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Having a company purpose sounds impressive and makes for a great marketing strategy. But there are also practical financial implications, and HR tools and techniques can help.
"Alignment around purpose is one of the key ingredients to reducing employee churn," said Pamela Stroko, Oracle's vice president of HCM transformation and thought leadership, at the Work Rebooted conference held in San Francisco earlier this year.
Weaving purpose into company culture can also boost revenues and company growth.
Similarly, it can be important to align employees around digital transformation and build coherence amid the wave of mergers and acquisitions, said Lisbeth McNabb, CFO at B2B2C Digital Technology, who has led Digital transformation initiatives at PepsiCo, AT&T and Match.com.
"As you connect purpose to metrics of the vision, it changes things."
The challenge, however, lies in finding a way to capture a sense of shared purpose across a company in a way that meaningfully drives behavior and conversation in alignment with shared goals.
A number of new HR tools and techniques from vendors like Imperative Group Inc. and ProHabits LLC are emerging to help bridge the gap. Today's HR tools primarily analyze and make recommendations based on purpose types, or they find ways to link personal growth to enterprise objectives. The key lies in making it easier to see the connection between little steps and bigger enterprise goals.
Need for new HR tools and techniques
Imperative was formed in the wake of the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit match-making service co-founded by CEO Aaron Hurst. Taproot eventually grew to a $15 billion-a-year company, but along the way, Hurst realized there was a significant difference between what people felt while supporting nonprofits and how people felt at work.
Volunteers often said they found pro bono work so much more rewarding than their paycheck job. Unfortunately, people can't feed themselves on pro bono work, and they had to go back to their day jobs.
"We had created a Disneyland for work," Hurst said. "People were going back to work at jobs that were not fulfilling."
The goal of Imperative was to find a way to bridge the gap between the intrinsic motivation inherent in nonprofit work and normal businesses. Imperative has developed an online assessment and learning platform to help individuals, teams and organizations articulate and activate their shared purpose.
HR tools and techniques help gauge motivation
Enterprises put a lot of effort into crafting lofty mission statements, but mission statements don't always cultivate a sense of purpose across the enterprise.
One component of this disconnect is that individuals seem to have different purpose types depending on how they are wired, Hurst said. Imperative's tool uses a series of questions to help identify someone's purpose type in about 10 minutes. The results make it easier to identify the shared purpose of teams and the intersection between coworkers.
One way purpose types differ is in the level of impact that motivates people, such as the individual level, the organizational level and the societal level. There is a fairly even split between the three types, Hurst said.
Aaron HurstCEO and co-founder, Imperative
For instance, someone moved by making an individual impact would make a good doctor. Managers get more excited about having an impact at the organizational level, while executives might be more driven when they see an impact on society.
Companies are spending a lot of money on corporate purpose, but not linking it to individual purpose.
"Unless you can look at the intersection of individual purpose and the organization, you are not building intrinsic motivation," Hurst said.
Small, consistent steps
ProHabits HR tools and techniques include numerous small but consistent steps. They break purpose down into learning tracks to cultivate skills that align with enterprise goals.
HR teams and senior leadership work with employees to define a shared vision. These are translated into individual skills tracks that employees can opt into for personal growth.
"The big question is how to inspire individuals to take part in growth to drive all aspects of the business," said Mike Shuster, chief scientist at ProHabits.
Some of these learning paths include things like empathy, improving focus, solving problems with incomplete information and teamwork. Each morning, employees get an email with one simple assignment for the day. At night, they are sent a follow-up email that includes a link to measure their own progress with the new skill.
Each learning track includes about 20 different exercises. By keeping the interface and the exercises simple, employees can build momentum and turn the new practice into a habit.
Traditional training for these kinds of skills is often done at a workplace retreat for a few days. But by keeping the lessons small, employees can gradually build their skills in a consistent way, at their own pace, helping it to stay with them longer.