conversation!


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