In my January column we talked about the power of brand purpose and its impact on everything from hiring and retention to sales and profits. Now let’s look at how we can help our team members share and identify with our company purpose. This matters because having a common “raison d’être” is the foundation for strong individual and team connections. It builds group identity and motivates us to do our part to advance the collective mission.
Studies show team members who feel connected to a shared purpose are happier and more successful in their jobs and teams united by a common north star are poised for greatness. On the flip side, companies have gone under because employees operated with every-man-for-himself mindsets. So, it’s important business leaders prioritize aligning individual purpose with the collective purpose. And the profits will follow.
Reinforce each person’s “why”
A shared purpose is everyone’s “why” — why we do our jobs — not just your company’s “why.” After all, your purpose isn’t for or by anyone, but with and because of everyone. And when people identify with the common purpose, they see their daily work as more than just a rung in the ladder in front of them. They see the mission their job ladders up to.
To get there, supervisors might shift the focus from what people do and how they do it to why they do it. For example, if you’re a phlebotomist in a healthcare system’s lab, you may need reminders that you’re not just filling test tubes, you’re helping physicians — your colleagues — improve people’s health and well-being. You share a common purpose with everyone from the administrators to the maintenance workers, the surgeons to the technicians. Not only do you know how to draw blood, but you also know why you’re doing so and are proud to help save and enhance lives.
Tune into people’s experiences
A strong, cohesive work culture creates a unique group identity. That doesn’t mean it’s homogenous — on the contrary, it’s often rich with diversity — but it’s unifying and unified, without polarization or disconnect. And that can be hard to achieve in a bureaucratic or siloed environment with “us vs. them” and “me vs. them” outlooks.
To avoid division, especially between departments and between senior and junior employees, get to know and understand each person’s lived reality. Learn what they’re going through and do what you can to support them. Empathize with their challenges like a true partner and teammate and consider helping strategize solutions. Doing so will help reinforce that you’re on the same team, aiming for the same goals.
For example, in today’s economy, some of your younger team members may wonder if they’ll ever be able to afford to buy a house. It’s overwhelming and discouraging. Be aware of that reality before you start talking about your recent kitchen renovation or second home in Florida. Recognize what they’re going through and make it clear you’re on their side.
When you are working on big internal projects like defining your core values and brand purpose or developing a strategic plan and setting goals, include everyone in the process. Everyone. And with everyone at the table, be forthcoming with the good, the bad and the ugly. That kind of transparency and inclusiveness fosters togetherness, connection and ownership. And it gives people a deep understanding of the big picture, allowing them to see how they contribute to the outcomes.
At DS+CO, we’re currently reevaluating our core values. A small group is leading the charge — with input from the entire agency. They recruited volunteers to help define and shape specific attributes and surveyed everyone in the company to gauge the relevance and resonance of the shortlist. Then, at our last quarterly all-agency retreat, we workshopped the proposed core values. It’s still a work in progress — value exercises are on the agenda for our next quarterly gathering as well — but this iterative, inclusive approach ensures we’re all in it together.
Champion community service
The most inspiring brand purposes focus on improving the common good. Otherwise, what’s the point? And that goes beyond donations and sponsorships. To make it tangible for your team members, get involved in charitable initiatives as a group and support their individual volunteer activities as well. In other words, walk the walk, together.
In simple terms, shared purpose is when you care about what your team members care about and they care about what the company cares about. To that end, everyone at DS+CO gets a day off a year to volunteer for their favorite cause. Every month, we reward a team member who has gone above and beyond with a donation to the charity of their choice. And we encourage people to get involved with non-profit boards and committees, even offering to host their board meetings at our facilities!
Develop and empower
People are more likely to get behind the collective purpose when they feel the company cares about them as much as its mission and profits, and they need to believe they can actually participate and make an impact. Developing strengths and creating opportunities for involvement will help you achieve both. It shows you care enough to invest in training and career growth. And it builds competencies so you can confidently empower people to make decisions that advance your common goals.
At DS+CO, everyone has access to online skills training through a few subscription or membership-based industry and educational platforms. We provide professional coaching and leadership development at appropriate times in people’s careers. And because every one of our team members is a thought leader, we encourage everyone to share their insights in our weekly blog, Provoke.
We also encourage team members to share our job postings on all their social channels. If we hire a candidate referred by a team member, they get a good-sized check as a reward. These are simple, yet direct and meaningful ways of letting people know they matter and empowering them to make tangible contributions to our purpose.
Animate the outcomes
Bring people as close as possible to the people and situations that benefit from their efforts. That means making sure all team members (not just the salespeople) have opportunities to engage with customers and end-users. It’s important they see who their work touches.
For example, after spending a day at a facility for medically frail children, the team working on a development project for the account came back invigorated by a new sense of meaning in their jobs. After all, they’d just come face to face with the people whose lives they were impacting. At the end of the campaign, the team shared pictures, videos and the results during a weekly agency meeting and in internal emails, and we all were inspired by the good work we do.
If you have more than a dozen employees, people may not be aware of each other’s good work and outcomes. So bring the success stories to life! Establishing our weekly all-agency meeting is probably the best thing I ever did at DS+CO. Because during these weekly updates and follow-up emails, we share our stories and animate our purpose. We give props. And build pride.
Link and celebrate teams
Shared purpose is just that: shared. That’s why team and department goals should be interconnected. Because we really do depend on each other to make a difference. For example, when creative team members submit their hours, the account executives can complete their billing and the accounting department can send invoices on time. Connecting these goals spotlights our interdependency and aligns us to the common purpose.
For the same reason, think about celebrating team and company successes over individual ones. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding a team member for doing a great job, but we all know they didn’t do it alone. When giving kudos, try to include everyone who worked on the project to emphasize it’s always a shared labor of love.
When people identify strongly with the company purpose, they see the business’s success as their personal success — and responsibility. They feel part of something big, stronger as one. They’re proud of what they accomplish individually and collectively, who they work with and who they work for: each other.
Lauren Dixon is board chair of Dixon Schwabl + Co., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a Best Place to Work.m