Corporate purpose becomes real when people not only understand what it means for their day-to-day work, but they also feel personally committed to it.
by Elisa Mallis, Sunil Puri
June 13, 2022
Purpose-driven companies are characterized not only by their fulfilment of societal needs but also by employees who feel connected and committed to the cause. Authentic purpose enables employees to appreciate the connection between their work and the broader impact of the organization. This alignment can lead to a greater sense of belonging from employees who feel they are part of something larger than themselves – and inspire motivation to achieve shared goals.
Research from the Center for Creative Leadership on purposeful leadership suggests when employees’ personal values and purpose are aligned with corporate purpose – and employees are in sync with the broader agenda and values – there is a better chance employees will bring their “whole self” to work, thereby generating deep personal commitment.
Below are three imperatives for leaders to cultivate strong alignment between employee and organizational purpose.
1. Believe in the “power” of purpose.
As far as talent performance is concerned, intrinsic motivation (behavior driven by personal satisfaction or enjoyment) is proving to be more powerful than extrinsic motivation (behavior driven by external incentives such as compensation). Employees who feel a deep sense of purpose each day they show up to work are naturally more fulfilled and engaged. Organizations can tap into the power of purpose by intentionally building it into each stage of the employee career plan, helping them discover and live their personal purpose by connecting it with the company’s values.
An example of this concept brought to life can be seen in the orientation program at TCS, a global IT company headquartered in India. New TCS employees are paired with a nonprofit as their first client, allowing them to see that their contributions go beyond a paycheck, to fulfilling a “bigger” objective. Other activities encouraged throughout an employee’s career include joining a nonprofit board, spearheading a pro bono project and leading community service initiatives. The IT company embraces a philosophy that the workforce must have freedom to fulfill their broader purpose that goes far beyond just once-in-a-while volunteering.
There are many ways leaders can bring purpose to life in the organization and use it to foster a sense of belonging and commitment, however the starting point is to believe purpose can make a difference to empower employees.
2. Uphold authenticity when defining purpose.
Purpose is much bigger and more critical than just a phrase an organization celebrates on its website or displays behind the reception desk. Living the purpose often starts from the “inside out” and is demonstrated with leaders walking the talk. Inauthentic purpose often translates into “green washing” or “purpose washing,” which when exposed, can cause employees to feel disconnected and create irreparable damage to the organizational brand.
Providing space for people to explore their authentic personal purpose – independent from the organization’s purpose – can go a long way in building trust and ultimately retaining engaged employees. In the case where there is a misalignment between organizational purpose and individual purpose, HR should welcome honest dialogue. It may end up that an employee feels more aligned with another organization’s purpose and leaves. On the other hand, the employee’s input could influence their current organization’s purpose.
If, for example, an automotive expert has a set of values and purpose that differ from the company they work for, they may help drive change in an organization’s environmental, social and governance philosophy. Organizations must consider and value those inputs.
3. Create a story around the purpose to make it real.
A narrative, where purpose is the focal point, can help employees connect their contributions and personal values with the overall organizational purpose. Seeing themselves play a role in the story helps cultivate a sense of belonging and togetherness – a sense that every employee plays a role in the bigger picture.
An illustration of this organizational storytelling can be seen by Mahindra Group, a conglomerate in India, who’s built its core purpose around the RISE philosophy, making it the focal point of all purpose-related initiatives. In the RISE philosophy, the company interprets “community” in the widest sense of all stakeholders—individuals, associates, social groups and the planet. RISE is the north star defining how diverse business groups within the conglomerate must “live” their purpose.
By championing organizational purpose as the “hero” in a company’s story, employees across departments can prioritize work that serves the purpose and collaborate across boundaries with the shared commitment to fulfilling agreed-upon goals. When guided by and aligned with organizational purpose-based principles, employees at different levels are better at making decisions that benefit all stakeholders.
Connect individual contributions to the greater purpose
To truly drive personal commitment, purpose must be embedded in the strategic priorities in visible and tangible ways; it must connect emotionally with people and their personal aspirations and challenges. By aligning employee and organizational purpose, leaders can help every employee feel that their individual contributions matter to the larger picture, and in turn foster a collective sense of belonging and commitment.