If asked, how well might each individual employed by your company answer one or more of the following questions:
- What is your company’s purpose?
- What is your company’s business strategy?
- Why do customers buy from your company?
- Who are your company’s key competitors and how do you differ?
- How do customers use your products and/or services?
- How does your job impact achievement of the company purpose?
Purpose is the reason for which something exists or is done, made, or used. It’s the reason your organization exists, its contribution and benefit to customers, industries, employees, etc. It’s not about profit.
Strategy is a detailed plan for achieving success. It incudes competitive measures, leading and lagging metrics, goals and more.
In business, Purpose and Strategy function jointly to establish parameters that can be applied to drive short and long term execution by shaping organization effort.
The lack of a strong, organization-wide understanding of the the business purpose and strategy has been recognized as a critical issue throughout the past ten years. John Kotter’s July 19, 2013 article in Forbes, “When CEOs Talk Strategy, 70% Of The Company Doesn’t Get It” and Harvard Business Review’s June, 2013 article, “When CEOs Talk Strategy, Is Anyone Listening?” are two early indicators of an obstacle to performance that still exists today.
In fact, as organizations prepare for and begin their come-back from the pandemic, there is both a need and an opportunity for leaders to re-visit the company purpose and the strategy, taking into account the learnings inherent in the experience of navigating this enormous global crisis.
How fully an employee understands and how connected with the company’s purpose and strategy s/he feels is a key element of employee engagement. It should be noted also, that, as powerful an element as this is, there are additional drivers and leadership practices that are essential to employee engagement (this article is focused on one key element — business purpose and strategic understanding).
It’s the company purpose and strategy that give meaning to people’s work. It’s this context that enables people to engage and sustain a strong desire to perform.
Knowing how we fit into the big picture and how we make a difference provides us with guidance in making decisions about what we do, when, and how we do it. It is our “why.”
Without a strong understanding and connection to the company purpose and strategy, the ability of people to think critically or strategically, to analyze, improve and grow is limited; people are blindly navigating a sea of seemingly autocratic or arbitrary job functions as directed by management. And, they are unable to find the joy in the doing of work that enables people to find satisfaction in making a difference — the joy that lights the fire of high performance.
Countless decisions are made by people throughout an organization each day. From deciding how to prioritize tasks, to evaluating quality, to determining how to shape conversations with customers and which solutions to apply when handling customer complaints, as well as deciding whether to purchase capital equipment based on its speed and efficiency or its flexibility to customize a product or service — each employee in your organization makes decisions that either contribute to, have no impact on, or that conflict with your company’s purpose and strategy.
Without having a clear understanding and connection with the business purpose and strategy, people often get sidetracked and, without having a clear understanding of the business purpose and strategy, employees make decisions and take actions in the dark, sometimes without considering what matters most.
Purpose and Strategy align your people, as individuals as well as across functions and teams, with a clear, actionable shared direction. It gets everyone rowing the boat in the same top level direction. Understanding the strategy and how one fits enables an employee to see what difference he makes in the way he does his job, and creates opportunity for the employee to find meaning in what he does — short and long term meaning that builds commitment and enthusiasm for the work. The stronger the understanding, the more likely it is that employees will take initiative to make a difference every day.
Gallup data has shown that in the US employee engagement in January, 2021 is up to 39% from 35% in 2020, highs that have followed many long years with engagement as low as 29%. What has changed? Surveys show that since the pandemic began employees have been receiving more meaningful feedback, daily, from supervisors and managers than in prior years. And, a dramatically higher percentage of the workforce has been working from home. Think about that. What else has changed in your organization?
According to Deloitte, purpose-driven organizations achieve 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors. They gain higher market share and grow 3 times faster than other companies not driven by purpose.
To build a strong understanding of business purpose and strategy among all employees, leaders at every level can:
- Tell compelling stories from your experience or the organization’s history that explain who the customers are, why they buy from the company, how they use the products, and what makes the company different from its competitors.
- Leverage opportunities using lots of media — whiteboards, meetings one-on-ones, goal-setting, performance planning, larger than life postings, and Screens — to educate and update employees on performance against metrics and to show the relationship between what they do, the strategy, and the metrics.
- Remember that on average, people forget 70% or more of information they hear, so stand-up group meetings by themselves are less effective in building understanding and retention of the information. People are also less willing to ask questions in large group sessions. Leverage opportunities in various smaller meetings and 1x1s to conduct discussions. If people cannot remember these key details, they cannot have a high level of certainty about the purpose and strategy and therefore they will be far less likely to initiate ideas or to use those cornerstones to guide their daily decisions or performance. Take time to teach, coach and recognize people who take action to solve problems and make improvements that positively impact strategic performance.
- Celebrate progress made in strategic performance areas.
- Use simple, everyday language and examples to be certain everyone understands and can relate to the information you provide.
- Involve employees by obtaining their input before making changes, by soliciting their thoughts and ideas to develop initiatives, obtaining their opinions and suggestions to identify and solve problems and to set new goals. When you don’t use their input, explain your decision.
- Establish teams including employees throughout the organization to identify and work on projects that contribute to success in achieving the business purpose and strategy.
- Invite customers make presentations for your people about what they do and how they use your products and services.
For strategic communication to be effective, leaders need to share information face to face with genuine enthusiasm, using language that employees understand and can relate to their work. They need to receive information that they see as clear and actionable. When employees understand the purpose and strategy, they have a context for daily decisions and actions that helps prevent or resolve conflicting priorities within or between departments, and provides a rationale that enables them to support organizational change.
What is your company already doing to build employees’ understanding of the company purpose and connection with the strategy? What could you, as a leader, do or change to build employee engagement? Please share your ideas and experience.
Purpose Belongs At The Core Of Your Business Strategy by Ashu Goel, Forbes Purpose Belongs At The Core Of Your Business Strategy (forbes.com)
Purpose is everything by Diana O’Brien, Suzanne Kounkel, Andy Main and Anthony R. Stephan in Deloitte Insights Purpose-driven companies | Deloitte Insights
U.S. Employee Engagement Rises Following Wild 2020 by Jim Harter, Gallup U.S. Employee Engagement Rises Following Wild 2020 (gallup.com)
Copyright 5/20/2021 by Rosanna M Nadeau
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