We live in an increasingly narcissistic world in which more and more people are suffering from depression and killing themselves. Suicide rates have increased 24% in the last 15 years.
That is a huge number and my first instinct is to ask, “How can we, as business leaders, help turn this situation around?”
It is possible to take on a higher purpose AND make a profit.
That may feel like a question for foundations, for charities and others not focused on turning a profit. But that impression would be very wrong. It is possible to take on a higher purpose AND make a profit.
In fact, if your business only focuses on profit you are likely to lose a rapidly increasing part of your workforce. A greater number of staff are millennials today and their numbers will continue to increase as older generations cycle out of the work environment. As many as two thirds of millennials would rather earn 50% less salary so long as they work in a job that has impact. 76% of them want their organisations to change their stance around engagement and making a difference. These statistics can be layered onto the current corporate canvas in which 70% of people at work are either not engaged or actively disengaged.
And yet business is the most logical vehicle for making positive change happen in the world. We cannot rely on the not for profit sector, nor can we rely on governments. In addition, people are not finding social connection in their lives generally, their workplaces (where they spend a predominant amount of their waking time) should be providing that. Over 100 years ago Emile Durkheim presciently pointed out that as people become increasingly disconnected from their families and societies they will become more depressed and this will lead to greater numbers of suicides. He posited that the workplace was the logical place to find a replacement for our innate human need for connection.
Business is the most logical vehicle for making positive change happen in the world.
A person’s occupation, their place of work, should be integral to building a healthier lifestyle and overall health and well-being. Ideally a person’s role purpose should align with that of their team, their company and their community. It if does, this can increase their overall purpose in life and lead to not only increased longevity, but also from a corporate point of view it will ensure they are more deeply engaged. One study has suggested that having a low purpose in life is equivalent to smoking up to 3 packs of cigarettes a day!
I want to highlight what three companies are doing to make a difference in this area.
Finding Heart and Soul
Kellogg has created a corporate responsibility strategy designed to form the backbone for their growth as a business. This heart and soul strategy drives them to see themselves as more than a business.
Kellogg Chair & CEO, John Bryant says, “We are a company with heart and soul. We care about nourishing people with our foods, feeding those in need, nurturing our planet and living our founder’s values.”
They have set out to align their vision (to enrich and delight the world through foods and brands that matter) with their purpose (nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive) and create a culture for growth so that their people become a diverse and inclusive community of passionate people making a difference.
Part of this difference making is to ensure they undertake responsible sourcing of the ingredients that go into their foods. They have quantified this commitment by pledging to help improve the livelihoods of 500,000 farmers over the next 15 years.
PwC recently appointed a Chief Purpose Officer. Shannon Schuyler’s responsibility is to activate the company’s purpose (building trust in society and solving important problems). Their hypothesis is that a purpose-driven organisation is far more likely to have its staff doing what they do with an elevated sense of meaning, understanding and really wanting to lift society in a different way.
One of her challenges is filling the gap between why leaders and employees think purpose is important. Leaders feel that purpose helps drive innovation, product development and ultimately revenue. By contrast, employees think purpose is important because it brings meaning to their jobs and delivers value to society through the work they do. So far she has rationalised this down to there being different layers of purpose – a continuum that spans organisational and individual purpose and that also includes a nuance between personal and role purpose.
One of the important problems PwC is tackling is the shift to a freelance culture. By 2020 almost half of the workforce in the United States will be freelancing, many by conscious choice. How do they retain their 240,000 staff in such an environment? They are starting to experiment with hiring millennial staff for four month stints that coincide with peak client demand. This strategy has lead to more engaged millennials who prefer to work hard for a condensed period and lead a balanced life the remainder of the year.
The average tenure of a millennial in an organisation is 18 months, because it’s usually at that inflection point that they put their head up and ask. “Is this all there is to what I’m doing at work?” And then they constantly change jobs because no one is helping them to figure out what is missing.
PwC is taking people who have been at the company for two years through a week long program called Discover which helps them find their purpose. They work with a personal coach and take the time to figure out why their job is important, why what they do is so fundamental to who the company is and to the success of society through their skill set. Through this process their coach also helps them figure out what values and behaviours will help drive their success.
Many times you can feel the culture of an organisation within seconds of walking into one of their offices or talking with their staff. There is either a palpably positive, and contagious, energy or the very air seems toxic. Leading organisations recognise the importance of having a positive workplace and actively undertake to make sure their people are confident, optimistic and resilient. Companies that take this seriously incorporate this approach from the very first employee touchpoint – the hiring process.
For example, LinkedIn selects staff based on compassion. Interviewers use questions designed to illustrate the value of compassion in an answer. Here is an example:
Imagine you are a business partner visiting Seattle from Mountain View for a very important meeting with top managers in the global sales organisation. You step out of the meeting to use the restroom, and one of your managers stops you on the way, saying…
“One of my employees in California just had a baby. The infant is in the ICU at a hospital that is an hour away from her home. Is there anything we can do to help her?”
How would you answer?
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