Purpose has evolved beyond the forms of social good that we are familiar with such as giving, volunteering and responsible business practices, to something that is much more strategic and core to success. As Simon Mulcahy of Salesforce notes:
“Societal issues are becoming business issues”
This shift has huge implications for employees because younger generations seek a new type of purpose ‘experience’. It also gels with the evidence provided in Tribal Leadership that employees in high performing cultures feel bonded by collectively taking on a noble cause – something bigger than the company itself – which equates to having clarity of purpose.
Recruitment firms have a natural tailwind in this regard because employment is viewed as being good for society, however they will struggle if they fail to evolve and take the extra steps needed to clarify their purpose and make it real to their people’s everyday work.
With talk of ‘the great resignation’ due to greater flexibility and working professionals reviewing their priorities and purpose in life – a deeper dive into this issue could hardly come at a better time for recruiters from both a staffing and client perspective.
Recruitment industry authority, Ross Clennett, invited me to collaboratively review the sector’s approach to purpose and present the findings to recruitment business owners.
Younger employees expect so much more from their employer than previous generations, with Gen Zs wanting purpose to be core to their work, and 61 per cent saying their biggest fear is being stuck in a job that isn’t fulfilling.
This shift in employee needs can be characterised in three distinct ways:
- Work is more than a role or career pathway, young people want to work for an employer who is a partner in their life’s goals.
- Not only do they want to work in a dynamic team environment, their day to day work must be connected to a higher cause.
- Culture and leadership is important, and they want to be inspired by the overall purpose of their organisation.
HOW HARD IS IT?
A recent executive survey by Brandpie found that 60 per cent of CEOs who have or want a company purpose admit they are uncertain about how to enact it – research that is consistent with Porter Novelli’s findings that 87 per cent say they need help navigating purpose and the societal issues of the day.
On the flip side, leading companies are already realising the benefits of purpose. Food and beverage company, Lion Co, has a purpose of “bringing people together to be sociable and live well” which may help explain why it took on the full strength beer market with a mid-strength beer and won. They also screen job candidates for their purpose ‘mindset’ in the recruitment process. Why? Because this is a non-negotiable feature for their company culture.
We covered a lot of ground in our sessions, so I’ll summarise three of our key insights:
1. PURPOSE QUALITY VARIES
In analysing the purpose statements of seven large recruitment companies, their quality was variable. The main reason being that some statements spoke more to their financial or market differentiation ambitions than to the benefit to society their business aims to create.
2. COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
We looked at five examples of using a purpose lens to create financial or market advantage, including a major recruitment firm that supports youths who struggle to gain access to regular employment opportunities.
Not only is their program highly engaging for staff, they benefit commercially from the closer relationships they build with their own customers (large corporations), connecting them with a new market segment and convenient solution to some of their corporate social responsibility obligations.
3. VALUES ≄ PURPOSE
We looked at best practice in how companies structure their ‘purpose’ and why values are not the same as purpose. Values are the highly prized features of your culture and organisational DNA that you see as being essential to your future success, which is quite different to the ‘social objective’ conveyed by your business purpose.
One of our session attendees mentioned they were in the process of articulating their purpose and there was confusion with values, so in the discussion we were able to work through this together.
START WITH GENUINE INTENT
If there’s one important lesson that comes from companies that have successfully articulated and implemented their purpose, it is that you have to be genuine and prepared to just get started!
Delivering purpose profitably – as distinct from making a profit and giving some back – requires greater proficiency in social, economic and environmental outcomes. It may require working with new partners in new ways and you’ll have some reality checks along the way.
Ross pointed to the leadership of Talent International’s Richard Earl, who talks with humility about creating their foundation arm, Talent RISE, saying that it took a few goes to get their initiatives working in the way they’d intended.
HOW DO YOU RATE?
A purpose statement is essential, however it counts for little if your people don’t understand what it means, believe in it or know how it could or should impact their every day work. You can ask your people the following questions to gauge how well you are doing:
- Is our business purpose well articulated?
- Do we understand why it is what it is?
- Does everyone take it seriously?
- Do we ferociously protect it?
- Do we embrace our team’s contribution to it?
- Do we understand how it drives business performance?
- Do we use it to guide the decisions we make?
- Are we encouraged to call out instances where our actions compromise our purpose?
- Is there congruence between what we say and what we actually do?
- Are we attracting and retaining the best talent in the market through our purpose?
- Is everyone inspired by our purpose?
Purpose requires patience and persistence, however it will pay off because it is the ‘ticket to play’ for every business in the ‘purpose economy’ that we suddenly find ourselves in.
Recruitment firms are no different, hence their owners and leaders would do well to connect their people to a purpose bigger than simply filling their clients’ jobs with the best candidates.
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Phil Preston is a purpose speaker, strategist and founder of The Business Purpose Project. He is the author of Connecting Profit with Purpose and co-host of Corporate Conversations on Purpose. You can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org
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