Going forward by giving back: Why people and purpose come first in business

Is prioritizing a purpose-driven approach a genuine commitment to societal good, or is it merely a strategic move to attract and retain talent in a competitive job market? As someone who runs a purpose-led recruitment company by taking a people-first approach, this is the kind of question I love to debate with other business leaders.

To answer it, cast your mind back four years to when the UK’s workforce began to dream bigger and want better. Faced with the pressures of the pandemic, employees re-evaluated their personal and professional priorities, redefined success and job satisfaction — and resigned at record-breaking levels.

The widescale walkouts were a critical wake-up call for many companies and a clear signal of shifting employee standards. While some staff left their jobs for improved flexibility, pay and benefits, many just wanted their work to mean more. With goals and values crystallized by the global crisis, they wanted their career to be a force for good.

In other words, they wanted to be part of a clear, compelling corporate purpose.

Productivity and Performance

Fast forward to 2024, and the desire to make a difference is even stronger. What your company stands for and contributes to society has become a vital attraction and retention factor. Adecco’s latest industry survey shows that almost three-quarters of large employers believe their purpose plays a significant part in staff retention, but workers are asking for fewer words and firmer action. Our report also indicates that 22% of employees are looking to change roles in 2024 because their work isn’t meaningful enough.

For companies hardwired to prioritize profit, the move to a purpose-driven approach can feel counterintuitive. But with purpose comes opportunity — from accessing diverse talent pools to strengthening resilience and cultivating loyalty as well as proven boosts to productivity and bottom-line performance.

In fact, a Harvard Business Review study reveals that organizations with a strong purpose grow faster, enjoy higher profitability and outperform the market by 5% to 7% each year. The catch is that there’s no quick fix. Developing a successful corporate purpose requires commitment, collaboration and genuine connection to a collective goal.

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Five Steps to Establishing an Authentic Purpose

To pinpoint your business’s reason for being (beyond making a healthy return), you might like to adopt your workers’ what-matters-most mindset and consider the following points:

  • Authenticity is key. Build buy-in by inviting your employees to define and develop your company’s guiding principles. Which ideals do you all have in common? What would you like your legacy to be? What single, socially minded objective cuts across title, salary and seniority?
  • For structure and inspiration, look to Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly’s pioneering framework, published in his 2021 book The Heart of Business. According to Joly, your company’s purpose lies at the intersection of four core considerations: what the world needs, what your people are passionate about, what your organization is uniquely good at and how your business can create value.
  • Rely on your HR and change management teams to smooth the transition to purpose-driven practices. Use pulse surveys, employee satisfaction measures and two-way channels to gather feedback and pinpoint where support, awareness and action are needed.
  • Harness the make-or-break power of communication and engagement. Regular reminders of your team’s role in your purpose fuel accountability and put their contributions into context, sparking fulfilment and greater personal happiness.
  • Get behind a shared objective, tapping into your people’s natural passion for achievement. Set small goals that support your overarching purpose, driving higher levels of positivity and well-being — critical factors for a high-performance workforce, caring corporate culture and robust retention rates.

Four years after Covid-19, employers have swapped lockdowns and pandemics for cost-of-living concerns and politico-economic uncertainty. Four years from now, the market’s fundamental forces will have shifted again, making the constancy of corporate purpose even more crucial.

So, purpose isn’t just a platform for positive change, and it isn’t just your people’s most compelling reason to join and remain with your business — it’s both. Giving it the focus it deserves means you’ll discover a robust route to financial, cultural and societal benefits.

Niki Turner-Harding

Niki Turner-Harding
Niki Turner-Harding is country head, UK & Ireland, for Adecco.

Niki Turner-Harding

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