Purpose should be your top new year’s resolution

Having a purpose is integral to an employee’s motivation, and an organisation’s success

Stephen Hawking once said: “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it". Most of us don’t spend our working lives unlocking the secrets of the universe, but it’s certainly true that people are motivated by having a purpose in their work.

Pay is only part of the picture

It’s so important for organisations to recognise the pay cheque is not the only motivating factor for staff. Employees are increasingly seeking a deeper sense of value from their jobs, and the only way companies can make this happen is by having a clear sense of purpose themselves.

But in the busy corporate world a sense of purpose can get lost among time pressures and deadlines. To avoid this pitfall businesses need to develop a strong sense of where they are going and why, as well as a clear direction on how they are going to get there. When organisations get this right it’s reassuring for investors and customers as well as employees.

Getting the message across

Organisations find it much easier to attract, retain and engage employees if they communicate their purpose. This starts at the top with inspirational leadership. I spend around 90% of my time thinking about creating a culture of success in my workplace. But this culture must permeate right through an organisation, so communication is key.

If your purpose is to help businesses run more efficiently tell your people every day and embed this in your company values, policies, processes and internal branding such as posters and mugs.

It’s important for all your employees to understand the organisation’s purpose, whether they work on the reception desk, in product development or assisting customers offsite. Your people’s sense of purpose will be defined by your company’s vision and values.

Giving people a say in the company’s direction can be a masterstroke too. Employees like to get involved and you get to draw on the views of many voices. In our case that’s 1,500 employees, who can generate some amazing ideas.

Contributing to the wider world

People are increasingly aware of their employer’s ethical stance, and a generation of socially-aware Millennials is encouraging organisations to take a fresh look at what they stand for. In response there has been a notable shift in the way companies approach their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

A good example is Procter & Gamble’s commitment to making all the materials it uses either recyclable or reusable by 2030. Businesses like these are starting to understand the importance of contributing and giving back, and these are being closely linked back to their purpose rather than simply being a box-ticking exercise.

Ultimately a workforce needs to know it’s making a difference to an employer, and the employer is making a difference to the world.

Evolving sense of purpose

In a changing world a company’s sense of purpose need not remain static; it can move with the times.

We only need to look to Nike to see how being an older brand can be relevant to the youngest consumer. At nearly 50 years old Nike is still capturing the support of its consumers through its backing of athlete Colin Kaepernick, and through campaigns like ‘crazy’, which highlights female athletes who have broken barriers. This is a great example of how an organisation’s purpose can keep evolving.

Businesses that constantly review their purpose will be more relevant, and as a result more successful. For instance, companies are becoming more active in building diversity and inclusion into their purpose, so they attract the best talent regardless of age, gender, race and neurodivergence.

This purpose needs to be reflected in the creation of a working environment suited to all employees, so they can grow with your organisation, stay with you for longer, and do a great job.

When companies are true to their purpose their workforce will be too. And with this sense of purpose comes the motivation that keeps people happy, engaged and fulfilled in their roles.

Stephanie Kelly is chief people officer at IRIS Software Group