Purpose as a “Perk”

The War for Talent continues with no end in sight. With the economy booming, particularly in tech-heavy cities like Seattle, employers are constantly scrambling to get the best talent. However, the usual incentives aren’t always enough or even an option – there is always a bigger company with deeper pockets to offer higher pay and the hot office perks of the startup glory days – think ping pong tables, office swings and kegerators filled with craft beer for afternoon happy hours – are no longer as appealing. Employers are getting more savvy about perks that appeal – flex time, vacation time, generous parental benefits and the option to telecommute are still big draws for today’s workers. But there is one “perk” that outstrips them all: purpose.

Today’s most satisfied and happy employees feel that there is purpose to their job – that they are part of a larger mission that they can support. The world has shifted since their parents and grandparents worked for a company for their entire careers. Today’s workers are waiting longer to start families and save up for down payments for houses – work is often the central pillar of their life. They want to care about what they do – and feel they are working for a company that shares their values. They care if their company is treating all its workers fairly, making responsible decisions about charitable works or the environment, and who the leaders at the top are. Top talent has a choice in where to work – they want to feel they are part of a larger mission they support.

Purpose brings profit – inspired employees are 125% more productive than non-inspired ones, according to a recent study. Aaron Hurst, the author of The Purpose Economy and CEO of Seattle-based Imperative, which has developed a platform designed to develop talent and leadership within an organization based on purpose, has been delivering this message for years. “We need to help people connect their personal purpose to their organization and show them how they intersect,” he says. “Managers and leaders can connect them to this purpose, if they understand this.”

Photo credit: By SpaceX, via Wikimedia Commons

Purpose does not have to be tied to an altruistic corporate mission. Some organizations are inherently altruistic – working for the Gates Foundation is inspiring because they are all actively working to improve health care in developing nations.  Some missions are about truly making a technology or scientific breakthrough – a commercial space enterprise like SpaceX or Blue Origin keeps their employees reaching for the stars, literally. A research company might be developing a new drug therapy – all great missions. But employees don’t necessarily need to be working for a nonprofit or solving a societal or scientific problem to feel they have purpose. A company that is enthusiastically and honestly trying to put out the very best product or service can inspire. But there must be a culture of teamwork and sense that all employees are pulling towards a common goal. It could be making the world’s best airplanes (Boeing) or making it easier for people to find their dream home (Zillow) or changing how people sell their stuff (OfferUp). That mission needs to be communicated loud and clear to prospective employees as well who are weighing where they want to work.

Leadership is critical to a company’s purpose and employee satisfaction. It’s important who is at the top and what they are doing – are they inspiring or embarrassing? CEOs who land in the news due to scandalous or corrupt behavior don’t inspire their employees. CEOs who take bold stands on social issues can make their employees feel good about being part of that team. When Marc Benioff of Salesforce takes a public position on balancing the gender gap in wages (and then puts his money where his mouth is), employees feel good about being part of the organization and feel they are part of a movement for change. When former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on tape talking disrespectfully to an Uber driver…well, the exodus from Uber was already underway, but it was a demoralizing moment for all employees. It’s no wonder that one of the key questions Glassdoor asks employees when reviewing their company is whether they approve of the CEO. The number one job of the CEO is to execute on the company mission – and that means getting all the employees on board and inspired.

So how do good companies keep employees feeling the purpose? Communication is key. All hands company meetings are a great start – and better than an email for keeping employees motivated. No email can communicate the enthusiasm of a live speaker. Setting and reaching benchmarks or goals – and then celebrating them – is another important part of keeping the feeling of purpose alive. It could be the 1,000th customer onboarded or the opening of a new building or the five-year anniversary or an IPO. When SpaceX has a successful launch, the entire company cheers – the livestream of the launch includes a shot of all the employees at headquarters celebrating. Everyone from accounting to marketing has helped get that rocket into space. Those employees have a purpose – and that is far more important than compensation or employee benefits. While every company might not have such a concrete milestones as a rocket launch, every company needs to show employees that the company is delivering on a mission that employees want to be part of.

But how to hire people who feel this purpose and are inspired? Hurst offers some guidance. “You have to train your hiring managers to inspire the best candidates to be in touch with their purpose. You need to help them build self-awareness and be able to craft their stories about why their work is meaningful to them,” he says. “Work has to be more than a paycheck.”

TalentReach can screen for the standout candidates whose sense of purpose aligns with an organization.

It’s not surprising that when looking to hire, Hurst and Imperative have called TalentReach. “I think the people at TalentReach value those things instinctively and know those things actually make a difference. They can tell the story of the organization and why it’s a great place to work and it’s not just about money,” says Hurst. “And when it comes to candidates, a lot of it is mindset. TalentReach does a great job of screening for that.”

In today’s War for Talent, purpose can be the biggest competitive advantage an employer has to offer. It’s the biggest “perk” of them all – and it makes good business sense for the employer too.


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