When Employees Have Purpose, It Changes Everything

Creating Employee Purpose for Better Performance

I was headed to Europe with a 10+ hour flight ahead and decided to bring the latest copy of HBR (Harvard Business Review) onboard. As WiFi was not up to par, movie watching was a less than a stellar experience so I was glad to have good reading material. I love HBR when I have the time to sink into a well-written piece. The front cover article, “When Work Has Meaning – How to Turn Purpose into Performance” caught my attention.

When we think of workforces, we often think of employees in corporations, whether public or private, who share the same building and office experience. However, many employees that do some of the hardest jobs never sit in an office or at a desk. Rather, they are on the go, tackling the often difficult task of installing, fixing or maintaining products and services that keep our economy humming. I’m sure we can all think of jobs which we couldn’t imagine doing yet have admiration and respect for the effort and passion expended every day by those that perform.

The Invisible Workforce

I think of the often invisible workers that keep our power grid running or the hospital equipment that rarely fails and the goods we have delivered to put food on our table and keep our homes in good working order. Even something as simple as our home cable or WiFi access, our fridges to preserve our food or the alarm systems that keep us safe, all of which need to be installed and repaired when things go wrong.

The dedicated workforces that keep all these systems up and running, handling outages, glitches or failures are the employees I think of who mostly operate and conduct their jobs single-handedly. The field service or as I like to call them “white van” technicians that are available 24×7 across many industries have the toughest of jobs on our planet. Apart from the hazards faced doing the actual job, such as fixing downed electrical wires or underground pipe leaks, there’s inclement weather and more-often terrorist attacks or active shooters which have to be taken into consideration when performing or completing jobs.

The Power of Giving Employees a Sense of Purpose

The HBR article hones in on a specific org and how the CEO, Gerry Anderson, of DTE Energy didn’t believe in the power of higher organizational purpose when he initially took on this role. However, when the 2008 recession hit, things changed. He noticed that employees weren’t bringing their smarts and creativity to their jobs. The question arose – how do you get a more committed workforce? That was the big question for Anderson. He then visited a USAA call center, where he quickly learned that a leader’s most important job was to connect the people to their purpose. When it’s authentic, a transformation takes place and Anderson essentially lived that with his teams. It shouldn’t be done because you’re backed into a corner, facing an economic crisis, but moreover driven by the belief that employees are not transactional. They actually want to come work at an org that is purpose driven.

The article goes on to explain in detail a recommended framework around how you do this with a number of best practices and steps. The belief in the end solution is based on the fact that by connecting people with a sense of higher purpose, leaders inspire teams to bring more energy and creativity. When employees feel their work has meaning, they become more committed and engaged, taking risks and ultimately raise their game.

Steps to achieving a purpose-driven company include:

  • Envision an inspired workforce
  • Discover the purpose
  • Recognize the need for authenticity
  • Turn it into a constant message
  • Stimulate individual learning
  • Turn mid-level managers into leaders
  • Connect the people to the purpose
  • Unleash positive energizers

Applying These Learnings to Deskless Workers

If you consider just one of these elements in the framework above, the question is how do you achieve this when teams are widely dispersed and not sitting in an office or shared building? Of course, most organizations have training facilities where you gather teams and employees on a regular basis but that’s pretty unrealistic when teams need to be in front of customers completing jobs. Consistency of message is key to accomplishing this part of the framework. Embracing this mindset means saying no to certain things that don’t directly map to that stated purpose or set of goals. You have to think of innovative ways to get everyone on the same page and fully engaged.

HBR goes on to say that over time when everyone gets behind the single purpose, processes actually become simpler and easier to execute and team-members look for more permanent solutions that live the test of time.

One way to achieve and push a consistent message to field teams is to leverage mobile technology solutions. This is especially important when employees and workforces are spread out. Empowering regional leaders to impart company goals and culture is the only way to do this at scale—so having everyone on the same communication platform when conveying important company milestones is key.

A one to many broadcast message or information share can be done quickly and easily, with links to videos or company announcements going straight to workers’ mobile devices. Imagine getting a push notification to your mobile which you simply can’t ignore. That’s a totally different experience compared to waiting for employees to wade through long emails in the hope that they will open and read that very important message buried among all the superfluous mail.

Purpose-driven organizations are different. It starts from the top and is only successful if you can embed at the grassroots level. Each and every employee can truly make a difference. Keeping engagement levels high is central to this management strategy. If you can’t do it face-to-face, then embrace the most innovative tech platforms to achieve it or risk becoming a company that struggles to hire and retain talent. For most service-focused orgs, that spells high costs and a bad outcome.

Take the learnings from others and start today. Whether a C-level executive, regional director or manager, you can truly effect change and become a purpose-driven company.