People, Purpose, Profit

Pandemic Provides Pause for Purpose

19 February 2021



Most people are driven by purpose. They want to make some kind of positive impact in the lives of others, be it their team, their company, or on wider society. Covid-19 has enabled people to think about how that can be achieved now that they’re working from their kitchens or bedrooms with more time to reflect on what is truly important to them.

The Pandemic has also driven companies to pause to consider their sense of purpose – for some just to survive and for others to ultimately profit.

Covid-19 has caused millions of people to lose their jobs but the pandemic has also impacted a number of people who managed to keep theirs.

In a 2020 BBC report, it stated that those who retained their positions, many were deciding to change companies, switch sectors, retrain or even set up their own businesses. The report questioned that during a time of such economic uncertainty, why were so many skilled professionals open to fresh experiences? The answers perhaps addressing how our career needs are shifting as a result of Covid-19, and how we are going to be happy at work in the future.

Making Work Matter

Too many companies believe a pay increase, work perks, or promotions are enough to win back disengaged employees, when in fact, the real solution could be the most simple and cost-effective method – enriching their work with a greater sense of purpose and significance. Making their work matter. In a post Covid-19 world, companies need to take into account that we are socialising less and engaging in fewer leisure activities like travel, so how we spend our working hours has become a more significant consideration.

We need to think about what work gives our staff energy. When are they at their best and what actions can we take to help them feel like that more often? These are the sort of reflective questions that can help give your people back a sense of clarity and control in these uncertain times. Answers to these questions can be found in what is the company’s purpose, and how it is communicated – I outline these later in this article.

Purpose Prompts Profit

I have previously discussed the silver lining that Covid-19 has created for organisations, it also affords companies to take the time to reflect on what is their purpose. There is considerable research that at the organisational level, purpose­ful companies have been shown to out­perform competitors on profit and have more engaged employees. Then at the personal level, reconnecting to purpose has been shown to be a critical factor in coping with crises and trauma. When decision makers align their decision making and communicate their messaging with a sense of purpose, they help support their employees’ potential at a time when leadership needs it most. Alongside this shift in focus, there is a real need for leaders to demonstrate their leadership through effective communication and really walk their talk.

Let me share how this new focus on purpose provides leaders and managers with the opportunity to create meaning to motivate their employees to ultimately prompt profit.

4 Ways to Connect Your People with Purpose

Start with Why – Why does your company or brand exist?

One of my favourite business writers, Simon Sinek, author of  Start With Why, states that more companies should focus on why they do what they do. By defining your company’s purpose, you can communicate this higher calling to your employees and use it as a guidepost for everything you do.

Simon says that in order to imbue work with a greater sense of purpose, you need to focus on the how and the why. The ‘why’ is your company vision – what your company stands for and what you strive to achieve. The ‘how’ is your company values – these are the fundamental beliefs of your company. They define how we behave, work, interact with one another, and ultimately, guide the company on the right path to fulfilling its long-term goals.

Once you have established your ‘why’ and ‘how’, let me take you through 4 steps that can help your organisation to achieve a higher sense of purpose in work. 

  1. Share the bigger picture

It is a fundamental human drive to want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To achieve this, it is crucial for leadership to share the vision and long-term goals of the company. They also need to help their staff understand how their individual role contributes to the final product/service and the whole of the company’s successful functioning and purpose.

  1. Champion company culture

Be sure to build a culture of celebration to show how you value your team and their work. Recognition of the impact of someone’s work not only helps to raise awareness of how they are contributing to the company vision, but how as an individual, they are appreciated. I cannot stress enough how important it is to include rewards that are not monetary – team lunches or a special out of the office team-building activity go much further and demonstrate a more authentic engagement and interest in your staff.  Saying a simple “Thank you” goes a long way.

  1. Promote professional and personal development

I also encourage providing opportunities for ongoing training. These opportunities should offer both professional and personal development, as these will help to energise your team and set them up for long-term employability. Enabling your team to set goals outside work, demonstrates a genuine commitment that goes beyond company self-interest.

  1. Make a positive impact on the lives of others

The importance of positively impacting the lives of others cannot be overstated, so leaders need to find a way help their employees feel connected to those who are impacted by their work. Leaders and managers can do this through the sharing of success stories and customer feedback with their teams.

Getting involved and giving back to community as a company is also a powerful way to inspire your employees. Establish volunteer leave if you haven’t already and encourage your employees to use this leave to get involved in community based charitable projects. Encouraging altruism can help your employees find greater purpose and meaning in their work life by contributing to people outside of work. 

The Rise of the CPO

When researching this article, I was encouraged by the growing importance of company purpose, so much so that there is a new senior executive role of Chief Purpose Officer (CPO) finding its place across many industry sectors. In fact companies, like PwC, as a solution to these uncertain times, are hiring CPOs to activate the company’s purpose. PwC have been very clear that their CPO is there to make sure that work has meaning and that people understand the meaning behind the work.

The research also highlighted that the companies who focussed on connecting work to the purpose of the company, and not just its current business model, were the companies who have not just survived Covid-19 but are the ones that continue to find new opportunities emerging from the crisis.

Much has been written on this subject and I would encourage those of you who wish to explore this area and glean some further insights to look into the recommended reading below.

I conclude with some words that resonated with me from the Forbes’ article on the impact of Covid-19 and I think sage advice for organisations in these uncertain times.

Having a reason to get up in the morning larger than enriching their shareholders or shipping another pallet of mattresses or paper towels sets these companies up for success, no matter what comes next. They are finding ways to achieve their purpose and maintain, or grow, their profits.

Recommended Reading:

4 tips to create a sense of purpose

Demonstrating Corporate purpose in the time of coronavirus

Covid19 puts social purpose and sustainability on the boardroom agenda

Why purpose driven businesses are faring better in Covid19

Covid19 and the employee experience