I’m taking my next four blog posts to explore an essential concept at the root of our work: Aligning the employee experience to a company’s purpose. We have to do more than polish our intranet or have one more ice cream social when the weather gets warm. We need to get to the root of our purpose and how we engage our employee populations.
So what’s a company purpose? It’s not a vision or a mission statement—those are future-looking—and it’s not a set of values, principles or guidelines; those are about company beliefs. (Here’s a good article from Harvard Business Review if you want to learn more about these elements.)
The company purpose begins at the beginning: It declares your company’s reason to exist. A strong purpose articulates the company’s impact on its customers in a way that’s simple, yet powerful; practical, yet emotional; grounded in the here-and-now, yet aspirational. Here are a few purpose statements I pulled from top brands:
Four Company Purpose Examples
- Google: Make it easier to find high-quality information on the web.
- Nike: Serve the athlete.
- Southwest Airlines: Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.
- Facebook: Make the world more open and connected.
Short and sweet, yes. But these tidy little sentences carry huge responsibility. They serve as the foundation, the north star, for all that follows. Ideally, every customer interaction, every C-Suite decision, every dollar earned must be in service to the purpose. Do you know what your north star is? If your north star is making your boss happy over supporting the purpose of the company, some change needs to come your way.
Connecting employees to purpose drives business results
That’s not all. The company purpose must focus outward on the marketplace and it must be threaded through all aspects of the employee experience. Research shows that employees who work for companies with a clear purpose tend to be more loyal and more productive. A clear purpose inspires employees to do good work and serves as the basis for a strong internal culture. As internal communicators, it’s Job No. 1 to connect our employee audiences to the company purpose in tangible, powerful ways. And when you have an employee population that is aligned and energized around your purpose, the results will follow.
And creating or strengthening this connection is already a challenge. Gallup research in 2015 found a common disconnect between U.S. companies’ stated purpose and the culture created by employees through their actions. See the the full story.
In other words, we’ve got work to do.
Key Drivers to Connect Employee Experiences to Company Purpose
There are four key drivers of the connection between employees and company purpose. These drivers are things we, as internal communicators, can begin strengthening right away:
- Belief in the company’s products and services
- Physical environments and amenities
- A sense of inclusion and fulfillment
- Employer branding driven by storytelling
Each of these aspects tends to build on one another and are interdependent: If one area lags, the others will, too. If all of these areas are firing on all cylinders, you’re going to have highly engaged, productive and loyal employees who are inspired to do their best work in service of their company’s purpose. And who doesn’t want that?
Driver #1: A belief in products and services.
I’ll spend the next few blog posts diving into each one of these drivers in more detail. Today I’ll start with strengthening belief in products and services.
Really, it’s about helping employees understand and internalize how their work contributes to the company, its customers, and the world. Without this belief and alignment you have silos over cross-functional teams, fiefdoms vs. cohesion. Basically, you have an “us vs. them” mentality. And sadly, the “‘them” in this scenario may be your customers. There are a few ways to do overcome this with internal communications:
Treat employees as customers (and even better).
Employees are your brand champions and partners, and they must have a clear understanding of—and belief in—what you do and make. That means more than just giving them access to products and services. You should treat them as the ultimate insiders and (buzzword alert) “influencers.” Create opportunities for them to experience your products and services in ways that are unique, engaging and premium. If you work for a tech company, produce your own internal event to introduce the next version of your product. If you work for an automotive company, set up exclusive test drive opportunities for your latest models. Heck, if you’re a cheese company, set up cheese tastings. Make these types of experiences memorable and engaging, and you will have aligned and mobilized some very powerful brand ambassadors.
Connect employees to company heritage.
All companies have a history, and your employees should know it forwards and backwards (the good and the bad). When current employees understand the initial ideas behind the company’s formation–the struggles, doubts, audacious ideas that never made it, and the characters who made it all happen—they can relate and appreciate your brand and their place in this story. When leadership embraces the company foundation it shows humility and respect for those who came before them. For internal communicators, this is fertile storytelling soil. You can:
- Come up with a series of intranet articles that explore the company’s early beginnings.
- Create an in-depth and interactive timeline/infographic that plots the company’s heritage in a visually compelling way, and post it in break rooms.
- Set up a speaker series with some of the company’s early employees so people can see how the company has evolved and appreciate the dedication and passion of others in building the organization.
The possibilities abound.
Show the purpose in action.
If you (literally) bring the purpose to life, employees will engage their hearts and minds in doing good work. Storytelling is your strongest ally here. Find ways to highlight real customers who have benefitted from your company’s products and services. If your company operates retail locations, take corporate employees into the field regularly. This helps those working two or three steps away from the customer stay closely connected to the company purpose in action. There is nothing more illuminating than being at the point where goods and money are exchanged. You can see your company’s purpose being fulfilled in real time. That sure beats a spreadsheet.
Now it’s your turn
I’ll stop here for now. Come back to our Vignette blog on Tuesday next week, where I’ll talk about the physical environment and its role in strengthening the company purpose/employee experience connection.
Until then, here’s your homework assignment: Learn your company purpose by heart, if you don’t know it already. Then jot down five ideas for internal communications initiatives you can roll out that help strengthen your employees’ belief in the company’s products and services—and in turn, their connection to the company purpose. I suspect that by the end of this series, you’ll have a whole pile of great ideas for 2017.
Check the next posts in this series in the links below.