Building Employee Engagement Through a Purpose-Led Culture
Culture can be hard to quantify. But it matters. We’ve worked with enough organizations to know that you’ll never make the external impact you want to make if you’re not getting things right internally first. But when you do get things right—when your culture is working for you—it supercharges your potential for putting even more good out into the world.
First of all—what is culture?
Culture has become the ultimate corporate buzzword. If you’re leading an organization, big or small, you’re probably talking about culture.
This is a double-edged sword. Some of it is good, because all organizations should care about culture. But like so many other words that become buzzwords, “culture” has been used by so many organizations and defined in so many different ways (or sometimes never defined at all) that the word has lost its meaning.
But it hasn’t lost its importance. Your internal actions show your employees what your core values are. And that, simply put, is culture—what your actions say you’re all about as an organization. You don’t get to say you have a culture of generosity because you listed it once on a sheet of paper that said “Organizational Values” at the top. The proof is in how you live that out. You have to practice what you preach.
To be clear, as the leader of an organization, you don’t get to grade or evaluate your own culture. Your employees do. If you say you value honesty but no one feels like they can be honest, you don’t have a culture of honesty.
Why culture matters
A foundational 2017 Gallup report on the “State of the American Workplace” revealed that just 33% of US employees were engaged—involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. The majority of employees (51%) were not engaged and had not been for quite some time. And 16% of employees were actively disengaged, bringing others down with them. Employee engagement has barely budged over the past decade and a half.
Engaged employees make it a point to show up to work and do more work. Highly engaged organizations realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity, according to the same Gallup study. But with this comes the obvious downside that disengaged organizations face increases in absenteeism and productivity. It’s just a fact—culture and engagement have a tangible impact on your organization’s work.
When a team member’s personal purpose aligns with their organization’s culture, sparks ignite. It creates deep, internal motivation, and when their purpose is a God-given calling, there’s simply nothing like it. It drives them to commit to their work in a way that nothing else in the world ever could.
Ultimately, your organization is a team. The most powerful teams are those united in their goal and their purpose, committed to using their skills to drive the team closer to its goal together. And creating an environment where people feel deeply connected to the work they’re doing and the values of the organization they’re a part of leads to a purpose-led culture—one where people work because they’re all-in on the work that they’re doing.
Building a Purpose-Led Culture
So—how do you do it?
First, you have to take a look at all the ways culture shows up in your organization and make sure it’s aligned with your core values. Your culture is in everything you do, so if you want your people to experience the kind of culture that feeds engagement, you need to look everywhere. Your values. Your organizational structure. The way you communicate internally. Your operations and priorities.
When it comes to organizational culture, actions don’t just speak louder than words—they’re the only chance you get to speak at all. If what your employees experience on a day-to-day basis doesn’t line up with the values you talk about, your culture is doing nothing for you. (In fact, it’s probably hurting you because your employees are smart and can tell you’re not aligning your words with your actions.)
Nobody’s saying this is easy, by the way. Even the best intentions can lead nowhere if there’s not consistent follow-through. Hear us say this: no matter how deeply you care about growing your organization’s culture, it will not happen unless you work at it. If you care about building your culture, you’re going to have to be intentional and consistent over time.
This means planning ahead. So, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How are you going to make sure your internal communication is 1) happening at all and 2) sending the message you want it to send?
- How are you going to prioritize and lead your meetings in a way that shows you value what you say you value?
- How do your values influence how you define success? Set organizational goals? Celebrate wins, both individual and team-wide?
- How are you checking in on whether your culture is where you want it to be? (Hint: if you’re not gathering anonymous employee feedback on your culture, you should be.)
Connecting Your Culture and Your People
The final piece of the puzzle might be the most important: helping your employees see themselves in it. This is where the power comes from—helping people to make a connection between their own personal sense of purpose and the work they do every day within your organization. That connection helps them find a deeper sense of passion and real, personal investment for your mission.
Your organization is made up of individual people who each have their own set of beliefs and values, their own motivations, their own sense of purpose. That means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. You have to connect, one-on-one, with every single one of your team members. It’s complex. It’s a time commitment. And it’s one of the most powerful things you can possibly do as a leader.
In connecting with your people one-on-one, you’ll gain powerful insights about them and their strengths. You’ll see your own mission in new and different ways through their eyes. And you’ll have the opportunity to help them see how your organizational values and culture line up with their own personal values. (We’ll dive further into ways to do this in a future blog post.)
And here’s a big side benefit—all the time you spend helping people connect to your culture helps build your culture, too. The time and commitment you put into your people will demonstrate to them in a real, tangible way that you value them as individual people.
The Power of Culture
Healthy culture creates engaged employees. Engaged employees are fulfilled employees. And when you have a team full of fulfilled employees, your mission—and the good you’re doing in the world—will thrive and grow.
We don’t pretend to have everything figured out. But we’ve worked with enough organizations that we know how much this matters, and we’ve had firsthand experience seeing how healthy organizations do it well.
We’d love to help you do it well, too. We offer a full suite of consulting services focused on helping organizations thrive internally, and we’d love to hear from you on how we can work together to do The Most Good Possible.