Why purpose means profit and how HR is on the front line

Published on : 7/6/21
  • Over the past two years, everything about the way we work has changed – and not just because of the pandemic. The #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter marches, and a US election that culminated with an attack on the nation’s capital; all triggered frank conversations in the workplace – about bias, inequality and racism – that would never have happened in previous years.

    These events are causing employees to take stock. Does their organization and its leaders really embody the principles that are laid out in their corporate value statements?

    It is no longer enough for the C-suite to measure success based on revenue goals. If leaders don’t measure up, it could affect productivity, performance and their own tenure. So how is purpose reshaping the way we work, and what should leaders do to set the right example?

    HR’s time to shine

    Leaders and employees are relying on HR to help them navigate the changes that Covid-19 has unleashed on the workforce. They also look to HR to find ways to actively demonstrate the company values through their actions, messaging and workforce strategies.

    “HR may be the heroes of this crisis, in the same way CFOs were the heroes of the financial crisis,” says Dr John Boudreau, professor emeritus and senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations, University of Southern California and an expert on the future of work. “Leaders were quick to turn to HR for help understanding the implications of these events, which has brought the profession to the forefront.”

    It is an opportunity for HR leaders to create programs and new ways to communicate that engage employees and create more supportive and inclusive environments. Those who succeed have an opportunity to elevate their role as a strategic leader who can guide the organization into a more inclusive future.

    “As HR leaders, we need to think about how we position ourselves in a way that’s going to be effective as we consider what the next normal looks like,” says Sharon Findlay, Global SVP HR, Sodexo. “At Sodexo, the employee value proposition is, to a large extent, what we sell to our clients,” she says. “It’s never been more important to focus on our EVP to engage all employees in a way that works for them and for Sodexo.”

    Think bold

    One of the biggest challenges senior executives are grappling with is how to lead while demonstrating purpose. For a post-covid workforce though, connecting people to purpose will be critical to engaging and retaining top talent – and it will require bold moves from HR.

    “Gone are the days where we are thinking about an organization design that we can implement 18 months from now,” says Findlay. “We need to be much more bold moving forward and supporting leaders to role model this behavior.”

    But they will have to change if they want to engage employees and drive loyalty. Today’s leaders need to take a stand for what is right – even when those decisions are not easy. That might mean rethinking company communications or investing in company-wide changes that improve sustainability, inclusivity and/or diversity across the supply chain.

    Mission: Sustainable

    Our research shows that the push for corporate purpose to align with action is a trend that will continue as CSR becomes mission critical for businesses. For instance, 75% of executives say that equal opportunities and diversity has grown in importance for employees in the past 12 months, and 73% say the same about sustainability policies and practices.

    This trend is forcing executives to revisit their corporate purpose and find ways to demonstrate it to their employees and the public. Take Lego, for example, which announced last year a $400 million dollar fund to support their social responsibility and sustainability efforts, or Microsoft Philanthropies, a social good initiative from the software giant that aims to create “a future where every person has the skills, knowledge, and opportunity to achieve more”.

    When organizations get it right in these ways, their workforce is more engaged and loyal, their productivity increases, and they go away and talk about their employer with pride – what’s more, the people they talk to could become the brand’s next new customer.

    Does your HR team have the skills and resources to engage your people? Download our report to learn more.

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