Workforce Engagement: Effectively Aligning to Organizational Purpose

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TPC Leadership is delving into the topic of workforce engagement. This mini blog series with TPCL Associate Joe Aston explores why purpose needs to be prioritized by organizations, how it can be used as a tool to enable workforce alignment, and ultimately, how it can tap into the hidden capacity and energy of the organization and its leaders.

In this final blog of 3, Joe introduces TPC Leadership’s approach to addressing the challenges of aligning to purpose and the value that can be created when these challenges are overcome.

The purpose of an organization is its reason for being. This guides its strategic direction towards creating a better world. We define a purpose-led organization as one that sets out to address a problem or meet a need by offering goods and services that truly create value for society. This includes generating a financial return for investors, although profit is not itself the purpose. Instead, the purpose of the organization is to strive to make a positive impact on the world through its actions.

Why we think organizations should prioritise purpose:

An organization truly guided by purpose benefits all stakeholders – investors, the workforce, society, and the planet. When a purpose-led approach is effectively adopted, it leads to increased clarity and commitment among the workforce, stronger partnerships with like-minded organizations, and a more engaged and fulfilled workforce. In addition, an organizational purpose can have a positive impact on society through its pro-social focus and responsible behaviour. However, it is challenging to achieve this.

What it takes to become a purpose-led organization:

At TPC Leadership, we believe a purpose-led organization recognizes itself as a socially connected entity that strives to respect the dignity of individuals and make a positive impact on their lives and the planet. This means recognizing that people have inherent value and are not simply resources for achieving business success. This perspective fundamentally changes the way the organization operates and the overall impact it has.

To become a thriving purpose-led organization, it is necessary to adopt a realistic view of people, recognizing their need for meaning, belonging, and growth through work, as well as their desire to care for others and themselves. This allows the business to become human-centred, activating the potential of its employees to commit to shared, meaningful missions. 

It is only when these ideas are embraced together that the power of a purpose-led business can be unleashed. Both the purpose and the culture of the organization are vital factors in its success, as a meaningful purpose can be undermined by an unhealthy culture, as demonstrated by recent abuse scandals in the humanitarian sector.

Common approaches to aligning the organization to purpose:

Based on our experience at TPC Leadership, we have identified common approaches that organizations often take when attempting to align with their purpose:

  • Defining the purpose and vision with a senior (internal) leadership group
  • Running events to communicate the defined vision and purpose at all levels in an engaging way
  • Developing impressive communications materials that describe what the organization plans to do
  • Incorporating elements related to the vision and purpose in defined leadership expectations or performance management criteria, though in a tokenistic way, and without meaningfully re-aligning incentives and rewards.

A more effective approach to aligning to purpose:

Building on our experience at TPC Leadership, the below outlines a more effective approach to aligning to organizational purpose:

1. Co-define Organizational purpose through dialogue at all levels and with external stakeholders

Co-discovery and co-definition of purpose enables collective sense-making of what meaningful challenges the organization can help solve profitably or sustainably, what the purpose could mean in terms of supporting ambitions (or ‘missions’), what this means for each team’s work, and what values are important to sustain or develop to guide behaviour and decision-making. 

This kind of dialogue engages people to play their part in co-creating the future of the organization and is vital for the workforce to feel ownership and a connection to wider stakeholders.

2. Develop change leaders to overcome barriers and unlock potential for delivering the ambitions

Leading change and facilitating dialogue is essential to aligning the organization to its purpose and supporting ambitions. However, these skills are often under-developed. Facilitating dialogue about delivery of ambitions is vital to harness the insight and energy, from all levels, which can enable new possibilities for achieving them. This is also important to support the organization in navigating the tensions and trade-offs encountered when aligning to purpose. These may include: 

  • short-term vs long-term financial performance
  • maintaining values vs evolving them
  • developing vs recruiting talent
  • cooperation vs competition
  • breadth vs depth (e.g. for scaling ‘impact’)

3. Prove the commitment to delivering the ambitions

Leaders are often excited to share their commitment to organizational purpose and supporting ambitions. However, without evidence of significant decisions, investment, and demonstrated progress towards ambitions supporting the purpose, communicated aspirations do little and can even provoke cynicism. This meaningful commitment must start with leadership, with leaders being supported, held accountable and incentivised to lead by example – aligning investment, strategies, ways of working, and behaviours to the purpose.

Align people and tap into their hidden capacity and energy:

The TPC Leadership approach ensures you are connecting and engaging your organization with purpose at all levels. The workforce’s experience of this dialogue is important for them to hear stakeholders’ voices, to feel their own voices are heard, to feel supported and challenged by leaders in making sense of their role, and to feel empowered to take responsibility for playing their part. 

Backed by proven commitment, visible sponsorship, and authentic communication from formal leaders that establishes credibility and momentum, this process results in everyone feeling accountable for embodying the identity and values that support the purpose. As the workforce challenges themselves, peers, and stakeholders to align work with the purpose, the organization can establish new ways of working to realise the ambitions more effectively, and in ways that tap into the hidden capacity and energy of the organization and its wider stakeholders. 

And now it’s your turn

Purpose must be co-discovered and co-defined in your organization for it to have resonance with your people. This may or may not mean starting ‘at the beginning’ to engage all levels and involve external stakeholders, but it certainly means giving people support to discover and define the purpose of their work in connection to the organization’s broader purpose, and involving them in co-creating a roadmap for change. 

Your organization’s values and identity must be a balance of both realism and aspiration; a balance of what you are today, what you want to hold on to, and what the organization needs to evolve into becoming. What ambitions, decisive investments, and hard choices are needed to make your purpose real? How will your workforce’s personal journeys intersect with the organizational purpose?

Have a ‘real’ purpose-driven conversation today.

If you’d like to hear more about how TPC Leadership can support your leadership to kick start this process and support you with purpose-led transformational change, please get in touch.

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