Purpose driven culture hero

Five Ways to Build a Purpose-Driven Culture

What will be the biggest issue facing businesses in 2023 and beyond? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not a recession.

In a recent study, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) found that 71% of respondents said that skills shortages pose the greatest potential for disruption to their organizations—ranking it ahead of inflation, recession, supply chain interruption, geopolitical instability, and other factors.

In another i4cp study, 70% of those surveyed believe that their organizations’ workforce does not currently have the skills necessary to advance strategy over the next one-to-three years. 

So why are organizations so unprepared for the future?

We have inherently known for years that the fastest-growing jobs are related to having technical skills. Sadly, over half (53%) of respondents to i4cp’s workforce readiness survey said that their organizations have inadequate data about the current skills of their workforce. In fact,27% admitted that LinkedIn knows more about their workforces than they do.

That’s the current (sad) state of organizational insight about their workforces. What about the future? Unfortunately, the picture isn’t better. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed by i4cp said their companies lack clarity about the skills that will be most important going forward and only 16% said they were effective at identifying skills that will be required in the future. These organizations could invest in upskilling or reskilling their current workforces, but only 12% indicated that they were effective with that strategy.

So it wasn’t at all surprising to find in a recent survey of the members of i4cp’s Chief Human Resource Officer Board, that one of the top four priorities for 2023 is to reinforce or renovate, their employee value proposition (EVP). An organization’s EVP is an extremely important component of attracting the best and brightest talent to the company. But the marketplace for talent has changed in the post-pandemic environment. Despite the recent rash of layoffs in tech companies, for the first time in decades, the number of open jobs is nearly double the number of unemployed. As a result, potential employees (especially those with highly sought-after skills) have more choices than ever and more leverage with their current employers.

To create an EVP that will give your organization a competitive advantage in today’s labor market, you need to think of people as consumers of work. These consumers of work want to know what’s in it for them. What will they get out of this relationship? Yes, compensation, benefits, and development opportunities are still important. And, as always, workers want respect and dignity in the workplace. But today, most highly skilled people have a different view that overrides the traditional EVP incentives; i4cp’s research indicates that what drives consumers of work is having more control and flexibility over when they work, where they work, and how they work.  More importantly, they indicate that having “meaningful” work is more important than compensation.

There is another very important ingredient to building a great EVP that is often overlooked: if you don’t get culture right, it doesn’t matter how great your EVP is. This understanding is clear in another top priority for 2023 cited by members of i4cp’s CHRO Board—to build and maintain a healthy culture.

But building and sustaining a healthy corporate culture is easier said than done. In a soon-to-be released study, we found that unfortunately, that only 15% of large organizations describe their culture as very healthy, while almost 30% indicated that their culture was very, or somewhat toxic (the rest described their culture as somewhat healthy).

To start, lead with empathy.

Whoever said “It’s better to be feared than loved” has clearly never led a company—or at least done so successfully. Here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to creating a workplace culture that prioritizes talent retention (and it really comes down to one thing): Lead with empathy.

In 2022 we saw CEOs mandating a return to the office, and/or issuing strict hybrid work schedules. The result is that increasingly, there are unhealthy cultures everywhere. The consequences manifest, for example, in the number of people quitting their jobs, which is the highest it’s been in decades. After years that saw productivity steadily increase, productivity dropped like a rock in 2022. And, in many of these unhealthy cultures, quiet quitting is a real problem, as people stay with their employers, but only do the work that they are paid to do. Indeed, a common euphemism today is “life is a full-time job; work is a side-gig.”

Our extensive research into how to plan, build, and maintain a strong culture shows that healthy work environments have powerful influence on not only attracting and retaining top talent, but also driving higher market performance. The organization that recognizes that people have a purpose beyond work builds an EVP that supports the individual’s purpose. And a culture that is aligned to the EVP can be a powerful engine for organizational growth. I call this a purpose-driven culture and I believe it will attract, engage, motivate, and retain those much sought after purpose-driven skilled employees. 

While the bestselling book Culture Renovation®: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company, authored by Kevin Oakes (CEO and Co-Founder of i4cp) provides a comprehensive framework to plan, build, and maintain a healthy culture, what follows is a focus on five activities that I believe are extremely important for building and maintaining a purpose-driven culture:

First, clearly articulate the organizations’ purpose in a way that is simple and easy to relate to. This should include three important values:

  • People: A purpose-driven culture values employees. As such it provides a physically and psychologically safe work environment that also strives to provide for the financial well-being of all workers.
  • Planet: A purpose-driven culture values being socially responsible and works toward investing to make the planet, country, or communities safer, healthier, and more productive.
  • Profits: A purpose-driven culture values making a profit. Let’s be serious—if the organization does not make profit, it cannot invest in the first two values—people and planet.

Second, develop a listening strategy. A listening program is an integrated approach to understanding the employment lifecycle, from the candidate experience, to onboarding, to the employee experience, to offboarding. You want to involve employees, listen to their ideas and feedback, and respond by aligning with the organization’s purpose-driven culture.

Third, train managers to be effective people leaders. A purpose-driven culture needs people leaders who create a sense of community, connection, and belonging. They practice active listening and seek to understand others’ points of view and concerns. If you don’t take the time to learn about your teammates and build relationships, why should they invest their time and efforts? Creating a workplace culture that prioritizes balance between performance and empathy is paramount to boosting not only workplace productivity but also retaining top talent. 

Fourth, develop a measurement strategy. I truly believe that what gets measured gets done and there a numerous way to measure a purpose-driven culture. i4cp’s research shows that some are better than others at gathering data and insights from a variety of sources, for example:

  • Culture audits
  • Stay interviews
  • Customer feedback
  • Listening sessions
  • Pulse surveys to gauge employees’ sense of inclusion, belonging, and trust
  • Employee referrals
  • Internal mobility
  • Employee engagement
  • Employee well-being

Fifth, if what gets measured get done, then what get rewarded gets repeated. There are three primary vehicles that can be focused on in reinforcing a purpose-driven culture:

  • Succession planning focused on those who exhibit healthy behaviors. 
  • Promoting those who best embody healthy behaviors. 
  • Realigning performance management to focus on incentivizing behaviors that support purpose-driven culture.

In conclusion, if you can align an individual’s life purpose with the purpose of the organization, you can build a beautiful relationship.

If you would like to learn more about how to plan, build and maintain a healthy culture, I will be conducting an in-person half-day workshop on March 27, 2023. This is the day before the i4cp Next Practices Now Conference (March 28-30) at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona.

Registration for the workshop and the conference is here

Jay Jamrog is co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp).

Jay Jamrog
Jay is a futurist and has devoted the past 25 years to identifying and analyzing the major issues and trends affecting the management of people in organizations.