Purpose-Driven Isn’t Always People-Driven: 3 Ways to Change

Creating purposeful work for your employees

Purpose only gets you so far to a great workplace and employee fulfillment. It shouldn’t be a veil for other practices.

I’ll avoid the cliché lecture about a need for “authenticity” in a purpose-driven business, and will be more specific.

Here are things you can do to make your business (or at least your business unit) people-driven, not just purpose-driven.

1. Layer purpose: Top to bottom and back

Each employee level thinks about purpose from a different angle. If one of these three levels isn’t aligned, then the system won’t work yet. Mixed messages coming from one level or another doesn’t get you very far with your employees, or your customers.

Purpose driven

Look at your leaders. Are they purpose-driven? Why? Or why not? What truly drives them? The crew will follow their captain at the end of the day.

Look at your tenured employees. Why have they decided to stay for five-plus years, beyond today’s average employee term? Their honest answers define the current cultural drivers of your workforce. Be it driven by purpose, by working environment, or by complacency.

Then look at new employees. Why were they drawn to your company and are they finding what they were looking for? What’s your internal versus external employee brand? How does that align or not align with your purpose?

Ask these questions regularly and, no matter your level in the company, you will help drive the alignment. This will connect employees more deeply to the business.

2. Couple purpose and personal well-being

We celebrate many low-pay positions in our country, like our teachers, public servants, and those in corporate social responsibility. Yet we often send them home with financial and personal stress.

Don’t short your employees’ general well-being because they gain value from purposeful work. Purpose is one piece of the puzzle.

Do what you can to support your employees’ personally, financially, and purposefully. They will accomplish even more than you imagined and your purpose will be better realized.

Are you a public school administrator or nonprofit leader? Lobby your government, work the bake sale, knock on doors, share the late nights and early mornings. A rising tide lifts all ships—it will be better for you, your team, and your impact.

Are you a startup? Strive to give your employees the best package you can with what you have today. Sit down with your employees and talk to them about your game plan. Listen to their feedback and their dreams for your business. Reward sweat, and keep good performance records over time to increase fairness and transparency. Share the wins.

Are you a large corporation? Do you want the most talented and passionate leaders, and do you want them to stay and work hard? Step up early, and make your rewards consistent. Let them take the time they need for health, friends, and family. No matter how sexy, how purpose-driven, or how much brand recognition you have, once an employee feels forgotten or their needs don’t matter, they begin to slip away.

3. Invest in people and purpose R&D

The goal of innovation dollars is to get ahead of your customer needs. You can do that better if you are investing in innovation for your people and your purpose.

Look for who is developing new ways to embed purpose into the business. Look for who is testing new ways to build and train their teams. It can be from any level of the organization. Innovation dollars should go to people and purpose on the grassroots level and for company-wide initiatives, just as it should for traditional R&D. You’re building the future of your business, so make it a priority.

Carve out a budget. Let people use it and report on it.

End Lecture

Now, go do your homework: Ask questions, advocate for your people and your purpose, and try new things. I know these tips will help you build a great workplace that will drive your purpose.