Posted: 27 Sep. 2022 12 min. read

Organizational purpose can’t work without the workforce

How to include purpose in workforce strategy design

By Andy Oakes-Caseau, Maddie Cohen, Jessica Pachuta, Kelsey Newman with co-authors Christina Brodzik and Devon Dickau

Significant global events have led organizations to reevaluate their “purpose”—the differentiated role they serve in society. But is this emphasis on purpose creating a meaningful return for organizations and workers? Not yet. Here’s why.

A Case for Executives to Invest in Purpose

In 2020 and 2021, 44% of Millennial workers and 49% of Gen Z workers made decisions about jobs and/or employers based on personal ethics. With that in mind, integrating purpose into an employer’s value proposition may be the key to finding the right talent; 7 in 10 employers globally say that they are struggling to find workers with the right mix of technical skills and human capabilities. Meanwhile, executives increasingly see corporate purpose as a potential solution to workforce challenges; in Summer 2022, 37% of CEOs expected that “strengthening [their] company’s stated purpose” will have the greatest impact on combating the “Great Resignation.”

Purpose-driven organizations outperform peers. Evidence shows that this differentiation, which Deloitte calls the ‘Purpose Premium,’ can take the form of increased value through operational efficiency, capital access, brand reputation, innovation, talent, and risk mitigation. Of these types of value, leaders often cite talent as the largest untapped opportunity. In Deloitte’s 2022 Chief Strategy Officer report, 72% of respondents anticipated that talent recruitment, engagement, and retention will be the main source of value from corporate purpose investments.

There is no longer a question of “can” purpose generate new workforce and business value, but rather “how” organizations can do it successfully.

Stuck in “Purpose Stasis”

Today, many organizations face challenges as they aspire to invest in purpose. Some struggle to activate internal and external commitments, while others get stuck in a state of “Purpose Stasis”—taking action, but unable to attain a Purpose Premium.

One common cause of Purpose Stasis is a misalignment between articulated organizational purpose and how workers understand and experience it. The results can have a negative effect, including:

  • Skepticism (from workers and other stakeholders) around authenticity of commitments
  • Concerns of “greenwashing”
  • Isolated, inconsistent workforce experiences that are not accessible to all
  • Reactionary initiatives that lack a cohesive strategy
  • Diminished employee loyalty and/or talent retention

What can organizations do to engage their talent and move beyond Purpose Stasis?

  1. Define organizational commitments to purpose with the workforce
  2. Design and activate purpose-driven workforce strategies
  3. Share the purpose narrative with metrics and stories

How to Build a Purpose-Driven Workforce

Step 1: Define Organizational Commitments to Purpose with the Workforce

While organizational purpose can drive profits, products, and partnerships, a defined purpose strategy can communicate how teams and individuals are contributors to the value that the organization seeks to create.

Leaders should consider workers’ perspectives when designing an organization’s purpose strategy. Leaders and workers may co-create guiding principles or commitments that articulate the organization’s purpose, why and how teams and individuals should play a role in organizational purpose, and what workers can expect from the organization. If workers cannot see themselves as part of the enterprise-wide organizational purpose, leaders may find it difficult to build a workforce strategy that integrates purpose into the employee value proposition.

An example of this is Johnson and Johnson’s (J&J) purpose strategy, the Johnson & Johnson Credo, which describes the company’s responsibility to four distinct groups: its customers, employees, communities, and stockholders. The credo weaves the mission of making high quality products to meet customers’ needs at a reasonable price into a purpose-driven commitment to meet individual employee’s needs, including fulfilment and purpose in their jobs. J&J’s purpose Credo sets an aspirational vision for workforce initiatives while its commitments to communities creates alignment between personal, team, and organizational purpose.

Step 2: Design and Activate Purpose-Driven Workforce Strategies

Any organization seeking to realize Purpose Premium should embed organizational purpose into its workforce strategy. To differentiate workforce strategy as purpose-driven, consider organizational purpose as a business objective and make it a driving force in decision-making. When designing your organization’s workforce strategy, consider how decisions may either promote or inhibit workers from living their own personal purpose, and contributing to the organization’s purpose aspirations. For example, how could including purpose commitments in individuals’ goal setting and in functions’ business planning processes enable workers and teams to dedicate time to pursuing meaningful contributions?

How purpose is embedded into the workforce strategy will depend on the organization's purpose (defined in Step 1). Here are some illustrative examples for how purpose might manifest in components of a workforce strategy:

If part of the organizational purpose strategy is to create a more diverse and equitable workforce…

Consider accessing untapped talent through new sourcing channels – Develop train-to-hire programs or open new hiring channels that engage untapped talent pools, such as non-degree workers, to enable more diverse and inclusive teams. Research shows inclusive teams have a significantly greater chance to be high performing and make a larger impact, increasing the likelihood of employees to live their personal purpose.

If part of the organizational purpose strategy is to develop workers or serve communities…

Consider upskilling the workforce while serving community partners – Upskilling the workforce enables development opportunities to deliver on current and future business needs. Adding skills-based volunteering programs to a learning and development portfolio can help to grow community partnerships that mobilize organizational purpose and simultaneously empower workers to identify causes and communities that align to their personal purpose. By forming teams to serve community partners, organizations offer low-risk and low-cost stretch roles to employees looking to develop technical or human skills.

If part of the organizational purpose strategy is to trailblaze the future of work and unlock opportunities for its workforce…

Consider creating role opportunities in a Talent Marketplace – Leading organizations are increasingly creating Talent Marketplaces to address internal gaps between the supply and demand of work. The most effective Talent Marketplaces create a desirable employee experience and gives workers some autonomy in identifying roles that align with their skills, personal purpose, goals, and aspirations. Organizations can address workforce planning needs while providing workers the opportunity to leverage Talent Marketplace processes and systems to activate their personal purpose.

Step 3: Share the Purpose Narrative with Metrics and Stories

Once an organization designs and activates a workforce strategy embedded with purpose, it should measure and communicate the value of those purpose efforts. In Deloitte’s recently published C-Suite Insights survey, when asked what could help strengthen the business case for purpose, over 70% of respondents said they need better data on the societal impact of their business operations, performance relative to peers, and standard approaches to measure and report on the value. The examples below offer immediate steps that leaders can take to rethink their organization’s approach to measuring purpose and workforce impact and communicating the journey to stakeholders.

Measure Purpose through Existing Talent Metrics  Most organizations, whether they have fully embedded purpose across their business or not, already use data to drive decision-making and assess future opportunities. Organizations do not need to develop new measures, but instead, adapt existing business and workforce metrics to measure purpose in ways that are consistent with other business considerations. For example, update traditional sentiment score assessments to include purpose related questions. Correlate findings with other traditional measures including performance and turnover rates to see how teams compare.

Drive Authenticity through Storytelling – While purpose metrics may help to understand an organization’s Purpose Premium, leaders must also leverage effective storytelling to communicate that value to stakeholders. Organizations adopting a stakeholder capital mindset need to shift their communication strategy to connect with a much broader audience than ever before—including customers, community members, and existing and future employees. These stakeholders consider organizations’ authenticity, or consistent, measurable, and transparent purpose-related actions, to inform their purchasing and employment decisions.

Organizations stuck in Purpose Stasis often lack the ability to demonstrate authenticity in their stories. Consider the following when communicating purpose and workforce stories:

  • Integrity: Wherever possible, be transparent about workforce solutions’ successes and missteps in achieving purpose-driven goals.
  • Humanity: Ask leaders, workers, and community partners to share their personal experiences and how teams enabled them to realize personal purpose. 
  • Impact: Leverage qualitative and quantitative data to showcase organizational impact.

Seize the Opportunity to Make Purpose Work

Organizations have an exciting opportunity to advance their purpose and workforce aspirations in tandem. Those that can do this successfully will be best positioned to thrive in today’s environment where employees are choosing to align themselves to organizations that are more purpose-driven. Whether an organization is struggling to realize its Purpose Premium or facing workforce challenges from the Great Resignation, leaders can advance their organizations by activating a purpose-driven workforce today.



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